Plymouth HOE a devil of a dive Words and photographs by Monty Halls 
The ageing stonework of the sea wall disappeared into the gloom beneath my fins.

I exchanged signals with my buddy that all was well, and descended. We finned past a tangled matrix of fishing tackle, past and present, and I had to remind myself that this was Devil’s Point, and that this rather unpromising beginning heralds the start of what can be a truly outstanding dive.

Our dive plan involved an initial descent direct to 30m down the wall, followed by a leisurely lateral ascent, before a final dog leg to return to the steps below the entry point. As we descended, the wall skimmed past us in a series of ledges and gloomy crevices, and the ambient light rapidly decreased until we were in virtual darkness. Without for a moment wishing to appear melodramatic, the combination of eerie shadows, low light, and the lively local legends surrounding Devil’s Point, meant that I would have been only mildly surprised to bump into Beelzebub himself. However, our only companions appeared to be curious ballen wrasse.

Devil’s Point got its sinister name not from dark forces inhabiting its many small caves, gullies and ledges, but from a local legend concerning one of Plymouth’s more famous sons. The year was 1588, and England was besieged on all sides, it seemed a miracle would be needed to save her. A miracle, or, as the myth would have it, Sir Francis Drake entering into an alliance with unholy forces. And so it was, that on a dark and stormy night, he entered into just such a pact with ‘witches and demons’, on a headland at the mouth of Plymouth harbour, trading his soul for the storms that would destroy the Spanish Armada. This headland was Devil’s Point.

Despite its rather sinister history, Devil’s Point has become a magnet for divers from all over the South-west. Located a short walk from the public car-park at the western end of the Hoe, it is one of the few sites on the south coast where one can step directly into genuinely deep water. Either dived as a drift or a straight bounce dive, its charm has survived all the tales of demons and devils, and at high tide a fair percentage of Plymouth’s diving fraternity can be found huddled on the steps above the entry platform.

Devil’s Point is renowned in Plymouth for its big crabs, and as our dive progressed, we could immediately see why. Crammed into every nook and cranny were edible crabs, with some real old bruisers among them, peering at us over huge claws. Look closely enough, and I’m sure the faint outlines of the occasional tattoo can be seen.

As we moved along the wall, we encountered a large dogfish, another species that seems to abound in some numbers in this area. One often finds them in a semi-alert state, and can gently stroke them as they lie on ledges in the wall, the nictitating membrane flicking across the eye in apparent ecstasy as you do so, for all the world like a purring cat. Further still, up the wall, the light quality gradually increased, and with the lifting of the gloom, the marine life intensified. This is the site where the British record for a shore-caught conger is held, 69lbs of sinuous muscle and attitude. Specimens can occasionally be seen secure in deep holes in the wall. It is also a haunt of large thornback rays, and many a dive is enlightened by the sight of big rays sweeping the ledges, undulating like blankets in the wind in their quest for unwary crabs and shellfish.

By now, we were only in 10m of water, and turned for home. We were not into the phase of the dive where the light is sufficient to observe quite large sections of the wall, when the view of the numbers of corkwing and ballen wrasse, juvenile pollack, bib and even the occasional bass, paints a pretty picture against the backdrop of waving fronds of kelp near the surface. In the very final stages of the dive, a rocky ledge is conveniently placed to lead you to the exit point, with stone steps extending below the waterline.

Getting there

Devil’s Point is relatively easy to find, and is conveniently located within walking distance of a car-park where the diver can kit up. After leaving the A38, the main arterial route to Plymouth, follow signs to the city centre. From the city centre, pick up the signs to Torpoint. This will take you along the famous (or infamous!) Union Street. At the end of Union Street, turn left at the roundabout. This will take you by the Royal Marines’ Barracks (Stonehouse).

As the road turns to the right after about half a mile, take the slip road that goes straight on, and follow this along the sea front to the car-park at the end. You have arrived at Devil’s Point! As an added bonus, parking is free.

After kitting-up, head left, over the grassy knoll by the car-park, and from there, down on to the tarmac path that leads you right along the coast to the entry point. If you are a little uncertain as to its precise location, simply follow the others! The dive

Clearance to dive Devil’s Point should be sought from the Long Room, the observation tower and control point for the entrance to Plymouth harbour. It’s really from a point of courtesy or good diver etiquette, but there is a lot of Royal Naval traffic nearby. They are most accommodating, and will invariably grant permission, (although if you are travelling some distance, it may be an idea to check with them in the planning stage). They can be contacted on 01752 663225.

The dive is best conducted at slack water, with the ideal entry time about 30 minutes before high tide. Diving on the rising or falling tide is inadvisable, unless you fancy a quick, impromptu trip out to the breakwater!

Visibility ranges from 10m (exceptionally), to nil (slightly more often!). The best time to dive is after a few rainless days, as the dive site’s position at the mouth of the Tamar River, means that it can be affected by discharging river water.

From the entry point, after descending, it is best to strike out in a northerly direction along the wall, before bending back to return to the entry/exit point. Depth is, of course, up to you.

 

Tank fills and additional information can be obtained from Sandford & Down on-the-Hoe (Tel: 01752 266248), or Sound Diving at Queen Anne’s Battery (Tel: 01752 670674).

Accomodation

Fort Bovisand (Tel: 01752 408021) is, as it says, a fort, which houses a shop, dive centre (with courses for both recreational and commercial HSE divers, and a variety of accommodation. Best are the twin-bedded Harbour-side chalets, £44 a night, with sea view, TV, tea and coffee-making facilities and own bathroom. Top Fort West is a 20-bedded partially-partitioned dormitory with a huge kitchen and classroom annexe, the whole lot to be had for £175 a night. Top Fort East, which also sleeps 20, is open-plan with a small kitchen, £8.50 pp per night, for a minimum of ten in a party. Bargain basement at £6.50 a night, is an 18-bedded open-plan dorm – bring your own sleeping-bags. All meals can be had in the restaurant (‘not posh food’ but ‘an awful lot better than it used to be’ or so word has it), with at least one vegetarian option. Best of all is the small but very smart bar on the first floor, with a panoramic view of the Plymouth Sound.

For details of B&Bs contact Plymouth Tourist Information Centre on 01752 304849.

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