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Diving a St Kilda Cave

Here is a blog, from one our divers, reflecting on diving a St Kilda Cave.

It was one of those mythical names the well-traveled veteran divers liked to drop into conversations. Like a mark of achievement, showing that they’d reached the coveted level of remote explorative diving. I understood early on that St Kilda was in the league of ‘bucket list’ locations to visit and dive but I didn’t fully grasp the allure of the islands until my turn came.

This was my second attempt to reach St Kilda, notorious for its inaccessibility and lack of safe anchorage in anything other than good weather. The group of islands that make up St Kilda is located 100 miles off the west coast of Scotland, beyond the Outer Hebrides. Exposed to the full brutality of the Atlantic storms, the weather had prevented me leaving the safe shelter of the Hebrides on my first attempt. You can pay a small fortune to do a day trip here on a fast RHIB but aboard the Pelican of London we were able to spend much longer appreciating these awe-inspiring islands.

We readied our kit in excitement and loaded the tender. A short ride took us along the base of the sheer cliffs, every remotely level ledge occupied by nesting seabirds. There were puffins, razorbills, gannets, fulmar and skuas, all competing for space. A couple of seals sleepily blinked at us as we passed where they had hauled out. The cliffs were punctured by deep cracks and caves, well known to lead diver Rohan Holt who has previously surveyed the islands. Once at our cave of choice we kitted up and did our safety checks. Then rolled back into another world.

We descended through the green blue water to a deep gully. Flicking on our torches, the walls came alive with colour. Vivid splashes of red, rich orange, luminous pink and yellows. The sheer variety and richness of the creatures living on these vertical walls is part of what makes St Kilda so special. This is one of the few places where you can dive in such pristine waters in the UK. I was particularly looking forward to the jewel anemones. These tiny anemones may be small but they make up for their size with their almost luminous colours. Jewel anemones multiply by budding so there are great patches of yellow, pink and orange varieties coating the walls. The colours mixing only where two distinct clonal colonies meet.

At the back of the cave, around 23m deep, were some much larger anemones, called horseman anemones. These too are a favourite for any underwater photographer. Each one a different shade of red with a multitude of beautifully banded tentacles. After snapping away to my hearts content I headed back through the 2m wide gully towards the pen sea. Along the way I of course got distracted by yet more amazing creatures living on the walls of the cave. There were hydroids, nudibranchs, sponges and bryozoans. Even a very obliging Long-spined Scorpion fish nestled among the menagerie.

Back outside the cave we began our safety stop at 6m depth, in preparation for surfacing. But St Kilda had yet another treat for us. The quick flash of silver and a trail of fine bubbles first gave away the presence of our visitors. Turning to see who the culprit was, I was soon eye to eye with a guillemot. Shimmering silver with the air trapped around its feathers, the birds flew down to us and gave us a good inspection before rocketing to the surface. Our safety stop complete, we too headed to the surface ending our dive.


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