Sunday, 1 May 2016

Monster Hunting Season Approaches




The snow is gone (almost) and the sun is beginning to shine that bit longer. Loch Ness begins to beckon and so does its most famous inhabitant. So, to get into monster hunting mode, that means thinking ahead and preparing for some more trips up north; looking out the camping equipment, binoculars, cameras, night vision equipment and so on.

Also, to conform to the sceptics' monster hunter stereotype of somebody who is mentally challenged and socially dysfunctional; perhaps a bit of the wild eyed look, messed up hair and drooling would also be required. Then again, maybe not. As a quiz, can anyone remember where the quote "It's My Monster!" comes from?

I am currently on the lookout for new equipment, but one item remains a staple of the modern monster hunter's diet and that is the game camera. As you can see from the picture above, I have purchased two more and intend to grow that as I plant them along the loch shore. These particular ones are cheaper cameras, mainly because I expect to get through a lot of them! However, I won't be sticking to one make and model because if a fault presents itself in one unit, it will probably present itself in all of them and eventually render the entire batch a rather short term investment.





If you know these devices, you basically strap them around a tree facing the loch, switch them on and walk away. The proximity and infra-red sensors will do the work for you as they wait for something to move within their field of sensitivity. When that happens, they can be configured to take a quick succession of still pictures or video clips of varying duration, frame rate or resolution which are then stored on an SD memory card.

The other consideration is battery life. If you place a camera at the loch and leave it for a number of months, you hope that it will run for most of that time to deliver the best opportunity of photos. Some cameras can work on eight batteries, some up to twelve and the battery type is also influential. Moreover, battery life can be reduced by the number of pictures or video clips taken. I have returned to cameras which have taken thousands of pictures triggered not by monsters, boats or birds, but just the continuous wave action below the camera or the fluttering of branches beside them. This makes the placement of the device of particular importance.

But how effective are these devices in the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster? Let us do the maths on a typical device. Two parameters are important and these are the sensor sight angle and the sensing distance. These typically come out at 100 degrees and 20 metres and this forms an arc of detection on the loch in front of it. Note it is important to place the camera as close to the loch as you can lest the sensing distance is wasted over the land in front of it.

So a bit of arc geometry gives us a maximum coverage of about 350 square metres. This is to be compared to the entire surface area of the loch which is 56,400,000 square metres. So our example camera's coverage of the loch is a mere 0.0006% of the loch surface! In fact, if we planted cameras side by side just outside each others arc of sensitivity along the entire perimeter of the loch, the total coverage of the loch would still only be about 3% of the loch.

To put it another way, if the creature randomly surfaced once a day anywhere on the loch, the odds of it appearing in the arc of a single camera would be about 160,000 to 1 against. Note this does not take into account the shallowness of the loch near the camera. However, if you plant ten cameras around the loch, the odds "only" drop to 16,000 to 1 against! That would mean a wait of 16,000 days or 43 years to be in the zone of that single daily surfacing. A hundred cameras drops it to a mere 4.3 years but maintaining that amount of cameras becomes a team effort.

Clearly, these are example stats since it is not known how many surfacings of the creatures(s) occur only a daily basis or whether they are more inclined to surface near the secluded areas I seek to plant these cameras by. But I hope these cursory statistics demonstrate the size of the task.

So why bother? The motivation is the potential prize. As monster hunters are painfully aware, there are photos that are claimed as proof of the Loch Ness Monster, but next to none can really claim to be close up and detailed. But any large creature that comes within 20 metres of such a camera is going to give us an exceptional picture. Consider the photograph taken below with one such trap camera I recently retrieved from the loch. Look at the object in the centre bottom. Can you see the eye to the left and the open mouth? What could this be?





Well, don't get too excited as it is only a rock, but I wanted you (through the illusion of simulacra) to get an idea of what kind of picture these cameras can get if a large creature surfaces near them. It is, of course, a long shot given the statistics just mentioned, but what has one got to lose? Consider Tim Dinsdale, who spent many hours, days and weeks at Loch Ness for twenty seven years and failed to get the game changing picture or film. Consider Ted Holiday, who spent many hours at the loch between 1962 and 1980, without a single photo to show for it (despite having four sightings). Other monster hunters were luckier, but they got nothing to the standard of our imagined photo above. 

The lesson for me is obvious. I don't intend to spend thousands of hours staring at the loch with camera and binoculars at my side. Call me lazy, but given the failure of previous Nessie men and women, one is just as well strapping these cameras around the loch and heading home to do more productive things (like watch football). That does not mean I discourage others from doing the good old fashioned stuff. Somebody may yet get lucky one day with that technique and produce that convincing footage and I will be as ecstatic as anyone else.

But as you can see from the rain lashed night shot below, these cameras will stand in silent, uncomplaining solitude, immune to boredom, undistracted, watching and waiting for something to pass in front of them that may just change the way people look at this legend. For me, that may take years or it may never happen. One thing is for sure, if you do nothing, then nothing is certainly going to happen.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Wednesday, 27 April 2016

More Webcam Photos - Head and Neck?

After the recent offering of webcam photos, I got an email from another webcam user who had some pictures to tell about. Here name is Diana and they are quite an interesting sequence. If one was bold for Nessie, you may think you were looking at a long neck which appears, begins to submerge and is gone in the third picture, all in the space of 27 seconds. The pole like object can be seen just left of centre above the third tree from the left.






A zoom in of the object in its two aspects are shown below. The first image certainly has that pole like quality that is reminiscent of Loch Ness Monster sightings. What it actually is becomes another matter. You may notice the strange looking pixel structure to the bottom right of the second image which likes a square with four smaller squares at each corner. 

What is that? Can this artifact bring a charge of photoshopping or is it just a cursor in an inconvenient spot? Remember those childhood puzzles where you had to find small objects in complex pictures? Feel free to locate this cursor in the first picture (as I did)!





Is it actually in the water? I would say it is.  How big is the object? One foot, three foot, six foot? That is not so easy to determine, but as a comparison photo is shown below of a passing boat as supplied by our previous webcammer, Joaquin. The boat could be about thirty feet long, but note its perceived length is foreshortened due to it being turned towards the camera.




As ever, webcam photos can be frustrating due to the distances involved. As a consequence of this, opinions are again invited. Further information on pole-like Nessie sightings can be found here.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 21 April 2016

Nessie On Land: The MacGruer-Cameron Case

It's back to the high strangeness of land based Nessie reports and we now look at an intriguing story from around the time of the First World War. The first account of this came to light on the 3rd October 1933 as monster fever was beginning to rise across the United Kingdom and a certain William MacGruer from Fort Augustus told Alex Campbell of his strange encounter some twenty years before. The report made its way to the Inverness Courier and is reproduced below.




APPEARANCE ON LAND TWENTY YEARS AGO

Fort-Augustus Resident's Description

Over twenty years ago, writes a correspondent, a party of five or six young people, whose ages ranged from ten to twelve years. went for a walk one Sunday afternoon near Fort-Augustus. They followed the main Inverness road for nearly a mile, which took them to Inchnacardoch Bay, where the Loch Ness Monster has recently been seen by several people.

There the little party began to explore the densely growing scrub which fringes the loch-side. in the hopes of finding some birds' nests. They had not proceeded very far off the beaten track, i.e. the public road, when they were astonished to see a queer-looking creature emerge from some bushes and make for the loch, only a few yards distant and disappear in the water. Thoroughly alarmed, the terrified children made tracks for home, where they related their strange story. From the excitement they showed it seemed obvious that theirs was no cock-and-bull story.

However, the incident was quickly forgotten and it was only on Saturday that the writer, who happened to be talking with one of the party, learned of that extraordinary adventure. Asked to describe the creature he had seen, Mr Wm. Macgruer, Oich Bank, Fort-Augustus (who was one of the children concerned), said that it reminded himself and the others of nothing so much as a camel. It had a long neck, a small head, a humped-up back, and fairly long legs.

It was, however, considerably smaller than a camel, but its skin or coat was almost the same colour - pale yellow. Mr Macgruer's parents remember the incident perfectly, and although they were inclined to scoff at the time, they think now that the children did actually see something strange. But children, as a rule, are reliable witnesses, as many grown-ups can testify. The majority of those who have heard Mr Macgruer's story now accept without reservation, the description of a strange creature which was seen this summer near Dores, Loch Ness, by Mr Spicer, of London, whose letter to the "Courier" caused such widespread interest at the time. 

The story was later reproduced in the Scotsman of the 17th October and in the Northern Chronicle of the 11th October, though little in the way of extra detail was added. After that, the story sinks into obscurity, and, given, the irregularity of what is described, this is not surprising. As regards the witness mentioned, the only picture I could find of William MacGruer on Internet archives is shown below. He is at the far right in the middle row. I have since spoken to his grand-daughter and nephew who still live near the loch and they vouch for his sincerity. As his grand-daughter told me:

My granda was a very level headed man and a rather private man who would not have made up fanciful tales as this was not in his nature. 



William MacGruer (far right, second row)


THE LOCATION

Before proceeding further with the story, a look at the location of this tale may be informative. The actual location is at the southern end of the loch near Fort Augustus. This is circled on the map below along with a picture taken from off the road showing the small forested area to the left from which the creature emerged into the loch.






I visited the bay recently and took some further pictures to get a sense of the immediate context of this eyewitness report. The bay itself is a mixture of boats old and new as you can see from the first picture of this less than pristine vessel. Nice picture of a whale though.



Looking out onto the bay itself, I was standing just off the main A82 road, where I suspect at least one of the witnesses may have been standing themselves. The reports suggest that the creature emerged from the woods to the right of the picture below before submerging into the waters of the bay.



Making my way into the woods proved a more difficult proposition. I don't know what the conditions were like underfoot for those kids one hundred years ago, but I certainly had to contend with rather boggy conditions and some sure footing was required to negotiate some of the rotten logs strewn around. Mind you, it had been previously raining.




We don't know exactly where this creature was first seen, but the small peninsula of land in the next picture is a candidate.




One eyewitness also mention the "crackling of trees" made by the creature. In the next picture, it is quite easy to see how that would have been accomplished.





ANOTHER ACCOUNT

However, there was another account of kids seeing a strange creature on land in Inchnacardoch Bay. Though some list these as separate accounts, they are undoubtedly referring to the same event. The other witness was William's sister, Margaret, who later recounted the event under her married name of Margaret Cameron. Her account is first mentioned in the Loch Ness literature by Constance Whyte in her book "More Than A Legend". As it turns out, Mrs. Cameron's account was actually first made public in a letter to the London Times some twenty years before. The Times letter as quoted in Whyte's book now follows:

When a girl of fifteen she and her two young brothers were spending a sunny September afternoon on the lochside close to the boathouse of Inchnacardoch House and about three-quarters of a mile from Fort Augustus. The loch shallows at this point forming a narrow bay with a marshy peninsula. The children were exploring the bushes at the water's edge, when, far from the road, they disturbed a creature which Mrs. Cameron describes as having a small head and long neck.

The head was rather like that of a camel, the colour too reminded her of a camel. It had a humped back and four limbs. They saw the beast lurch down into the water 'humping its great shoulders and twisting its head from side to side'. The bairns were terrified and never stopped running until they reached home where the parents realised from the state they were in that this was no cock-and-bull story and scolded the youngsters, telling them that 'Old Nick was after them for gathering nuts on the Sabbath'. 

Constance Whyte got in contact with Margaret Cameron in 1955 who wrote back to confirm the Times account of that strange day 36 years ago. I have no access to that letter, which I presume is now in a lock-up somewhere in the south of England belonging to Nicholas Witchell.

The Times newspaper is digitally archived and online, so I thought I would see what the original letter had to say. Constance Whyte's book said the letter was printed 6th May 1936. That was way out as it was actually printed 7th June 1938! Thank goodness for online text searching or I would have been at it for hours. The letter is reproduced below.





The original letter was from a Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Liddell, who had visited the Youth Hostel near Fort Augustus where Margaret Cameron was the warden. She told him her story and he relayed it in his letter to the Times as follows:

In 1919, when she was a girl of 15, she and her two young brothers were spending a sunny September afternoon on the Loch side quite close to the boathouse of Inchnacardoch House, about six furlongs from Fort Augustus. The loch at this point shallows, forming a narrow bay with a marshy peninsula, on the north side of which a ruined steam launch is stranded.

As the children were playing on the strand they saw the monster on the shore of the marsh opposite, lurching down to the water, "humping its shoulders and twisting its head from side to side." Mrs. Cameron said it walked like an elephant. I asked her what the back looked like. She said they did not wait to see, as the bairns were terrified and never stopped running till they reached home. They were scolded by their parents. who told them that "Old Nick was after them for gathering nuts on the Sabbath." Mrs. Cameron saw the monster again in July, 1934, when returning from Inverness by motor-bus, and so did all the passengers.

This is where this story takes an interesting turn. The quoted letter in the book does not fully match the original source and that is why I like to see the original sources where possible. Some details have been added and some have been deleted. The Whyte reproduction adds items not mentioned in the letter such as a long neck, humped back, camel-like head and colour. The mention of the creature walking like an elephant is deleted in the Whyte book as is the mention of the witness having no idea what the back looked like!

What appears to have happened here is that the Times letter has been conflated to include any details in the letter Constance Whyte received from Margaret Cameron. Presumably, this was done as a space saving operation by the publisher. However, it is merely an educated guess on my part that every detail added to the conflation was a detail from the Cameron letter. Without that letter, this is impossible to verify.

The Times letter is also mentioned in Peter Costello's "In Search of Lake Monsters", but adds nothing new in the way of information, so we move onto another episode in the history of this story.


ANOTHER TWIST

The issue of what those children saw nearly a century ago is muddied by another account. Margaret Cameron was interviewed by Nicholas Witchell in 1971 and this appears in his 1974 book, "The Loch Ness Story". I reproduce that account below with a photograph of Mrs. Cameron and her sister Elizabeth MacGruer from the same book.

I was with my two brothers and my young sister Lizzie, who was in the pram. We were waiting for some friends and were passing the time by skimming stones across the water when we heard this awful crackling in the trees on the other side of the little bay. It must have been something awfully big we thought; and of course we had been warned not to go near the loch by our grandparents as there were these wild horses in the loch and we thought now this must be one of them!

So we sat for a wee while and this crackling seemed to be coming nearer and nearer, and then, suddenly, this big thing appeared out of the trees and started to move down the beach to the water. I couldn't tell you if it had a long neck or a short neck because it was pointing straight at us. It had a huge body and its movement as it came out of the trees was like a caterpillar.

I would say it was a good 20 feet long - what we saw of it. Now, the colour of it - I hadn't seen an elephant in them days, but it's the colour of the elephant and it seemed to have rather a shiny skin. Under it we saw two short, round feet at the front and it lurched to one side and put one foot into the water and then the other one.

We didn't wait to see the end of it coming out - we got too big a fright. When we got home we were all sick and couldn't take our tea. So we had to explain what had happened and we told our mum and dad, and grandfather was there and I can see him banging the table and telling us not to tell anybody about it. Anyway, we were put to bed with a big dose of caster oil . . . It's still so very vivid in my mind - I'll never forget it.



Margaret Cameron and Elizabeth MacGruer

I must say that when I read this version, I wondered if I was reading an account of a different event (which may explain why some list it as a separate story). Here we now have a twenty foot creature, colour like an elephant (not a camel), with short round feet. No long neck is described as the creature was facing towards the witnesses. This is clearly more like the standard model of the creature but what Margaret and her brother, William, described in the letters to the Inverness Courier and the Times over thirty years before is somewhat different.

Gone is the sandy coloured, camel-like creature with "fairly long legs" and "considerably smaller than a camel". In comes the standard huge, grey monster of modern lore. Other details are added which are new to the account but do not contradict the original sources or are incidental to it.

So what caused this transition to a more acceptable Nessie? When I first thought about this, I excluded Margaret Cameron from this as the account in Constance Whyte's book was more in line with William MacGruer's account. It also described the camel-like creature and made no claim to a twenty foot animal. One may propose that she had misremembered after so long, but her letter to Constance Whyte suggested otherwise.

Did Nicholas Witchell or the publishers of the book revise the account wanting to avoid Nessies which didn't get too out of kilter with the standard plesiosaur model of the time? I did think one of them could have until I a reader pointed me to further information I examine below.

Having said that, I noted with interest the overlap between monsters ancient and monsters modern as Margaret Cameron made two allusions to the "Each Uisge" or Water Horse. This is evident in her reference to the warning that "wild horses" inhabited the loch. Now the violent reaction of her grandfather may seem over the top to us, but it is perfectly in keeping with Highland folklore literature which states that it was regarded as unlucky to see a Water Horse or even to talk about it. I say more about Loch Ness Water Horses here.


FURTHER INFORMATION

Subsequent to this article being published, an experienced reader pointed out that Tim Dinsdale had also featured the Cameron land sighting in his book, "Project Water Horse". I checked this out and he had indeed interviewed Margaret Cameron in 1972 (the year after Nicholas Witchell). After talking with Mrs. Cameron, the year 1909 was settled upon as opposed to 1919 as the date of the event. The quoted words of Mrs Cameron from that book are given below.

When, my dear, what an awful rustling noise was coming out of the trees - when you walk in a wood you know how you can sort of hear things crackling, and the breaking of old branches -well this was the same as that - as if it was splitting and breaking of the branches of the trees themselves - so of course we looked, and the loch was quite calm, and there couldn't be any wind knocking the trees, you see, when - oh, my dear, out of the trees came this huge thing!

Broad, broad, here. . . . I saw it deliberately lift one leg and put it into the water - and thinking of the baby - well I was eleven years of age, and thinking of herself, I just grabbed her, I didn't wait to see the end of it, or the rest of it coming out of the trees which was - have you ever seen a caterpillar walking on a cabbage leaf? That's what it seemed to be, like that - I saw two of its big parts, and that was quite enough, because it was a huge thing - I hadn't seen an elephant in them days, but I've seen one since - and that was the colour. The colour of an elephant. 

Tim Dinsdale adds these further comments.

The memory of this experience was obviously still very clear to Mrs Cameron, and together with Murray Stewart, another monster-hunter of long experience, I questioned her in detail about it. She had seen no long neck, but as she explained, the creature was coming directly towards them and they couldn't tell if it had one or not. The forelimb was thicker than an elephant's and 'stumped' at the end. She held up a big frying pan, to indicate the end of it, and said it was bigger than that. 

What is the conclusion from this last account of the case? It looks that Margaret Cameron introduced some alterations to the account that differed from what she recounted to Constance Whyte 16 years before. I don't agree with Tim Dinsdale's assessment that the experience was "still very clear to Mrs Cameron" as some artificial memories had replaced original ones after what now appears to be 63 long years (if the 1909 date is correct). This is one of the longest periods of time between event and recall in the annals of Loch Ness Monster accounts.


A JIGSAW PUZZLE

This leaves us with the non-trivial task of reconstructing what actually happened that day in September 1919. It first has to be said that the whole affair is open to the problem of memory recall issues. Now this is one of the foundational aspects of the sceptical theory, but it is one that is overstated (I hope to address this in a future article). Normally, I do not see this as relevant when eyewitness testimony are recorded within hours, days or weeks of the event. The vividness and perceived danger of the event also helps imprint the details more deeply into the memory.

However, William MacGruer's account was related 14 years after it happened and Guy Liddell's letter was 19 years on. Stretching out further, Margaret Cameron wrote to Constance Whyte 36 years after and the Nicholas Witchell interview was conducted 52 years after. How much this passage of time distorts the original "data" is open to opinion, but there will certainly be deviations from the original reality.

The approach is to proceed chronologically and allow older statements to take precedence over newer statements if the newer contradicts the older - unless there is good reason to to think otherwise. Additional details which do not contradict older details need to be assessed in a more indirect way.

So first we compare the earliest testimonies of the eyewitnesses - the two letters from the 1930s. It will be apparent that the Times letter is a second hand account, so we will have to assume it is an accurate retelling. These two accounts do not overlap much at all, so we can combine their features as below. The only apparent contradiction is that one account says the back was not visible but the other says it was humped. This can be resolved by the observation that the witnesses were most likely at different points in the bay. A pram was mentioned in the 1971 account which suggests somebody had to stay behind (nobody was going to push a pram through that thick foliage).

Camel-like in appearance.
Long neck.
Small head.
Humped back.
Fairly long legs.
Considerably smaller than a camel.
Pale yellow colour.

Humping its shoulders in a lurching motion.
Walked like an elephant.
Twisting its head from side to side.
Back not fully seen.

Bringing in the later Whyte account, there is much agreement again with the only new item being the mention of four legs. This time, however, Margaret Cameron states she did see a humped back which we accept since Guy Liddell's contrary statement is second-hand.

Head like a camel.
Colour like a camel.
Humped back.
Four limbs.
Small head.
Long neck.

Coming to the final 1971 Witchell interview, the contradictions in this story with what had passed will be ignored for the reasons stated above. What does not contradict the previous accounts are:

Shiny skin
Caterpillar like motion

Bringing all these jigsaw pieces together gives us a draft description of what was seen by these children:

Camel-like in appearance.
Long neck.
Small camel-like head.
Humped back.
Four, fairly long legs.
Considerably smaller than a camel.
Pale yellow colour with a shiny appearance.
Humping its shoulders in a lurching motion.
Walked like an elephant.
Twisting its head from side to side.
Caterpillar like motion.

ASSESSMENT

What are we to make of this story told decades after it was first experienced? I have already mentioned the potential for misremembering after such a long time. However, what was actually seen is beyond objective analysis and retro-fitting one's favoured theory generally amounts to no more than an exercise in speculation. You basically pick your theory according to your bias and plug the appropriate shapes into the memory holes.

However, what can be said in this regard is that the descriptions from William MacGruer in 1933 and Margaret Cameron in 1955 are very consistent. If false memories had been introduced to their individual memories, I would expect there to be a greater degree of inconsistency. In other words, witness agreement is consistent with original, preserved memory (though one may argue that some memory cross-pollination would have had an influence, but, again, quantifying this objectively is far from trivial).

One could jokingly suggest they did actually see a camel escaped from one of the circuses that occasionally visited Inverness. Why a camel would dive into the loch is a moot point, but I would note that a variation of this theory is suggested by researcher Dale Drinnon when he postulates that it was an elk that the children saw moving into the loch. However, these animals have been extinct in Britain since about 1500 BC.




Staying on the sceptical theme, Steuart Campbell in his book, "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence", classes this report under the section on "otter like" reports. Whatever the MacGruers saw, an otter seems a very unlikely candidate. Roy Mackal in his book, "The Monsters of Loch Ness", is also dubious of this report and suggests it was a case of mistaken identity.

Looking at the description itself, some things leap out at me. For example, how does one reconcile the two statements "humping its shoulders in a lurching motion" and "walked like an elephant"? They both can't be correct and one would be tempted to let the former have priority over the latter which is a second hand account.

That brings us to the "fairly long legs" description. What did William MacGruer mean by this? Camel length legs or something else? This is what makes this story odd, even by Nessie standards. The description of something long necked with a humped back is consistent with what has been reported elsewhere but "fairly long legs" is left of field and reminds us of the curious case of Lt. Fordyce with it's very own strange long legs.

Something also described as "considerably smaller than a camel", though not excluding the Loch Ness Monster, begins to put us in the domain of other animals such as seals and deer. Of course, when something is described as twenty to thirty feet long, we begin to exclude deer, seal and otters.

There is also the issue of the colour of pale yellow. One could argue that the difference between pale yellow and a deer's light sandy brown is not too far removed. But why children should panic over an all too familiar deer is a matter of debate. Needless to say, the colour of the Loch Ness Monster is mainly described as black or grey with the odd divergence to a dark shade of some other colour such as brown.

Checking the database, I found only four eyewitness accounts describing a similar colour. Those are the G.E.Taylor film of 1938 ("straw"), the Birmingham University expedition of 1962 ("light brown"), a Mr. Fallows in 1963 ("light brown") and Nessie author, Ted Holiday in 1965 ("yellowish brown").

So, though light coloured Nessies are possible, one needs some kind of biological theory to explain why a small proportion may have this colour. Is it related to age, albinos, gender or mating? There is not enough information to make a plausible theory.


CONCLUSIONS

This is an odd case, made a bit more opaque by some editorial gymnastics. Nessies with fairly long legs and coloured pale yellow are not going to form the foundation for any monster theory. The temptation is to write this off as a misremembered event, but one is left with the question as to what those children saw at close range those long years ago which caused them to flee in terror and render them physically sick.

A deer, a seal, or something else?


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com










Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Year of the Monster

Here is a short but enjoyable video clip from artist Bradford Johnson, who has spent some time working on a portfolio of paintings with his take on the great year of 1933, when the Loch Ness Monster hit the national and international headlines. In his own words:

This is short vid of recent paintings I've been working up around images from 1933 - the year that the Loch Ness Monster caught fire in the press. It's an embrace of legendary flimflam into order to glimpse the substance and evidence of things lurking just below the surface.



Year of the Monster from Bradford Johnson on Vimeo.


You can also see Bradford's works here.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Sherlock Holmes Nessie Finally Found




It only took about 47 years, but the famous two humped monster created for the film "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" has finally been found using sonar. News story here. Once suggested as the identity of the 1975 underwater "gargoyle" picture, this was another monster that eluded hunters for decades. But a tourist unwittingly photographed it when it was undergoing trials, I wrote on that here.

I would be curious to know at what depth the prop was found out and whether a ROV may be sent down to get conclusive photographs? The sonar device employed was a Kongsberg MUNIN AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) which does have a still camera capability. So we may yet see some optical images, though it is not clear how functional such a device would be in the loch's dark, peat stained depths. Further details on this hi-tech sonar device can be found here as well as their take on this news.



In terms of the task of exploring larger areas of the loch with the AUV, we can see what area was swept during the search for the prop in the two images below. The small circle denotes the location and extent of the sweep in relation to the loch size and the actual area in the zoomed second image. The monster prop is located at the centre of the sweep.





How much the object has silted up over those decades is also interesting in relation to finding real carcasses at those depths. I note with interest that previous big publicity sonar sweeps of the loch which claimed to have found no traces of large objects managed to miss this one. Perhaps they were looking in the wrong place or were not sensitive enough?

Whatever the reasons, we have a new survey ongoing as part of the Loch Ness Project's "Operation Groundtruth". I am ambivalent on what is to be found in terms of monster carcasses. How many such carcasses lie on the bottom of the loch? How buried are they in silt? Have most of the bones mainly dissolved away (more likely for cartilaginous bones)?

That does not mean we should not look, so I wish Adrian luck in tracking down anything of a more monstrous nature.









Saturday, 9 April 2016

Yet Another Old Nessie Book

I maintain a list of books that fully or partially address the subject of the Loch Ness Monster and, though I am aware of most of these publications going back to 1934, some new ones do occasionally turn up on the online second hand book market. So, another turned up recently, and being the collector of Nessie memorabilia that I am, I put in an order for it. It is called "Bigfoot and Nessie - Two Mysterious Monsters" by Angelo Resciniti and Duane Damon, as you can see from the cover below.




It is a 125 page book split between the two great cryptids of our time, with Duane Damon authoring the Nessie portion. Now this is another of those "boilerplate" books that appeared in the 1970s with the aim of cashing in on the Nessie fervour of that decade fuelled by the Rines underwater photos. With a recent poll stating that 20% of Scots believe Nessie is a "real life beast" (though that covers a wide range of animals), one wonders what a similar poll would have said in 1979? Given the flood of such books, one would imagine a lot higher than today.

But the book does not really add anything to the mystery, rather regurgitating the facts and figures of the time, most likely culled from other books. However, it's a fairly accurate book, but it did raise a couple of observations as I read it through.

The first was its quote from the Time magazine from 1942 stating that a 24 foot basking shark carcass had been found on the shores of Loch Ness, thus solving the mystery of the loch. I have seen this before and am certain it is an inaccurate statement. No such carcass is mentioned in the Loch Ness literature and it seems it is actually referring to a carcass found at Gourock, on the Firth of Clyde in the summer of 1942.

The second question that arose in my mind was the Academy of Applied Science expeditions of the 1970s. Damon tells us how the New York Times paid the Academy $20,000 to have the exclusive rights to any discoveries during their 1976 expedition. Nothing turned up and nothing again in 1977. The 1978 expedition is mentioned as taking a few indistinct underwater pictures of the beast. That seems like news to me, does anyone know about these?

Finally, there was 1979 and the abortive dolphin project. That raised a final question. When did the Academy of Applied Sciences make their final trip to Loch Ness? Was it 1978, 1979 or later? 

All in all, another addition to the Nessie book collection.





Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Visiting Rip Hepple






I was driving back to Scotland last month up the M6 and had arranged to meet up with long time Nessie researcher, Rip Hepple, who lives in the north Pennines. It was a meeting that was long overdue as I had previously met Rip by the shores of Loch Ness over thirty years ago when I was a student! Back then, he used to take his caravan and family up to the loch and park it down a little slip road to a pier near Abriachan (as a reminder of those times, Rip showed me a large nut and bolt from that spot). 

It was a different setting this time as we met at his home about 30 miles south west of Newcastle but very much set amongst the high hills of Northern England. I had considered talking to Rip by way of an interview for this blog, but we spent two hours in a good old fashioned talk about monsters and men. As you can see from the photo above, he is looking well for a man approaching eighty. He looked a lot younger to me.

Rip was one of the main men who played their part in the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau which ran operations from 1962 to 1972. Rip talked about the ups and downs of those days culminating in the demise of the organisation due to the need to move from their Achnahannet site but with no fixed abode to turn to.

Actually, it could have turned out better, Rip explained, but due to circumstances the venture came to an end. Did any good come out of this? Well, we got Rip Hepple's newsletter, still going after forty years. Rip handed me my latest copy and you can subscribe by following the details at the end of this article.

But, to me, the demise of the LNIB seemed all too premature. After all, the Loch Ness Monster was about to enter one of its most manic periods in the 1970s due to the 1972 and 1975 underwater photos. In that climate, there was surely room for the continued existence of a focal point for the mystery. I say this in the light of the fact that the two main exhibition centres in Drumnadrochit had not yet been set up.

Perhaps it was the lack of conclusive evidence from surface watches that precipitated this or the notion that people like the Academy of Applied Sciences were going to solve this mystery once and for all. Whatever the reasons, that lack of evidence between 1962 and 1972 was an odd period to me since nothing great came out of that period from anyone!

Think about it, we had the classic photos from 1933 to 1960 and then it all dries up for at least a decade. No photo resembling a Gray, Wilson, Cockrell or O'Connor is to be seen. Surely the so called hoaxers had even more incentive to crank up the fakes during this time of increased monster awareness? Had the so called fakers forgotten how to fake or are there other reasons for this famine of photos? 

When the conversation turned to the old girl herself, Rip was still of the mind that there was something big and mysterious under those dark, brooding waters. In fact, the giant eel theory was his favourite and I can see where he is coming from with that one. Obviously, it has its problems like all other theories (and that includes sceptical ones), but it is one of the more popular solutions to this enduring mystery. I was glad Rip still took this view as one sees old LNIB people going over to the other side of the debate. 

Rip no longers goes to Loch Ness and perhaps his chance to see the creature is now gone. It is now down to the next generation of monster hunters to take up the cause of Rip and others and continue the search for the Loch Ness Monster. 

Issue number 165 of Rip's Loch Ness newsletter has just been published. It can be obtained by writing to the address below with a subscription payment of £5 for twelve issues published at irregular intervals. A large portion of Rip's newsletters have been archived online and you can find further details here.

R.R.Hepple
7 Huntshieldford
St John's Chapel
Weardale
Co Durham
DL13 1RQ
United Kingdom


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com