Monday, 20 August 2018

The Loch Ness Kelpie in 1856

That age old denizen of the murky Loch Ness waters surfaced again in the newspapers of old as found in the Nairnshire Telegraph of the 13th August 1856. The Loch Ness Kelpie or Each Uisge as the Loch Ness Monster was known back then got a mention as our Victorian correspondent of 162 years ago (and 77 years before the Nessie era) exalted the progress of the Highlanders as the age of steam and progress marched on through the lands of Northern Britain. 

I say Northern Britain as that was a name favoured for Scotland by English people after the summary defeat of the Jacobites in 1745. That man of literature and anti-Jacobite, Samuel Johnson receives a mention as his famous tour of the Highlands with Boswell receives some short shrift as the correspondent wonders how Johnson would react to the modern Glasgow steamers upon Loch Ness and muses that he may mistake them for the Loch Ness Kelpie! Johnson had recounted the tale of the Water Horse of Raasay, though he made no mention of any similar entity in Loch Ness. 

Here is Johnson's tale to complete the picture.

He [their guide] said, there was a wild beast in [Loch na Mna], a sea-horse, which came and devoured a man’s daughter; upon which the man lighted a great fire, and had a sow roasted on it, the smell of which attracted the monster. In the fire was put a spit. The man lay concealed behind a low wall of loose stones, which extended from the fire over the summit of the hill, till it reached the side of the loch. The monster came, and the man with a red hot spit destroyed it. Malcolm (the guide) showed me the little hiding place, and the row of stones. He did not laugh when he told me this story.

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Diving with the Pisces Submarine (1969 article)

I am currently busy with my next Loch Ness Monster book, so blog postings have been a bit less frequent. But it is time to delve into the archives and surface with one of those interesting articles that I occasionally encounter during my searches at virtual and real libraries. This article from Diver Magazine of September to October 1969 details an excursion into the depths of Loch Ness with the Vickers Pisces submarine. We know about Dan Taylor's yellow Viperfish, but the Pisces was also there at the loch during those busy year of 1969. Readers may wish to speculate on what they struck during the dive and those interesting craters and I refer them to this previous article.

(Pisces on the surface of the Loch, with a diver securing the lifting tackle. The author in the pilot's position.)


Arthur Bourne, chairman of the Exploration Group of the Ocean Resources Conservation Association, describes his journeying into the depths of Loch Ness in the Vickers' submersible, Pisces. The monster did not appear, but a mystery did develop.

The veil of mystery that has covered Loch Ness is beginning to lift. The Loch which is part of that great Caledonian fault which effectively divides Scotland into two and gives that characteristic shape to the Highlands has for a long time remained something of an enigma. It has been variously described as bottomless, having deep holes connecting with the sea, and even of being so deep that there is air at the bottom in which people are living in the sort of "Brigadoon" world. If we ignore the persistent belief in a somewhat ambiguous monster and the current burst of enthusiasm for Loch Ness monster hunting, there has been little attempt to get to grips with its mysteries.

Apart from some echo soundings and sporadic sampling of the Loch bottom with grabs, little has been done to explore its depths and to see what is down there. The fortunate choice of the Loch by Vickers Oceanics as the site for the demonstration trials of their submersible Vickers-Pisces has enabled some information on the structure and contents of the Loch to be built up. In fact, Pisces has proved beyond any doubt the point that there is no substitute for man when it comes to exploring the bottom of the sea or as in this case the bottom of a deep Loch. The automation leaves much to be desired. The bottom of the Loch seems to be generally covered with a deep layer of extremely fine sediment. So fine is it that when the skids of the sub touch it they plough in, and it billows up obscuring the view from the ports.

The tiny particles of matter reflect the light from the two 1000 watt quartz iodine lamps. In the area we examined the undisturbed sediment covered what appeared to be a wide level plain with very clear ripple marks on its surface, not unlike the sand at the ocean's edge, the difference being that this was at 800 ft and in fresh water. As one would expect there is very little life at this depth. However we did see some very small white eels, and one of the members of the crew during a previous dive had seen an odd little creature seemingly jetting itself along the bottom.

A great many more dives will need to be made and a systematic bottom survey carried out to get any real picture of the Loch's bed, but at around £1000 per day this is not likely to happen just yet. Another feature of this plain is a number of horseshoe-like craters. the walls of which were quite high. The sediment covered what could be described as the leeside with gentle slopes; those on the "windward" as expected were steep. This and the ripple marks quite clearly indicate a current of sorts at this depth and a moment with the motors switched off soon verified this observation, because the machine would slew round and drift broadside on to the current — at about two knots.

During one excursion we examined one of the horseshoe craters. We entered the open end and examined the walls of sediment that surrounded us. Then we attempted to raise ourselves gradually over the lip. It was higher than we thought, we kept hitting it and disturbing the sediment each time. We explored its contours and then when the echo sounder was registering 10 ft of clear water beneath the craft, we hit something, with a resounding crash, that reverberated through the sphere. It seemed as if we had hit a metal object. Carefully the sub was manoeuvred so that we could examine the water just below us, but we could find nothing. I thought that we had hit the lip of the crater and the arm had gone through the sediment (which for some reason was not picked up by the sonar) and hit the rocky ridge which, presumably, these craters must have.

Later, on the surface, we found in the working parts of the arm pieces of shattered sedimentary rock similar to sandstone which are now being examined by geologists. This does not explain why we registered clear water beneath us and the peculiar nature of the sound. When you hit rock you know it for the dull thud it gives, but this was a definite metallic crash. Not only did the sonar register nothing beneath or around us, but we could not see anything either, even with very careful manoeuvring and using our high-powered lights. We could have picked up the sandstone when we ploughed through the sediment earlier. We will probably never know what we hit. Throughout all the trials this was the only time that Pisces struck with anything like this kind of force.

Other crews have reported something hitting the vessel during previous dives which couldn't be explained. It is not impossible that tree trunks floating at great depths may be encountered and be sucked towards and bump into a craft during its descent. In fact tree trunks were found on the bottom. But it must be admitted that they couldn't have caused the jolt that we experienced. Loch Ness like other lochs, lakes and even the seabed seems to have been used as a dumping ground for anyone's unwanted rubbish from old Morris engines to muskets of the '45. Also there was a wreck of an old sailing collier with its mast still standing. Like most lochs this one does not have a great deal of life in it. It is far too deep and with too small a surface area, though there are fish and plankton in the surface waters.

The author can be contacted at

But beyond 15 to 20 feet, where there is no light, very few fish are encountered and the very few bottom living eels described above would hardly provide enough food for any reasonable sized animal. Even a filer feeding mammal like a whale, or a fish like the basking shark could not live for long on the plankton of Loch Ness. A fish-eating mammal, reptile or fish of the size generally credited to the Loch Ness monster would soon find itself out of business. The dives of Pisces have proved that the submarine is capable of very neatly controlled movements and is able with its hydraulic arm to pick up specimens from the Loch bed. It is ideally suited for explorations of this sort. Its two 3hp motors are more than adequate to cope with bottom currents of up to 3 knots, while at the same time giving the pilot a high degree of manoeuvrability.

The buoyancy and trim controls are also very sensitive, in fact one tends to fly this machine rather than drive it. It is beautifully designed for hovering lust above the bottom, especially when one is trying to examine a rock structure or some other object. In this position one can use the hydraulic arm to lift a rock, examine some debris or with a suitable sampler to take specimens of sediment. The total impression that one gets when riding in this machine is of complete safety and freedom. This is a very unusual quality in a submersible. Particularly those in which the crew's quarters are housed in a steel sphere as they are in Pisces.

Here, any scientist, even if he hasn't been in a submersible before, can feel quite relaxed and thereby concentrate his efforts on recording his observations and carrying out his experiments. My own explorations, short though they were, were carried out with this complete feeling of security which was engendered by my faith in the machine and confidence in my companions. Vickers have a very highly trained unit comprising pilots, observers, engineers and divers. And equipped with these machines they will be able to perform almost any task at continental shelf depths and even beyond. 

Friday, 3 August 2018

Tricks of the Sceptics

This blog has been running now for eight years and published over 600 items in that time. During that period I would like to think I have gotten a good handle on the debating tactics of that class of Nessie naysayers commonly known as "sceptics". Quite likely you will hear them before you see them as they loudly go forth proclaiming the inerrancy of their ways and the perfections of their thoughts.

Like a crowd of wannabe Spocks they practise the raising of the right eyebrow and the parting of the fingers, but they have no desire that your monster theories will live long and prosper. I long ago grew used to this logical posturing and the shallowness of much of their argumentation. Today I would like to present to you some of the tactics they use in the pursuit of doing whatever it takes to rid themselves and the world of these meddlesome monsters.
1. Eyewitness accounts useless ... unless they support pet theories

You've heard it many a time from sceptics, eyewitnesses are poor "recording devices". Not only do the fail to perceive what they are seeing at the time, but are pathetic at recalling the details later on. Well, that is unless what they describe supports your agenda, in which case the clouds of poor memory suddenly depart. The perception of the eyewitnesses becomes lucid and their descriptions are now as sharp as a tack.

This duplicity came to my attention when the matter of the sturgeon came to the fore. Instead of the usual rejection of certain eyewitness reports, a number of reports were deemed accurate to support the sturgeon theory; namely K.MacDonald(1932), J.McLeod(c.1900s), and M.MacDonald(1993). Go to this link and search for "sturgeon". Adrian Shine admitted that "anyone, of course, can assemble sighting reports to support a pet theory", so why bother with this? All that being said, I take this as a positive as the sceptics are admitting witnesses can accurately describe what they are seeing. 

2. Devise unfalsifiable theories

The obvious one being "If it is not a misidentification, then it is a hoax" allied with "If it is not a hoax, then it is a misidentification". A piece of circular reasoning specifically devised to exclude genuine monster reports.

3. Cherry picking accepted theories

In other words, promote only those theories which advance your agenda. This even includes parts of theories such as the false memory theory but ignoring the inconvenient theory that dramatic events stay longer in the memory.

4. Devise explanations to explain reports without testing

 A common tactic wherein sceptics put forward seemingly plausible explanations as to how a witness was wrong, but they never actually test if it is a viable explanation in the field. Of course, not every theory can be tested, but the sceptics are quite happy with that arrangement.

5. A lazy over reliance on the "least fantastical" approach to theorising

This is the "improbable" versus "impossible" theories and is a straw man argument. You construct an albeit unlikely scenario but use common everyday objects to soften the implausibility. This is then propped up against a monster theory and the audience is deceptively asked "which one looks more likely to you?". An example would be, "What is more likely to you? A line of otters in a heat haze or a plesiosaur crossing the road?". The correct answer from a neutral or sceptical audience should be "The first, but both look unlikely, so we are no further forward."

6. Objectification of subjective data

Sceptics often berate believers for going over monster pictures with a fine toothcomb for minor details that are at best inconclusive and at worst wishful thinking. However, sceptics are guilty of this when we are assuredly told that there are wires present in the Surgeon's photograph, a canoe's rudder point in the O'Connor photograph and a forward wake in the MacNab photograph. Like the believers they put down, they are merely seeing what their confirmation bias wishes them to see!

7. Inconsistency in accepting eyewitness testimony that suits their agenda

Eyewitnesses to monster sightings are categorised as inadequate (unless it involves sturgeons) but people who come forward to offer juicy information to debunk sightings are star witnesses who cannot possibly be wrong. In this list we include Richard Frere who claimed to have information to debunk the Lachlan Stuart photograph and likewise Alec Menzies on Arthur Grant. One is not inclined to judge whether these people lied or misinterpreted an event, but the sceptics make no attempt to assess the weight of their testimonies. 

8. Ad Hominem tactics 

A somewhat baser form of tactic which gets personal. For instance, I heard one sceptic state that eyewitness testimonies from anyone at Fort Augustus Abbey should be discounted in the light of the recent child abuse scandal there. Not much logic there I am afraid. Also, we are told to discount Arthur Grant's testimony because known faker Marmaduke Wetherell visited the site while he was at Loch Ness. The old "guilt by association" tactic. Finally, the monks get it in the neck again when some of their eyewitness testimonies should be discarded because "they like their whisky". Yeah, sure.

9. Overuse of tentative or false theories

Be it discredited theories such as vegetable mats, earthquakes or uncatchable sturgeon, some theories just seem to go on well past their sell by dates. But f they deflect attention away from inconvenient monsters, what's not to like?

10. Mistakes in use of eyewitness reports

The classic here was Ronald Binns' conflation of the Margaret Munro and Torquil MacLeod land sightings. The intended or unintended synthesis of these two accounts resulted in inconsistencies which Binns then exploited to discredit the MacLeod account. I am not making this up, folks! 

11. The psychological use of hyperbolic language 

Or to use an old phrase, "Argument weak here, shout louder!". Do you want your faltering arguments to carry more weight with your audience? Simple, just attach such words as "damning", "amazing" or "very telling" to arguments which are nothing of the sort. This one comes straight out of the politician's playbook.

12. Deflection

You may have noticed when debating a sceptic that the topic under discussion actually has nothing to do with the original question. This is called deflection and usually involves the sceptic going off as a tangent so long as the direction is away from the original awkward question. Another tactic taken from the politician's playbook.

So there you have it. No doubt Mr. Spock would have replied "Fascinating!". The next time a sceptic beams down and starts pontificating to you on the matter of lake cryptids, get out this list and check how many of these tricks they are trying to pull off. Perhaps we should start an annual award for the worst offender. We could call it the Cryptozoological BS Award, where of course BS stands for Bogus Spocks.

The author can be contacted at

Should Inverness Airport be renamed Inverness Loch Ness Airport?

Cast your vote at this link! Twitter poll closes today.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Nessieland up for Sale

Do you fancy owning your own Loch Ness Monster exhibition at Loch Ness? Then your chance has finally arrived as the Nessieland exhibition in the village of Drumnadrochit goes up for sale. Details of the sale are available here

I have only visited the exhibition a few times over the years I have been at the loch, but on my last visit there had been a revamp and I posted my thoughts on it in a previous article. Of course, any prospective buyer has to take into account the fact that there is a competing exhibition about 100 yards up the road which has resulted in friction between the two as they both compete for the tourists pounds.

That competing exhibition is the Loch Ness Centre and the friction was evident in the charging of Nessieland's owner, Donald Skinner, over the theft of a Loch Ness Centre sign back in 2013. This followed a lawsuit some years before when the Loch Ness Centre owner, Robbie Bremner, sued over the names of the two centres.

The Loch Ness Centre was called "The Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition" whilst Nessieland was called "The Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre". This proximity in naming led Bremner to claim he was losing over a £1 million in revenues. The outcome was both centres agreeing to change their names to "Nessieland" and "The Loch Ness Centre".

My own thought was that the "Loch Ness Centre" suited sceptics better as it really did not have much for those who believed in the Loch Ness Monster (though an eyewitness testimony section has improved that). The "Nessieland" exhibition would suit monster believers more, though it was more family and kid oriented rather than dedicated to serious researchers.

So, in terms of balance, two exhibition centres would be best, but there is no need for them to be 100 yards apart as the history shows. I did think one in Fort Augustus would be better, though where to site it is is not clear to me and the town did have two exhibitions in decades past which have now closed down. Has the time come for another one?

There was chat about a community buyout of Nessieland, though that seems to imply a total revamp of the building into something more for the benefit of the locals than tourists. The trouble is Donald Skinner will be looking for a price which assumes it continues as a Nessie attraction with the commensurate revenues. Whether a community buyout can bypass that problem, I do not know.

Watch this space, I guess, but I am sure the Loch Ness Centre would want to see the end of the place, the end of a competing exhibition and therefore more tourist pounds coming their way. That is of course no surprise. Business owners are all for competition and free enterprise except when it comes to their own business, whatever the sector!

For me, the idea of a pro-monster exhibition is a must for the area. If Nessieland goes, the space needs to be filled and not left to an exhibition that has no belief in the thing that attracts people to the area in the first place. A pro-monster exhibition, properly done, could attract more visitors, especially if the recent idea of erecting sightings plaques around the loch takes off.

A brief history of exhibitions around the loch can be found here.

The author can be contacted at

Saturday, 21 July 2018

A Follow up to the Aircraft Monster Film

The mystery concerning the film taken of a possible large creature in Loch Ness has been solved. It was indeed taken in September 1981 by explorer Sydney Wignall but at Loch Morar and not Loch Ness. Here is a newspaper clipping from the Daily Star of February 5th 1982.

PRINCE Charles has joined the great Scottish monster hunt. He has asked to see a film made last year that is said to "prove conclusively" that there are monsters in some Scottish lochs. And monster-hunter Sidney Wignall said last night: "By the time he's finished watching It, the Prince will no longer be in any doubt that these creatures are real and not just a figment of people's imagination."

Sidney. 59, shot the seven-minute cine film from a powered hang glider last September at Loch Morar in the Western Highlands. He claims it shows Morag, a relative of the Loch Ness Monster. "Part of the film shows two creatures leaving wakes behind them In the otherwise still water." he said. "Another part shows a 1,000 yard wake similar to a torpedo's.

"But the most frightening bit shows a creature - or something - lying perfectly still at the side or the loch. "Whenever I get to that bit, my hair stands on end - and I'm sure it will do the same to the Prince."

Sidney. of Old Colwyn, North Wales. has spent £4,000 on his hunt for the monsters, and he has sent several reports on his activities to Prince Charles. The film, which was shot over a period of five weeks, will be rushed to the Prince as soon as it is returned from Japan, where it is being studied at the moment.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said last night: "The Prince has said he is interested in seeing the film. But no date has been fixed yet. "I don't want to say too much - or well be deluged with Loch Ness monster things from now on."

However, this was not how I found the provenance of this film. A visit to the library to examine multitudes of online newspapers failed and no mention appeared in any crytpid book I perused. Then I thought to consult Rip Hepple's newsletter for 1981 and the answer was soon forthcoming as Rip wrote about watching the cine film himself on the ITN news in early November 1981. Since I carry that newsletter on this very blog in the Rip Hepple Nessletter archive, the answer was under my very nose in Nessletter No.49 which I would have read back then, but completely forgotten.

Sydney Wignall (above) was an explorer who undertook aerial surveys of the lochs reputed to have large unknown creatures and passed over Loch Morar as one of them. The main part of Rip's description is:

The piece of film was shown, and while it was very short it was most impressive. It was not stated which stretch of water it was, but from the glimpse of shoreline we had it did not seem to be Loch Ness. I thought it may have been one of the tree covered islands at Loch Morar, the very clear water seemed to support this. But what was on the film? It was as close as anyone could wish, to being a silhouette of a plesiosaur.

There was no real scale to judge size, but taking the small waves on the surface as a guide I would say the animal was some 25 to 30 feet long. The dark shape showed a fairly long pointed tail, it thickened considerably where it joined the body, which was oval shaped and had three flippers, that we could see, two rear and one front. Presumably there was a fourth one we could not see. The neck was long but not very long, thick at the base narrowing towards the head, which was distinct from the neck.

The animal was close to the surface and twisting to one side, showing movement as the aircraft passed over. The flippers were pointed, definately diamond shaped, in fact just what you would expect of Nessiteras Rhombopteryx, or perhaps Morariteras. Strangely this novel idea and the results it produced did not receive a mention in the press, also there seems to have been no follow up.

You can view a scan of the original page 1 here. Rip contacted Sidney and got a reply published in Nessletter 50 (Feb 1982). Sidney told him it was to be shown on the BBC children's programme, Blue Peter on Monday February 22nd (as one person has already said here). It was not an RAF helicopter but a four seater Rallye low wing monoplane fitted with floats (below) and he further spoke on how to get closer to such animals. There was another communication in Nessletter 51 (Apr 1982) in which Sidney laid out some plans for another expedition in 1982 as well as more about his previous work as well as a surface sighting at Loch Morar.

A fuller account was given by Wignall himself to the now defunct Pursuit Newsletter dated Second Quarter 1982:
In late September, overflying Morar, we saw something very strange lying on the loch bed in about three meters of water in an area we had covered a few days before and which on the earlier occasion showed nothing unusual. The "thing" appeared to be about six meters in length and had what could be fins or paddles, but not the four I expected to see. (I was being subjective and not objective, hoping to see a plesiosaur.) A cine-record was made from heights of between 500 and 200 feet.

A low pass at 50 feet nearly put us into the water when we hit a "sink" area. Climbing away, I took several still monochrome photographs. Then I saw about 30 meters away from the "thing," another "thing." Only this time, Thing No. 2 was most definitely moving slowly, about a meter under the surface. I managed one 35mm still frame of it, then it descended into deeper water, out of sight. A polarizing filter had almost completely eliminated surface glare.

It could not counteract the small surface chop that distorted the resulting photographic image, which appeared to be of an object 7 to 8 meters long, moving to the northwest at possibly one or two knots. It appeared to have a neck and a tail but only two fins could be seen, and these were on either side just forward of amidships. I managed only one dive in the area after that, and in one bay I came across a log which did not appear to relate either to Thing No.1 or Thing No.2. What had I seen? I very much doubt if No.1 was an animate object. Its shape wasn't quite right. No.2 was the real thing, but what it is I cannot say, if a plesiosaur, why not four fins? If a zeuglodon, wasn't the neck too long?

However, no further communications were received by Rip and I saw no further mention of Mr. Wignall in the next four years of Nessletters. One presumes they either did not take place or nothing of note happened. And so the entire mattered faded into obscurity until this week.

Sidney Wignall died in 2012 after leading a life of adventure. Now I know what you are asking - where is the film now and I suspect a familiar feeling of deja vu will roll over you when I tell you I don't know. Yes, it appears to have gone down the same plughole as the Irvine, Fraser, Taylor, LNIB and Beckjord films. Unlike some of these films, I don't even have a still image. That is not to imply that all these films are genuine cryptid films, but researchers will not get the chance to analyse them and come to any form of conclusion.

Neither does it imply this and other films are destroyed and gone for good. I suspect the film is lying around somewhere, forgotten and unloved. The resolution may yet lie with Wignall's next of kin or some Google warrior who uncovers some footage online.

What did Sydney Wignall see? Rip Hepple classed it as an impressive piece of footage though Wignall was not entirely convinced one of the objects was animate. However, his quotes in the Daily Star article are more bullish concerning it being two creatures. Will we ever have the chance to make that assessment ourselves? Well, I will see how far I can get with this.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Upcoming Interview on the Loch Ness Monster

I will be a guest on the Paraversal Universe radio show tomorrow discussing you know what. Details are below.

Join Paraversal Universe this Friday, July 20th (2018) in North America at 2pm pst/3pm mst/4pm cst/5pm est, in Europe at 10pm gmt/11pm cet, & in Australia (Sat) at 8am aest on the Late Night In The Midlands Radio Network ( as we talk to Cryptozoologist & Author Roland Watson about his research into the Loch Ness Monster. We'll discuss his books "When Monsters Come Ashore" & "The Water Horses Of Loch Ness". Join us live in the chat room to ask questions & make comments at Listen live from your phone at (701)-719-9704. Check out our archives at Paraversal Universe Show Archives.

The author can be contacted at