Dorset Explorer - Chesil and Swanage!
With the country still in the grip of the recent heatwave, our intrepid gang of Scubanuts set out on a Friday afternoon for Portland and Weymouth in Dorset for a weekend shore diving Chesil Cove. Chesil Cove is a curved steep bank forming the south-east end of 18 miles of Chesil Beach. Forming part of the Jurassic Coast, Chesil Cove is a popular site for scuba divers and has become one of the best known shore dives in the UK. The cove is a reasonably shallow shore dive, and has an interesting selection of south coast marine life, as well as an abundance of flora and fauna. There have been many shipwrecks in the cove, and a few remains exist close to the beach. There are 4 main dive options when diving the cove - the best local website to check out is Underwater Explorers where it is possible to obtain a map and entry instructions.
On arrival at Chesil Beach on the Saturday morning the first main challenge is parking. The Cove is accessible at the end of a short road with approx 15 parking spaces, and apparently red hot parking attendants if you park on the double yellows! You may find that you need to drop kit (with a group this wasn't an issue as we always had someone to mind the gear) and then find a parking space nearby - there is public carpark around 5 to 10 minutes walk. The kit then needs to be carried down to the beach - the easiest way to do this is to form a human chain, though this may prove more challenging for a buddy pair.
The diving itself off the beach is very straightforward, the visibility was a decent 6 to 8 metres, and there was plenty of fish life, with highlights including John Dory and Cuttlefish. There is a small wreck visible just off the beach and we achieved maximum depths of around 8 metres. The entry from the beach into the water is hard work given the cobbles on the beach, but the exit is even more challenging. The Chesil Bank is very steep and the surge can make getting out of the water difficult - coupled with the 30 degree temperatures, carrying the kit back up off the beach and reloading the cars, we were all ready for a well earned drink and curry on the Saturday night. Given the challenges we all elected not to dive Chesil again on day 2 as planned and agreed to head off early to Swanage Pier!
Swanage Pier is also one of the UK's best known shore dives with depths under the pier from 3 to 5 metres depending on the state of the tide. Given the hot weather, the entry down the stone steps off the pier coupled with a short surface swim would be a lot less challenging. We all managed to park on the pier - though if the pier is full there is a public carpark nearby. Swanage Pier, like Chesil, is an easy dive once in the water - the only thing to remember is to keep under the pier due to the volume of boat traffic outside. Providing you follow that simple rule it's very easy to navigate. There is a lot of fish life and even a conger eel living in a pipe towards the end of the pier. The visibility however can be mixed - when we visited it was a poor 2 to 3 metres at best. Dived some years previously we had a good 10 metres and conditions comparable with the Med!
After two good dives we set about packing up our kit and headed into Swanage for fish and chips, which always somehow manage to taste better at the seaside! After a stroll along the sea front and an ice cream for pudding we headed back to the car and headed back to Northampton. It was a great weekend with great company - if you haven't dived either they are definitely worth a visit.