The Falls of Lora
The smooth, glassy surface of this stunning sea loch near Oban belies the hairy, rollercoaster experience that awaits the diver beneath. Hang on to your fins – this is not a dive for the faint-hearted!
The smooth, glassy surface of this stunning sea loch near Oban belies the hairy, rollercoaster experience that awaits the diver beneath. Hang on to your fins – this is not a dive for the faint-hearted!

The sea lochs around the west coast of Scotland are often so narrow they look more like lakes than sea lochs. But then, this aspect often contributes to some ripping currents which, combined with a fantastic landscape, are what makes diving the lochs so enticing.

Loch Etive, near Oban, has a maximum depth of 130m. During the winter, the increased amount of fresh water coming down from the hills reduces plankton levels, improving visibility and giving you a better chance of seeing the marine life that proliferates here. Tunicates, bryozoans, starfish, hermit crabs and lobsters have all found homes on the rocky substrate.

There are plenty of dive sites to choose from within the 15-mile-long Loch Etive, such as the the beautiful Rubha Ard and the caves at Rubh’ Aird an Droighinn, but the Falls of Lora is the dive that will really take your breath away.

Legs and co: above top, starfish; above bottom, hermit crabs
The Dive
Entering Loch Etive from the south bank next to Skerries Bridge, swim out into the flow and then descend to about seven metres. Keep working your way into the tide or you can easily end up in an eddy that will simply deposit you at the side of the loch. You will see various bits of debris on the sea bed from the building of Skerries Bridge. This is where your speed picks up – don’t be surprised if you experience an easy six to eight knots.

Suddenly, you go over a drop-off and you’ll really begin to fly. You’ll be pulled down to about 30m (despite the figure on the Admiralty chart, which states only 20m). Watch out for the eddies at the base of the wall, which are caused by the uneven sea bed. They can hold you there, so swim hard away from the wall and you'll pick up the main current again.

As the water becomes shallower, the current will slow, as this is where the loch widens. You will surface downstream from where you started – swim from here to the shore or, better still, have your boat pick you up. The dive itself lasts only about ten minutes, but it’s definitely worth it.

Currents and tides
The best time to dive the Falls is when they’re in flood, as the visibility is better. At ebb tide, the visibility can be poor and you need to start deep and ascend quickly, which isn’t ideal. Slack tide is classed as an HW (high water) Oban, although it does differ from the figures given. The best idea is to get there early and watch the tide change yourself, then start the dive when you feel comfortable with the conditions.

At certain times, particularly during spring tides, you need to be prepared for the possibility of separation from your buddy. If this does happen, you may not be able to surface immediately to find him or her, so stay calm and wait until you can ascend safely without overexerting yourself. Remember, you won’t be of any use to anyone if you run out of air or completely exhaust yourself.

While this dive can be done as a shore dive, boat cover is strongly recommended.

How to get there
From Carlisle, take the A74/M74 north to Glasgow. At Glasgow, follow the A82 to Crianlarich, then take the A85 to Oban. Before you get to Oban, you’ll arrive at Connel on the south bank of Loch Etive. Stop here for Skerries Bridge and the Falls of Lora.

It’s possible to do this dive from the shore, but boat cover can save a long walk back from the other bank. The Falls of Lora Hotel on the north side of Loch Etive has a slipway opposite that’s suitable for launching small boats.

Falls of Lora Hotel, Connel. Tel: 01631 710483.
Loch Etive House Hotel, also Connel. Tel: 01631 710400.

Connel has a good village store, but if you want to eat at a restaurant other than the hotel ones, you’ll have to drive to Oban, which is about ten minutes away. Oban has a variety of restaurants – some of them even offer evening entertainment in the form of Highland dancing.

Air fills
Puffin Dive Centre, Oban. Tel: 01631 566088.
Oban Divers Dive Shop, also Oban. Tel: 01631 566618.
Decompression chamber
The Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Oban has a decompression chamber. Tel: 01631 562244.
Useful numbers
Oban coast guard. Tel: 01631 563729.
Scottish Tourist Board, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 332 2433.

Go with the flow: how the currents react to the uneven sea bed around Skerries Bridge
Other great UK drift dives

If you dive the Falls of Lora and like it, you’ll probably want more exciting drift dives. Here are five other suggested sites around the UK:

• Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, on the River Lune in Cumbria, is a fast, fun dive and is best dived in winter.

• Menai Strait, when the visibility is good, provides an excellent drift dive jam-packed with marine life.

• Start Point, in Wembury Bay between Dartmouth and Plymouth, is great for getting the adrenaline going, depending on the tides. (Speeds of between one and seven knots have been experienced.)

• The Swinge in Alderney, in the Channel Islands, offers a drift dive that will certainly blast away any cobwebs.

• And, finally, Portland Races near Weymouth is the place to go if you want to feel what it’s like to be in a washing machine! (An experienced guide is essential for this dive, and a wetsuit is much better than a drysuit for helping you control your buoyancy).

For all drift dives, separation from your buddy is an emergency you must be prepared for. Carry a redundant air source so that you’re not wholly reliant on your buddy should you run low or out of air.

Remember that in strong tidal flows over a smooth sea or river bed, there’s a powerful drag and the water closer to the bed moves a lot slower than the water one or two metres above it. This means that, if your buddy swims just a little shallower than you, he or she will be going a lot faster, making it difficult for you to stay together. Try to swim on the same level throughout the dive.

Except for at the Falls of Lora, take a surface marker buoy for use at the end of your drift dive – you can easily end up a long way from your boat. It is dangerous to use an SMB during a dive at the Falls, as you won’t be able to reel it in and out fast enough – this could make you lose control.

Big fan: a peacock worm makes the most of the strong current in its search for food. All photographs by Lawson Wood
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