As the country slowly comes out of lockdown a few club members wondered ‘where can we go diving that isn’t a quarry?’
Social distancing on dive boats is very tricky and places are getting hard to come by. Shore diving may well be our best option for the time being. After a bit of poking about on Finstrokes and chatting to some locals we found some great sites in North Norfolk to explore. This is a beautiful part of the world an eclectic mix of quaint fishing villages and small seaside resorts. The coast is exposed and requires very calm weather to access the sites and to allow the visibility to resemble anything other than a Cromer Crab Bisque. Fortunately, a week staring at Magicseaweed paid off and conditions for Saturday were ideal.
We had an early start to meet up in Sheringham. A small traditional seaside town with a high street still full of independent shops, a Blue Flag beach, and hidden to almost everyone a chalk reef about 100m off the beach.
This would be our shakedown dive. It had been some time since we dived in the sea so this gentle dive was perfect to start the weekend. A short swim out before descending onto the chalk in about 3 metres. The chalk acts as a habitat for all sorts of life including lobsters, crab, prawns, sponges and sea squirts. The white chalk and light sand make this a bright and vibrant dive. Helping the diver pick out all the different bits and pieces hiding under crevices and seaweed. We surfaced and returned to shore pleased with our first dive; the visibility had been great, at least 5m and loads to see so were looking forward to the afternoon’s dive.
Back in the car park we packed up and ate a quick bacon roll from Amanda and Ross’ van. We then headed 10 minutes down the road to Weybourne; a small village with a pebble beach the base for a handful of intrepid fishing boats. It’s a favourite for families seeking a quiet beach away from the busier towns; unfortunately this was slightly spoilt by a) our portable compressor and b) a soundtrack similar to that of a small civil war just a mile away as the nearby military museum conducted a live fire demonstration.
Weybourne promised the highlight of North Norfolk shore diving, the wreck of the SS Rosalie. A cargo ship torpedoed in the First World War. Beaching the ship saved the crew before the ship slipped back into the sea.
The wreck is 400 metres west of the car park and then 100 metres into the sea. We set off on our initial surface swim aiming at what we first thought was a buoy before realising it was the wreck breaking water at low tide. We descended onto the bow and swam toward the stern. Plumose anemones and dead man’s fingers cover the wreck. Shoals of bib and a handful of other fish shelter amongst the beams.
As we headed to the stern the big Scotch Boilers came out of the gloom. These massive hunks of iron are in better shape than the rest of the ship. The sides of the hull have fallen away and are now flat. Behind the boilers the engine is standing (if a little lopsided). It’s easy to follow the prop shaft back to the stern passing over the spare iron propeller. A nice thing to see as the main brass propeller will have been salvaged long ago. The wreck is a strong competitor for many popular ‘wrecks’ which offer little more than some tangled metal and a lopsided boiler. The Rosalie is easy to navigate with plenty identifying features. Home to vibrant marine life and the best dive of the weekend.
Our dive was more than an hour long and worth the awkward walk back to the car park across the shingle beach. We decided to make the most of the good conditions and have a bit of an explore. A passing conversation with a local diver mentioned half decent diving under the cliffs east of Weybourne so we gave it a go. We had a long surface interval but filed it with some sleeping, cylinder filling and Fish and Chip eating.
We did not know what our third dive was, it was possible just an expanse of sand. But we found similar chalk reef as Sheringham although not quite as dramatic and spaced out by some sand. We only had 40 minutes (the previous dives had both been an hour plus) due to the reducing light. We enjoyed the chalk reef which is a bit of a novelty. Surfacing to a collective groan from fishermen who had seen the bubbles from our reg exhausts and thought we were mackerel was a clear highlight. Not the first-time members of this club have been a collective disappointment.
We had a beer on the beach before we inevitably had to jump start Will’s car which had run out of electricity and headed to our various accommodation for the night.
On Sunday we met in Sheringham, the weather was not looking as pleasant but hoped we would be able to get a dive in before conditions became too poor. However, when we arrived the wind had shifted early and turned the sea into a choppy mess. Unable to dive we walked around the town including up Beeston Bump marked on Google Maps as the Highest Mountain in the World. Given the hill is only 63 metres high this may have been hyperbole. We had a brilliant day on Saturday and simply had to shrug off being blown out on Sunday as a reality of UK diving.
We had not dived these sites before, but they will be great to return to. The only limiting factor is the weather. A week of calm weather is required to allow the sand to settle and virtually any wind from the north will rule out diving. This was our first proper outing after lockdown, and I am looking forward to the next new normal dive trip.
Written by Peter Dix
Trip Participants: Bruno, Ross Brisk, Amanda Chang, Peter Dix and Will Pimblett