Monday, 1 April 2013

Dive Guide: 5th Layby on the Left (Loch Creran)

Site Summary
I don’t know if this site has a real name, but this one is at least descriptive! From the one entrance point you have the choice of diving one of three shallow rocky reefs, all of which are at depths of around 3m - 25m. The off-reef areas are ideal for training on a sandy seafloor, but the real attractions here are the serpulid worms which form beautiful, fragile reefs with their calcareous tubes. For some reason (no-one knows why), this loch is the only site in the world where these worms form large reefs like this and they are well worth seeing.

Type: Shore dive (rocky reef / serpulid reefs)
Depth: 3m-25m 
Tides: None
Suitable for: All diver grades (but good buoyancy essential near serpulid reefs)

Getting there and getting in
From Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

5th Layby on the left site access.

To get to this site, drive north along the A828 towards Fort William, past the Sealife Centre, then turn left at the next roundabout and go under the bridge at the north of Loch Creran. From there (believe it or not!), it’s the 5th passing place on the left. There’s a large parking space there which can fit 4-5 cars. 

Site Access
From the parking bay,  you'll see a path and steps leading down to the shore. It can get a bit slippery underfoot when it's wet or icy so watch out, but basically you just walk straight down the beach and wade in!

You have a couple of options for your dives at this site. See below for details. 

Approximate map of the 5th Layby dive site. Click to enlarge.

Once under the water, you have a few choices to make. 

Option 1: If you head straight out from the shore, you'll swim over a sandy seabed to a depth of around 6m where you'll find a small rocky reef. It slopes down quite steeply to a depth of around 10m and at some point someone has tried to build an artificial reef out of old tyres, so you should find those pretty easily. It's a pretty small area though, so you should see most of it within about 20-30 minutes depending on how thoroughly you explore!

Option 2: Keep the line of rocks on your left and follow them out into the water. As you drop down, you'll see a stretch of bedrock on your left which is covered in mussels and horse mussels. Then just keep this rock face on your left and follow it round to about 12-15m. At that point, you'll come to a bend in the rock and you have two more choices: Either follow the rock round to the left a little then double-back over the top of the bedrock slope (option 2a), or head to the right and explore the boulders further out (option 2b).

Option 2a: Head back up and over the bedrock to a depth of about 6m and then search around and you should find a large serpulid reef (approximately 1m high) which is well worth a look, as well as some smaller colonies. They are extremely fragile though, so do not touch them and do NOT swim over them! From there, continue onwards and you'll get back to your entry point.

Option 2b: This is a route I've only ever taken once, so I don't know it as well as the others. But, if you head out towards the right away from the bedrock slope, you'll find yourself in a boulder field which has some nice life on it. Just retrace your steps to get back or follow Option 2a.

Whichever option you choose, you may find you run into a bit of current once you get past the end of the bedrock slope, but it never gets very strong here and you can swim against it quite easily.

Recommended Equipment

What to See
The serpulid worm reefs are really the main attraction here, but there is a LOT of life on these reefs and they are lovely dives even if you miss the worms. There is a lot of encrusting life over the rock surfaces including plumose anemones, cup corals, Sagartiogeton sp., crabs, fan worms, soft corals and sponges. There’s not usually a lot in the way of fish life, although I’ve seen thornback rays here and quite a few pipefish. In the shallows there are large stands of Ascophylllum seaweeds and horse mussel beds to investigate too which usually have loads of little animals living in amongst them.
Visibility is usually fairly good, but varies a great deal depending on prevailing weather conditions and tide. If you dive here after a period of heavy rain and on an ebb tide the visibility can drop to almost nothing.

On the surface it's pretty common to see seals and otters here too so keep an eye out for those!

Serpulid worm reef at Loch Creran

Greater Pipefish

Close-up of a serpulid worm. The trumpet-shaped operculum is a defining character of this family of worms.

Looking for more? Check out the Dive Guides page!