Named by CNN as the number one destination for tourists to visit in 2013, Scotland has something to offer to everyone. With a long and complex history, Scotland is a clean, unspoilt destination with beautiful scenery. It is famous all over the world for its historic castles, beautiful lochs and traditional games. It has thousands of historic sites and attractions, which include prehistoric stone circles, standing stones (called henges), burial chambers, and various remains from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Stone Age. There are also many historic homes, battlegrounds, ruins and museums.
Another significant and increasingly popular reason for increased tourism to Scotland is genealogy, with many people, especially from North America, visiting Scotland to explore their ancestral roots. Scotland is also a paradise for water sport. With activities ranging from surfing the Atlantic swells, rafting a river, kayaking around the west coast or diving amongst the wrecks of a German World War II battle fleet, Scotland has it all. There are a number of high quality outdoor activity centres and water sport companies, making the region perfect for family holidays.
Aquatic Life in Scotland
The peaceful waters of Scotland offer not just perfect conditions for diving, but also a great range of marine wildlife and fauna. Aquatic wildlife like whales, dolphins and sharks are common sightings here, while sea eagles, puffins, otters, terns, razorbills, seals and many more are less widespread and dependent on either location or season. Scotland's seas are one of the most biologically productive in the world, with an estimated number of marine species exceeding forty thousand. Deep-sea cold water coral reefs are found in abundance at an area called the Darwin ounds. Further, around two hundred and fifty species of fish along with deep-water wildlife like the Blue Shark, European Eel, Sea Bass, Dogfish and various rays can be found in the waters around Scotland.
Diving Spots in Scotland
Some of the world's most exciting wreck diving spots are found in Scotland. Scotland has diving opportunities for all abilities and a tourist can find a range of dive companies that offer everything from day trips to onboard accommodation dive boats, which can take tourists out to sea for up to seven days at a time. The Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands offers a unique opportunity to explore one of the world's best wreck diving sites, while the surrounding islands of Mainland, Burray and Hoy make this one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and a graveyard of sunken ships.
Along with being wreck sites, there is an abundance of drift, shallow, scenic and shore dive sites in the area. The Calve Island up north is famed for cliff diving, with pinnacles rising to over ninety metres. Berwickshire's pristine coastal waters are perfect for scuba diving, complete with rocky reefs and marine life like seals, dolphins, porpoises, Arctic wolf fish and Devonshire cup corals.
With crystal clear waters, and what has been described as the finest collection of marine life in the United Kingdom, St Kilda is fast becoming a must visit place for divers. Due to volcanic activity sixty million years ago and the violent action of wind and water, the place has some of the best tunnel and cave dives in the world. This island absolutely teems with sea birds, particularly the pffin. St Kilda is also the largest gannetry in the world, with more than seventy thousand breeding pairs of gannets. Many other types of sea birds are also found here, including storm petrels, fulmars, oystercatchers, eider ducks, guillemots, razorbills, kittewakes and skuas.
The cave dive at Village Bay is famous for its excellent visibility, natural underwater rock formations and marine life. Jellyfish of different types like lion's mane, comb jelly and string, Cuckoo wrasse, Pollack, Conger, Jewel anemones and Squat lobster present a lively and colourful vista for divers. A cave dive near one of the islands named Hirta is particularly famous for one cave, whichhas the dimensions of a cathedral and goes quite deep into the cliffs. The cave is huge, with the floor covered with pebble-shaped boulders and the walls covered with small orange sponges. One suggestion for anyone taking a trip to St Kilda is to go prepared for some minor caving, with plenty of line and good high-power lamps. Time is of the essence here, since good weather never lasts for long.
Scapa Flow is home to the German High Seas fleet, which was scuttled here in 1929. The underwater wrecks of the fleet undoubtedly make it one of the best dive sites in the world. Guided dives are typically run for both individuals and small groups. Divers with no previous experience can easily visit the shore wrecks, which lie in 10 metres of the water and are within swimming distance from the shore. Scapa Flow is home to an astonishing array of wildlife both below and above the water. The wrecks have become artificial coral reefs, with ocean bed creatures such as starfish and urchins bringing colour and vibrancy to the site. Pollock, cod, ling, wrasse, grey seals, harbour seals and even basking sharks are found here.
The HMS Royal Oak and HMS Vanguard are the two war graves which must not be disturbed by tourists, but they can instead visit any of the remaining wrecks from the German fleet. The SMS Dresden is the first dive at Scapa. It is a unique dive thanks to the ship coming to rest both on its port side and on an incline. The SMS Karlsruhe offers plenty of opportunities for exploring enclosed spaces. A diver can spend upwards of forty minutes on a dive here, exploring the various mysteries the wreck has to offer.
The SMS Coln is the most intact of the four cruiser wrecks, and is well within the grasp of competent sports divers. The SMS Brummer, a mine-laying cruise cruiser, is a firm favourite among divers due to its easily navigable structure and special features like the brass bridge, which brings out the beauty and scale of this historic warship. The SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm is a remarkable wreck not only because of its sheer size and magnitude, but also because she has retained an astonishing amount of armament, which makes for an enthralling dive. The jewel of the Scapa Flow fleet wreck, the SMS Markgraf is the most involved dive of the entire fleet at Scapa Flow. It requires a level of technicality which the others do not. Prominent features include the bow, stern and rudders, which have remained largely intact. With many of its components in the engine room still intact, the SMS Konig is certainly worth a dive at Scapa Flow.
Loch Fyne is the second longest sea loch in Scotland and provides excellent diving on the coast, but it is often overlooked due to a general lack of facilities in the area, which results in thinner crowds. Typical of west coast loch diving, the waters of Loch Fyne are silty and peaty with lots of sea squirts, tubeworms and lobsters. Diving is possible throughout the year, due to the long and sheltered nature of the loch. One of the best dives here is Kenmore Point, with vertical walls slit by narrow, horizontal fissures
Large brilliantly coloured sponges, anemones, lobsters, sea squirts, feather starfish, brittle starfish and basking sharks abound here. Near Kenmore Point is Stallion Rock, which is similar to Kenmore Point but instead has a single rock jutting from the seabed 30 metres below. This rock is profusely covered in sea sponges, sea squirts and anemones, and is rated as one of the top dives in Loch Fyne. Since temperatures are cold here, tourists should make sure that they bring proper thermal dry or semi-dry suits, while visibility is generally good except after heavy rainfall.
Isle of Mull
The Isle of Mull is the fourth largest Scottish island and is a popular destination for photographers, naturalists and divers. The place is home to over two hundred and fifty different bird species including birds of prey such as Hen Harriers, Golden eagles and Short Eared owl. Marine wildlife includes Basking shark, Minke whales, porpoises and dolphins. There are a number of top quality dive sites here, situated in some of the world's most unspoilt and unpolluted waters.
The Calve Island dive spot is a cliff down fifty metres, with lots of life on the cliff and stacks of scallop at fifty metres. It is a good spot for a warm up dive since it has great visibility. Ardtornish Point boasts of an intact wreck, which when coupled with strong currents and aquatic life makes it a first-class dive. Red Rocks is a great site to gather scallops, and is fairly flat with big rocks around. The site is well suited for beginners as the tide is very slight. The wreck of Shuna is a fairly gloomy and silty site, but the prop and stern of the wreck make it an excellent visit. Small shoals of fish hang under the walkways in the engine room and the cargo of coal can still be found in the holds.
The strong currents at Thesis make it a site only for experienced divers. The wreck of a steamer sunk in 1889, it is abundant in plumose anemones, dead men's fingers and huge wraisse. Ballista is an extremely sheltered site, and lies on top of two wrecks. Meldon is also an excellent dive site, with bluer and colder waters than the remaining areas of the island. The rudder and prop make an amazing sight, with the large prop shaft tunnel visible for a considerable length down the wreck, into the hold area. Another famous wreck here is the Hispania. The current here is fierce, so care needs to be taken to dive only when it slackens. The walls are liberally coated with vibrant oranges and stark whites of plumose anemones.
Falls of Lora
The Falls of Lora is considered as one of the most thrilling dives, due to the smooth, glassy surface of this stunning sea loch as well as the rollercoaster experience that awaits the diver beneath. The best time to get there is when the Falls of Lora is in flood, since the visibility is better. The Falls of Lora is an excellent drift dive for experienced divers. The dive starts from the seaward side at a depth of about seven metres, and divers aim to be swept into Loch Etive with the current. The current pulls the diver to a maximum depth of thirty metres and becomes weak enough in the Loch to begin ascending comfortably
You can dive at both Isle of Mull and Fall of Lora with Lochaline Dive Centre who cover both sites as well as many other adventurous and interesting locations
The Summer Isles are one of the best kept secrets in diving in the United Kingdom. Achiltibuie is the starting point for all diving in the Isles. The diving around the isles is some of the best in Scotland. No matter the state of the weather, a lee shore can always be found. A number of dive sites, including more than fifteen wrecks and a number of uncharted reefs and shoals can be found here. The dive sites recorded in the area number in excess of hundred, and dives range from huge caverns to spectacular caves simply teeming with fish, wrecks covered with soft corals and anemones and some of the most terrific vertical walls. The caves have depths ranging from five to seventy metres and some of these dive sites are for experienced divers only due to the silty nature of the water at such depths. Marine life here includes soft corals, ascidians, sea urchins, sponges, skate, rays, gobies, scorpion fish and octopus.
St Abbs Cathedral Rock is possibly one of the most dived sites in the United Kingdom. Due to the position of the rocky reef and two huge passages through it, current funnelled through the archways often sweeps Cathedral Rock. The rock of Cathedral Rock is never visible, even at the lowest tides. Underwater, the wall falls away and is deeply undercut by horizontal strata lines etched by the movement of the water and filled with squat lobsters and leopard-spotted gobies. Visibility is variable, depending on the prevailing winds and current, but is generally good. The best access point to dive at Cathedral Rock is from the southern side of the harbour wall where the wall joins a low rocky reef
Due to complete lack of sedimentation, the visibility at this site is always clear. Approaching the cliff wall, divers can observe the incredible range of colours on display here because of the anemones, which carpet the cliff walls. The main reason why divers keep returning to dive in the Shetlands is because it offers some of the most picturesque settings, and visually, are everything an underwater photographer could want