Stoney Cove

24th February 2008

By Richard Booth

So far the start of 2008 has been dominated by strong winds and big sea’s, resulting in less than ideal diving conditions off the North East coast.

Capernwray and Ellerton have their advantages when the sea is too rough to dive, but there is a limit to the fun that can be derived from repeatedly diving these sites repeatedly over the winter months.

In order to experience an alternative to these sites, a plan was hatched to venture further a field in order to find a ‘new’ dive site which offered something different as well good training opportunities in all but the most inclement of weather conditions. The site chosen was Stoney Cove.

Situated in Leicestershire, it is a round trip of nearly 400 miles, too far to travel in a day. Instead we opted for a weekend ‘expedition’ down to the Midlands with the aim of getting in two days of diving and training drills.

The main party of Andy, Fiona, Geoff, Adam, Michael and Richard travelled down on the Friday night to the sleepy hamlet of Stoney Haven, situated only a few minutes drive from the entrance to the quarry. The journey down however proved quite eventful with the Hunt’s Peugeot breaking down en-route. Fortunately the AA were able to come to their rescue and after a quick roadside repair they were back on the road and eventually arrived down at the B& B at midnight.

Our chosen B & B, the Dive Inn, proved to be quite a find offering warm hospitality with good parking facilities, a large cooked breakfast and all for a very reasonable price. It is also located within easy walking distance of some of the excellent pubs to be found in the village.

The Saturday morning, after our hearty breakfast we set forth to experience the delights of diving Stoney Cove. The rather imposing entrance into the grounds of the quarry clearly indicated that this was a site into which considerable investment appeared to have been ploughed.

The entrance fee of £15 per person soon helped explain how the centre was able to afford such a grand entrance! Indeed despite it being 9:00am on a Saturday morning in February we found ourselves directed to one of the overspill car parks set back in the grounds away from the quarry.

It was whilst kitting up in the car park that we gained our first experience of the foot soldiers of the Midland Diving Army (the MDA). For us simple souls from the North this encounter proved something of a culture shock. It was the combination of the strange accents, the shiny dive gear (clearly a benefit of year round fresh water diving) and a profusion of strange head gear worn whilst walking down to the waters edge that left us bemused and a little confused. Indeed there was some speculation that this bizarre headgear must be related to symbols of rank and status amongst the MDA). Another notable feature amongst the ranks of the MDA was the popularity of brightly coloured dry suits including fluorescent orange suits with black tiger stripes. The majority of ‘local’ divers also appeared to come equipped with folding trolleys upon which they strapped their dive cylinders before towing them down to the waters edge.
For our party, without the benefit of such logistical toys, we set forth on foot making our way down the path to the quarry to set up a ‘dive base’ close to the waters edge, all too conscious that we were deep within MDA territory.
Our first dive in the quarry was an explorative excursion beneath the surface using the simple map on the back of the entrance form which outlined where the underwater ‘attractions’ are to be found. We set forth to find the Viking aircraft cockpit. Once located we admired the colourful perch that can be found inside the wreck (some of the older members of the party can remember flying in these aircraft in their youth). We moved on dropping over the underwater cliff drifting back over the debris that litters the quarry bottom, before ascending up to examine Nemo’s submarine and the nearby block house. The water proved to be a chilly 5 degrees centigrade although the underwater visibility was a respectable 10 metres or so. Once back at our temporary dive base, we soon discovered the delight of the Stony Cove bacon buttie and hot chocolate.

After lunch it was time for the second dive of the day with a planned dive on Stoney’s biggest wreck, the Stanegarth. Built in 1910, this small vessel worked for many years on the inland waterways. Eventually she ended her working days and was brought to Stoney Cove to take on a new lease of life as an underwater attraction in the dark depths of the quarry. In actual fact she now provides quite an interesting dive, as she is intact, upright, with lots of open doorways inviting one in to explore inside. Slightly worryingly, whilst on this wreck a party of ‘techie’ divers, complete with twin sets and wrist mounted HID lights visited the wreck and within minutes at least one individual had produced a lump hammer and had started attacking the wreck judging from the sound of lump hammer against steel. One can only presume that the sad individual concerned had dreams of diving virgin wrecks loaded with brass, ripe for stripping…

Hopefully the Stanegarth will continue to remain intact for a little longer despite the sad efforts of such idiots. Richard and Steve completed a little compass navigation exercise to find the wreck of the Wessex helicopter. On arrival at this site however it was clear that the helicopter had been the victim of years of abuse from frustrated ‘wreckies’ who have systematically torn bits off the fabric off this aircraft leaving only a broken shell. The cockpit has long since disappeared, (although I can’t quite see some long suffering wife being very amused as hubbie tries to bring the cockpit into the living room for display next to the mantle piece!) Other excitement on this dive was provided by unplanned free flows from Geoff and Michael’s regulators. Both coped admirably with these equipment failures. The value of a pony rig was truly learnt. Still no panic and some valuable cold water lessons learnt…

That evening after returning to the guest house we dined out in style in the Blue Bell public house in Stoney Haven. On the plus side England beat France at rugby (sorry Hubert) Newcastle however were given a sound thrashing in the premier league. Next morning after another hearty breakfast we made an early start back to Stoney Cove. This time however, despite arriving at 8:00 am we found ourselves in a mounting queue of cars outside the dive centres entrance; the MDA hordes were out in force. After a patient wait we gained entrance and were directed to the overspill car park for the reserve car park. Everywhere around us the foot soldiers of the MDA were loading their dive cylinders onto their trolleys and donning their strange hats before making the long trek down to the waters edge.

The aim of the day’s diving was simple, to complete as many Ocean diving drills as was as feasible during the day. Adam had his first experience of leading a dive as we headed around the edge of the quarry in search of the archaeological galleon site. On route we spent some time searching likely sites for the infamous Stoney Cove pike but without any success. We also searched for the crawfish, but found none, other than a forlorn lost claw. Had the MDA eaten them all? Puzzled and disappointed we returned back to our start point.

After another bacon sandwich we again headed back into the water and made use of one of the underwater platforms to complete various rescue drills/assisted lifts plus surface tows. On completion of these drills we headed back to the car park, got changed and headed back to Nemo’s bar for lunch and beverages prior to commencing the long drive home. Despite the cold water, everyone involved had completed the planned drills as well as enjoyed diving at a site that most of us had not visited before. It had proved to be an interesting and rewarding weekend. Many thanks to Andy and Fiona Hunt for organising the weekend.