AS an intrepid newshound there’s nowhere I wouldn’t venture for a story, including the bottom of a flooded quarry on an nippy morning in March.

Let’s wind back a bit. Earlier this year, I interviewed a scuba diving instructor, Leanne Clowes of Phoenix Watersports in Warrington, whose mission is to open people’s eyes to the natural wonders lying beneath the surface of Britain’s seas.

Leanne asked me if I’d ever tried scuba diving, to which I answered, no. I love snorkelling, I told her, and flapping about in the sea generally, but always believed learning to dive was probably out of my price bracket.

Northwich Guardian: Instructor Clare Clowes (right) walking me through the basicsInstructor Clare Clowes (right) walking me through the basics (Image: Dave Phillips)

Leanne suggested it might be more accessible than I thought. With pool-based taster sessions from £45, and qualifying open-water courses starting from £599, the cost isn’t exactly negligible, but it’s certainly not as pricey as I thought. You can now also get a free 'try scuba' e-learning programme here. 

It might be to do with Leanne’s background in corporate sales - who can say - but less than a week later, I found myself standing on the edge of a swimming pool wondering whether three metres is deep enough to give me the bends.

Northwich Guardian: Clare (left) letting me (right) and my 'dive buddy' for the day, Pete, get used to breathing under water for the first time Clare (left) letting me (right) and my 'dive buddy' for the day, Pete, get used to breathing under water for the first time (Image: Dave Phillips)

My instructor that night was Phoenix Watersports’ co-owner and instructor, Clare Clowes, who is also Leanne’s wife.  

She began by explaining the course structure: I would be having three Wednesday night sessions at the pool where I’d learn basic safety procedures, how to assemble the kit, mask and snorkel skills, buoyancy control, and vital hand signals.

Northwich Guardian: Filling my mask up with water, then forcing it out with a big nose breathFilling my mask up with water, then forcing it out with a big nose breath (Image: Dave Phillips)

I’d then transfer my sessions to Phoenix’s private 18-metre-deep flooded slate quarry in a UNESCO world heritage site in Snowdonia National Park, where I’d fine-tune my new skills and get used to greater water pressure.

I’d also learn to use a wrist-worn dive computer, deploy an emergency surface marker, and other things like how to share oxygen with my ‘dive buddy’ in the event of an emergency.  

Northwich Guardian: Unofficial but well recognised hand signal for 'scuba is amazing!'Unofficial but well recognised hand signal for 'scuba is amazing!' (Image: Dave Phillips)

Clare also provided me with an online SSI dive agency login, where I could complete an online dive theory course and log my dives for my eventual certification.

Breathing underwater is, I have to say, an odd sensation. It takes time to adjust to the fact you can just stay down there without having to bob up for a breath.

And the kit, which is much heavier than you’d imagine on the poolside, feels perfectly natural with the gravity-cancelling effect of the water.

Northwich Guardian: Slowly getting the hang of the whole bouyancy thingSlowly getting the hang of the whole bouyancy thing (Image: Dave Phillips)

Once I’d relaxed a bit, Clare took me through some basic skills. These included filling my mask up with water while it was still stuck to my face, taking a breath in from my tank, and clearing the mask of water with a seal-like exhalation though my nose. I got that one first time.

I think the hardest things to grasp is buoyancy. I didn’t know this, but staying mid-water is a real skill: you have to balance the weight of your kit with regular injections of air from your tank into the straps which hold it to your back. They’re inflatable, which is why their proper name is your ‘buoyancy control device’. This, I’m reassured, is a skill which comes with practice.

Northwich Guardian: Starting to get the hang of itStarting to get the hang of it (Image: Dave Phillips)

This week’s learning objectives met, apart from the buoyancy, it was off for an explore around the bottom of the swimming pool. This is when I  really started to realise what this extraordinary experience is all about.

As a snorkeller, I always found it frustrating being no more than an onlooker into the underwater world. As a diver, as I have learned, you become part of it. That’s where the magic lies.

And no, you can’t get the bends at three metres apparently. Next week, tales from the quarry.