Located only 1 hour driving south of Edinburgh, St. Abbs is an adorable fishermen village on the east coast of Scotland. 2 years ago, when I just had moved to Scotland, this is one of the first dive destinations I heard about in Scotland (beyond the world-famous Scapa Flow in Orkney). It is kind of interesting to think this is the one I finished my scuba diving tour of Scotland with. St. Abbs is renowned for its clear water and abundant marine life. This fantastic ecosystem has been protected in a unique way for more than 30 years: In 1984, it was Britain’s first Voluntary Marine Reserve. As indicated by the excellent website about St Abbs Marine Reserve: “As a voluntary reserve, protection of the marine life relies on the goodwill of the many groups of people who use the area and adhere to the Code of Practice.”
The story behind my lucky last-minute dive trip
It is funny how sometimes you can try so hard to organise something by booking a long time in advance and paying significant money but still, it will not happen. Then, magically, one day when you expect it the least, the universe is providing exactly what you needed in a spontaneous way and at absolutely no cost. I had tried to dive in St. Abbs for more than one year before this lucky shot!
As I thought scuba diving St. Abbs was a matter of boat diving, I did my best to join teams of divers on chartered boats. The first time I was supposed to dive St. Abbs was by taking a boat from Eyemouth the following day of my experience with the seals at the Farne Islands. Unfortunately, the weather was dreadful, and no boat could get out. After my morning breakfast in Eyemouth, I decided to take my car to the village of St. Abbs to see the conditions. Indeed, the weather was rainy and extremely windy. Nevertheless, I had the pleasure to discover the charming harbour of St. Abbs. I tried again this spring to join scuba diving boats, but all of them were full. Besides, one of the boats I wanted to join was cancelled for bad weather one more time. I started to think I was cursed.
It is when I was ready to put away all my dive gear and give back the scuba diving tanks that were kindly lent me, that on my way to a BBQ party on a Friday night, the universe provided me exactly what I needed. I was ready to go, my bottles of wine nicely wrapped for the host of the party, and I thought “Hmm, let’s try this other taxi company I was given the number a while ago.” I called, and 15 minutes later I was getting in my cab. I can’t remember why my driver pronounced the words “I’m a scuba diver” in the conversation. The only thing I know is we got a passionate discussion about our shared passion. Then, The driver lost his way, I got late at my party, and on the following Monday, a bright sunny bank holiday, he picked me up to go diving in St. Abbs!
Scuba diving in St. Abbs: underwater Scotland at its best
That was the point I missed the time about diving in St. Abbs, like Loch diving, it can also be done shore diving! How could I miss this crucial piece of information for 2 years? Some of the most famous dive sites of St. Abbs are just 50m away from the wall of the harbour: “Cathedral Rock”, “Big Green Carr”, “Broad Craig” and “Little Carr”. Cathedral Rock is famous for its enormous arch where a typical British double-deck bus could be parked! There are more dive sites, a bit further away, that can be reached with a boat usually coming from Eyemouth port, but diving St. Abbs can be done as easily as parking your car and gearing up on the harbour.
Weather on the east coast of Scotland is more unpredictable than the west coast. The season of diving is usually shorter and at any time, you need to accept that the dive trip may be cancelled. In that sense, based on my experience of having a boat dive cancelled because of the weather, if you are travelling a long way to dive St. Abbs, shore diving might be the best bet. That lucky day, I could not believe it: not a single cloud in the sky when we arrived in St. Abbs. The bright sunshine and the 20°C in the air made me melt in my dry suit the time to walk about 100m along the harbour to the start of our dive. I’ve never been happier to put my head in chilly Scottish water.
At the surface, the water was so clear we could see some moon jellyfish dancing at the surface. We swam a bit at the surface to start our dive and there the visibility was about 20m. Deeper the visibility was lower but still at a good 10-15m, which was fantastic for a dive in Scotland (Usually in Scotland, you can be happy when you get 5m). We only did one dive but a beautiful long one. With a maximum depth of 15m and a 15L tank, this is only because I started to get cold that I ask to ascend after 70 min of diving. I still had 100 bars left.
We dived Cathedral Rock and its neighbour rocks. Thanks to these incredible conditions, I quickly understood why St. Abbs was so famous among British divers. Giant round red sandstone rocks covered in soft corals form an underwater maze packed with diverse marine life. A kelp forest covers the top of each rock. The space between rocks creates canyons to swim through. Every single crack and hole will show a surprise if you look carefully with a torch-light. Many Atlantic lobsters, squat lobsters and edible crabs are hiding there.
Like most of my sea dives in Scotland, I had a couple of Ballan wrasse coming to play with us; they are so friendly and curious. The walls covered in dead men’s fingers, starfish and sea urchin offer great perspectives to photograph. If you know where to look, nudibranchs and dahlia anemone can give you the opportunity of taking some great shots. I was extensively searching for the ugly face wolf-fish, but I could not find any. They are maybe the most famous species of St. Abbs. It was already an incredibly lucky dive, so I was happy with what I got on camera that day. In any case, St Abbs deserves to be on my list of the best diving in Europe.
A Crab roll and coffee at the terrace of the Ebbcarrs Café followed by a walk to the village to enjoy the view were the perfect end to this perfect day in Scotland! Last tip: Don’t forget to visit the St. Abbs Visitor Centre before 5 pm to learn more about the history of Scuba diving is linked to St. Abbs.
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