Capernwray quarry remained a well-kept secret in the scuba diving community for years before news spread in the early 2000s and the site rapidly became considered one of the best inland dive sites in Europe. Capernwray is far-flung from the metropolis of London, in fact, the deep, flooded quarry is located close to the town of Lancaster, 4 and a half hours from the English capital by car. For those living in, or close to the northern cities of Manchester, York or even Newcastle, the journey is much simpler. A plethora of online videos and reviews will enlighten eager divers to the sunken gems within this limestone quarry. Open throughout the week depending on the season, Capernwray is one of the clearest freshwater bodies in the country as well as being home to a number of freshwater species including roach, perch, trout and even the bizarre and unique sturgeon, one of which was measured to reach over 6 feet in length. Avid photographers travel from far and wide eager to capture images of this prehistoric looking fish, better known to the general public for their production of highly-priced caviar eggs.
Water temperatures are perennially on the frigid side of the spectrum, especially during the early months of the year and dry suits are recommended. Despite this, some brave souls will don thick wetsuits as they submerge into 5 degrees Celsius water. Between September and November when the summer sun has warmed the water, temperatures can reach high as 15 degrees Celsius. The warm water speeds the bloom of algae creating lower visibility compared to the winter months, however, visibility is never poor with an average of 10 meters. As visitors turn off the motorway into the small village of Over Kellet and find their way down winding country roads to the quarry they will pay the entrance fee of £17 at the gate. Parking the car in the spacious car park divers, snorkelers and watchers can enter the pristine dive center and café where hot and cold beverages and food can be purchased.
For those who do not own dive equipment, the dive center has a full stock of tanks, weights, suits and other equipment for rent. The view from the deck is spectacular, and on a clear day, it is easy to see the divers 10 meters under the surface. Trout congregate in the shallow waters, massing around the legs of divers and freedivers who were exiting the water or conducting training exercises in the shallower section below the restaurant.
A short walk down a gravel path and the entrance of the quarry awaits. On a sunny weekend, there may be a large number of divers at the location, yet the site is large enough that it never becomes too crowded. Technical and recreational diving courses are conducted to the east of the quarry while freediving sessions are directed around the deeper buoy towards the south. Two entrances are on offer here, either wade from the shore or a jump off the dock.
The rocky strata descends rapidly from 5 to 15 metres. The owners of Capernwray have filled the site with a myriad of crafts including a WWII Dickens Class Harbour Minesweeper at 18 meters, a ‘look-a-like’ model of The African Queen from the Humphrey Bogart classic at 12 meters and a Cessna light aircraft also at 12 meters. As divers and freedivers alike explore the quarry moving from one wreck to the other they might see other divers as they cross paths, an acknowledging nod or ok and continue to your objectives.
The Orca wreck on the far side of the quarry is often teaming with roach, from here you can navigate around the boat and progress back to the shallows past the secret gnome garden and the Thunderbird IV wreck. Perhaps the most famous wreck of Capernwray is the Hawker Siddeley 748, the fuselage of which can be seen from quite a distance away on a clear day. The plane was one of the newer additions to the quarry in 2010 and lies in 16 meters of water. Divers enjoy penetrating the fuselage and swimming up to the cockpit which is a bizarre sensation, marveling at the controls which are now unmanned, and taking pictures through the windows to the watery expanse beyond.
It all depends on luck yet the majority of sturgeon sightings have been documented close to the Hawker wreck. In between the weeds, divers can often miss the silver scales, yet this is what so many have traveled to this site to witness. Slightly over a meter in length, this strange, spiny fish can be extremely calm if approached respectfully. Divers have taken award-winning images of sturgeon and trout at Capernwray.
The final part of the quarry left to explore is the shallower west wall. In 3 meters of depth more and more divers can be seen, you are approaching the entrance/ exit area. Here dozens of trout begin to surround divers, bumping into people without a care in the world. Kneel here and enjoy close encounters with these curious, colorful fish as they swirl around your head.
A very welcome post-dive hot chocolate or beer while watching the water from the deck of the dive center is the perfect way to trace your underwater path, watching like a bird from above as the other divers’ bubbles break the surface.
What You Need To Know
How to Get There
Located in the Northwest of the UK, you can fly into main airports in London, Manchester or Birmingham. From there the easiest way is to drive. You exit the M6 motorway at junction 35. Follow signs for Over Kellet. Here you will see signs for Capernwray and the Capernwray Quarry.
When to Go
The quarry is best dived on a weekday to avoid the crowds of divers amassing on the weekend. Remember that Monday is closed except bank holidays, so while the hours fluctuate during the season the best time to dive is from Tuesday to Friday in the early afternoon in September or October when the water is warmest and the light is ideal.
Where to Eat and Drink
The Porthole Restaurant on site is surprisingly impressive for a dive site. Real English draught beer and ale is served as well as a full menu for not only divers but those who may be accompanying you.