Kaleidoscopic Kinlochbervie (Sep ’19)

‘Kinlochbervie’ he said, ‘bless you’ I said, ‘no really, Kinlochbervie scuba!’ Well the second word did the trick, now just to find out what the first one meant!

Kinlochbervie is the most northerly port on the west coast of Scotland, a scattered harbour village with a hotel, restaurant, fire station, school & not much else…if you discount the excellent diving!

As you can see (above) the traffic was terrible!

Being extremely remote (and short-listed by the Oxford English Dictionary as a definition for the word, apparently) you get the benefit of above water peace (rush-hour is meeting 1 other car on the road!) while below there’s a stunning landscape of walls & reefs festooned with a wide variety of life.

Only another 333 miles to go!

At just over 630 miles from Bristol it is quite a trek and our party took a variety of routes and travel times, some doing it in a single run (Saturday provided stunning weather to fully appreciate the stunning scenery), an overnight stop or tagging it on the end of a highland tour; regardless our party of 10 divers & 4 explorers arrived in KLB (so much shorter to type!) on Saturday 7th September ready for the weeks’ activities.

The scenery is nothing special

We were split between two self-catering houses: Clashview (with a view of guess what? – Loch Clash!, very useful for judging the sea state in the mornings) & Mountain View, a few miles further up the road. Both houses were good quality & within 5-10 minutes drive of the harbour (you could almost see the boat from Clashview!)

Settled in after a bolognese from Chris (& a veggie option from Colin) we downed a few drinks & Chris revealed he’d brought his Alexa but soon regretted it when Tim decided we should REALLY feel we were in Scotland & asked her to play bagpipe music! After that we retired ready for an 8:30 meet at the harbour for a 9:30 start the next day.

‘Keltic Lady’ our trusty transport for the week

Sunday dawned bright and clear and Cathy & Chris from North East Dive greeted us & welcomed us aboard Keltic Lady, a very capable red & white well-equipped dive boat & we got to work setting things up before Chris gave us a briefing that the forecast for later in the week looked somewhat unsettled (the tail end of a hurricane & a tropical storm!) but they hadn’t lost a dive yet so he was hopeful.

The cliffs of Handas’ north shore

Sunday – Dive 1: Handa Island

About an hours’ journey due south the huge green & brown cliffs of the north face of Handa appeared (reminded me of the Old Man of Hoy at Scapa 3 years ago now)  Kitted up we went in next to a largish flat square rock and were greeted with 10 metres of visibility (a good start!) 13 degree water and a wall of jewel anemones, sponges, hydroids and other assorted life going down to a rocky/ sandy bottom at just over 21 metres. After a brief explore we headed off into the kelp until Cathy directed us down & through the kelp so we emerged to huge boulders & a furrowed sandy floor. Shoals of fish (mostly various wrasse) swam unconcernedly around us as we continued to explore, Chris spotted a small lobster under a rock but it was too timid to come out for Cathy to take its’ photo.

 

On emerging Sarah was on de-finning duty (& very well done as divers returned from the lift), Geoff revealed he’d found his computer which he couldn’t find earlier – in the pocket of his under suit & it had recorded his dive!

We took a couple of hours break while we snacked, degassed & motored north to take a look towards Cape Wrath but the wind was already picking up so we picked an alternate location.

Sunday – Dive 2: Eilean an Ròin Mòr bay

Above the island hosted resting seagulls and gannets while below a much darker descent took us to around 20 metres, likely through freshwater run off before things cleared nicely (10-15 metres visibility) for the obligatory kelp & there then followed such a wonderful succession of walls, overhangs, swim through, gulleys, huge boulders & slopes of giant pebbles that we were spoilt for what to remember. Chris found 3 giant prawns while shoals of very small fish passed like a silhouetted motorway stream overhead. The odd lazy wrasse weaved amongst the rocks covered in dead mans fingers, anemones, jewel anemones & other decoration.

One of (many) velvet swimming crabs we made the acquaintance of!

After nearly an hour Chris & I emerged & agreed with the rest of the party that was likely one of & perhaps the best UK dive we’d had this year!

We headed to Mountain View for a cuppa but were thwarted by a power cut & so returned to Clashview where a shower was likewise not on the cards, however a beer was no problem 🙃

Having a gas supply meant cooking wasn’t an issue so the haggis Sue & Tim produced was delivered to order and delicious to boot!

Monday – Dive 3:  Dubh Sgeir (Dark Skerry/Black Rock)

Some of our divers had other commitments so we were a reduced crew today, making the boat an exceptionally roomy place (not that its’ cramped with the usual 10). Following a 9 am ropes off we headed for Dubh Sgeir, off to the north of KLB.

Geoff couldn’t find his compass today – it was not in his pocket this time but strapped to his fins for safety!

Anyway on with the diving. The site was primarily a number of walls broken by large boulders & gullies. Once again the visibility was very good (10-15 metres) and we explored the north east aspect for a while & then headed south west which was interesting until we ran into a lot of kelp, which is ok but we decided where we were held greater interest & turned back & spent the rest of the time exploring there, coming across large numbers of velvet swimming crabs, often paired. A max of 20 metres for over an hour (Chris eventually persuaded me it was time to go!) was very good value!

Another of those velvet swimming crabs

We decided to stay out of harbour for lunch – the promised rain was at best a light drizzle with the sun making an appearance now & again. Chris & Cathy plied us with warming tea, coffee & Bovril (which got increasingly popular until we drank them out of it!) & multiple rounds of biscuits which were all very welcome.

Monday – Dive 4: Sheigra

The second dive was a new one off the southern side of a large rock to the east of Dubh Sgeir. We went straight down to a sandy bottom at 25 metres & then proceeded to go deeper still (to 29 metres) until we realised & moved up the slope so we’d get a longer dive. We were greeted with stunning walls covered with life broken by reefs and gullies bottomed with white sand & all to be appreciated in the best visibility yet: 15-20 metres!

Biggest lobster we’ve seen in some time!

This guy has been through the wars

Among the rocks we came across a very large lobster on its perambulations which then proceeded to try to get into a crack far too small for it. Later we came across a large edible crab a little the worse for wear (missing claw & leg) along with many velvet swimming crabs, a dogfish, a very shy small squat lobster and a number of resplendent sunstars. Star(s) of the show though had the be two octopus, the first sitting (?) on a rock & then gliding off as we looked up to see ourselves surrounded by inquisitive fish. The second Chris spotted free swimming before it came to rest & posed for a photo.

Octopus!

When we came up the surface was distinctly rougher with stronger winds moving in & once we retrieved everyone else we headed for home.

Dinner was a curry by Chris & I – a success as the party almost took the patterns off the plates!

Tuesday – Dive 5: En Dubha, Loch Dùghaill

Sun & cloud greeted us this morn before we headed down for the 9 am kickoff and motoring south for around an hour to settle in at Loch Dùghaill

Chris dropped us in just north of a rock that broke the surface to the east of the wall  (the occasional seal popped its head up but declined to join us on the dive) & we explored the area before heading to the wall. With a maximum depth of 28 metres we averaged just over 17 as we paralleled it & surprised the squat lobsters in their niches.

As we worked our way along under the overhangs & other rock formations we noted many variously-sized cushion stars and bloody henry sea stars clinging to the rocks among the beautiful jewel anemones.

Red cushion star

The wall broke to sand where Chris picked up a selection of scallops (throwing 2 smaller ones back) before the rocks returned. Surfacing after around 50 minutes Sue & Cathy advised they had spotted an octopus as well – result!

Tuesday – Dive 6: Eilean Ard, Loch Laxford

This one took us down to sand before moving across to the wall & to the west; we started quite deep (27 metres) among lots of crabs & sea fans before moving back to the east & up, on the way passing the usual velvet swimming crabs in ones and twos on shelves and the occasional large edible.

Long legged sea stars draped themselves across the rocks & spiny sea stars & regular sea stars also made their appearance.

Sunstar – one of a variety we came across

The wall continued right up to 5 metres & transitioned eventually to a wide crevasse with walls festooned with white & yellow dead mans fingers & anemones – simply stunning. We did our safety stop rooting in the kelp & then headed away from the rocks for pickup & learned that Sue & Cathy had spotted another octopus!

Our evening meal was at the Kinlochbervie Hotel, with good size portions of food very well priced – though we had to brave some serious rain to get there!

Wednesday – Dive 7/8: Creag Mhòr, Loch Inchard

With the forecast high winds (force 5-7 WSW) arriving, the whitecaps outside the loch indicated we would be restricted on sites but we still managed a lovely couple of dives (of decent length), with Colin rejoining us after a day off.

The sites were the western & eastern parts of the massive wall opposite and slightly east of the harbour entrance on the south side of the loch.

Caught!

The first dive was the western part with a completely different kind of life – below a dark peaty layer the water was nice and clear (10-12 metres) and revealed white anemones and translucent sea squirts carpeting the rocks while squat lobsters peered from their ledges & crevasses. Higher up the kelp was again rhubarb type rather than flat blades.

Back to berth for a lunch/air/degassing & then out again for the eastern end of the wall for more of the same excellent experience where Chris spotted a football jersey worm.

On board Chris picked up a mackerel the skipper had caught & produced it from his pocket claiming he’d grabbed it out of the water – lightning fingers Chris!

Following a delicious all-day breakfast conjured up by Jo & Colin, Cathy & Chris came over for a drink & a wide ranging chat (as did the rest of Mountain View)

Thursday – Dive 9: Creag Ceùm an Lèim, Loch Inchard

Neil joined us today after a few days off & with sightly lower winds & not much rain forecast Chris took us to dive a nice boulder strewn slope on the north side of the loch, well protected from the wind

The first few metres were very brown with peat run off from the rain but as we descended further (to 20 metres) it cleared to a 30-45 degree slope strewn with sharp edged boulders broken by the occasional rocky outcrop. Through the slightly worse visibility (8-10 metres, still good for the UK) we observed urchins & white anemones clinging to most with almost every available ledge & niche occupied by a squat lobster with its lengthy claws stretched out in front.

Long-clawed squad lobsters – we weren’t short of these!

 

Leopard-spotted goby

Large fish (mostly wrasse) drifted among the boulders and the odd velvet swimming crab darted here & there. Chris spotted a candy stripe flatworm after a very up-close examination of one of the rocky surfaces

On this side of the loch the kelp (more of the rhubard looking type) started at around 9 metres and we rooted amongst it for a bit before swimming away from the slope during our safety stop to make the pickup easier. Everyone was pretty much back after around 55 minutes this time.

Thursday – Dive 10: Chaol Baid, Loch Inchard

Back to the harbour for lunch and then it was off to the mouth of the Loch to dive a site on the south side.

This was different again: primarily a bed of gradually sloping sand (we went to a max 20 metres) littered with large boulders & then collections of boulders across the sea bed, almost like a rocky garden. Plenty of hidey holes for the usual squat lobsters & velvet swimming crabs, loads of fish, juvenile crayfish & stalk jellies. Geoff spotted a pipefish next to a spiny sea star.

Codling

Sunstar & friends

After exploring for a while & occasionally coming across the rest of the group we started to spot scallops & so started to collect them. After just over an hours dive in 8-10 metre visibility we ended up with far too many & back on the boat returned enough to end up with the allowed 6 (for the boat) – Chris prepared them later when Sarah, he & I enjoyed a double each 🙂

Following a nice meal at The Old School, which was packed, one end of our (large) table finished by sampling the whiskies!

Friday – Dives 11 & 12: Creag Mhòr, Loch Inchard

Last day 😭, the wind was back to Wednesday levels but the skies were a mixture of pink cloud & blue sky as we headed to the harbour. Colin, Jo & Sue were leaving us today so we bid them siubhal sàbhailte (no we didn’t but if our scots gaelic was up to much we would have – it means safe journey) & then gathered ourselves for the final push!

It was back to the wall south of the harbour – the force 6-8 WSW wind meant leaving the loch wasn’t on the cards.

At 22 metres there was an edge so over we went, down to 29 to take a look but at the expense of a shorter dive with the same life we came up a little. Sea squirts & anemones once more greeted us and a huge edible crab hid well back in a crack in the rock

Anemones, brittlestars, sea squirts & Chris

A sea of mussel shells appeared with several large sea stars hard at work adding to it. Elsewhere a number of lobster pots were tangled with a few old barrels & other assorted debris

As we finished our ‘rhubard kelp’ safety stop a velvet swimming crab opened its clawed ‘arms’ wide & glared at us

Chris opted to be trip videographer for the final dive so I got to dive with Allen while Geoff & Neil buddied up as Sarah decided to sit this one out too.

Seven-armed sea star tucking in to a hearty meal of mussels

With Allens’ serious photography lights & his spotting of a football jersey worm (the second of the trip) I’m hopeful my videos of this one will turn out extra special!. Other than that squat lobsters were in abundance along with a slightly smaller population of velvet swimming crabs, gobies and other assorted critters.

Cathy spotted octopus, lots of yarrells, blennies and butterfish out on the wall.

Then it was all over 🙁

Summary

It doesn’t take much to make a diver happy: some good dives with good buddies, a hot shower and & a sit down with something alcoholic. With their intimate knowledge of the area & their enthusiasm for the diving Chris & Cathy helped provide plenty of the former (our thanks to you!) & our club the latter (with especial thanks to Chris for organising the trip & John the meals out) we were certainly one very happy group by the end of the week.

Though primarily a diving report it would be remiss to not mention what those who remained above water got up to – road trips up to Cape Wrath (via car, ferry & bus), kayaking in the ocean, walks to the local beaches and even a trip to a chocolate works were all on the itinerary (sorry I missed the last one!)

 

All in all a wonderful peaceful getaway from the world (we didn’t even turn the provided TV on!) and I have a feeling we’ll be back (except John who has hung up his fins but already has ideas for other hobbies to keep him out of mischief – as if!)

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