Sunday, 24 March 2013

Dive Guide: Conger Alley (Loch Long)

Site Summary
Conger Alley is shore dive I've done a LOT over the years! It's made up of two rocky reefs over a gently sloping sandy seabed and there's usually a decent amount of marine life to see including conger eels if you're lucky. Situated near the north end of Loch Long, it's sheltered from a lot of bad weather by the surrounding hills and doesn't get much in the way of currents which makes it an ideal site for novices or diver training. 

Type: Shore dive (rocky reef)
Depth: 6m-30m 
Tides: None
Suitable for: All diver grades
Notable hazards: Traffic on A83

Getting there and getting in
From Google Maps. Click to enlarge.
If you don't park at the 'proper' parking place, you can fit 3-4 cars at the side of the road here in the mud. The site entrance is marked with the arrow.

Conger Alley sits right on the side of the A83, just 2.5 miles north of Arrochar. There's space to park several cars about 500m away in a large, tarmaced parking place, or if there aren't too many of you it's possible to park at the side of the road in the mud just beside the Goldberry Cottage B&B. It's a bit of a squeeze there though and you will be very close to the (very fast) main road.

WARNING! The traffic on this part of the A83 goes VERY fast as this stretch is one of the only good places to overtake for several miles. As such, cars are often travelling on the wrong side of the road so be careful! Lorries and heavy traffic are also a common feature.

Site Access
Access is very easy. The path is found directly opposite the white cottage on the side of the road.

Wherever you decide to park, there is a small pavement on the opposite side of the road where you can set up your kit and which will get you safely to the site itself. Access to the shore is via a small path directly opposite Goldberry Cottage B&B.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hopkins.

It's a pretty good option when the weather's awful too since the A83 is usually open at least as far as Arrochar. 

The path can be a little slippery when it's wet, but it's in pretty good condition and once you're on the beach it's an easy walk to the water. Just follow the line of boulders and wade in.

Underwater

Approximate map of Conger Alley dive site. 

Once you're in the water, finding the reef is nice and straightforward. Heading out from the shore, head diagonally left away from the shore down until you get to around 10-15m water depth. At this point, don't go any deeper and continue along the slope for a few minutes until you reach the reef. It is a relatively long and boring swim over a fairly featureless sandy bottom, but as long as you're at the correct depth you will definitely reach the shallow reef.

TOP TIP: Watch out for sealochs anemones as you head towards the reef. The boulders at Conger Alley are covered in them, and you'll see them start to appear on the seabed as you get closer to the reef.

When you get to Conger Alley itself, you have the choice of two reefs to explore. I've never dived the 'deep' reef myself, but you'll find it by heading downslope from the 'shallow' reef to a depth of around 25-30m or so depending on the tide. I believe there are usually more conger eels at the deeper reef so if you're qualified and happy with the depth it might be worth a look.

Otherwise, you can carry on across the shallow reef. It's not particularly large, so it's perfectly possible to work your way across it two or three times as you gradually head shallower.

Recommended Equipment
Torch

Things to See

There is quite a lot of marine life to see at Conger Alley, including quite a few species fish (particularly ballan wrasse, conger eels and lots of leopard gobies) though you often need to get right down to the seabed and look under the rocks to see them. Sealochs anemones cover virtually every boulder surface and there are also a few sponges and the occasional plumose anemone as well as all the usual velvet swimmer, harbour, hermit and some large edible crabs. Cerianthids and green crabs are common over the sand.



Baby common starfish on a tunicate

Common starfish

Conger eels are usually spotted hiding well under the boulders. They can sometimes be coaxed a little way out by waving your torch in front of (not at) them, but keep your fingers to yourself!

Sealochs anemones are virtually everywhere! You'll start seeing them the closer you get to the reef. 

There's a lot of weed to plough through in the shallows if you miss the exit! 

Looking for more? Check out the Dive Guides page!