Inland dive sites are perhaps not the first locations that spring to mind for a summer’s day of snorkelling, but Andy Torbet discovers a world of cool serenity at his local lake.
Well it's been a hot old summer. Very hot. And as someone who evolved to survive the ‘summers’ of the Scottish Highlands, when the thermometer starts punching towards 30°C I need to find a way of cooling down.
Fortunately, I don’t live far from The National Diving and Activity Centre (NDAC) near Chepstow. So on a hot weekend I can nip down to the quarry with my snorkelling kit and jump in. Like most of our inland dive sites, NDAC welcomes the snorkel – they know today’s snorkellers could be tomorrow’s divers and we’re a pretty hassle-free bunch. In common with most inland dive sites, they want you to snorkel in pairs. Otherwise, you’re welcome to go where you like, as long as it’s within your capability – basically the same common-sense rules that apply to any diving in any location, regardless of whatever kit you are using.
My plan this time was to play amongst the copious bits and pieces in the 5-10 metre range (as I said, choose duck diving depths appropriate for your capability – this is fine for me). Because places like NDAC are often used for introductory dive courses there is usually plenty to cater for the less experienced divers and therefore plenty to see in the shallows.
However, even if you prefer to stay on the surface there is still fun to be had. In fact, I changed my plan when I saw the visibility in the shallower, more popular spots. I’d jumped in at lunchtime on a Saturday so the waters had already been busy with people running novice courses.
Sensibly, these groups stuck to the shallower areas with training platforms and things to see but, as we all did at the start of our diving journey, beginners need to get to grips with their buoyancy in the first few dives which means these areas often get silted up.
So, with the hot sun beating down upon my wetsuited back, I headed for the shelter and shade of the pontoons. The pontoon system is raised above the waterline and has plenty of space to snorkel underneath unhindered and with no danger of bumping your head. The bottom is at least 20 metres down so, although people jump in here – something to be aware of – there’s little danger of the visibility being stirred up. The shade also attracts some of the freshwater fish that inhabit the lake. I managed to spot some smaller perch darting between the shadows and shafts of sunlight which slash through between the gaps in the boardwalk above me.
Our inland sites are predominantly used for training. Instructors I know use NDAC for open circuit, closed circuit rebreather and also freediving courses. However, as much as our inland sites welcome snorkellers, the locations are seldom used by them. The advantages of sheltered waters, no tides or currents, less susceptibility to weather, on-site classrooms and medical assistance are all considered useful by other forms of diving.
Perhaps you want to test some new equipment, do some training, run a course or just get wet and the sea is off-limits due to the winds or it’s just too long a drive today. If that’s the case, I can commend the humble inland site. And, having spoken to many of the big locations they’re all extremely keen to welcome more snorkellers.
And finally, I should say that I normally dive in remote and wild places. Magnificent but definitely lacking in facilities. Whereas at NDAC, and our other inland sites, a post-snorkel cup of tea, and perhaps a cheeky ice-cream, is another distinct, and very civilised, attraction.
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Article by Andy Torbet for SCUBA magazine, issue 82 August 2018.
The image used for this months online version is a clip from SCUBA magazine.
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