Thursday 18 July 2024

The Quest 2024 and Webcam Images

Back at the end of May, it was off once again to Loch Ness for a bit of Nessie Hunting and a bit of Nessie Fellowship. To borrow from a TV program about another mystery, it was the Fellowship of the Hunt. Loading the equipment into my car, I headed off from Edinburgh and up the familiar route of the M90 and A9 roads.


Towards the evening, I turned into Drumnadrochit where I would stay at the Loch Ness Hostel. I usually go camping on the other quieter side of the loch at Foyers, but since most of the action was going to be around Drumnadrochit plus Foyers was about a 25 mile drive away, it was no contest.

The "Quest" is organised by the Loch Ness Centre and they had invited anyone involved to a meet up at the Loch Ness Inn just a walk away from where I was staying. There I met up with Alan McKenna, Chie Kelly and some of the Loch Ness Exhibition staff. Alan heads up the LNE and Quest surface watches while readers will remember Chie as the lady who took that very interesting sequence of photographs in 2018 which were released last year.

So we spent the first part of the evening examining Chie's pictures and offering various opinions and observations concerning them and the very good stabilized sequence of those dozens of images further released this year. I admit I have to still to publish a follow up article based on that sequence and another meeting with Chie was organised for the days ahead.

It was at this point that exuberance entered the room. By that I mean the lively Ashley from Washington State who had travelled all that way to join the Fellowship of the Hunt. She is a die hard Nessie Fan and was keen to play her part in the loch watches that were coming up. We welcomed her into the fold and made sure she was part of the team and justified her effort to make it over here to Bonnie Scotland.

In fact, after dinner and a rest, Ashley, Alan and myself headed down to Temple Pier just before midnight to try out some equipment. In Alan's case, it was his trusty hydrophone and in my case, it was the Flir thermal camera. There were a number of boats berthed in the pier, some with occupants. Looking out across the pier to Urquhart Bay did not reveal much to the naked eye, but the FLIR infra-red revealed all as the buoys stretched out into the distance (below). However, nothing anomalous was apparent beyond these man made objects.

Alan dropped the hydrophone into the shallow waters and we listened in to the various noises it was detecting. We knew at that shallow depth and proximity to the pier that it was unlikely to be near any large aquatic creatures. So, Alan's ambition is simple yet complex - get the hydrophone out into the greater depths of mid-loch at night-time and free of all day time noises. All you need is a boat and a skipper who is qualified to navigate a boat at night-time. The complex bit is bringing all that together.

Meantime, on the active hydrophone, one persistent, gurgling noise was an outlet pipe discharging into the bay on the other side. One other noise came and went. We speculated it was someone on a berthed boat flushing their toilet. Well, the sceptics say you got to consider all possibilities. Only too happy to oblige, though Ashley thought it must have been one aggressive piece of flushing. This is a family blog, so I ain't going to enquire further into that! The fun ended at one in the morning and it was off to bed.


The next day started off with a solo walk around the area of Drumnadrochit. I actually had not taken a good look around the town for years and in that time it has undergone a major expansion in house building and that has not stopped as I passed by ground being cleared for further new developments. Having said that, as one walked around, it was clear that houses of various kinds had been built across the decades. It just seemed that things had accelerated.

I then headed from the new to the old, walking towards ancient Urquhart Bay for a bit of surface watching. Going through the woods before reaching the bay can be a bit of a maze before the loch comes into view. Once you get through the woods, you come to one of the rivers feeding into the bay. There is no bridge, so unless the river level is low or you have found a well placed tree trunk or stepping stones, you will likely get wet feet. Once over the river, it was a short walk and Urquhart Bay opened up before me (see image at top of article). 

There were quite a few sandbanks along the way and since there had been several accounts of large beasts coming ashore here and even leaving three toed tracks, I thought I would keep my eyes open for unusual depressions in the sand. One wondered how long such spoors would persist. In any case, only deer and humans prints to report.

I stayed there for about three hours watching the loch and any activity around it. A swan glided past into the bay (below). A guy with his family stripped to his pants and dived in the cold loch, Various dogs darted about, including one that misjudged the depth of the shallows and plopped out of sight before quickly reappearing. No sign of any larger creatures appearing out of the water though.

After this ended, it was back to the Loch Ness Inn at 7pm to meet Alan McKenna and Chie for a closer look at her photos. Later on, Dave from Birmingham turned up in his car for the Quest. I already knew Dave from his postings on various cryptids groups, so it was good to meet him in the flesh. Once we met up with Ashley, it was decided to go back out that night with the equipment, but a different location.

What Alan wanted to do was get to the jetty where various boats dock to let the tourists off at the castle. From the end of that pier, the water is deeper than what we were limited to at Temple Pier. Little did I know what an expedition this turned out to be. Alan, Dave, Ashley and myself parked up on the road by the castle and headed towards the pier only to be confronted by fields of prickly gorse bush and thick fern. However, we did beat a path to a wire fence which barred our way to the pier.

It was eminently scalable, but not everyone was onboard with vaulting over it, lol. We headed the other way towards the shore, but the drop was too steep and slippery plus it was getting dark. Prior to that Dave had dropped his mobile phone somewhere along the way, but the Fellowship of the Hunt proved their hunting skills in tracking it down. If only Nessie was that easy to find! So with sodden socks and a few marks from being assaulted by the gorse bushes, we defaulted back to Temple Pier where we showed Dave the gadgets we used twenty four hours before.


The "Quest" began the next day at 0930. The media scrum of last year was not so evident and it looked like volunteers just picked up any guidance from online. In fact, those late nights at Temple Pier must have had their effect as I turned up late. Alan and Ashley were heading off to help on the Deepscan boat, so I offered to head off with Dave around the loch stopping at the various designated observation points as well as a few other spots.

I was also a kind of tour guide and would point out to Dave various events of significance as we went along in his car and its complement of Godzilla figures adding to the monster atmosphere. First up was Altsigh where John MacLean had his famous sighting back in 1938 where he spotted this beast.

By now the weather was beautiful as the sun shone down upon us in complete contrast to the downpour of last year. We went down past the backpackers hostel to the spit of beach at the mouth of the Altsigh stream where McLean had his encounter. Dave is a expert in photography and filming who lectures on the subject as well as making his own documentaries. So, he brought some heavy duty equipment with him ready to capture in high quality anything that stirred on the loch.

One thing we discussed was Adrian Shine's theory that McLean only saw an otter which fooled him as he was looking across the loch almost eye level with the water and hence lacking a frame of reference. I demonstrated to Dave how this was wrong as McLean is documented as pointing across the mouth of the Altsigh to the same shoreline he was on and where the creature was. In other words, the near shoreline provided a frame of reference not far behind the creature which itself was twenty yards away. Add the fact that McLean was a regular and experienced angler at the loch and one wonders what could possibly go wrong? 

The only fallback as ever is to declare he was a liar but sceptics are averse to doing this as it comes across as simplistic and lacking in any critical analysis skills.

So we were off to a good start and next up was the Horseshoe Scree on the opposite shore where Torquil MacLeod had his encounter with a large creature half out of the water. This was an official observation point and so we scrambled down the bank to get a better view. A man and his son joined us later and a conversation ensued about the "Quest" and the famous monster. Famous accounts attract sceptics and as with the McLean case, so it was with this account. Another sceptic has attempted to debunk this one as well. 

After that it was a short drive to the layby near where Roy Johnston took a sequence of detailed photos back in 2002. We again made our way to the shore and scanned the area comparing it to one of the Johnston pictures for scale, distance and other similarities. The most frustrating bit was when a small boat appeared to our right approaching the spot where Johnston's creature surfaced. We waited in hope for it to cross over that spot for a good comparison shot.

But alas he turned and headed off in the wrong direction. I understand Alan might soon be taking to the loch waves with his own boat. I wonder how open he is to navigate anywhere we send him 😏? And, yes, you guessed it, Roy Johnston has also been targeted for debunking. Pressing on, we had a pit stop in Fort Augustus and made a brief visit to the official observation point at the pier there. It was here that an opportunity to speak on the accounts of Gregory Brusey and Alex Campbell presented itself.

But time was against us as I had to be back at the Loch Ness Centre by 5pm. So we drove onto Foyers to visit the Tim Dinsdale site. When we got there and I pointed out the loch, Dave was surprised how far away we were from the loch. Dinsdale stated he first spotted the object 1300 yards away, which is about three quarters of a mile. Below is a still from one of Dave's videos. We again took footage, sized up the problems involved and then took note that time was running out.

So it was a final stop at Dores and we checked out the photographic metrics of the Chie Kelly photos. More on that at another time and we got back to the Loch Ness Centre by 5pm where I would prepare for a Loch Ness Debate with Alan McKenna, Richard White and Jenny Johnstone as MC. Nessie fans may recall that Richard White took an interesting series of photographs back in 1997 (below).

The debate began with our short biopics and Richard White's account. Now I must admit I have not really covered Richard's photos on my blog, His account is certainly credible and I learnt more that evening than anything before. So I hope I may cover his picture sequence in more detail in a future blog. We certainly didn't discuss his pictures during the debate, mainly because no one asked about them!

That aside, we fielded questions on our opinions on the best photograph, the effect of hoaxes on research, what to do with a captured Nessie, funding for technology and so on. If you're wondering what we would do with a captured Nessie, we would record every square inch, get the DNA biopsy, attach radio tags and release back into the loch.


At the debate I noticed our webcamming friend, Eoin, was in the audience with his wife. After the debate we had a discussion on his recent activities. The webcam he usually watches was offline and we both did not know why at the time. I have encouraged him to try out the webcam at the Clansman as I think it is a better camera for resolution and position.

A week after that, Eoin emailed me with a four minute clip from the Clansman taken on the 9th July just before 8am. What appears to be one object with a small forward protuberance to the left and a longer disturbance behind moves slowly but uniformly from the far right to left (up the loch) before it moves out of range of the webcam (which pans across the Clansman parking area).

You can view the complete video clip here. What could it be? A floating branch with the tip at the front and some of it horizontal behind? The fact that it retains a regular distance between small and larger disturbance does indicate it being one object, which Eoin estimated at about 16 feet long and 100 yards out. Opinions are invited.

I also received some webcam images from Andrew Williams who took them from the Airanloch B&B webcam at Lochend about 7am on the 27th May, just three days before I arrived at the loch. It seems seven in the morning is a good time for webcamming. Andrew told me:

The object captured in the images was moving at quite some speed creating a well-defined wake. Looking at the distance from Webcam to the object I don't believe it to be a bird as it's two big plus the speed it was going would be much too fast for a bird. It reminded me of a torpedo with something dark just breaking the surface. I also captured what appears to be two objects swimming together? 

There is no doubt the wake is being produced by an animal and Andrew discounts smaller creatures like birds. My first thought was whether it was an otter as they would be active around dawn, but there is nothing solid I can see that breaks the surface. The double object picture shown next does not appear to be connected to the wake and could be two small animals.

Andrew sent me two timestamped images which facilitated an estimate of wake speed. The first is above and the second below. Using the objects on the far shoreline as reference points, then one can produce an estimate of distance covered. How far out the wake is can be more of a guesstimate, but I will put it out halfway across the loch. So, the time lapse between the two images is 137 seconds and using the Google Map scale in the bottom right gives a distance covered of about 110m which gives a speed of 0.8 metres/second or 1.8 miles per hour. This is not very fast and could be achieved by a variety of aquatic objects.

The closer the wake is to the shore then the slower it will be and vice versa. The issue with all webcams is the same issue for all cameras and video equipment. We need to see something large and solid break the surface to take this further. That is what we all want and I thank Eoin and Andrew for their contributions. Keep up the hunt, people. You may be the person that captures that large object rising high and mighty from the depths!

Going back to the Quest, Alan then headed off on holiday to Loch Morar with his wife. I await his report from that trip! Meantime, Ashley, Dave and myself tried to find somewhere to eat about 9:30pm  in Drumnadrochit. Not much chance of that, so we ended up with burgers and kebab in a local chip shop. Ashley was tired and called it a day after that and I gave her a final farewell and thanked her again for her heroic trip from all that way from Washington state.

With some energy left, Dave and I returned to the A82 road by Urquhart Castle for more infra-red watching till midnight. Dave rediscovered the IR option on his video equipment and that looked pretty good on the viewfinder display as you can see below. Apart from a bright heat spot on the far shore which we figured was perhaps a camp fire, it was finally off to bed.


The next morning I packed up and had breakfast with Dave, discussing ways ahead. He had taken a good bit of video footage of which you have seen some stills here. We made some resolutions to investigate some items further (once we can afford it 😁) and with that I said my goodbyes to him. Hopefully, the Fellowship of the Hunt will meet again on the next Quest, if not sooner!

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The author can be contacted at

Thursday 20 June 2024

Adrian Shine's New Book


A while back Adrian told me he was intending to publish a new work and I immediately assumed it would be a larger work on Loch Ness, its legendary Monster and perhaps something biographical as regards Adrian's work around the loch and Loch Morar too. I was soon set right when he told me it was a book on Sea Serpents. The description of the book is as follows:

A Natural History of Sea Serpents, re-examines the cold-case enigma of sea serpents and monsters described by impeccable witnesses over three centuries. These reports have sometimes intrigued and puzzled the most eminent scientists of their times, yet often became the butt of popular derision. Naturalist Adrian Shine, best known for his fifty years examining Loch Ness as a ‘sympathetic sceptic’, reveals how the loch actually held the key to the greater mystery. He exonerates the integrity of most witnesses, often remarks upon the accuracy of their observations yet offers bold and radical interpretations of what they have seen.

The book digs deep into the roots of the legend and shows how expectations ‘evolved’ from those ‘serpents’ to prehistoric ‘monsters’ during the nineteenth century. The book cites over a hundred reports and contains as many illustrations as evidence for its conclusions. His findings, stemming from knowledge of ships, the sea and the true monsters living there, cover the entire spectrum of reports, giving new insight, for example, into the famous HMS Daedalus episode of 1848, the description of a very unusual creature seen by two zoologists in 1904 and the serpent seen by hundreds off the coast of New England in 1817. Nothing daunted, he investigates reports of huge serpents seen battling whales and creatures which defy our understanding of vertebrate anatomy by bending both sideways and up and down, whilst under fire by the French Navy.

This book will certainly generate debate within the cryptozoology movement, yet also challenges the theories of the preeminent sceptical writer on the subject, Dr. Robert France, who has proposed whales and other creatures entangled in pre-plastic era fishing gear as the cause of most sea serpent encounters. Nevertheless, the author shares this ethnobiological perspective and ends with a strong conservation message.

I won't preempt Adrian's conclusions, though one would expect his statement about Loch Ness being the key to the wider mystery as a big clue. Will he be closer to a Henry Lee or an Anthonie Oudemans in his assessment of this great aquatic enigma? One suspects more the former than the latter. Adrian's book will published on the 31st July and can be viewed on Amazon here.

Comments can be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday 13 June 2024

Fordyce's Monster walks over Sceptical Theory


When examining the techniques used by sceptics in debunking claimed eyewitness account, there are at least four major factors involved in this process:

  1. The involvement of known objects and effects in and around Loch Ness.
  2. The imperfections of human observation and recall.
  3. The role of dishonesty and exaggeration up to hoaxing.
  4. The psychological factor of expectation.

These combine into a general theory that all observations are misperceived objects whose description is exaggerated by one or more of the three factors in the list. The exception is when someone fabricates the entire incident and no misperception is required. It is fascinating to note that almost everything that has ever been near the loch (apart from maybe the insects) has been used as an explanation for what people claimed to have seen.

Indeed, a published list of explanations for monster sightings cites twenty-two natural and man-made items that occur around the loch. I am sure that is just the minimum and indeed new explanations can be manufactured by grouping individual explanations together (for example, "otter" and "mirage" have been combined to provide the explanation for an apparently oversized animal). 

Now there is no problem in employing the basic premises of this theory and researchers who believe in the existence of large animals in Loch Ness have used them to assess and filter out inferior testimonies from the very start of the phenomenon back in the 1930s. What is not acceptable is the misuse of the theory and this is because practical applications of it can run into their own issues of objective versus subjective analysis, skewed by bias.

Such applications stretch credibility to the breaking point and we find their explanations almost as lacking in credibility as the monster scenario they attempt to explain. However, one recent application seems to have rendered one of the four factors irrelevant. Last week, the Loch Ness Exploration Facebook group posted a rather nice rendition of the Fordyce Monster shown at the top of this article. I covered this story in my book, "When Monsters Come Ashore" and part of Lieutenant McP Fordyce's original account from The Scots Magazine of June 1990 is reproduced below:

The following morning we set off on our journey back to England. The weather was fine, a beautiful spring day, and we had a lovely run by the side of Loch Ness as far as Foyers where we spent a short while admiring the famous waterfall. Shortly after leaving Foyers, the road to Fort William turns away from the lochside and runs through well-wooded country with the ground falling slightly towards the loch.

Travelling at about 25 mph in this wooded section, we were startled to see an enormous animal coming out of the woods on our left and making its way over the road about 150 yards ahead of us towards the loch. It had the gait of an elephant, but looked like a cross between a very large horse and a camel, with a hump on its back and a small head on a long neck. I stopped the car and followed the creature on foot for a short distance.

From the rear it looked grey and shaggy. Its long, thin neck gave it the appearance of an elephant with its trunk raised. Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the car, but in any case I quickly thought discretion the better part of valour and returned to the vehicle. This strange animal occupied our thoughts and conversation for many, many miles and we came to the conclusion that it was an escaped freak from a menagerie or zoo. We felt that a beast of such tremendous proportions would soon be tracked down and captured.

The original sketch of the creature in the 1990 article is shown below. Now this account also presents a problem to believers in a large aquatic creature for obvious reasons. Whatever Fordyce saw bears little resemblance to a creature equipped to live in a large body of water like Loch Ness. Nevertheless, this does not give the green light to accept any explanation for what he saw and everything has to be examined.

So when this new artwork appeared, arch-sceptic, Dick Raynor repeated his theory on this story saying:

The sketch was made from a verbal description of an oblique hind view of whatever crossed the road 150 yards ahead of their car, not a side view as in the sketch. The description has all the key hallmarks of a deer carcass being transported by a pony fitted with a deer saddle. Red deer cannot be legally shot in April so the local worthy leading the pony would be keen to avoid scrutiny.

When I challenged this opinion, Dick posted to my own Facebook group with some other interspersed observations:

I have never suggested a stag on a deer saddle as an explanation for any other incident near Loch Ness, so I don't see it as a "usual sceptical explanation", neither have I suggested that the witness was drunk, or a complete idiot. Those are your words. I partially agree that he was a good distance away from it, but more importantly he was seeing something totally novel to him, so it was impossible for him to 'recognise' it. With my background and experience, I can recognise the described activity from his own narrative, and I think he would welcome it.

Ah, big sigh! This is the correct way, and to spell it out in simple terms for Nessie-huggers the chap leading the pony/horse with a deer saddle would be out of sight to an observer behind or to the right of the activity. Another land sighting bites the dust, I'm afraid. (In the real world)

After a very busy day driving 130 miles south to Inverness, I am so pleased that you have posted a query involving a 6-legged Fordyce creature, which L McP Fordyce should have reported. This was answered more than a day ago on other FB groups, and explains from which side horses and ponies are led and why the other legs have been seen . Thank you. Go look at the snaps again.

So, Dick posted some photos of dead deer on ponies being led by someone. Dick wished to emphasise that the person would be leading the pony from its left hand side and thus the person would somehow not be visible to Fordyce driving towards the other side of the pony if it and owner were crossing the road towards the River Foyers.

Let's unpack this theory unveiling a progression of layers of complexity which are added to save this theory from being binned. So the basic theory is that Fordyce thought he saw a giant, black hairy "camel" cross the road ahead of him but it was actually a man leading a pony with a dead deer on its back.

Objection 1: Fordyce should have seen the man leading the pony.

Add layer of complexity 1: No, the man would always be obscured by the pony.

Reality Check 1: It did not take long to find photos which contradicted this argument. In fact, I only needed to go to one website, In these images the person would not have the pony between him and Fordyce. In other words, not hard to miss. Given how easy it was to find these images, one could assume that Dick was only interested in finding images which fitted his theory. I would also point out that the pony does not totally obscure the taller person even if in Dick's favoured position.

Objection 2: As you can see from all these pony and deer photos, they are out on the moors where the deer are, but this "pony" is coming out of forest, crossing the road to where the River Foyers is and onto Loch Ness. Why?

Add layer of complexity 2: The man was poaching deer because it was not hunting season and so had to take a sneaky route.

Reality Check 2: So where exactly was this incorrigible local and his heavily laden pony heading? A look at an ordnance survey map of the time raises an issue. The River Foyers bisects the image below from top to bottom. Once they cross the river, there is either more forest or its all uphill towards Loch Ness with several hills hundreds of feet high with a precipitous drop down to the loch beyond. If I was poaching, I would just wait till nightfall and take a more sensible route.

Objection 3: In general, perceiving a pony carrying a dead deer as a giant, black hairy "camel" makes no sense from any perspective.

Add layer of complexity 3: Fordyce "was seeing something totally novel to him, so it was impossible for him to 'recognise' it." which (somehow) transformed it into a freak monster.

Reality Check 3: Leaving aside the question of why Fordyce's wife also saw what he saw, why wouldn't Fordyce figure out it was a pony carrying a deer with a man leading? Dick quotes Fordyce saying "from the rear it looked grey and shaggy." but interprets that to mean Fordyce never saw the beast fully side on. This is not correct. Fordyce said it crossed the road in front of them but then got out the car and pursued the beast on foot, only to then say it presented a rear view.

For the two statements to be consistent, he first saw it side on from the car as it crossed the road but by the time he had finished his approach on foot, it had crossed the river and was now walking away from him full rear view. That would then allow Fordyce to see the alleged owner if he had not seen him earlier. Therefore, Dick is forced to posit an oblique rear view to keep his proposed human out of sight.

Was the sight of a pony carrying a deer so "novel" to Fordyce that he utterly failed to process what he was seeing? Break this down into its constituent parts. Would he had been flummoxed by an unburdened pony crossing the road? I doubt it. Add the owner leading it. Would confusion reign? Not likely as Dick claims the person was out of sight. Add some load onto the pony like some bags. Was it now "impossible to recognise"? I will go out on a limb here and suggest Fordyce had seen beasts of burden carrying loads before. Replace the bags with a dead stag. Now Fordyce is thrown into a state of confusion. Convinced? I am not and the burden of proof definitely does not lie on this side of that debate.


But still there is the unanswered question of why Lt. McP Fordyce would mistake a pony carrying a deer for a bizarre, giant camel-like creature. Well, the usual answer is the fourth item in our list - the psychological factor of expectation. This piece of psychology takes on magical properties in the hands of sceptics as normal objects such as boats, branches, dogs, birds, waves, otters, insects, canoes, buoys, seals, swimmers, rubbish and pipes bamboozle people into thinking they just saw an enormous creature. If they saw the same things in Loch Lomond, Loch Tay or Loch Rannoch then they usually wouldn't give them a second glance. But according to debunkers, some magical mist descends on visitors as soon as they reach Loch Ness turning them into incompetent observers.

As I said above, the theory is true as far as it goes and is usually reserved for instances where the amount of visual information is limited by time, distance, rain, mist, etc. Somebody claiming to see a large hump at one mile away for two seconds in driving rain is not going to get much attention. But here was Lt. McP Fordyce and another witness on a fine day at 150 yards and decreasing. Whatever you may think of his unusual description, the creature was Nessie-like from the top half up - long neck, small head, dark in colour and a humped back. So you would say it is a candidate for a bit of Nessie Expectation reimagining and that is what Dick has done.

Right? Wrong!

Fordyce says two important things:

In April 1932 while living in Kent, my fiancee and l travelled to Aberdeen to attend a family wedding. ... At the time of the sighting we were quite unaware of there being anything strange in Loch Ness ...

You only need to know two words here - "April" and "1932". It would be over a year before stories of large creature in Loch Ness appeared and took hold of the public imagination. The Aldie Mackay story was print locally in May 1933 and it gained UK interest around September 1933 or 17 months later. So there was no "Nessie Expectation" psychology to floor eyewitnesses because there was no "Nessie" in the mind for any alleged psychology to play with. A pony carrying a dead stag would have no more effect on him that one seen near any other loch.

Yet Dick treats this sighting as if it happened a year or two later and applies the theory nonetheless. After all, Fordyce mentioned a long neck and hump! What is the conclusion of this surprise methodology? I would say it implies that a number of sceptics don't believe the theory either, else they wouldn't be retro-fitting it to pre-1933 accounts. It is just another means to an end in the mission to debunk all and every account of that most inconvenient monster.

But where does this leave Nessie believers? The account of a Nessie but with long legs and a shaggy hide is also a tad inconvenient - depending on what you think the creature is. It doesn't exactly fit the giant eel theory, for example. In fact, one may be tempted to erase it by taking Dick up on his offer, but his alternative explanation isn't solid enough. So what does one do? Assume Fordyce made it all up? That is the easy option and requires about zero intellectual effort. 

Strangely though, it is not the only member of this camel-like genre, as seasoned fans will be aware of the MacGruer land sighting from about 1919 where the creature was described thus:

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.

Two similar accounts from between the two world wars, but nothing I am aware of since. How many are required to take this genre seriously? Not enough as it stands I would say. One other option I favour is the matter of time. I mentioned time under observation was a factor in ranking a report but time between observation and recording it is also a factor. Unless an observation is recorded as close to the time of the encounter as possible, the memory of it will fade, even accounting for the fact that such an event imprints itself deeper into the memory. That fading will depend on the individual, but in the case of Lt. McP Fordyce, the gap is over sixty years. 

But by how much would recall of this unusual event degrade between 1932 and 1990? If you are into your 70s, 80s or 90s, you may be able to answer that question better than I could. Or did the subsequent flood of stories from 1933 onwards colour the memory of what he saw? Apparently not much, if at all, considering the non-standard nature of the description. What is certain is that he saw something with his Nessie-free mind that jolted him and his wife. 

When I first covered this account in 2013, I did consider the escaped camel theory where one of the darker haired species of dromedary somehow escaped from one of the visiting zoos to Inverness or even from a nearby private menagerie. I discounted it as a most improbable event which was not even reported by any newspaper I could find and Fordyce would probably have figured out it was a camel anyway. However, his stated forbearance to not get too close to the creature suggests it was no more than camel-like in his mind.

Fordyce himself though the creature he saw was amphibious but frequented the nearby  Monadhliath mountains. I am not aware of any other stories from that region corroborating such a creature. We have a description of a creature which is too Nessie-like to be other animals but not Nessie-like enough to be  the aquatic creature which occupies the main debate. For me, this creature, whatever its actual objective form was, remains a non-Nessie creature, until someone comes up with some theory that does adequate justice to the integrity of the two Fordyces as eyewitnesses.

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Sunday 21 April 2024

The First Plesio-Turtle?


The plesioturtle or long necked sea turtle theory has been doing the rounds for a while. I covered the idea in 2013 in this article, being inspired by a Nessie documentary from 2009 which looked at it. I wrote a more recent article in 2021 where giant turtles had been proposed in 1933 as an explanation for the Loch Ness Monster, albeit without the long neck. The theory is rational enough and has been applied to other forms of aquatic cryptids.

Now I don't know when this theory came into being, but it looks like someone was thinking about it back in about 1895 as the above four inch Chocolat Suchard "trading" card shows. However, what the artist was trying to say is not so apparent. We have the traditional plesiosaurus, but with a shell on its back, like the turtles of today. We then have a picture in the top right corner of Chelonia Midas or the Green Sea Turtle.

What are we to deduce from these juxtaposed illustrations? The plesiosaur had a shell and the modern sea turtle is its descendant? Or is he re-imagining a plesiosaur based on the sea turtle?  A couple of other monster cards from the company show similar themes for an Elasmosaurus and Iguanodon, a comparison of the large of yesterday with the little of today. 

I guess the artist looked for the closest thing to a plesiosaur today and retro-fitted a turtle shell to it. So instead of extending the neck of a large sea turtle, the shell is added to the body of an already long necked creature. Two different routes to the same looking creature. Unless there was a fringe opinion amongst Victorian paleontologists that some plesiosaur species did have shells? That was the century of Sea Serpents and not the Loch Ness Monster, perhaps amongst the varying theories regarding these fabulous creatures, some one first conceived of the plesio-turtle?

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Tuesday 12 March 2024

Follow Up to MacLennan Land Sighting


Having published the article on the MacLennan creature recently, I thought I would go over any comments made on it by way of reply. The last time I looked there were 167 comments attached to the article on Facebook which was a very large amount, but then again I did not know how many generated more heat than light. So having trawled through them, I picked out some for further discussion here.

The main one would certainly be from Colin Veacock who applied his artistic skills to produce the sketch at the top of this article. I had made my own attempt previously and Colin added his impression as well. His sketch certainly sums up MacLennan's statement when she said "A more ugly sight you never saw". I think he got the "neck" better than me as the eyewitness did say it was somehow "flopped" over its back but still somehow pointing towards the loch. Colin also made that ridge on the back more visible. But I am still wondering how "floppy" this "neck" was. Sometimes, I get the impression it was thrown over the back like a scarf. 

Regarding the description of "hooves", all we have is "with a kind of hoof very like a pig's, but much larger." Colin has a go and is more literal in his rendition than I was. My problem was that this was related for the first time 25 years after the event. If you think her recall was pristine after that time, think again. I was accused of taking liberties with my sketch but the point for me was that aquatic animals do not have hooves and she could have interpreted a three webbed toe arrangement as a hoof. However, in the time I had, I could not figure the best way to show that, so the limb extremities on my sketch became an ambiguous set of lines. I include below Colin's wider field of view sketch of the creature.

Now let us get onto the matter of seals and some people suggested a large seal. When seals are proposed as an explanation for an eyewitness account, two questions should be asked, but rarely are. Shouldn't the witness have recognised something as well known as a seal? Secondly, was there a seal in Loch Ness at the time? The answers generally should be "Yes" and "Not likely". Seals should be readily recognisable thanks to images in books and magazines. Circuses were known to visit Inverness and local seals were not hard to spot along the local Moray Firth coastline.

Seals are not indigenous to Loch Ness and were rare visitors to the loch, especially back in the 1930s. So, statistically speaking, at the time MacLennan saw her creature, it was more likely there was no seal in the loch. In other words, in both cases, since we expect people to know a seal when they see one and seals are generally not in the loch then the burden of proof is on those who suggest a seal to explain why the normal situations do not apply. A comment elsewhere by Dick Raynor on this matter said:

It is a good idea to rely on the earliest witness statements and to concentrate on the object's reported behaviour and shape, ignoring size as that is notoriously difficult to gauge in a brief observation. Here we have a creature on the beach - later described as sitting on a rock - which fled into the water with a considerable splash, and the recent artists' impressions show it lacking a noticeable tail. That spells "seal" to me.

Now there are problems with this interpretation (apart from what I just mentioned). Firstly, we are asked to ignore any attempt at size estimation. This is crucial to most sceptical arguments as size is a most inconvenient parameter to them. Unlike other attempts to disqualify size estimates due to long distances involved, that is not an issue here as the creature was on the narrow strip of land between road and loch. Here we are asked to accept size estimates cannot be accepted as it was a brief sighting or "little more than a glimpse" according to Gould. But that is a subjective assessment and we ask how short a visual experience has to be to discount size estimates? That question is not answered and therefore there is no obligation to accept such a statement.

The other inconsistency is where the commenter readily accepts the description was accurate in mentioning no tail, which is helpful to a seal interpretation, but ignores the other descriptions which totally exclude a seal interpretation such as a flopped over "neck", a ridged back and humps. This selective approach is not explained. The author of the comment then attaches a video clip of a seal, but this proves nothing as none of the unusual features described by MacLennan are visible.

In terms of the consistency of the eyewitness reports. A comment was made that the weather was described as stormy, so how could they row over to the other side of the loch in those conditions? The answer is simple because the weather was described as stormy at the time of the sighting which was hours after the boat trip. Finally, I must mention Steve Plambeck who is an advocate of the Giant Salamander theory and had this to say concerning the creature Mrs. MacLennan saw:

The stubby feet may be the most important give-away. MacLennan's description is morphologically closer to a Cryptobranchid (like the Chinese Giant Salamander) than possibly any other account I've ever read. Glance at the pictures I'm including. Viewed from the FRONT end, the head is almost a featureless rump shape -- the mouth lines are invisible if the mouth isn't open, and the eyes are indiscernible unless you are close and the light is just right. And the legs, feet and toes are very, very stubby indeed - pig-footed would be a more than apt description. There is also a slight ridge down the back. Much more importantly though is the behavior MacLennan described, which includes small but precious details almost always unreported. If it was a Giant Salamander, and it was facing rather than turned away from her, it moved EXACTLY as a salamander startled from the front will do in lab studies of early tetrapod locomotion: (1) front legs flat on the ground for pushing back, (2) chin down for pushing back too, (3) rear legs and (4) tail lifted because they can't help with rear-ward thrusting and would only be in the way if they weren't lifted. The MacLennan report checks ALL the boxes. Amazed I never knew of this sighting before now.

The largest of the Cryptobranchids was a Canadian species that grew at least 10 feet long, and disappeared after the Ice Ages started. The living Chinese species currently top out at 6 feet. There were European species as well, but remains are very few and maximum size still unknown. And then there were much earlier, fully aquatic salamanders, even marine species, that grew up to 30 feet.

Now the giant salamander theory has a long history and indeed was the subject of the very first book on the Loch Ness Monster. As I understand Steve, the proposed salamander's tail was flopped over its back and the witness mistook its large wide head as the lower back. The stubby legs obviously are a better fit than flippers or webbed feet. When startled, the salamander crawled backwards into the loch. I admit I am not an advocate of this theory, but I would be interested to see video clips of this creature's backward motion. Steve runs a blog on this very subject which is here.

So hopefully I have covered the main responses here. Feel free to add missed responses on what this creature could have been to the comments.

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Tuesday 20 February 2024

The MacLennan Land Sighting

It is back to classic sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and a report of a large creature seen on land in that seminal first year of Nessie reports 91 years ago. The date was the 6th August 1933 and two days before, the local Inverness Courier newspaper had published a letter from a George Spicer about a similar sensational incident. However, this account would not see the light of day for some time afterwards.

I have looked amongst the newspaper archives for an early record of this account but have found none so far and therefore quote the earliest report found in Rupert Gould's book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others" published in June 1934. The witness was a Mrs. T. McLennan in the first week of August in the midst of stormy weather:

Mrs. McLennan and her husband were walking, towards their boat, along the Loch-side road between Whitefield and Foyers. Mrs. McLennan saw X, resting close to the water's edge, on one of these beaches. She could not identify the exact spot further than by saying that from it Urquhart Castle would be in a line with Temple Pier. She was greatly surprised to see what she took to be X out of the water. She had little more than a glimpse of it - she called to her husband, and at the sound of her voice X plunged clumsily into the Loch, sending up a big splash. Mr. McLennan was too late to see anything but this splash.

She described X as lying " hunched-up," end-on to her, its head towards the water but "thrown back." The back looked "ridged, something like an elephant's," and was of much the same colour, but had several humps on it. These were not so pronounced as those she had noticed when it was in the water. It did not stand very high off the beach. She estimated its length, hunched-up as it was, at 25 feet [pacing this off, when she gave me her account, along the wall fronting her cottage].

Gould adds that this happened near the scene of the Spicer land account weeks before where there were several small, flat beaches from which the Loch shore proper rose in a more or less steep slope, while the road is cut out of these slopes and overlooks the water at a height of some 20-50 feet. He further adds that the line of sight given placed the event about 2.5 miles from Whitefield, towards Foyers. Projecting that line onto Google Maps gives the location indicated below on the south shore.

Using Google's Street View tool on that location gives us a general view of the area and you can see how close the loch is to the road offering a close up of anything on the beach below. Being  August, the foliage would have been near maximum growth, though at to what it looked like in 1933, one can only assume it was similar to today.

Gould had been up at the loch in November 1933 touring the area on his motorcycle talking to eyewitnesses and Mrs. MacLennan had been one of those interviewees. The next major book on the Monster was Constance Whyte's "More Than A Legend" in which she also relates the story twenty four years later:

Mrs. MacLennan of Drumnadrochit and her husband had already seen the Monster in the loch on a number of occasions when, one day in 1933, as they were walking to their boat on the Dores side of the loch, Mrs. MacLennan was astonished to see the creature on the beach. She shouted to her husband to look, and at the sound of her voice it plunged into the water causing a considerable splash. All Mrs. MacLennan saw before it moved off was a dark grey mass apparently turned towards the water with the head and neck thrown over so as to rest on the creature's back. Length, she estimated as 20 to 25 feet and, end-on, no humps were visible. Mr. MacLennan could only corroborate that he heard and saw the splash. 

This does not really add much to the raw data even though one would think Whyte would have been able to contact MacLennan. However. one final account is to be found in none other than Maurice Burton's sceptical work, "The Elusive Monster" published in 1961 and which adds some interesting details courtesy of a letter from MacLennan.

I saw it on land, on the Foyers side. It had short, thick, clumsy legs, but most decidedly legs, with a kind of hoof very like a pig's, but much larger. I only saw it for a few minutes and being knocked giddy with excitement . . . it was stretched out full length in the summer sun and a more ugly sight you never saw. It came about on a Sunday. We had to cross the loch at Urquhart Castle. That day I had on new shoes. They hurt with the eight mile walk (four up and four back) so, after leaving the church I took off the wearisome shoes and took the road in my bare feet, walking on the cool green grass on the verge of the road, so I came on Nessie unawares.

I'll never forget it. You see, my husband and two sons were dawdling behind me. Then, on seeing this world wonder I yelled, "Daddy!" That did it. It doesn't seem to have any ears, but believe me it can hear. It lurched itself up on the two forelegs (it had four legs), then slithered hoofs forward over the cliff (it was only four to six feet from the water and must have climbed like a monkey to get where it was). I know that very ledge, so if you happen ever to be there I can show you . . . into the water it went. It did not stand up like, say, a cow. It kept the hind-legs on the ground seal-wise. It seemed to be too heavy in the body for its own legs. It went down quietly with a great splash. The rings were all my boys saw, thanks to me and my yell.

Mrs MacLennan added a postscript : "By the way, the monster on land was quite different from the one on the water. Gould thought that must have been the male, and that there must have been a school of them." The first sentence of this postscript I now regard as highly prophetic. 

We find the story related throughout the subsequent decades in various publications but they tend to draw on more original sources rather than add new details. The movement of Mrs MacLennan and her family would seem to amount to rowing their boat from Urquhart Castle to opposite shore south of Whitefield and a walk to church in Foyers which was four miles down the road. Assuming this finished about 1pm, they then walked to a point about 2.5 miles north of Foyers an hour or so later.

With three main reports spread over twenty seven years, we may expect some discrepancies in the wording and this is evident when comparing Gould and Burton.  The weather was stormy in the Gould account but sunny with Burton, Gould mentions several humps but Burton mentions none. Whyte differs little mainly because details in Gould and Burton are not mentioned by Whyte. In most cases, the earliest account should take primacy. It has been noted in other case studies that the passage of decades does have its effect on recall, even if the event was of a notable nature. However, since MacLennan recounter her story to Gould about three months after it happened, we can be more confident in its accuracy.

Now with all this in hand, I have always found this a most curious event and one which may provide a clue as to the nature of the beast. In fact, reading the details made me wish that Mrs. MacLennan had submitted a sketch of what she saw. The key detail concerns what is perceived as the head and neck. Gould's book says its "head [was] towards the water but thrown back."  and Whyte writes it was "turned towards the water with the head and neck thrown over so as to rest on the creature's back." but her letter to Burton says nothing concerning this although the ellipsis in the quotes leaves the possibility that such a reference may have been in the original letter.

The idea that the neck would be backwards and resting on the creature's back initially comes across as something contrary to expectations. For example, if one holds to the plesiosaur theory, such a posture is impossible. The same could be said of long necked pinnipeds or any vertebrate proposed as the creature's identity. In fact, being such an outlier, one may be tempted to discard this as a misperception of some kind. As I said, there is no original sketch, so I drew one myself to get a sense of what may have been seen that day and I reproduce the sketch here which was at the top of this article.

I have not included the mandatory tail as no such thing was mentioned. The neck flops back, but could have been even more flaccid than what I have re-imagined. I have added something approaching humps and the four limbs with their so-called pig's hooves appearance. A photo of a pig's foot is shown below and we can see it divides into a cloven hoof of two digits and a back two dew claws of which one is visible. This makes the pig an even-toed ungulate.

Such a literal arrangement is unsuitable for aquatic animals which leads me to believe Mrs. MacLennan was describing as best she could the three toed and webbed forelimb which has been described in other  accounts (such as Bob Duff and E. H. Bright). When such an appendage is at rest, it will fold together to give the impression of a less aquatic limb. Going back to the "neck", one may reject a single outlier, but we have another instance of a floppy neck just weeks before with the Spicer land sighting.

Now sceptics have rejected this account saying that such an undulating appearance does not square with a vertebrate neck. I may well agree with them on that and conclude what we see in these two accounts is not a neck in the spinal column sense. However, one might argue that the description of a ridge on the back is indicative of a vertebrate. That may indeed be true and I am not suggesting a boneless neck means this is an invertebrate, though the late Ted Holiday may have disagreed.

Indeed, should it be called a neck at all? A neck implies a head at the end of it, but often the creature is described as having an infeasibly small head which is just a continuation of the neck. That could be an argument that it is not a head at all. Then again, others have described a mouth and eyes to which we refer to sightings such as those by John MacLean. Are we talking about two different species here or one that differs by age, sex or some other attribute?

I am not inclined to think of two exotic species in one 26 square mile area. Mrs. MacLennan herself is quoted as saying she thinks what she saw on shore was different to what she saw in the water on another occasion described below from the Scotsman newspaper of the 13th November 1933.

A sketch from the same newspaper below portrays what was seen. Are these two creatures, one seen on land and one seen in the water irreconcilable as MacLennan said? I don't think so, but if you think one had hooves and a floppy neck, you may be inclined to think otherwise. 

This naturally begs the question as to what is this potential "non-neck"? At this point I have no clear answer as to proboscis, tentacle or otherwise, but I wasn't here first with that idea as I hand you over to Tony "Doc" Shiel's fantastical elephantine squid of Loch Ness as rendered at this link.

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