Snorkelling is some of the best fun you can have in UK waters with your clothes (well a wetsuit) on! You don’t need to lug around heavy equipment, and you can see spectacular marine life all from the surface. Here at Mike’s Dive Store, we understand that snorkelling is just as much of a valuable experience as scuba diving, and you do not have to travel to a tropical paradise to enjoy it.
Blue Sharks in Penzance, Cornwall
From June onwards, blue sharks appear offshore in UK waters to enjoy a squid diet. This species of shark gets its name from their blue/silver back. Easily identified by a slender body, long pectoral fins and big eyes, the blue shark is classed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List.
The best way to see them before they migrate back across the Atlantic is to charter a boat. This is not cheap but will provide you with the best experience for close-up interaction with this otherwise elusive and solitary predator.
The skipper will chum the water in popular blue shark hotspots. When he gives the nod, you slip into the water to enjoy them cruising past the boat, making passes at the tasty fish he tempts them with. Mainly females, they are slightly smaller than their 2-3 metre male equivalents. Expect to also see dolphins and a variety of seabirds out to sea.
20 miles offshore, you will be on the RIB for some time. It is therefore a good idea to bring a hat, rash vest, sunglasses and sunscreen as well as a good supply of water and snacks. The chum and occasional choppy seas can make you seasick, so it is recommended that you take some travel sickness medication at least 2-3 hours prior to heading out. Dark clothing is advised when you are in the water.
Best time to visit: Mid July-Mid October
Water temperature: between 16-20 degrees
Visibility: up to 30 metres
Approximate cost: Between £895-£995 for a boat that can carry up to 7 snorkellers (less is better)
Recommended operator: Charles Hood Shark Adventures
Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset
Just west of Bournemouth, Kimmeridge Bay is part of the Purbeck Wildlife Marine Reserve. In 2006 a snorkelling trail was created where you follow a line of 5 buoys along this beautiful part of the Jurassic Coast. The bay is sheltered and shallow with a combination of rocky shingle and sandy patches interspersed with kelp.
Expect to see Peacock’s Tail and Rainbow Wrack seaweed, spider crabs, sea hares, Montague blennies and a Snakelocks anemone garden.
Best time to visit: April to October
Water temperature: between 9-18 degrees
Visibility: Around 10 metres
Approximate cost: £5 toll charge to get to the bay via a private road
Recommended operator: Not required, but it is worth popping in to the Wild Seas Centre on site for some info and an ID card
Seals in the Farne Islands, Northumberland
50 miles from Newcastle Upon Tyne lie the Farne Islands. They are located just 2-3 miles off the coast of Northumberland and have one of the largest Atlantic grey seal colonies in the UK. There are 28 islands visible at low water with an estimated 8 thousand plus grey seals. The population of pups has increased by 57% in five years!
According to the National Trust, they spend 80% of their time below water and 20% on the surface breathing. Your chances of seeing them snorkelling are high! The seals are very playful and often enjoy a nibble on your fins. You are also likely to see up to 80,000 seabirds in breeding season.
Best time to visit: All year round, but waters are warmer July-early October and pups usually appear from late Summer
Water temperature: between 7-14 degrees
Visibility: Around 10 metres
Approximate cost: £50 including a responsible interaction briefing and snorkelling skills workshop
Recommended operator: Fifth Point Diving Centre in association with Sovereign Diving
Stackpole Quay, Pembrokeshire
This easily accessible small harbour is nestled in the cliffs between Barafundle and Freshwater East. It is a lovely snorkelling spot at high tide because it is sheltered from the wind and strong currents.
Every May and June spider crabs congregate here to mate. There is a small channel past the harbour wall where you can follow the rocks around to the left. The depth is just 8 metres, and it is here you can see thousands of spider crabs climbing over each other. The male crabs (which can get up to 20 cm across) hang onto the females with their much larger awkward front claws.
On the pebbly bottom and rocky reef you may also see dogfish, ballen wrasse and pipefish. It is well worth combining your snorkel with a day out along the local limestone cliffs and beaches topped off with a trip to the Stackpole Inn for a spot of lunch!
Best time to visit: All year round but spider crab mating season is May to June
Water temperature: between 9-18 degrees
Visibility: Anything from 3-12 metres
Approximate cost: No charge but you will need to pay for the National Trust car park
Recommended operator: Not required
Basking Sharks in Scotland
The highly migratory basking shark is the second biggest shark in the ocean (getting up to 12 meters in length). This seasonal visitor comes from the sub-tropics to the Inner Hebrides around June each year. Plankton blooms appear in the rich cold water of the western isles from Spring through to early Autumn. In Summer this is combined with a breeding aggregation.
The Basking shark is protected and is classed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. They are filter feeders and gill rakers can be seen through their 1 metre-wide mouths. They have a tall dorsal fin and individuals can be identified from it like a human fingerprint. They have poor eyesight, a tiny brain but a very effective sense of smell.
Before they head off to Newfoundland and the Bay of Biscay in Autumn, you can join a one day or multi-day tour (either 3, 4 or 7). You will enjoy watching these giants feed in the green Scottish waters around the Isle of Coll. Remember to bring binoculars, a waterproof jacket and fleece for the boat journey (2-3 hours each way). Gloves and hoods are recommended along with a thick wetsuit.
You are also likely to see seals, dolphins, minke whales and sunfish out at sea.
Best time to visit: Mid July – end August
Water temperature: between 10-16 degrees
Visibility: Around 5 metres
Approximate cost: £195 for one day or from £540 for a multi-day tour (you will have a much higher chance of seeing the baskers if you book a multi-day trip)
Recommended operator: Basking Shark Scotland, part of the Global Shark Diving alliance
There are some fantastic rivers, lochs and lakes for snorkelling in the UK as well as the sea. If you want to find out more, it is worth checking out the 'Britain by Snorkel' section in Andy Torbet’s book ‘Extreme Adventures’. Get out into the wilderness and see that the UK has just as much nature and freedom to offer in its waters as some of the world's most colourful reefs. You should be able to find all the tools you need for your adventures in our Snorkelling Equipment section on the Mike’s Dive Store website.