Scuba diving in Ullswater

by Jo Collins from Penrith Divers

Not long after the invention of the Aqua-Lung enabled ordinary people to take-up scuba diving, locals were making their own rubber wetsuits to dive in Ullswater. These home-made wetsuits weren’t very warm or long-lasting, but some sixty years later, you can still see divers from all over the UK going into Ullswater.

So why do divers dive in Ullswater? They’re looking at wildlife, looking for treasure, or looking to practice their diving skills. There are shoals of small fish in Ullswater such as perch, trout, schelly and very occasionally pike. Sometimes we do see bigger fish of 25-30cm but this doesn't happen very often. At night the eels are very active.

The lakebed around the edges is leaves and silt, with escaping bubbles from rotting vegetation. Around 3m deep, plant life includes hornwort and underwater grasses that can grow up to 2m high. However, the plants follow the shoreline because if they are too deep the light can’t get to them and they can’t photosynthesise.

There is a dive site at Fallen Rocks (Stybarrow Crag). This has underwater cliffs where the rockface was blown away to create the A592 in the 1960s and comes complete with triangular warning signs which have gone overboard. Howtown is also a popular spot for divers looking for wrecks and underwater treasures. The original Ullswater Steamer, the Enterprise, sank around here and there is also a bottle dump.

underwater signs at Fallen Rocks

People didn’t just throw glass bottles in the lake. Elsewhere, divers have found a powder blue Austin A40 and there is rumoured to be the remains of an Aga which was pushed out onto the ice one winter to disappear when the lake thawed. Nowadays divers are often asked to look for things lost accidentally like mobile phones or they go in to clear up non-biodegradeable rubbish.

Glencoyne Bay Rubbish Clearing

Our club, Penrith Divers, ( practice in Ullswater because, in the immortal words of our instructors, ‘if you can dive there; you can dive anywhere!’ We usually go down to around 25m at four main dive sites, which represent the easiest places to get our kit down to the lake shore.

buddy checks

Cumbrian lake diving is different to warm-water diving. Ullswater’s shoreline is shallow but the lake slopes quickly away to 63m in the middle. The lakebed is peaty due to the run-off from the hills; so underwater is very dark and very yellow. Visibility varies between 0 and 8m and the best of it occurs over the winter. We always carry torches.

Diving temperature is also different. There is no end to our diving season as the lake is slow to warm up and slow to cool down. But to spend 40 minutes underwater over winter when it’s 5 degrees, we need drysuits with layers of warm clothes underneath. These trap warm air around the body and keep divers and their clothing dry. Neoprene hoods and gloves are also essential pieces of our diving kit. With all that and weights and tanks, we don’t move fast on dry land!

There’s been a dive club in Penrith since the early 70s and we, and other dive clubs, enjoy the opportunity to practice so close to home. If you see unexplained patches of bubbles rising to the surface, it’s not the Ullswater monster, but most likely divers continuing the long tradition.

divers surfacing

by Jo Collins from Penrith Divers

With thanks to Alan, David, Frank, Katie and Roger from Penrith Divers

Treasure diving at Howtown Pier & The Bottle Bank Ullswater - YouTube - re Enterprise and Howtown Bottle Dump

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