There’s nothing better than loading up the camper and hitting the road. But because many of us base trips around our favourite beaches or surf breaks, we often overlook what lies beneath the waterline. Contrary to popular belief, the UK’s coastal waters are full of life, from sea slugs and seahorses to seals and sharks. Snorkelling options abound, particularly in the summer months, affording road-trippers the opportunity to experience the vibrancy of the UK’s underwater realm alongside a few days of catching waves - or rays - topside.
So, what can you see, and where can you see it? Oceanographic Magazine has compiled five top UK snorkelling encounters exclusively for SALTROCK blog readers. And yes, the list includes sharks.
Let’s start big. Really big! Basking sharks are the second largest fish in our waters - and when we say ‘our waters’ we don’t just mean the beautiful seas surrounding the UK, we mean the world’s oceans! Basking sharks can reach lengths of up to 12m. Only the immense whale shark is bigger. Encountered all around our coastlines between May and October, the most reliable spots lie on our western shores. The Hebrides (particularly the isles of Skye and Mull) are especially good, though the easier-to-reach (for most of us!) Devon and Cornwall are also excellent - with the added benefit of featuring on a large percentage of UK road trip routes. Organised tours offer the best chances of interaction. Prepare to be dwarfed!
Sticking with sharks… Another seasonal visitor to UK waters is the beautiful blue shark, visiting our coastlines in the summer months. This species of shark is significantly smaller than the basking shark, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in grace. Cornwall offers the best opportunities for interacting with these great ocean travellers, who cover thousands of miles every year. Again, you’ll need to book a spot on a tour boat and head out to sea for the day. By the time you return to dry land - and the warmth of your van - you’ll have snorkelled with one of the sleekest, most enigmatic sharks in our world’s oceans.
If you’re after a truly interactive underwater encounter, look no further than grey seals. Getting nose to nose with another species can be a life-affirming experience, particularly when you’re in their natural environment. As far as the underwater world is concerned, there is perhaps nothing as joyful as spending time with seals. Cheeky, playful, boisterous… you certainly know when you’re in the water with seals. Feel something tugging on your fins? Probably a seal. See something playing hide and seek behind kelp fronds? Probably a seal. As they dart and dash amongst your snorkel group, you’ll marvel at their dexterity - almost as much as you do their character…
Again, the southwest of the UK is an excellent area for seal encounters, with Lundy Island (you’ll need to park your camper up on the mainland and jump a ferry) particularly famous. For those road-tripping further north, the Farne Islands are an absolute must.
There’s something mystical and exotic about seahorses. So much so that a lot of people presume they can only be found in glamourous, far-flung locations. Well, we’ve got some great news for you: There’s no need to book that big holiday to the Philippines, we have seahorses right here in the UK, with Dorset particularly good. As with all marine life, ensure you only look rather than touch. This is especially important with seahorses, which are highly sensitive creatures. If you’re planning on taking photographs, make sure your flash is off. And if you’re accessing the water by boat, refrain from dropping an anchor. Studland Bay is a great place to search for seahorses, offering further reason to road trip in the South West!
Yep, we get dolphins here too! Admittedly, their speed and playful unpredictability makes them a pretty testing snorkelling subject, so we’ve included them here as an ideal marvel-at-them-from-land-as-you-enjoy-a-well-earned-end-of-snorkel-day-drink option. There is always the opportunity to book onto a boat for a spot of dolphin watching too, of course. For those interested in parking up the camper and taking in the sight of breaching dolphins from terra firma, the UK’s west coast - once again - comes up trumps. Scotland, Wales and South West England all have wonderful options, such as Moray Firth, Cardigan Bay and Durlston Head respectively.
Wherever your camper adventures take you, if you’re getting in the water, always remember to be respectful of the wildlife you encounter.
Love the ocean? You’ll love Oceanographic, a new magazine that’s all about ocean conservation, exploration and adventure. If you’d like to receive news about when Issue 01 is available for purchase - along with a free digital copy straight to your inbox - you can sign-up here.