UK Shore Diving at Cathedral Rock in St Abbs
First discovered in the 1950s, Cathedral Rock is one of the UK's most popular dive sites, and possibly one of the most dived sites in the whole of the British Isles. Saying that, many divers often fail to find Cathedral Rock, relying on poor information or bad navigational skills. More often than not they are just enjoying themselves so much, diving the rest of the area off St Abbs harbour wall, that they never get as far as Cathedral Rock. These are the divers who like to wax poetic about the dive, talking of the shafts of light and cathedral-like atmosphere!
Cathedral Rock is part of the reef that runs perpendicular to the corner of St Abbs harbour wall, known locally as Thistly Briggs. The 'rock' of Cathedral Rock is never visible, even at the lowest of tides, and many divers actually mistake a reef close by for it.
Underwater, the wall falls away and is deeply undercut by horizontal strata lines eroded away by the movement of the water, and now filled with squat lobsters and leopard-spotted gobies.
The top tunnel is known as the Keyhole, and during the diving season there is often so much trapped air in one of the small upper recesses that you can 'surface' and have a chat with your buddy while still 8m underwater. The lower tunnel archway is massive-of double-decker-bus proportions-with a stony bottom directly under the arch, and a tumble of boulders at each side.
Visibility is variable, depending on the prevailing winds and current, but is generally good. The walls and the roof of the arches are festooned in a dwarf species of the plumose anemone (Metridium senile), as well as sponges, soft corals, mussels and hydroids.
Small schools of pollack are often herded into this natural arena by predatory cod; and the photographic possibilities of this dive are endless, with panoramic vistas of the archways, diver portraits, diver-interaction shots and, of course, the simply staggering number of macro subjects, such as nudibranchs, crabs and molluscs.
There is a resident family of ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta), which will feed out of divers' hands but, sadly, it has been noted that some unscrupulous divers have been known to chop up a sea urchin or five to feed the wrasse. Divers are discouraged from feeding the fish with any of the other local residents: why kill another animal to try to get better photographs? If you obey the conservation code you will be amply rewarded.
Due to the position of the rocky reef and two huge holes through it, Cathedral Rock is often swept by current funnelled through the archways. Although it rarely exceeds one knot, it can still be a bit of a swim back to the safety of the inner reef. Cathedral Rock is really a shore dive, but for those of you who are too lazy to swim the 50m and decide take your new RIB to the site, please consider the other divers and snorkellers in the area, as well as the submerged reefs surrounding Cathedral Rock.
This site can be dived all year round, but as always, the east-coast weather patterns are somewhat variable and diving is liable to be cancelled at the last minute, so remember to telephone one of the dive shops or your B&B or hotel well in advance to check on the diving conditions.
The best access to dive Cathedral Rock is from the southern side of the harbour wall where the wall joins a low, rocky reef. Directly opposite the entry point is another huge rock called Big Green Carr, which offers shelter, except in the most exceptional circumstances.
Once in the water, drop down to 6m on to the small sand-and-gravel patch smothered in hermit crabs, then swim over to the facing near-vertical wall. Follow it along, keeping it to your left, and travel on as far as you can go. Then cross over a small headland which juts out from the right, swim straight on to the next facing wall, which is part of Thistly Briggs, and by keeping the wall to your right you will come to Cathedral Rock. The average depth is 8 -14m.
What you need to know
For those coming from the south to St Abbs, travel up the A1 trunk road until you reach Scotland! Turn second right along the Eyemouth to Coldingham road, the A1107. In Coldingham village square, take a tight turning to your right, which is well signposted to St Abbs. As you approach the village, the road splits into two. To get to St Abbs harbour, take the main branch to the right: if you carry straight on, the single-track road will pass through Northfield Farm and continues up to St Abbs lighthouse above the National Nature Reserve. St.Abbs is about 7km off the A1.
For those of you who have invested in expensive GPS gizmos and insist on diving by boat, Cathedral Rock is at Lat: 550 53' 55'N, Long: 020 07' 29'W. Better still, invest in Ordnance Survey Pathfinder 423 Map sheet NT 86 / 96 GR 922 673 or Admiralty chart No 160. There is a slipway at St Abbs harbour and fees are £10 each day to keep your boat moored in the harbour (including launching ). A number of dive clubs launch their boats at Eyemouth, where it is free, and motor up to St Abbs to pick up their divers to avoid the St Abbs harbour fees. This is not only cheap, it annoys the locals and other dive clubs. Be warned that if you bring your boat into St Abbs harbour you will be charged.