Two Feet from the Shore; 6 Degrees C, Dark, Little Life; Lake Diving in Winter – Isn’t It Great to Be Alive?

The R294 runs from Tubbercurry in SW Sligo up over the Ox Mountains, through Bonniconlon and into Ballina, Co. Mayo; it is a great road to ride on a motorcycle with twists, turns, fast straights, tight bends, trees along parts and mountain and bog along others and little traffic.

Half way between Tubbercurry and Ballina Lough Talt (54.087187,-8.91695) appears on the left hand side as the road rises and swings to the right; the road runs for another 1.5km with the lake on the left hand side before rising further and leaving the lake behind.  But it is not tipping into the bends, swinging left and right on two wheels and riding past Lough Talt I am interested in,  it is sliding into its cold, dark and almost lifeless depths.

Fed by a small number of streams from the surrounding hillsides, and with only a small stream exiting through a glacial moraine that acts as a dam at the lake’s southern end, the lake is unusual in this part of the world as it is not peaty brown but iron brown.  Run off from the metamorphic schists and gneisses of the Ox Mountains gathers in ‘The Lake of the Hollow Ground’ having picked up iron as it makes its way down the mountainsides.  The iron gives the water a brown tinge and the lowish levels of peat means that although the lake is dark there is not much suspended material;  use a torch and the depths are lit up, like shining a light through a pint of stout.

Twenty minutes into the dive and at a depth of twenty metres (the lake continues to a depth of about 35m) my worn-neoprene-gloved hands are numb in the 6 degrees C water and struggling with inflate and deflate valves, torch controls and the settings on my camera.    Occasional evidence of life, dead and alive, drifts slowly past – a femur, a sheep’s skull, a freshwater cray, a baseball cap – all not unlike the images you see from remotely operated vehicles as they move slowly over the oceans’ abyssal plains.  Back into the shallows where the light penetrates and feshwater plants appear and, now that we are back within throwing distance of the shore, bottles and cans.

I have been accused of wanting to dive so much that I would do so in a septic tank.  A little harsh I think.  But…, now that I think of it I know a really big treatment plant… No… perhaps not.  Cold, dark and no life – winter lake diving in Ireland. Why would anyone want to do it?  Because you have the privilege of seeing a part of the world that few others get to see and because you are alive to do so – brilliant.

If you want to dive Lough Talt the best entry point is from a visitor pull in just off the main road at the southern end of the Lake.  The GOS coordinates for the pullin are 54.076311,-8.912144

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