After his recent foray under Swanage Pier, JEREMY CUFF thought he’d try somewhere a little different in Dorset – but get your supplies in first if you’re heading for Kimmeridge
The places I choose to visit usually start by appearing on what I describe as my “dive radar” before moving onto my “must do” list. Kimmeridge Bay was no different, attractive to me in that it’s within the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve and benefits from a sheltered location – it seemed interesting.
I had already had a couple of planned visits thwarted by poor weather, so I hoped that this time my plans would work out. As the weekend approached, the weather looked perfect…
Kimmeridge is located in a beautiful and scenic area of the Jurassic Coast between Swanage and Lulworth, in the area known as Purbeck. It’s a nice place to visit, and somewhat off the beaten track, accessed by a narrow dead-end lane several miles from the main Swanage-Wareham Road.
The bay is located a short distance south-west of the village of Kimmeridge and can be accessed by vehicle via a toll road. The area features some interesting geology, including limestone ledges that extend out into the bay and can be seen both above and below the waterline.
It’s attractions include excellent coastal path hiking, kayaking, fossil hunting and rock-pooling, and it offers divers something a bit different to have a crack at, making it an ideal destination for a “back to nature” diving weekend.
I had chosen a weekend in May and lucked into fabulous weather, although we did get some sea-mist roll in, obscuring the sun for part of the day.
Arrival at the site
This is a dive-trip that needs planning and preparation to make it a success. This is because you need to take everything you’re going to need in terms of dive equipment and fills, because there is no dive centre. You’ll also need to bring supplies of food and drink, because there are no shops or permanent cafés. On pleasant weekends, you’ll sometimes find a snack-wagon in the car park, but it’s unwise to rely on it being there.
The biggest issue to solve for this kind of dive-trip is how to get the gear to where you need it. At Kimmeridge there are a couple of boat slips, but you can’t park there. You can drive down to that general area to unload (by the Wild Seas Visitor Centre), but afterwards you have to move your vehicle to the main car park further uphill.
Some kind of hand-pulled trolley/trailer to transport the gear and supplies, such as a garden trolley with soft wheels, can be a useful here. I had bought one for this kind of dive-trip and at Kimmeridge it proved to be invaluable again.
Once you’ve dealt with the logistics of getting set up in your chosen area, which will most likely be next to the slipway next to the visitor centre, it’s just a case of going diving in whatever section of the bay you’ve decided on.
When entering the water, take great care around any slippery seaweed that could cause a nasty fall. It can be tricky keeping your footing while navigating slimy, uneven pebbles as you wade into deeper water.
Diver safety is a serious point at this site, because of the shallow depths combined with the presence of boats. As you can expect to get little deeper than a few metres, divers are constantly within the danger zone of boat traffic. So it’s essential that buddy-pairs stick close together and use an SMB at all times to indicate their presence. Not to do this would be foolhardy.
Visibility can also vary tremendously, so buddy-pairs must avoid getting separated.
The tidal range isn’t huge in this area so it’s possible to dive at any time, though it is much easier when the tide in higher. During my visit there was no appreciable current, though you might experience surge if any waves are blowing in.
The unhelpful weather to watch out for is an easterly or perhaps a southerly wind, which can send waves into the bay, destroy the visibility and make entry/exit from the water difficult and dangerous. It’s worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast before setting out.
The diving in Kimmeridge Bay is over mainly flattish expanses, but there are interesting ledges and rock pavements that make it more interesting. There is little else in the way of underwater ”landmarks“ with which to navigate, so the dives are essentially random explorations of the bay.
This can be disorientating, so it’s important to maintain awareness of where you are in relation to the shore and your chosen exit point. We found ourselves taking advantage of the shallow depth to pop up and check our location, while being careful to listen and look out for any nearby boat movements.
These are dives for naturalists. During my May visit the bay seemed very much like a nursery area, with many fish fry present. Divers in a hurry probably won’t see much, so it’s important to slow down and look carefully. By adopting this approach, you’re more likely to be rewarded with interesting sightings, often on a macro level.
Over two dives in the bay, we found extensive weed beds (often colourful in the sunlight), anemones, whelks, tiny groups of shrimp, fish fry, a startled flounder that I nearly put my hand on, delicate jellyfish in midwater, pipefish, wrasse, several impressive lobster and spider, velvet swimming and edible crabs. Many other species must be around to see if you spend more time.
Kimmeridge Bay is an interesting dive-spot handy for divers of all abilities and especially for those interested in marine life and photography. It’s also safe for snorkelling in the summer months, so non-diving kids and adults can get in on the action by following the snorkelling trail.
The visitor centre (which is run by Dorset Wildlife Trust) provides information about local sea life and conservation efforts. It’s a very pleasant part of the world and likely to be highly rewarding for those who make the effort.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: KIMMERIDGE BAY, DORSET
Type of Dive: Very shallow shore-dive (easier at high tide).
Depth: This will vary depending on tides and where you choose to go, with the maximum being 5-8m. Make sure you have sufficient weight to stay down.
Marine Life – What To Look Out For: Depending on time of year, expect spider crabs, edible crabs, velvet swimming crabs, tompot and other blennies, pipefish, wrasse, bass, flounder, prawns, anemones and jellyfish. You might also be lucky and see lobster, cuttlefish, scorpionfish or perhaps even john dory. There might even be seahorses in the area.
Visibility: Variable depending on wind direction, run-off and other factors, but can be 6-8m if lucky. On less ideal days, it can be reduced to 3-4m.
Seabed: Flat expanses, ledges with overhangs, extensive weed-beds, limestone pavements, rocks, boulders and rubble patches.
Hazards: Boat traffic, low visibility, disorientation (surprisingly easy if in poor visibility), slippery seaweed/rocks/boulders when entering/exiting.
Dive Centres: If you need to organise fills or obtain dive-related supplies in the area, the nearest dive-centre is Divers Down in Swanage about 10 miles away (a good 30-minute drive each way).
Photographs by Jeremy Cuff