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Classic Darksite Diving


A guide to dive sites in caves and mines throughout Britain and Europe, by Martyn Farr

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Classic Darksite Diving

From the cover

Classic Darksite Diving is the companion volume to Martyn Farr’s globally acclaimed manual of cave diving, Diving in Darkness. While its predecessor covers the techniques required to safely dive beneath an overhead environment, Classic Darksite Diving presents practical information on undertaking dives in carefully selected caves and mines in the UK and across Europe.

Gathered together in this concise but readable guidebook are details of 140 classic, popular and accessible dive sites that are suited to a wide range of abilities. Included are their precise locations, history of exploration, useful contacts and – most importantly – what each dive entails, from the preferred equipment to the dive length, depth and water conditions.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs and surveys, Classic Darksite Diving provides the essential information you need to enjoy many varied and safe dives in the exciting realm of cavern and cave diving. A spectacular underground world awaits you.

For the companion title: Diving in Darkness

  • Author: Martyn Farr
  • Binding: Softback
  • Size: 17cm x 24.5cm
  • Pages: 192
  • Illustrations: 300 photographs, surveys and maps, in colour
  • Publication date: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-0-9526701-8-6
  • Other: Laminated cover

Key to symbols

Section 1: UK
Cavern Diving
Sea Caves of South Cornwall
Mines of the Forest of Dean
Cumbria: Hodge Close Slate Mine
Peak District: Holme Bank Chert Mine
Scotland: Roscobie Limestone Mine
St Kilda
Wales: Cambrian Slate Mine
    Dinas Silica Mine
    Llygad Llwchwr
    Porth yr Ogof
    White Lady Cave
Yorkshire Dales: Hurtle Pot
    Joint Hole

Section 2: Europe
Cavern and Cave Diving
France: Caves of the Ardèche
    Caves of the Lot and Dordogne
Greece: The Island of Zante
Ireland: The Caves of Cong
    The Green Holes of Doolin
Italy: Grotta Giusti
    Capo Palinuro
Malta: Cavern Dives of Gozo and Comino
Spain: Balearic Islands, Mallorca
    Canary Islands, Lanzarote
    Costa Blanca
    Costa Brava
    Pozo Azul
Turkey: The Caves of Fethiye and Ölüdeniz

A Incidents and emergencies
B Sites to aspire to

From the cover

Martyn Farr is a widely respected and accomplished author who has committed over forty years to caving and cave diving. A leading cave diving trainer and photographer, he is passionate about all things subterranean – there can be few with his level of ability underwater or his legendary touch with a pen in passing on his wealth of experience.

Classic Darksite Diving is available direct from Wild Places Publishing, along with our other books. All good bookshops are able to order our books, but you may also see and purchase copies from our selected stockists:


Caving Supplies
Starless River


Librairie Spéléo (Belgium)
Speleo Projects (Switzerland)


A LOT of original British underwater cave exploration is conducted by Cave Diving Group members; in what follows I’ll refer to these as ‘caving divers’. There are also many competent people from open water backgrounds; let’s call these ‘technical cave divers’. Both approaches are legitimate and there’s a whole spectrum of ways to become a cave diver in between. Caving divers are mainly interested in discovering natural underwater passages or traversing these to enter further dry caves. Technical cave divers are motivated to enjoy spectacular underwater caves with the best conditions, often as an extension to their other diving activities. Their ‘cave’ diving is often done in mines, where still waters may provide gin-clear visibility. This superb guide, a logical ‘part 2’ to Martyn Farr’s earlier Diving in Darkness techniques manual (reviewed in Descent 174), is essential reading for cave divers from whatever background.

The book’s main purpose is to describe a series of high-calibre European cave diving venues, including many of the better UK sites. It performs this task extremely well. The text is clear and unambiguous, and symbols provide an assessment of the seriousness of each site at a glance and quickly convey the main diving characteristics. Diagrams which support the text are beautifully presented, carrying the optimum amount of information. A concise section near the start reminds us of the main safety considerations, itself a distillation of the sage advice in Diving in Darkness. A section in the appendices reminds us of what to do if things go wrong, together with a useful glossary and a comprehensive index. The layout of the book makes it simple to find the required information and to select appropriate sites to visit from among the 140 that it covers.

What makes Classic Darksite Diving so appealing is the great number of high-quality photographs, mostly taken underwater in the sites described. Rarely have I come across a book so richly illustrated: it’s packed with colourful pictures of divers enjoying some of the finest European sites on offer. Most of these were taken by the author; frankly, I’d be happy to settle for just a quarter of his talent behind the lens. Even someone with no inherent interest in cave diving would soon find themselves engrossed, if only because of these photographs. I know only too well, from long and bitter experience, just how difficult it is to produce good images from underwater caves. The sheer number of these which Martyn has included is extremely impressive. He has managed to combine a thoroughly informative guide with a ‘coffee-table book’ photographic approach, in a way which has set new standards for the genre.

The publisher opted for a page size which is just the right balance for achieving the book’s object­ives: big enough to showcase the many excellent photographs, yet small enough to retain its portability. Although softbacked, the sewn binding is sturdy and should survive rough use, and the comprehensive website ( diving) supporting the book will ensure it stays relevant for many years. Martyn recognises that key information for each cave may change and the Updates feature of the website is the perfect response to this inevitable guide writers’ challenge. (This internet resource will also prove invaluable for potential purchasers, in particular the ‘page-turning feature’ which provides a pleasurable browsing experience while displaying a selection of the content.)

The inclusion of Keld Head in a book aimed at technical cave divers, under the ‘Sites to Aspire to’ heading, was perhaps not entirely wise. There is no general permission and the limited access which local divers sometimes arrange is fragile. Any increase in the number of people going to ask (particularly those without years of experience in the subtleties of Dales cave access) could result in permanent loss of the site. Because the diving conditions here are poor it’s perhaps not the sort of place which technical cave divers would enjoy anyway. However, this is the only thing in the entire book which I could criticise (and the publisher immediately added a reinforcing note to the website’s Updates page as soon as this concern was raised).

Classic Darksite Diving is for all cave divers, whatever their motivation. Martyn is an accomplished wordsmith, a seasoned underwater explorer and a skilful teacher. He has that rare ability to provide the best information, with the right amount of detail, in an entertaining and easy-to-read manner. Because the book is so attractively presented I found myself eager to look at the next page, then the next (just like a scenic underwater cave has you wanting to look around the next corner) – and then the next. It’s an invaluable resource to dip into as well as a great book for any diver to read for pleasure. It will appeal to technical cave divers as much as to CDG members and will also go a long way towards helping non-divers understand why we find this type of cave exploration so intoxicating; a very impressive achievement!

John Cordingley, Descent (232), June 2013



An article and review of Classic Darksite Diving appeared in the May 2013 edition of Diver.

Sport Diver

THE world's cave diving community has been waiting patiently for Martyn Farr's new book CLASSIC DARKSITE DIVING to arrive. So how did Stirling SAC's Alan Purcell manage to get one of the first copies? And why does he think all divers should add it to their collections?

I'M sitting in a restaurant in Llangattock, South Wales with my friend Jason Pepper and two of Martyn Farr's students. They have just completed day one of a two day cavern course (the entry level qualification for cave diving) and are absolutely buzzing with talk of 'snoopy loops' and '4mm nylon line'. I chuckle, but know the underlying feeling all too well. The sense of accomplishment and quiet satisfaction, coupled with the realisation that a whole new world of diving was opening up – oh to be a fly on the wall after they complete day two! Jason and I would be diving the deeper workings of the Silica Mine at Dinas Rock, the students would be diving with Martyn in the uppermost levels, learning some of the key skills required to dive safely in an overhead environment.

The restaurant and bar is now rapidly filling up with people keen to celebrate (and commiserate) the Welsh Rugby victory, and as if right on cue Martyn appears, expertly picking his way through the scrum at the bar and excitedly pushes a book into my hand. I look down ... CLASSIC DARKSITE DIVING ... I look up, open mouthed – it’s finally here!

Martyn is probably most famous (in literary terms) for his publications The Darkness Beckons and Diving in Darkness which draw directly from a wealth of experience that can only be gained from many, many years of cave exploration and diver instruction from around the world. This latest title is a direct response to the one of the most frequent questions he is asked by students, 'Where can I go to dive?' Martyn can now answer this with a comprehensive collation of details and images of suitable dive sites sourced from his travels around the UK and Europe. The book itself reflects this fact by being separated into sites across these two main sections – catering immediately to those with the requisite level of overhead environment training, 'Cavern', 'Intro Cave' and 'Full Cave'. Nobody is left out however, as those without the necessary training can still appreciate some of nature’s most incredible environments. The front cover gets things off to a good start, beautifully lit, full of colour – a good indication of what lies within. Available in paperback from Wild Places Publishing, every single one of the 192 pages is packed with beautiful photographs accompanied by a history of each site , intricate maps, comprehensive directions of how to get there, access permissions, contact details – all in full colour with a useful key to determine the suitability of the site for your level of experience. Any questions as to why this book took such a long time are answered here. There is a staggering amount of detail, 50 meticulous diagrams and over 240 photographs!

Consequently, it's no surprise that Dinas Rock, one of the UK’s premier mine diving sites is detailed within the book and I paid particular interest to the beautifully rendered map of the flooded silica mine (where I would be diving tomorrow) and planned a route through the passageways that would take us down to the railway lines at 22m. I knew the entry to the site reasonably well and could see that everything you needed to know was clearly marked out in the book and was extremely accurate.

CLASSIC DARKSITE DIVING covers sites from across Britain and Europe and is available from Martyn's online shop and Wild Places Publishing priced at £27.50. Cave divers will appreciate the level of detail and information when planning that next trip and open water divers will appreciate the beautiful photography of these wonderful natural places, displayed at their best from a true master of his craft. An insider’s insight into what is still a much misunderstood sphere of diving.

The exciting new world Martyn’s cavern students had glimpsed upon can be found here, maybe it will inspire you to find some more!

Alan Purcell, Sport Diver, June 2013


CAVE diving is arguably the most specialised branch of caving and also that of diving and for the air breathers amongst us it can seem like a dark art: as Douglas Adams stated of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a lot of what we assume is involved is ‘apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate’.

The sump indexes constructed by the Cave Diving Group (including the Irish Sump Index, available via the SUI library) are arguably the most complete collections of information on Irish and British cave diving sites in circulation and in truth much of the focus of cave diving is on exploration. In Ireland at present there are few active cave divers and in truth it can be argued it is not the easiest place to learn!

Throughout Europe there are a large number of dive sites which are worthwhile for the sporting cave diver and this book collects descriptions of cave dives selected by the author of being particular note. The author, Martyn Farr, is a name well known to many cavers as having explored a large number of Irish sumps over the years and discovered a significant amount of passage in Clare, Fermanagh and Cong. Each dive site is described in detail and ranked according to whether it is suitable for cavern divers (a beginners qualification to the speciality), ‘intro’ cave divers (intermediate level of experience) and ‘full’ cave divers as well as contacts for decompression chambers, air supplies and the emergency services(!) Many dive sites have descriptions for multiple levels of diving experience and most have attractive line surveys.

Irish cavers will be glad to see there are sections detailing the Green Holes at Doolin Point and some of the caves of Cong, Co Galway. Throughout the attractive volume there is a plethora of the author’s beautiful photos as Martyn is also an accomplished photographer and one of the few experienced at taking photographs in sumps – a particular highlight is a delightful, albeit small, shot of Pirates Paradise: one of the two dry sections of Mermaid’s Hole at Doolin.

Whilst most of us will never take up cave diving this remains a highly attractive publication for the quality of the photography and the insight into cave diving which it offers.

John Duncan, Underground (SUI/ICRO Newsletter), Winter 2014, p21


ONCE again Martyn Farr has proved that sometimes the old sayings are false. With this author and this publisher you really can judge the book by its cover.

The book is subtitled ‘Cave diving sites of Britain and Europe’ and the jacket image is of Helen Farr in the gin-clear waters of the Font del Truffe. The rock sculpture is lovely, there is not a suggestion of silt to spoil the view and, crucially for those with a deeper knowledge of cave diving in the UK, she is not wearing a helmet. The photograph is Martyn’s own, and as you would expect, the effect is striking: non-caver divers will see the point of the activity straight away; and even determinedly dry cavers might wish they were there. This is cave diving, if not for all, then at least for anyone who has the drive, the aptitude, and the training.

The book is aimed, I would suggest, at the diver who has entered the sphere of diving in caves, more than the caver who is looking to extend their exploration capability. To quote from the very start of the book “Anyone intending to enter these environments should first become a fully-proficient open water diver.

As a result, the sites included in Classic Darksite Diving are those that would appeal most to a diver for whom being underwater in congenial scenery is sufficient. From Porth yr Ogof’s White Horse Pool to Pozo Azul, these are places that offer straightforward access to fairly clear water; where fins are required and contents gauges may be monitored. Whereas, traditionally, a caver’s first approach to sumps would often be through Swildon’s Two and Three, or the Ireby sump, to see the passages on the far side, the reader of this book may have no interest in what lies beyond.

Nevertheless, this is a book that may well appeal to a more general caving readership than the subject matter might suggest. There are many cavers who dive in open water, who have no intention of ever exploring in the classic cold, silty and restricted British sumps, but who might wish to venture into more amenable sumps following appropriate training. To my knowledge there are members of the CDG who use this new book as a concise and convenient source of information for sites in the British Isles which have yet to figure in the relevant CDG Sump Index. There are even cave divers who go on family holidays in Europe, who pack a drysuit and a pair of cylinders, and who might well use Classic Darksite Diving as part of their planning.

The book is organised geographically. Each site has information presented in a broadly similar manner. The ‘objective’ gives an idea of the level of experience and certification appropriate for divers venturing in. The ‘access’ and ‘location’ headings are self-explanatory and (as far as my personal knowledge goes) are accurate and appropriate. It is impressive that for the clearly awkward-to-find Cova dets Ases in Mallorca, there are two photographs to help the visitor, one of which bears an arrow with the advice “cave lies beyond this tree”! The ‘history’ of exploration at each site is a welcome addition, while the actual ‘diving’ descriptions carry the information needed when planning the dive itself. The final ‘further considerations’ entry seems to cover anything relevant that is not mentioned elsewhere, whether it be kit choices or care with tides.

Surveys are given for all sites. Although not very detailed in some cases (I would imagine for reasons of space) the information presented, in conjunction with the written descriptions, should be enough for the dive sites in this book. The pictures are of high quality. As well as breaking up the text – a necessary task, as this is an information-rich book – they are a pleasure to look at and inspiring in their own right. In many cases they also carry their own freight of meaning; they identify entrances and give an idea of the nature of the diving at the given location. Comparing the entries for Pwll-y-Cwm and the Goul du Pont an observant diver would be able to make decisions about passage size, visibility, and even kit configuration.

Overall, Classic Darksite Diving is a worthwhile addition to the library of cave divers, divers, and cavers with a potential interest in the activity; part of the recent trend in UK caving, of making books that are both practical guides and fit for the coffee table. The main problem that I can see, is that a fair proportion of the potential audience are young and ambitious cavers and divers who might (in the course of things) ask for this as a present; but few parents would choose to buy their beloved offspring this for Christmas! Which is a pity, because the contents would seem to be well suited to directing the tyro to worthwhile and appropriate places to learn the craft; and the colour photographs are inspiring enough to convince all – but the most hydrophobic – that this is not just a pastime for nutters ...

Tony Seddon, Speleology, (19), Dec 2013, p45

Although the content of this book was carefully checked for accuracy before going to print, it is the nature of guidebooks that access and other details may change over time. This section will record revisions as they become known – use this page as part of your trip planning and please let us know of any factual updates required.

Please remember that the inclusion in the book of any specific dive site does not mean that access is freely available, and in all cases appropriate permission must be sought. Abide by landowners' wishes or you will risk losing access for all.

Although the following sites are included in the book, access is considered to be extremely sensitive and no attempt should be made to undertake a dive or to seek permission, as this may upset ongoing negotiations. It is always to be hoped that access will become available in the future, in which case updates will appear here.

Closed sites, as reported in Classic Darksite Diving:

Joint Hole
: resumption of access is under discussion; stay away during negotiations
Keld Head: an extremely sensitive site: stay away

Doux de Coly (France): closed, but it seems likely that access may be restored


Midge Hole
Oct 2013. Following the sale of land, new access arrangements apply, courtesy of negotiations by Cave Diving Group members. Access is available with no need to ask for specific permission, but a new approach route is requested. Do not park in the layby off the main road between Midge Hole and Joint Hole, but instead use the church car park near where the minor road crosses the dry river bed to the north-east of Midge Hole. Use the gate into the field and walk down-valley to the entrance. Please avoid times when church services are in progress.

Cambrian Slate Mine
Aug 2015. Roof instability has been reported in the entrance to Cambrian Slate Mine. In addition, a large quantity of loose rock has fallen from the roof onto the access path near the old boiler. Take care!

Aug 2015. The contact details for the Station de Gonflage, where air can be obtained, have changed from those detailed on p102. New owners are now Olivier and Fredo with a different phone number:

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