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visiting and scuba diving in the Northern Isles ( Orkney and Shetland )
Orkney in General
Member Name: Daisybelle
Orkney in General
Date: 18/09/00, updated on 23/09/00 (198 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent viz and loads of wrecks
Disadvantages: A long way to travel
I live and dive in Shetland, also visit Orkney when I get the chance, the diving up here is fantastic and there's plenty to see and do, here's a bit more detail.
Orkney and Shetland both have a lot of ancient history to keep people amused if they aren't diving, Jarlshof, Clickimin Broch and Mousa Broch in Shetland are all worth visiting as are Skara Brae and Maes Howe in Orkney. St Magnus Cathedral is well worth seeing, I pop in for a look whenever I'm in Kirkwall. The Highland Park Distillery is pretty interesting too. Both Islands are rich with music, and have annual Folk Festivals, but I wouldn't try to combine these with diving as they tend to go on pretty late.
Eating out in Orkney is a lot better than Shetland, huge portions abound and I always come back overweight. The Royal Hotel in Stromness is particularly good and there's a place in St Margerets Hope (I haven't been there, but friends have highly recommended it) that has a Michelin star. My favourite eateries in Shetland are the Spice of India, an excellent curry house, and Busta House Hotel, near Brae.
For more info on the Islands try their official websites -
To get to Orkney you can either get a ferry from Scrabster (about 2 hours) or from Aberdeen (about 10 hours). There're also daily flights from Aberdeen, but this isn't much use if you've got a carload of diving gear. The ferry from Aberdeen - Shetland takes 14 hours, and is overnight, there're also flights from Aberdeen.
Scapa Flow in Orkney is something of a mecca for wreck divers. The German High Fleet was scuttled here at the end of WW1 and a few sizeable chunks of it remain, from shallow down to a max. depth of 45m
Orkney (Particularly Stromness, which has a hyperbaric chamber) is well geared up for diving, with a dozen or so charters boats operating in the Flow. Visibility in the flow can be
quite good, though not as good as outside where 20m+ is possible. The German ships are interesting - The bow of the Brummer(35m) is remarkably intact and the Bayern Turrets (upside down in 37m) are amazing, but there are other equally good wrecks to be seen. My favorites are the Cotovia, to the east of Orkney in about 40m, a 4000t SS sunk by mine in 1917. Mostly flat, but the huge boilers stand upright, pretty awesome. The Tabarka is a 2600t blockship in about 15m in Burray sound. Its fairly intact but upside down, you can go inside and swim the length of it, looking at the boilers below you (they've fallen down)and the keel suspended above you, has great viz due to being in the tidal stream and loads of life. As a footnote, a lot of people rave about the James Barrie (Trawler in 40 odd metres), but I thought it was merely okay. Another dive to avoid is The Old Man of Hoy, very pretty above water but a boulder strewn bottom beneath. Its gimmickly named "washing the old mans feet" apparently.
Shetland is situated to the far north of Scotland. Although only 70 miles long it has thousands of miles of coastline, due to the number of Voes (mini fyords) and smaller islands (over 100). In general the tide is less than the rest of the UK and the waters can produce visibility of up to 30m in winter, dropping to 6-8m if the plankton is bad in summer.Temps vary from 4C to 12C, so a drysuit is advisable. There are numerous scenic dives around Shetland, plenty of seals and caves and a lot of wrecks. Diveable within 30 mins of Lerwick harbour are The Glen Isla (45m), Gwladmena (39m), Valkyie (50m and sits upright in a gully), Samba (25m), Pionersk (Russian factory ship in 22m), Lunokhod (5-45m), Queen of Sweden (Dutch East Indiaman in 15m) and many others, ranging from shallow to about 80m
There are plenty of wrecks around Shetland including a WW1 E-boat in 35m (Unst) , the ill-fated oil tanker the Braer at Quendale and several galleons. The Orkney c
harter boats Karin and Jean-Elaine take divers up to Shetland, and the local charter boat Alluvion operates out of Lerwick. If you fancy diving here ask on the usenet group uk.rec.scuba, several Shetland divers lurk there.