If in Ireland we could do without rental, then in Scotland most likely, we had no choice. It was about 2 hours and a half of driving time between Glasgow and Eyemouth. So even if Marine Quest could’ve arranged to pick us up at the airport and a week later to drive us back, we would, probably, ended up paying more for those two runs than for a whole week of renting our own vehicle. Plus, we wanted to explore Scotland as much as we could, therefore a decision to get a vehicle was an easy one.
As a side note – I am not going to dwell on attractions of the Scottish landmarks, all I can tell you that it was an unforgettable experience and well worth 1000 miles that we managed to add to the vehicle’s odometer. We have visited St Abbs, Dunbar, Beadnell, Berwick-upon-Tweed and, two of my favorite, the castle of Bamburgh and the Highlands’ Cairngorms National Park.
So on July 30th, as a continuation of our Ireland-Scotland diving trip, Matt Wills and I landed in the northern part of the United Kingdom at about 9 pm local time. We quickly packed our gear and set our course on Eyemouth.
Castle of Bamburgh
The three-story building, located in the middle of the Harbour road, between Eyemouth’s fish merchant and Harbour Cape Café, is capable of accommodating up to 15 guests in its clean, spacious apartments.
Marine Quest, Eyemouth
Despite that B&B is adjacent to the local “fishy business” (no pun intended:) we didn’t notice the presence of any “suspicious” smell. The only thing that kept reminding us that we were staying within “working harbor environment” was some work related commotion, continued sometimes until late in the evening. But, it wasn’t so noisy that we couldn’t fall asleep.
Giacopazzi ice cream, Eyemouth
Jim & Iain Easingwood, the father and the son, are running Marine Quest. Really nice, easygoing folks, always ready to help if and when help needed. Jim’s wife Ethel, with an assistance of Fiona and Joan, manages “Café Questo”, where each morning we ate our buffet-style breakfasts; cooked tomatoes, sausages, fried potatoes, beans, bacon, juices, coffee, tea, cereals, etc. (I must admit that I’ve never eaten such a delightfully prepared scrambled eggs)
After the breakfast, we analyzed our tanks at the state-of-the-art facility, fitted to fill Nitrox and Trimix right on site.
At Marine Quest’s air station
To summarize, I wish there was a dedicated camera room, to work on and to store photo gear, otherwise, Marine Quest has everything that diver needs to relax between dives – clean and bright rooms to sleep, the place to eat, large TV/common area, free Internet.
Marine Quest owns two fairly large boats, with plenty of rooms on the deck for at least 8 to 10 divers. Boat’s cabin outfitted with a small galley and after each dive we enjoyed freshly prepared tea, coffee or a cup of a hot soup.
But the best feature of the boat was its lifting mechanism. Up until my trip to Scotland, I have never experienced such a convenient method of getting in the water or returning back to the deck after the dive.
During boat’s movements, lift’s perforated floor is flipped upwards, creating a barrier between the open water and the deck of the boat. At the dive site, the floor gets lowered to its operating position and it turns into an extending platform.
If you wanted, you can make a giant stride off that platform, but the beauty of that mechanism is, that you not only getting gently lowered into the water with all your equipment, including the camera, but, if needed, a person who operates the lift can suspend its descent at any time, so you could, for example, readjust your gear or check one more time integrity of your camera housing. So convenient!!!
Matt’s video of the lifting mechanism in action
I think the best way to begin this part, is by retelling you a conversation between Matt and myself right after our second excursion into the depth of the North Sea.
– You know, Timur, if you ask me what did I see around me, while we were diving, I wouldn’t be able to tell you – said Matt with a satisfactory grin on his face – because, when I was underwater, I was looking through the camera’s viewfinder aimed at some animal…
– Matt – I reply with great excitement – I think this place is even better than Ireland. You agree?
Well, despite Matt’s expressed amazement with an abundance of the marine life at the Leagar Buss dive site, he still said that he wouldn’t rush to such conclusion after only a day of diving. And I must admit that he was right, I was a bit too quick with my judgment. But still, the variety and quantity of animals we’ve seen during our first two dives would be enough to furnish any lengthy article.
Those, who has read my previous report, are well aware that I lost my Canon on the fourth day of diving in Ireland. Thus, while I was waiting for my backup camera to arrive, I kept diving with Matt playing a role of a spotter. And on the first couple of days, it was a very easy role to play.
At Black Carr, our very first dive spot, we landed on the sea floor completely covered with multiple layers of brittle stars. At the first glance, it seemed that all tiny arms, of a thick, stirring carpet, were the same boring gray. But, upon closer inspection and introduction of the artificial light, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a kaleidoscope of festive colors.
Brittle star (Ophiuroidea)
And, just like in Ireland, we did not have to move much. Because on the nearest rock to the drop off location, we found Limacia clavigera, Polycera quadrilineata, Doto coronate and Goniodoris nodosa. And a few feet away Onchidoris bilamellata, Peltodoris nobilis, Tritonia plebeian, European cowrie (Trivia monacha), Spiny squat lobster, Gas mantle sea squirts, common lobsters, shrimps and some crabs.
The second dive, at the Leagar Buss, I would call a “nudibranch carnival”. After an hour of surface time and a cup of hot tea, we submerged to the sandy base of 50 feet tall pinnacle, completely concealed by wide blades of kelp. As soon as we touched the bottom, Matt began taking pictures and we never moved from that spot farther than 10-20 feet. The place was practically swarming with different types of sea slugs.
On just one blade of kelp, partially covered with patches of bryozoan, 20 or more Polycera quadrilineata were feeding on colonies of sea-mat.
Not far from that, we found the same species involved in the act of reproduction. And one couple, due to the very unexpected color of one particular nudi, could not remain unnoticed.
On the next patch of sea-mat, one Polycera quadrilineata was laying eggs, while the others kept banqueting on microscopic animals.
It was fascinating to watch as sea spiders (Endeis spinosa) were patrolling varieties of nudis, trying to keep some kind of order in that chaotic celebration of life.
Matt also took pictures of Eubranchus farrani, Doto coronata, Cadlina laevis and Facelina auriculata.
We spent almost 70 minutes at the tiny part of the Leagar Buss and we couldn’t wait to return to this site later, eager to see what else can be found at the base of the peak. Can you now imagine how difficult it was to wait until my backup camera arrives?
The next day we made a lengthy trip to the Isle of May. It took us about two hours to get to National Nature Reserve, situated five miles from the mainland. (Here you can find additional info about the island). As for us, the main attraction should’ve been diving with the seals. But to our regret, Matt and I, combining all three dives that we made over, managed to see underwater … about two or three animals. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that they were difficult to find. Before we jumped into the water, we saw plenty of seals and other divers practically dove among them, returning to the boat with lots of good shots. But we, somehow, managed to miss the whole show. (I guess Graham Ferguson was right when he told me that I must stop relying on my digital compass and switch to the analog instrument :))))
Diving with seals at National Nature Reserve
However, the trip to May wasn’t a total lost, Matt fastened wide-angle lens to his camera and had a blast shooting underwater sceneries. Especially we liked the third dive at the Bishop Basalt Pillars. Everything felt perfectly into its place – the sun was shining bright and the wind was non-existent. At the surface, we were entertained by hundreds of flying above our heads seagulls. Below, in front of the opening to the cave, we saw a seal, peeking at us from behind a boulder. Then we swam through the tunnel to the other side of the dividing wall. The visibility was great and during safety stop, Matt took awesome shots of jellyfish.
Blue lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii)
And I guess everything would continue just like it was, but on the third day the wind blew stronger and the North Sea became a bit restless. The waves weren’t so bad that Jim had to cancel all trips, but now, to keep it safer, he had to search for a calmer spot. Now, imagine how difficult it was to make a decent shot closer to the surface if even at depth of 50-60 feet we felt a gentle swaying. Thus, at about 30 feet, we did a lot of waltzing in front of Flabellina pedata, trying to take a few pictures while the nudi was laying eggs on a constantly flipping tiny blade of kelp. Phew … no wonder why I came out from this dive sweating profusely.
Pink Coryphella (Flabellina pedata)
And so it happened that the wind subsided only on the day we had to leave Eyemouth. I don’t know, Matt may argue with me on that, but I felt that the last few days of our diving in Scotland were disappointing. For instance, when I finally received my camera, I asked Jim to take us back to the Leagar Buss. He did. We descended … looked around … and were taken aback. The place, where on the first day we found an abundance of all kinds of small marine life, was totally empty.
Long-clawed squat lobster (Munida rugosa)
We also went back to Black Carr, our very first dive spot, and found the same picture as we saw at the Leagar Buss. Besides thick carpet of brittle stars and a few crabs, there were nothing. I understand that you can’t argue with nature and there is no one to blame for the unexpected weather swings. Even more, when I described weather situation in Scotland to Anne, she replied that OceanAddicts, due to high seas, had to cancel for a day all their dives. But it was very difficult to accept such a striking difference between first few and the last days of diving.
Well, what can you do, but try to stay positive. As we were driving to the Heugh dive site, we saw a pod of dolphins, jumping in a few feet away from our boat. During the last few dives in Scotland, I was able to take some shots of a crab that I saw in the book, but was unable to find it in Ireland.
Matt wanted to see Highland’s games, therefore we left almost two full days for the trip to the historic region of Scotland. So he booked a room in the Clunes B&B, the beautiful, small house located on the northwest of the Highlands, near Landmark Forest Adventure Park.
From Marine Quest to Highlands and then to Glasgow
Despite that it was raining almost all day long, I enjoyed every minute of driving through the Cairngorms National Park. But by the time we arrived at the games, they were finished and locals were gathering at bars and restaurants for the celebration.
Entrance to the Highlands
Upon arrival to Carrbridge, we had only the time for a dinner and a short walk along the river. And that was just fine, ’cause we believed that we still have almost all next day for the exploration of the Highlands before we had to go to the airport. But in the morning, about 7 am, we decided to recheck the departure time and … s**t, instead of 7pm, as we originally thought, our flight was going to depart in just 4 hours, at 11am. So you can imagine those hectic 5 minutes that took us to shove out stuff into the rental and be on our way to the airport.
walking along the river
According to our navigation, it would take about two and a half hours to reach Glasgow, so I was cursing every speed camera that slowed me down. But we made it, even with a few minutes to spare. We returned the car, made sure there were not any speeding tickets and boarded the plane.
Driving through the Highlands
I kept thinking on my way back home if in the future I’d be willing to come back to Scotland for another diving excursion. And, quite frankly, at that time, I was not sure if I’d give a positive answer. You see, I’ve made a considerable amount of dives seeing, basically, very little. Plus, the uneasiness of the sea, especially in the last few days, did not help to form a favorable opinion.
But then, upon returning home and sifting through the collected pictures, I realized that my judgment was affected by the predicament with my drowned camera.
So … a month has passed and now, without a doubt I want to go back to the Scotland and, most likely, I’ll do it soon. I liked everything about this trip, the country itself, with its beautiful land and seascapes. The people, at least all those whom I’ve met during my stay, has shown me nothing but warm hospitality and kindness.
The diving – yes, it was a bit challenging diving in a weather-beaten sea, but it was well worth it, Matt and I saw a very impressive variety of all kind of marine animals. From a macro- to a wide-lense photography, no one will be left disappointed.
Therefore, I consider my trip to Scotland as an awesome personal discovery of an amazing location for the countless, remarkable marine explorations. And there is nothing left to say except a huge Thank You to all my new Scottish friends, best wishes to you all and, hopefully, we’ll meet again and very soon.
Safe diving and new exciting discoveries to all.