Isles: The Beautiful North Words and photographs by Lawson
you travel through the wild beauty of the western highlands of Scotland,
the anticipation mounts. When you approach Ullapool, you catch a
glimpse of the sea and then you inhale that crisp ozone smell which
promises all the wonder of the oceans. The further north you get,
the more obvious it becomes that this is a trip well off the beaten
track – in fact as you approach Achiltibuie there is barely
a track discernible. And the last few miles of twists and turns
are through some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable.
The Summer Isles are among the best- kept secrets in UK diving –
known to only a few, there is only one liveaboard operator, but
hundeds of terrific dives. Achiltibuie is your starting point for
all diving in the isles – though there can be pick-up from Ullapool
by arrangement. Atlantic Diving Services at Achiltibuie (a-kil-tee-boo-ee)
is owned and run by Andy Holbrow and partner Clare Greathead and
operates from Badentarbat Pier on a headland which juts out into
|The diving around the isles is
some of the best in Scotland. No matter what the weather, you will always
find a lee shore. And Andy, along with his former boat’s mate Craig
Barnes (who has just set up his own day-boat operation), have discovered
a wealth of dive sites including more than 15 wrecks and a number of uncharted
reefs and shoals.
More than 100 dive sites are recorded in the area and dives range from
huge caverns, to spectacular caves simply teeming with fish, wrecks covered
with soft corals and anemones, and some of the most terrific vertical
Summer Isles are made up of some 30 islands and as many rocky outcrops,
with the largest being Tanera Mhor, 3km west of the mainland. At
the turn of the century it had a population of more than 70 people.
Since 1946 it has been largely uninhabited, more recently nothing
more than holiday cottages. But in the last few years a new landowner
once more has started farming the fertile land.
The celebrated naturalist Dr Fraser Darling, author of the Natural
History of the Highlands and Islands, lived on this island and wrote
extensively about the Summer Isles. The other larger islands are
Horse Island, Priest Island, Isle Ristol, Isle Martin, Tanera Beag,
Eilean Dubh, Eilean Mullagarch, Glas-leac Mor and Glas-leac Beag.
London-bred Andy, 31, a well-qualified instructor (and commercial
diver) and Clare, 30, who has a marine biology degree, have made
the Summer Isles their home and their business since 1991. They
met when she was studying in Plymouth and he was working as an instructor
at nearby Fort Bovisand, with the idea of setting up on his own.
looked at a few places on the west of Scotland’, says Holbrow, ‘but
one had too many dive boats, another was too exposed... And then we got
to Ullapool and stayed. As soon as you come here you understand why ...
it is very scenic’. They converted a former crab and lobster, steel
fishing boat, the MV Heron, and fully equipped her for diving. She has
just been sold to Craig and his partner Fiona Ward, who are starting up
a day-diving operation, while Atlantic Diver is the name of Andy’s
new boat, which goes into action this month as both a liveaboard and a
day boat charter. She is a 65ft wooden passenger vessel, built in 1957
and converted to take 12 passengers. There is an on-board compressor and
airbank to 300 bar, two heads and two showers. There is a full medical
kit with oxygen, radar, echo-sounder and ship-to-shore radio. The boat
also has a canopy for those rougher days. Atlantic Diving Services can
provide spare air bottles and weights, but it’s best to take all
your kit with you.
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