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Scuba Diving Northern Ireland, UK, Europe
Dive Site: North Wall
Location: Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
Description: Wall dive
Depth: 20 - 200m + metres (65 - 650 feet)
Visibility: Up to 40 metres (130 feet)
The scenery is stunning, and some of the clearest water local to the UK you'll get to dive. Add to this the feeling of depth with the drop off, and the arches etc and this is one place I haven't dived enough. We've been lucky and boat dived it a few times during each visit, as it's too good to miss. Off the Northern Ireland coast, between the 7 Glens of Antrim and Donegal rests Ballycastle, and offshore to this the island of Rathlin. A very hard place, with towering rock stacks buzzed by sea birds it's a wild north coast and sometimes uninviting.
Currents can be fierce at times where they hit the North Wall of Rathlin and go either east or west, circling around. Even during slack periods this maelstrom sits uneasy and can throw the lax diver (been there). It takes careful planning to dive the area and once seen never forgotten. The wall starts at the shoreline with a steep descent to 20m, after which it literally disappears into nothingness! The pretty kelp garden suddenly and abruptly terminates in a sheer wall plummeting to 200m so you really need to have every piece of equipment clipped on!
The visibility can be absolutely stunning at easily over 40m making this one of the most truly awesome dives in the UK & Ireland. The sheer vertical walls have masses of deadman's finders, sponges and such like. The wall undulates vertically and following the contours is paramount, move 3m away from it and you can be in serious current trouble!
Cuckoo and other wrasse varieties are all over the place and at 28-34m is a truly spectacular underwater sea arch. Below this in 35-40m are a series of large sea caverns. Eventually it's time to ascend into the kelp forest above, at 20m, where sea hen may be found, with a variety of mackerel, pollack, and sometimes scores of moon jellyfish.
North Wall Rathlin, 2008 Update
Recently scores more sponge varieties have been identified around the island of Rathlin, making this a very diverse place. Several wrecks have come to grief in the north area, like the paddle steamer Fleetwood, where in the pub at Rathlin’s Church Bay can be seen one of the crockery plates. With an adjacent small diner, it makes for a great surface interval scoffing area.
Derginan Point is like much of the northern wall, steep drops and is where a sea arch exists at 28-34m. Lobster pots can be seen dangling wildly mid-water over the sheer drop, where the next pot has probably gone into nothingness! They’re out to catch lobsters or crayfish, the latter rapidly diminishing from our UK waters. Above the drop from 20m upwards, rocks cut back into the main island in mini wall terraces, where huge numbers of actinithoe anemones provide vivid colour amongst the red fauna.
On this dive trip the visibility was easily in excess of 25m. We were out with Aquaholics Diving on Richard Lafferty’s long fast rib, with small wheelhouse, located at Ballycastle, it’s ideal and takes just 10minutes to cross Rathlin Sound between it and the island, where depths reach a cool 100m! Overfalls and rough boiling water can often be seen around the island, where the deep Atlantic waters powerfully upwell as this is the closest point to Scotland making it a narrow isthmus.
A recently discovered dive area on the north wall is The Pinnacle, which is a rock pinnacle rising from depths to about 8m below the surface, similar to the rock stacks seen above the water.
It can be swept by strange currents, as we experienced, with up, side and down currents all present. Many wrasse are present, shoals of mackerel frequent as are numerous & large solitary pollack, with occasionally sightings of tope. The walls are extensively carpeted with a colourful dizzying array of filter feeding organisms. One goal this trip was to photograph the UK rare distribution of Parazoanthid axinellae colonies, which Rathlin has, and is believed to be the most northerly place for them. Not only did I find them on the Pinnacle, but also came across the white variety as well!
It’s also wonderful to see the many sponge varieties, several I am sure are also found much further south as far as the Canaries. The form carpets of mini castle towers in lilacs, reds, but the most interesting one is the orange dripping sponge. Hydroids are everywhere so expect to see many nudibranch varieties.
With visibility that can astound, this is truly one of the top diving spots in the UK, even wreck divers appreciate its vertiginous walls as they spend their second dive here, after diving the S.S. Lochgarry WWII transport ship on the east side of Rathlin.
Note: Derginan Point is shown on the Admiralty Chart on the NW end of the Northern wall of Rathlin. This is where most of the scenic diving takes place.
The North Wall on Rathlin Island featured briefly in BBC Northern Ireland's series Waterworld (2006). Viz 30m+, colours are outstanding. Down currents make this a particularly challenging dive. Vertical walls, caves and swimthroughs. A proposed WWF world biodiversity hotspot. We discovered 14 new sponge species last year, new to science. Probably the best non-wreck dive in the UK.
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