A gnome at home at 45m.

IT STARTS LIKE MANY SHORE DIVES, from the side of the road, over the wet grass, across 25m of muddy but gentle bank to the shingle of the beach.
With no waves or tide, its an easy entry. We walk out 5m until buoyancy takes most of the weight of our kit, put our fins and stage cylinders on, and off we go.
Stage cylinders may give the impression that the plan is to do a deep dive, but that is not the case. I am doing an APD Inspiration rebreather course with Andy Hayhurst of Dales Divers, and the stage cylinder is purely for additional bail-out.
It wouldnt be essential for short and shallow dives, on which the built-in bail-out is sufficient, but the philosophy is to train for the hardest contingency, and I wholeheartedly agree.
The slope continues gently to 2-3m, away from the entry point populated by clumps of freshwater grass. Then we descend a steeper bit, make a quick check for bubbles and bail-out, and the dive proper is underway. A line leads out perpendicular to the shore, although after a few minutes I realise that the direction is not perpendicular to the slope.
We follow the line for 10 minutes or so, the depth slowly creeping down to 15m. On the way Andy surprises us with various drill cards: bail-out, high O2, low O2, gurgling noises, wobbly electronics. It provides entertainment over an otherwise featureless silty plain.
The line finally ends at a rocky outcrop above a section of wall. We have arrived at the Pinnacles.
Over the side and down the wall somewhere at 45m is a gnome garden. The line once led all the way down to it, but too many divers who were not really up to it were following the line and having accidents. They thought that a deeper, darker and colder dive than they were used to would be easier with a line to follow.
Anyway, we dont need the line. Andy leads us straight to the gnomes on the silty slope beneath the wall.
The gnome garden is both more and less than I had expected. There are many more gnomes. So many that I wish I had brought one along to donate.
I suppose that similar sentiments on the part of other divers accounts for the multitude of gnomes, or else they are breeding down there.
The gnomes are less easy to photograph than I had hoped. Small figures well bedded on a muddy bank are difficult to get near without stirring up clouds of silt, and its almost impossible to get other divers into the background.
Several times I find clouds, inadvertently created by me, drifting across my lens, forcing me to back off and choose a different gnome.
After a few minutes I work out that it is my stage cylinder stirring the clouds by gently digging into silt so soft and fluffy that I dont even feel it.
I turn round to take pictures from the opposite direction, with my right side to the slope and leaving more clearance for the stage cylinder on my left.
We are following a set of tables with multiple segments at various depths.
I would normally use a dive computer, but while training it makes sense to put in the practice at running with tables, in this case generated last night on a PC.
Our allotted segment at 45m draws to an end and we head up and along the wall, the next segment being at 25m.
The drill for the ascent is to manually hold the ppO2 at 1.4 bar, a relatively easy exercise that leaves me time to grab a few more pictures. I find myself admiring patterns in the rock, scoured by a glacier, then polished by running water a hell of a long time ago, before the end of an Ice Age flooded the lake to its current level.
The water level isnt much different from sea level, so there are no altitude considerations for the dive, or for the journey here and back, if we stick to the A-roads.
The 18m segment of our schedule leads back to the outcrop and line, and to a set of memorials. Some are for divers lost in the lake, others in memory of divers who died elsewhere, in diving accidents or from natural causes.
The common thread is that this was a dive site they enjoyed, perhaps even a favourite. And it does make a good spot for the memorial garden.
Following the line back towards the shore, we are in no hurry. Our schedule calls for a decompression stop and we may as well spend it swimming as standing still. Andy throws a few more drills at us, both from the cards and more obvious ones, including a particularly frantic out of air.
I hadnt noticed it on the way out, but just to the right of the start of the line is
a decorated Christmas tree. It was perhaps set up by the same sort of divers who are growing the gnome garden.
It may be bright and sunny, but the mountaintops are covered in snow and a bitter wind is picking up. We spend a couple of hours huddled round a small gas heater in the back of Andys van, then set off for another hour below Wast Water. This time we follow a line off to the south, a much longer swim against a mild current to a second and smaller gnome garden at 25m.
Wast Water: gnomes, memorials and bare rock walls, but all in a freshwater site bigger and deeper than any flooded quarry. Its big enough for a noticeable current to circulate as the wind blows through Wasdale. There are no other divers stirring up the visibility, and
its free.
On the other hand, there is no heated changing room, no café with hot drinks and bacon sandwiches, no dive shop, no toilets, no air station, and no safety and rescue team besides what you bring with you. And it can be cold in winter.
After two days and four hour-long dives in Wast Water, I find I have quite enjoyed myself all the way through.
But was it the dive site I enjoyed, or the constant training exercises that kept my mind busy
I think I would call it 50-50. I expect that without the fun of the training I would have enjoyed the first day but been getting restless during the second. Thats just me.
For some divers, Wast Water seems to be freshwater heaven.

  • Dales Divers - leave the M6 at junction 37 for Sedburgh (0770 2819381, www.dalesdivers.co.uk).

  • Beside
    Beside Wast Water, with snow on the tops of the mountains.
    Pre-dive checks.
    Memorials to divers.
    At Wast Water it can be Christmas every day