I first came across the diving in Loch Long after a club trip to St Abbs with Durham City Divers last May was faced with the prospect of a blown out weekend with no diving available in the sea due to the inclement weather and rough sea conditions. In desperation we made the long trek across to the west coast of Scotland and assembled at the A frames dive site next to the Finnart oil storage depot and naval pier.
Pleasantly surprised by the quality of the diving, a seed was sown to mark this area down as a good potential area for a future club weekend trip, where the relative shelter offered by the surrounding hills would offer sheltered diving less subject to the vagaries of the British weather.
Would Loch Long live up to this promise? Well, this April Tyneside 114 put it to the test with 15 divers trekking across from the North East of England to find out exactly what Loch Long has to offer.
Situated some 20 miles north of Glasgow , Loch Long is a true sea loch that links into the Clyde estuary. It is surrounded by wild bleak hills that tower over the loch.
At its head is the village of Arrochar , which offers an assorted range of B & B’s and hotels and small shops.
Situated at the head of the loch, Arrochar makes an ideal base from which to reach all of the better-known Loch Long dive sites. It also offers a number of pubs and hotels with tempting entertainment offer’s such as an Ann Summers Disco special. I hasten to add that the dive party opted for the jazz band at an alternative venue!
Situated just outside Arrochar are the abandoned remains of the old torpedo testing station and semi demolished piers. Within the waters of the loch there are even rumoured to be the remains of several long lost torpedoes.
Research from various Scottish related dive websites highlighted a number of potentially other interesting dive sites.
A-Frames site, Finnart Refinery
Also sometimes described as the ‘Naval base’, this particular site is easily located as the car park is situated across the road from the storage tanks of the Finnart refinery. It is also close to a working naval pier. Access into the water is down via a short bank that drops down onto a pebbly beach. It is accessed via a brief path that has been worn into the bank by many divers feet. Once on the rocky shore, the waters of the loch are but a brief stride away.
The main highlights of this particular site are the collapsed concrete pillars of an old pier. Cut down and long abandoned these posts have become colonised by sea loch anemones and peacock worms that take full advantage of these exposed structures to sweep the gentle tidal current as it ebbs and flows up the loch. These pillars can be found on the slope down to around 26 metres, after which the silty bed continues to plunge onwards into the dark depths. Other marine life observed at this site included sea cucumbers, wrasse and an assortment of crabs and squat lobsters.
This site is very popular with local dive schools, as it offers easy access into the sheltered water. Indeed a steel platform has been placed at around 6 metres depth for the benefit of trainees, keeping fins away from the silty bottom which is all too easily stirred up.
Diving close to the naval pier is strictly forbidden and would be hazardous anyway as the pier is often in use by small workboats. This site provided a good introduction to diving in Loch Long for those members of the party who had not visited this area before.
This particular dive site undoubtedly offers one of the more challenging entries into the water. The reward for this effort however is probably one of the finest dives that Loch Long has to offer. The site itself is situated just off the narrow road a couple of miles out of Arrochar along the A 814. Parking is restricted to a maximum of 4 cars in the small lay-by besides the culvert that leads down under the small road bridge. Entry to the water is gained by descending down the small stream to the loch’s edge. The descent is quite steep and made more hazardous by the wet rocky surface/ fortunately some kind soul has installed ropes, which greatly aid the descent process. In order to dive this site we staggered the diving with Andy, Fiona, Nick and Simon visiting it in the morning whilst the rest of the party dived the A frame site further along the Loch . Later Richard and Hubert travelled down the road to the Cave site for their second dive. They found it prudent to make a couple of trips down to the waters edge carrying kit, rather than attempting to make one trip and descend fully kitted up.
On entering the water bear left, (Andy and Fiona went right and only realised their mistake when after something of a dull dive across a muddy slope they returned to the entry point and came across the marine encrusted cliff) and you will soon hit an underwater cliff. Descend down along this cliff edge to around 20 metres and swim along keeping the wall face on your left hand side. You soon encounter overhangs, cliff faces and large boulders that are covered with sea loch anemones and peacock worms. Wherever your torch shines, you will find life. A good torch is recommended, as the site can be quite dark. At the base of the wall at a depth of 30 metres, the loch bottom continues to slope downwards into the depths. The main attraction of this dive is the marine life to be found clinging to the rocks. Ascending into shallower water when heading back to the entry point, we encountered large boulders whose upper surfaces were covered in large plumrose anemones. The strange green and yellow waters of the fresh water halocline that was to be found in the top 6 metres of the surface waters added a surreal background to the sight of the anemone strewn boulders. All in all a fantastic dive, but I would suggest not one for trainees or the feint hearted.
This site is situated almost directly across the loch opposite the cave site described above. It is situated on the A83 a short distance from the Ardgarten campsite. This site is also sometimes known as the Ardgarton reef. Car park space is available if you arrive early, in a couple of lay by spaces next to the white cottage. If this space is full, then there is a bigger lay by situated further down the road which offers many more spaces although involves a longer walk down to the entry point on the beach which is situated to the right of a distinctive large boulder. Access into the water is quite easy and you quickly drop down a muddy slope. If you then turn left and keep the slope on your right hand side you will come across an area of rocks situated at around 23 metres. The rocks are covered in marine life and it is here that you are likely to find the main attraction of this site, a colony of conger eels that live in the nooks and crannies beneath he marine encrusted rocks. A good torch is useful for shining into these holes and the shining beam also seems to act as a magnet for enticing some of the eels to advance out of their lairs. The eels themselves appear to have become quite use to the attentions of inquisitive divers. That said they are still wild animals and some are quite large so should be treated with care and respect; look but don’t touch! Ascending higher up the slope should bring you to a second area of rocks where again more conger eels might be found. From here it a relatively short swim back to the entry point.
Twin Piers, also known as Conger Alley North
This site is situated a few hundred metres up the road from the conger alley site. The remains of the abandoned piers are distinctive and unmistakeable. There is a limited amount of parking beside the concrete structure that was once the entrance out to the pier. The walkway across to the piers has long since disappeared leaving a short drop down onto a pebbly beach. Kit is perhaps best passed down this drop rather than individuals attempting to climb down ‘fully kitted’. It is a short swim out to the piers. Dropping down the sandy slope you will come across numerous mussels’ beds and feeding starfish. You will need to head left until you come across a reef of large boulders that drop down the slope between 10 and 20 metres. These rocks have been colonised by conger eels that have taken advantage of the passages and cracks that have been hollowed out underneath these rocks. Close to this reef can also apparently be found the skeletal remains of a long lost workboat in around 14 metres of water.
With beautiful spring sunshine, Loch Long as well as looking sensational offered some great early season diving that also had the advantage of suiting all abilities and participants experience…