It’s heavy. There’s no getting away from it; if you want to experience weightlessness underwater, you’ll need around 27kg (60lb) of scuba kit. Like jumping into the sea with a sack of potatoes strapped to your back.
If you’ve ever wondered what lies beneath our seas, you’ll first need to qualify as a diver, so that you can dive safely and competently, and get used to that weight. Training is a relatively straightforward process, provided you’re fit and healthy (you’ll need to complete a self-certification medical form), and can swim.
There are several agencies which offer training – the largest in the UK being PADI and BSAC – and there are branches all over the UK. The training varies slightly according to the agency you use, but will take anything from around four days to complete, and will qualify you to dive in the sea to a depth of around 18m. Costs also vary but you can expect to pay around £350 for a beginner’s course.
One of my favourite dives is the Waterfront on Plymouth Hoe – great for first timers as it’s a fairly sheltered bay. It’ll be cold, so wear a drysuit, hood and gloves. Quickly check with your dive buddy (don’t dive alone as a beginner) to make sure everything is working, then descend. As you sink, all you can hear are your exhaled bubbles.
UK waters are very different to the clear, blue oceans you see on travel shows. The seas here are green and, although the visibility can be excellent, it is usually a bit murky due to plankton.
As the seabed comes into view, slow your descent to avoid landing on the bottom. At this site you are swimming over sand and rocks, so keep your eyes peeled for signs of life. Even the most barren of sandy patches are home to creatures such as scallops, eyelash worms and, if you’re lucky, flatfish and rays.
The small piles of rocks provide shelter for a wide variety of marine life, so be sure to look into the crevices with a torch. Hiding among the rocks you’ll find one of our most charismatic fish, the tompot blenny.
Many non-divers are surprised at just how colourful the marine life is in the UK, imagining it all to be dull brown or grey. The opposite is true: jewel anemones form carpets of pinks, greens, lilacs and oranges, while male cuckoo wrasse display turquoise and orange finery in the spring mating season.
Reach your exit point and climb back up to the world of noise and bustle. But, at least you escaped for a while.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the A38 to Plymouth, then follow signs for Plymouth Hoe and Barbican. The Waterfront area is overlooking Drake’s Island. Plymouth station is served by trains from many major UK cities.
FIND OUT MORE
9 Grand Parade, West Hoe, Devon PL1 3DQ
Get warm and cosy after your dive with a pint and some hearty, traditional pub grub.