Arrivals & Departures Aquatic secrets: Scotland's best snorkelling spots

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Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Ahhh, Scotland. Country of castles, lochs, bagpipes and snorkelling. Hang on, what?

Scotland isn’t the first country that springs to mind when you think about snorkelling destinations. In fact, the thought send shivers up my spine.

But according to VisitScotland, the country's quality snorkelling spots are one its best-kept secrets, with sites including shipwrecks, rock walls and sheltered sea lochs favoured by underwater photographers. Who would have thought?

And in answer to your questions about those chilly waters, apparently a post-summer paddle requires a neoprene suit and a hood. In winter, add boots and gloves.

Here are VisitScotland’s selections for snorkelling hot spots, Scottish-style.

Snorkel Trail, North West Highlands

Taking in nine beaches and bays along the coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland, this trail is suitable for all levels. Highlights include Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles, where kelp and crevasses shelter lobsters and crabs; the headland at Gruinard Bay, where seagrass shelters numerous fish and shellfish; and Achmelvich Bay, a sandy beach ideal for beginners and home to fish, shellfish and kelp beds.

Swim with the sharks, Oban

Swim with the plankton-eating basking sharks, the second-largest fish behind whale sharks, in the waters of the Inner Hebrides. Also be on the lookout for dolphins, seals, golden eagles, puffins and other seabirds, then turn to the coast to see castles and ruins in Argyll. Basking Shark Scotland operates trips and snorkel safaris between April and October, and snorkelling trips and diving expeditions between June and August.

The Sound of Mull, Scottish Highlands

Home to nudibranchs, sunstars, anemones, peacock worms and pipefish, the sound is the site of several major wreck sites: the Hispania, Shuna, Thesis, Rondo and Breda.

Conger Alley, Argyll

Divers favour the shoreline between Succoth and Ardgartan, while the two old piers are ideal for spotting schools of crustaceans near the surface for snorkellers.

Firth of Lorne, Oban

Great for divers, the waters are home to both shallow and deep wrecks, along with deep drop offs with kelp forests, anemones, sea sponges, lobsters, eels and common seals. From a boat witness the world’s third-largest whirlpool, the Corryvreckan.  

Dunbar, West Scotland

With plentiful marine life tucked in among the gullies, this sheltered site is only 10m deep.

The Caves at Loch Long

With visibility of up to 10m and pinnacles at just a metre below the surface at low tide, the caves are fascinating for both snorkellers and divers.

Staxigoe, near Wick

Either side of the bay just out from the slipway in the harbour are small caves with squat lobsters, kelp fronds supporting squid eggs and rocks covered with crimson sea hares and their bright spiral-shaped eggs.

Portskerra arch, near Melvich Bay, Sutherland

Snorkellers who stay close to the reef wall will be rewarded with a close-up of stickleback fish en route to the submerged arch at the end of the reef, home to anemone and sponges.

Outer Hebrides Snorkel Trail, Isle of Harris

The waters around the Isle of Harris off Scotland’s West Coast are home to brittle stars, lion’s manes, velvet swimming crabs, periwinkles, sand eels and plenty more.

(At top: A Yarell's blenny in a sea cave. Picture by George Stoyle Photography.)

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