10 UK wreck dives that will blow your mind
© Kieran Hatton; Divingindepth.co.uk
From WWI battleships and ill-fated steamboats to sunken passenger liners, thousands of wrecks scatter the seabed around the British Isles. We’ve unearthed 10 of the best.
The UK waters may not be the warmest, but what our shores lack in tropical fish they make up for in incredible wrecks. Sink beneath the surface, and you’ll enter an underwater museum of skeleton-like shells, rusting remains, and seal-infested submarines. While some met their fate on foggy nights, others were torpedoed by enemies, or sunk as artificial reefs.
To discover Britain’s best, we asked wreck diving experts from Scotland to the south coast to share their favourites with us.
1. SMS Cöln, Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The WWII wrecks of Scapa Flow are legendary. “My favourite is the Coln,” says dive instructor Jon MacLeod of Scapa Scuba. “It’s probably the most intact wreck we’ve got and its 25-35m depth opens it to all. The swim from the perfectly intact bow to the lifeboat davits is a highlight, especially in late summer when it’s packed with fish. The stern is a great dive in itself, with two 5.9-inch guns.”
2. Tabarka, Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
At 15m deep and with unique features, the Tabarka 'block ship' is up there with Scapa’s best. It's surrounded by currents so is only suitable for Sports Divers (or equivalent) and above – although BSAC clubs dive here and Diving In Depth offer technical training. Inside, it's an oasis of calm, packed with all kinds of marine life and goodies to uncover. There's even a zipping drift dive to the surface.
3. SS Mohegan, The Manacles, South Cornwall
The Manacles is a treacherous reef just off the Lizard Peninsula, making you feel like some kind of 18th century pirate (we imagine). Of the 110-plus wrecks here, the best-known is the flattened shell of SS Mohegan. Said to be haunted, this 19th-century steamer sank in 1898, with the loss of 106 lives. Experience it with Porthkerris Dive Centre.
4. Abyssinia, Farne Islands, Northumberland
One of Britain’s most dangerous shipping areas, the Farne Islands are littered with wrecks. A German steamship, the Abyssinia (15-18m deep) is “probably the largest,” says local expert Ben Burville. Grey seals are a highlight as you dive through the gully at Knivestone and drop down to the ship’s boilers. “I’ve even seen a seal resting in one of the boilers,” adds Ben. Arrange a boat charter with Farne-islands.com.
5. MV Robert and Iona II, Lundy
With a marine reserve in the Bristol Channel, Lundy is a hotspot for shipwrecks and seals. Andrew Bengey of Lundydiving.co.uk recommends the MV Robert (20m deep) as one of the best. “It’s the only intact wreck around Lundy, and it’s full of life.” MV Robert sank in 1975 and is diveable from a boat. Less than 50m away, you could also explore the historic and equally epic Iona II.
6. SS Sphene, North Cornwall
The SS Sphene in Cornwall is a top pick for Steve Hutchinson of Harlyn Dive School. Carrying coal, it struck rock in 1946 and sank to 23m, near the Mouls. The stern stands up, there’s lots of coal, and you can still see the damage on the keel. Festooned in pink sea fans, it’s often alive with fish. Inside, “there’s nothing in there but silt – I’ve looked!” says Steve.
7. Salsette and M2, Lyme Bay, Dorset
Along Dorset’s wreck-riddled coastline, BSAC rate the Salsette (45m), a former P&O liner that was torpedoed in 1917, and the M2 (35m), an atmospheric submarine and protected war grave, as absolute musts. "Dived on a ‘look don’t touch’ basis, the M2 is upright, virtually intact, and is a staple of many experienced divers’ logbooks," say the good folk of BSAC. Skin Deep Diving operate boat charters.
8. HMS Scylla and the James Eagan Layne, Whitsand Bay, Devon
Plymouth Diving Centre picked HMS Scylla as its favourite for Devon. Around 115m long, it was sunk as an artificial reef, with the top deck within 18m. It’s suitable for all levels but you’ll need a Wreck Diving Specialty to enter. And you can’t come to Whitsand Bay without also diving the awesome James Eagan Layne (18m). Used as a WW2 transporter, she was torpedoed by a U-Boat in 1945.
9. The Lucy, Pembrokeshire
Every diver who comes to Wales wants to dive The Lucy (32m), which sits in the seal-rich Skomer Marine Reserve. A 168ft Dutch coaster, she struck rock and sank on Valentine’s Day in 1967. Upright and very intact, you can see everything from the crew’s quarters to the engine room and cabin. Experienced divers can swim down the staircase between decks. For guided trips and more info, visit West Wales Dive Company and Dive Pembrokeshire.
10. City of Waterford, Sussex
“There are many great wrecks along the Sussex coastline,” say southeast specialists Oyster Diving, “but The City of Waterford (30m) brings the most smiles to divers’ faces.” Ten miles from Brighton, this steamship collided with fate in 1949. “The top of the wreck is at 20m, so you can get a good long dive. There’s lots to see, including parts of the engine room, pots and pans, and ceramic floor tiles."