Secret Scotland Snorkelling
Renowned for bagpipes, Loch Ness, haggis and spectacular scenery, it may come as a surprise to visitors to discover that one of Scotland's best-kept secrets is its stunning snorkelling choices – including shipwreck sites, rock walls and sheltered sea lochs favoured by underwater photographers.
As for the perception of chilly waters? A post-summer paddle requires little more than a neoprene suit and a hood, and in winter just add boots, gloves – and go! VisitScotland has put together its go-to guide for sensational snorkelling, Scottish-style:
Snorkel Trail, North West Highlands
Taking in nine beaches and bays along the coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland, Scotland's first snorkel trail has something for all levels of snorkelling skill. Highlights include Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles where kelp and crevasses shelter lobsters and crabs; the headland at Gruinard Bay where seagrass shelters numerous fish and shellfish; and Achmelvich Bay, a stunning sandy beach ideal for beginners and home to fish galore, shellfish and kelp beds.
Swim with the sharks, Oban
Travellers can enjoy a thrilling swim with the friendly basking sharks (they are plankton, not man eaters!) in the blissful blue waters of the Inner Hebrides (or can watch them from the boat), and can observe whales, dolphins, seals, golden eagles, puffins and other seabirds in their natural habitat – combined with a fascinating shoreline landscape or castles and ruins in stunning Argyll. Basking Shark Scotland operates basking shark boat trips and snorkel safaris between April and October, and snorkelling trips and diving expeditions between June and August.
The Sound of Mull, Scottish Highlands
A haven for marine life including nudibranchs, sunstars, anemones, peacock worms and pipefish, The Sound is the site of several major wreck sites: Hispania, Shuna, Thesis, Rondo and Breda. The clear water of The Sound of Mull, with its abundant marine wildlife, is the ideal spot for snorkellers, divers and beach goers year round.
Conger Alley, Argyll
Divers favour the shoreline between Succoth and Artgarten, while the two old piers are ideal for spotting huge schools of crustaceans near the surface – perfect for snorkellers.
Firth of Lorne, Oban
A mecca for diving enthusiasts, these unpolluted waters are home to both shallow and deep wrecks and deep drop offs, where snorkellers and divers find diverse kelp forests, anemones, sea sponges, lobsters, eels and common seals. The pinnacle of this area's currents to be enjoyed on boat is the world's third largest whirlpool – the Corrywreckan – which can sometimes be heard on the mainland from some five miles away.
Dunbar, West Scotland
With plentiful marine life tucked in among the gullies, this is a sheltered site that's only 10 metres deep and an ideal entry point for snorkelling enthusiasts.
The Caves at Loch Long
With visibility of up to 10 metres and pinnacles at just a metre below the surface at low tide, the caves are a fascinating find for snorkellers and divers.
Staxigoe, near Wick
Either side of the bay just out from the slipway in the harbour are small caves packed with squat lobsters, kelp fronds supporting squid eggs and rocks covered with crimson sea hares, and their bright spiral-shaped eggs – not your everyday snorkelling fare.
Portskerra arch, near Melvich Bay, Sutherland
A sheltered bay teeming with marine life, snorkellers who stay close to the reef wall will be rewarded with a close up of sticklebacks en route to the submerged arch at the end of the reef, which is home to plenty of anemone and sponges.
Outer Hebrides Snorkel Trail, Isle of Harris
The waters around the Isle of Harris off Scotland's West Coast are home to a rich marine environment with plenty of local species like brittlestar, lion's mane, velvet swimming crab, periwinkle and sandeels on display among others.
For holiday information on Scotland go to www.visitscotland.com