GUIDE TO THE FALLS OF LORA
NAME OF RIVER: Falls of Lora...it's actually a tidal rapid, not a river.
WHERE IS IT?: At the Seaward end of Loch Etive, directly beneath the A828 bridge at Connel, Argyll.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Most people park in the layby/side road (NM 910 346) on the North side of the bridge and walk down the steep bank through the bushes to put in above the rapid. Some people park at the hotel on the North side and downstream where there is a slipway - I suggest you patronise the hotel if you are going to do this!
APPROX LENGTH: It might take you a few hundred metres to get out of the wave/ Whirlie train and over the boils back to the eddy!
TIME NEEDED: 3 - 4 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: I have never seen any problems here. The layby is an unused road end and access is across scrubland - neither parking here, nor walking across the land has any impact on the local community (in fact there are motorbike trails on some of the scrubland). Big tides do draw large crowds! See the SCA notes on Access regarding the situation in Scotland generally.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Tide tables for Oban, Scotland are necessary! For the falls to be running you need quite a big spring tide. Spring tides happen roughly every fortnight but not all are big enough for the wave to form. The wave usually forms around 4 hours after high water Oban (beware the tide tables may be in GMT), so to find the relevant tidal difference we need to consider the high tide just before we want to get on and the low tide just afterwards - the difference being the number we require! There is some speculation as to exactly what difference is required and the absolute heights of the tide and the weather conditions on the day can affect the wave making it quite complicated. The wave should form if the difference is 3m or higher - please don't blame me if it doesn't! It is thought that Westerly winds help the wave (pushing more water into the Loch creating a higher high tide?), and that high pressure doesn't help it. I don't think the amount of water in the rivers is going to have much effect given the volume of water that moves with the tide, but if you consider that the Etive and Awe (thus the Orchy via loch Awe and the Brander barrage) feed Loch Etive it may be significant to the base level of the Loch.
In Summary then: Arrive 3.5 hours after high water Oban with a difference of 3m and you should be able to stand on the bridge and watch it build up!
For full info and handy charts see www.fallsoflora.info and www.fallsoflora.info/times_and_dates_for_the_falls_of_lora.htm
GRADING: Fun! Fun! Fun! But serious - the main hole can become like something from a grade 4 or higher river, whilst the rapid downstream is big and complicated with numerous shifting whirlpools and boils. I don't know of any serious incidents here but it can be difficult to stay upright and it may be a very long swim (the estuary opens out again below the falls and the current doesn't head towards the banks!). Not place for beginners, but because the character changes with the tide it is possible to get intermediates on for some of the time at least.
If it was a river rapid I would probably grade it about 3 for most of it's run, though it has a period near the start where it is really big volume grade 4.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: As the water ebbs away the southern part of the ledge does become visible, but it is submerged under the wave in the North corner - I don't know if this is hazard because I've never paddled across that far!
The kelp in the eddy is apparently sometimes an issue: When there is a big difference and the tide goes away out the eddy becomes shallow and the Kelp wraps itself round everything - this isn't duckweed by the way, this is full on seaweed that is strong enough to withstand the currents in the falls!
The biggest hazard is the eddy line itself - boils, enormous whirlpools and crazy water can suck you down and play with you for a good long while.
Steve Byrne (June 2005)...'As a one time resident of Connel I feel I should point out a possible hazard. At the Benderloch side of the bridge there is an manhole through which the sludge from septic tanks is emptied the actual outfall pipe is on one of the peirs. It is operational as the tide is going out and the volume is minimal compared with the flow of water.'
NOTE: The Falls of Lora have been very unreliable since the beginning of the decade, possibly because seaweed has changed the seabed?
One of the best playspots in Britain! As the tide goes out the chute beside the Northern bridge stanchion turns first into a big green wave, and then into a breaking wave with a good shoulder on the right, later it can become a big stopper (at times very retentive), and then back to a broken wave (the left shoulder is more useable but only in a short boat) and gradually back to a green wave that isn't really catchable. Described above is the MAIN wave, above it is the forever friendly wave which is much longer and greener but not as high - later in the day this wave breaks across more of its face and becomes quite playful also!
Assuming you put in above the falls you will need to make your first decision - to run straight through and see what's what, or to try for one of the waves! Early in the day (early in the period in which the waves are forming) the forever friendly wave will be green and requires quite a bit of paddling to get on - the main wave may still be too green to catch on your way past and if you don't know the wave train I would suggest not attempting a wavewheel just yet! The eddy is on the right against the bridge stanchion and there is slack water all along the North bank - but the boils are between the wave train and the eddy! From the eddy there are 3 options: Climb out on the rocks and give up, Climb out on the rocks and drag your boat back up to try for the forever friendly wave again, or go for the main wave! The main wave is at an angle of about 45 degrees to the bridge so there is plenty of scope to get up the eddy beside the stanchion. Early in the day it is possible to paddle onto the wave from beside it, later on it is necessary to get right to the top of the eddy and make a high cross on the wave just above - you should wash off just in time to drop into the meat of the main wave! You can look at the pictures and decide for yourself what moves are possible ('cos I can't do most of them!).
Paddling this just for the rapid itself is also a great option if the playholes are too intimidating. It generally gets easier through the day, which can be good because chances are you'll be tired from a lot of rolling practice in the whirlies. The water is massive volume and waves break and form holes out of nowhere just to keep you on your toes! Also - you might be joined by some smug looking seals swimming alongside you (they probably thought all my capsizing was very entertaining).
OTHER NOTES: The water is salty, best not to inhale it. The stone part of the bridge stanchion makes a good base for taking pictures or viewing the action and is accessible either from below by climbing a rope or wire that usually hangs down, or from above by tackling the slanty ladder that leads down from the deck! The rocks are encrusted with barnacles and very sharp - be careful getting in and out of the boat! If you are there in the summer the best river options (if it isn't running or hasn't worn you out) would be the River Awe (dam release) or the River Etive (possibly stupidly low).
Nice pics also at this site.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jim Wallis, Kirsten Rendle, also Steve Byrne and Neil Farmer.
If you would like to submit updates, new guides or photos, email ukrgb.scotland AT gmail DOT com