Its summer now so it’s warm, but it’s also Scotland which means the rain is never far away. Luckily for us, we have a place where the rain can never bother us. This weekend we decided to spite the weather and head to the stunning island of Seil, Easdale quarries, in search of new freediving spots.
For our first visit we recruited a guide, my mum! She does a lot of open water swimming and had been to the flooded slate quarries at Easdale before. We drove up from Lochgilphead in the morning, passing Tigh an Truish and crossing the bridge over the Atlantic. Tigh an Truish or ‘The House of the Trousers’ is said to be where the highlanders would change their kilts for trousers when heading to the lowlands back when the highland dress was banned. Although the bridge over the Atlantic does technically cross the Atlantic, when we arrived the tide was out so that part of the Atlantic was looking especially small.
The “ferry” over to the island was a small passenger boat, manned by two friendly locals. The crossing was so short I suggested swimming but for £2 (return) each the ferry seemed the sensible option. Easdale island used to be home to a productive slate quarry, producing roof and flooring slate which was sent all over Europe. The quays, the walls, the tracks, everything on the island seems to be made of the stuff; despite being grey it’s actually very beautiful. We noticed as we came off the ferry that people kept wheelbarrows there for moving their stuff instead of cars which are non-existent on the island. There are no roads, one hill and you can walk the circumference of the island in 30 minutes so there is no need for cars. We walked through the village and out to the north west of the island where quickly found the quarries we had come to swim in.
In 1881 a storm flooded the quarries and the industry never recovered. Every year the world Stone Skipping Championships take place here; after all, there is no shortage of flat stones and still water. I gave it ago but I don’t think I will be in for a record anytime soon.
The colour in the water here is spectacular, I’m not sure if there’s a mineral which gives it the colour or if its just the stillness but it’s a bright turquoise I’ve only seen once before in Iceland. World class freedivers go to Deans Blue hole for competitions but perhaps the sport should start visiting Easdale, apparently the quarries used to go down to 91 meters. Although this is a bit shy for world records, it’s more depth than I will probably ever need! The visibility is great, no boat is required and apparently there’s some mine carts, tunnels and other cool stuff to see.
We spent the day in just one of the quarries but there was more than enough to do in just the one. The sides dropped to full depth almost immediately, with a pinnacle rising to 5 meters in the centre and shallower patch (15-20m) at one end. We started diving down the line just to get to some practice getting some depth but we soon moved to a new game, rock running.
We would dive down and grab a slab of slate so that the extra weight kept us pinned to the bottom. We then ran down a steep slope of rubble to an underwater cliff. The gentle decent was good practice for Vivian who has been having difficulties equalizing when inverted. It’s also awesome for anaerobic training, you work your muscles hard while starving them of oxygen but most importantly it’s cool to walk about underwater like the cursed crew in “Pirates of the Caribbean”.
The drop off fell away into the blue. Leaping off the cliff we could free fall like base jumpers into the abyss. This water is real deep, even at my deepest point I couldn’t see the end despite the great visibility. Eventually we dropped the rock and gave a couple of good kicks towards the surface. As we rose, the water pressure reduced and we became buoyant again. For the final 10 meters we effortlessly glided to the surface and scoff a breath of air.
After a dive I always feel very chilled. If you are stressed, theres nothing better for gaining perspective. I can’t wait to get back to Easdale quarries, theres so much to explore! If you know of any other good sites or even fancy joining us on one of our trips then leave us a message below.