On the Strait and Narrow
The Menai Straits separates Anglesey from mainland North Wales and is swept by vicious currents, but time it right and you can enjoy a stunning shore dive...
Photographs by Mark Evans and Martin Sampson
The Menai Straits is a narrow band of water that splits the Isle of Anglesey from the Welsh mainland. Harsh currents rip through here at a serious rate of knots, and it is the last place you'd want to find yourself going for an impromptu drift dive! However, on the Anglesey side of the Straits right under the spectacular Menai Suspension Bridge - one of two bridges which span the water - you can find a couple of shore dives which, done at precisely the right time so you catch the short slack period, will turn up carpets of anemones, crabs galore and myriad varieties of fish.
Arrival at the site
To get to the entry point, you need to drive into Menai on the Isle of Anglesey and then follow the signs for the bridge. This will take you down ever-smaller roads, culminating in a single-carriageway road with passing places that passes directly under the high arched supports of the suspension bridge. There are a couple of parking spaces right under the arch going overhead, but the rest of the road has double yellow lines - and the traffic wardens can be extremely predatory. If you don't get lucky and snap up one of the two parking spaces, the best bet is to pull over to the right-hand side of the road and unload all your kit, get into your drysuit and then move your car to the nearest suitable parking spot. We sneakily parked our cars in the Waitrose car park, just a five-minute walk away, but beware, this can land you with a fine if the attendant is on the ball!
The site is quite stunning topside
There are two separate dives here. One enters the water to the right-hand side of the suspension bridge and is a scenic bimble around the rocky supports and one of the main arches. According to Martin Sampson, owner of Anglesey Divers - the only PADI five-star centre on the island - it is a great dive, but there were already several buddy pairs heading that route, so we opted for dive two.
The second dive enters the water on the other side of the suspension bridge. You will find a wooden gate leading from the road onto a square grassed area, and you can stash your kit safely here just through the gate on the left-hand side while you go and park your vehicle.
Getting to the water's edge involves a bit of a daring climb down some extremely narrow stone steps. It is hard enough with a single cylinder on your back, but with a twinset you have to adopt the 'mountain-climber' approach!
Easy does it...
Once at the water's edge, wade out until you are waist-deep and don your fins, then swim out on your back until you are in a couple of metres and can descend. As you drop down, look for some thick black cables running out into the middle of the Straits lying on the seabed. These telecommunications cables, which actually go right across the Menai Straits, make navigation a doddle - you just follow one out, and then follow it back to shore again, looking at the marine life around you as you do so. You will usually end up in around 13-14m by 25-30 minutes, which is a good time to turn around and make your return, as the period of slack water is not long here.