Friday, 26 August 2016

Gareth Williams at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Just a quick note for those in or near the Edinburgh Festival that Gareth Williams, the author of the recent "A Monstrous Commotion", will speak on his book this coming Monday. Further details can be found here.

The Loch Ness Monster in 1896 (Part II)

It must be one of those nerdy things. Most people will prick up their ears at a Nessie story if it is a new photo, film or some exciting testimony. Here we like to get into the minutiae. Previously, I had addressed the puzzle of John Keel's 1896 Nessie. I now address something mentioned by Peter Costello in his 1974 book, "In Search of Lake Monsters". I quote from the recently released Kindle edition:

The animals in Loch Ness were even well known enough to be mentioned in the Glasgow Evening News in 1896.

No more is said by Costello and since then I have been left somewhat in limbo wondering what was said in those times about Nessie? Henry Bauer, in his "Enigma of Loch Ness" expresses frustration that Costello did not provide more information while arch-sceptic Ronald Binns, in his "Loch Ness Mystery - Solved", dismisses it as another example of so-called poor research by Nessie believers.

I had not resolved the issue in my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness", but by chance, the matter came to the fore during a visit to a bookshop on the Isle of Lewis in July. As is my wont, I went to the relevant section of the shop to check out publications relevant to folklore, legends and cryptids.

There the matter resolved itself as I flicked through a book published in 2006 called "Strange Things" written by John Campbell and Trevor Hall. This book is subtitled, "The Story of Fr Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for Physical Research's Enquiry into Highland Second Sight". However, the findings of any such enquiry were never published, most likely because there was nothing to publish. Suffice to say that Ada Freer was the woman charged with going up to the Highlands to do the investigation.

That in itself is a secondary matter to our own enquiry, but checking the book's index for Loch Ness references took me to a page which said this:

On returning to Oban from her trip to the isles, of which no more is known for this year (1896) as Lord Bute was in bad health in the autumn of that year and no letters written to him by Miss Freer after that of 20th August, already quoted, now exist, Miss Freer found the following comments on her activities quoted from the Glasgow Evening News in the Oban Times of 26th September:

Reading through the article recounts Miss Freer's travels through the Highlands and Hebridean islands, before coming to the bit of interest to us:

Also the uisge-each, as Miss Fiona MacLeod calls the water-horse in Gaelic which will bring a blush to the cheek of Celtic modesty, still cavorts in Hebridean meadows at nightfall, and Loch Ness is full of water-bulls.

But none of these manifestations is, we fear, for a lady interviewer with a kodak. To them must be brought the eye of faith and an hereditary nose for the uncanny gifts that stenography and the snapshot lens are poor substitutes far.

This would appear to be our 1896 Loch Ness Monster reference, or as they called it in those days, the Loch Ness Water Bull. The Glasgow Evening News is not available online (though it is available as microfilm in the Glasgow Mitchell Library). However, the Oban Times was also available on microfilm at the National Library of Scotland, which I occasionally frequent. So, I consulted the quoted Oban Times for 26th September 1896 to see the original source (shown below).

Zooming in on our target text, shows it has been correctly quoted in Campbell and Hall's book. As an aside to researchers, the Oban Times is also available online, but a text search revealed none of this story. One can only presume this issue missed the scanning process.

So another vague reference to the Loch Ness Monster is solved. But how did Peter Costello know about this source? The answer is that "Strange Things" was first published in 1968 (cover below) and so someone with a common interest in the paranormal and Nessie must have tipped off Costello and the Loch Ness community in general. My money would be on Tim Dinsdale, who was known to have an interest in both mysteries; but that is merely a guess.

What can be said about the actual Loch Ness reference? The first thing to note is that when the famous Water Horse (or Bull) of the Highlands is mentioned, out of all the many lochs in Scotland, the author plumps for ..... Loch Ness. Why am I not surprised? And this is 37 years before the Loch Ness Monster turned up.

Having studied the various references to loch monsters in pre-1933 literature, Loch Ness dominated and this article from 1896 just confirms what is known already. Nessie is the dominant lake cryptid as it was the dominant Kelpie in the 19th century.

Secondly, Loch Ness not only had a Water Bull, but it was "full of water-bulls". This may be a reference to a similar phrase from folklorist, John Campbell of Islay. But it tells us this was more than just a passing reference or an obscure tale from ancient times, but repeated, multiple stories of something strange in Loch Ness. Again, why am I not surprised?

Of course, sceptics today will pooh-pooh all this as just tall tales and mythology. Mind you, don't they say the same thing about modern reports? The problem is that critics expect something akin to a modern plesiosaur-like sighting report, but from Victorian times. That is not the way it works. People back then expressed what they saw in their cultural terms, just as people do today. However, underneath all this was the same, unknown creature.

What further does not surprise me is that once again the newspapers of the time poured disdain on such a beast. The phrase that will please hardened sceptics is "but none of these manifestations is, we fear, for a lady interviewer with a kodak ...". In other words, the newspaper author does not expect these creatures to be real. This confirmed my prior view that Victorian newspapers did not take these things seriously and hence did not publish accounts.

In summary, John Keel's story about the Atlanta Constitution's Nessie story was wrong. However, the reference to the Glasgow Evening News' Loch Ness monster was true. One could complete the loop by consulting that edition of the Glasgow Evening News published some days before the 26th September 1896. However, I do not anticipate that the Loch Ness reference there will differ at all from that in the Oban Times.

Therefore, I am glad to add this reference to the growing list of pre-Nessie Nessie accounts!

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Loch Ness Monster and Wikipedia Wars

If you want to control what people think, then you have to control what they read. That's a well enough established fact from history and today I learnt something new about scepticism, especially as it appertains to the Loch Ness Monster. 

You won't be surprised to know that the wikipedia page on the Loch Ness Monster is one of the most visited pages by people wishing to learn more about the monster. Up until a week ago, there were some references to my work on it, which have been there for years.

However, somebody by the name of "Bloodofox" decided they should no longer be there and edited them out. This came a week after I had given a highly critical review of Darren Naish's "Hunting Monsters" on Amazon. Coincidence? Maybe not, but for now I am not discounting it.

Two of the entries deleted were to do with the Hugh Gray photograph and an article I had written on St. Columba's encounter with a monster. The Hugh Gray entry used to read:

On 12 November 1933, Hugh Gray was walking along the loch after church when he reportedly saw a large creature rising from the lake. Gray took several pictures, but only one was successfully developed. The blurry image appeared to show a creature with a long tail and thick body on the surface of the loch.[35] Although critics have claimed that the photograph is of Gray's Labrador Retriever swimming towards the camera (possibly carrying a stick), researcher Roland Watson suggests that there is an eel-like head on the right side of the image.[36] This is the first known photograph of the creature.

Footnote 36 would then link to my Hugh Gray article. That entire paragraph is now deleted and the photo relegated to a small mention at the top:

On 6 December 1933 the first purported photograph of the monster, taken by Hugh Gray, was published in the Daily Express;[16]

The reference to the Columba account used to have this line added:

The oldest manuscript relating to this story was put online in 2012.[21]

Footnote 21 linked to my article on the Columba story. Looking at the revision history for the page,  Bloodofox gave his less than unbiased and unprejudiced reasons for the edit:

Gutted non-academic, cryptozoology/pseudoscience, dead, and amateur monster hunting websites (definitely not reliable sources). Clarity—a tiny portion of people out there are "cryptozoologists", most simply encounter the being in popular culture.

Do I think this guy has an agenda?  You bet. Now I can hear the excuses already. Wikipedia only deals in facts and so all this cryptozoology and pseudoscience should be censored. Actually, the deleted text suggesting an eel like head is visible in the Hugh Gray photo is not pseudo-science. There is an eel-like head visible in the photo. Now whether one wants to put it down to paredolia or a real fish is a matter of opinion. Visitors to the Wikipedia page should be told this and given the opportunity to make up their own minds on this.

Just because a sceptic finds it inconvenient, is no reason for editing it out. You control what they read, you control what they think. The Columba edit actually makes no argument for or against a monster, it just links to my article. But, since that article argues that Columba saw the same species of animal that we today call the Loch Ness Monster clearly rankles with our sceptical editor.

Actually, a look at his Wikipedia profile shows that he is interested in folklore but does not like cryptozoology. Doubtless, he has his own opinion on what Columba encountered and does not want more exotic interpretations to "pollute" people's minds. You control what they read, you control what they think.

Now I wouldn't care if someone edited in arguments that the Hugh Gray photo only shows a dog or a swan. I wouldn't make any censorious attempts to edit them back out. They may be no more than speculations, but in the interest of freedom of speech and disseminating opinion, they should be there. That also applies to opinions which are cryptozoological in nature.

You control what they read, you control what they think. Scepticism just plumbed new depths this week.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 21 August 2016

John Keel and the Victorian Loch Ness Monster

You may know about the case of UFO researcher, John Keel, and the fabled 1896 Loch Ness Monster story. For me, it began with a reference to the case in Ted Holiday's 1973 book, "The Dragon and the Disc". However, the origin of the story appears to have come from John Keel's 1970 book, "The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings" from which I show the relevant extract:

Given one of my favourite pursuits is tracking down old stories of monsters in Loch Ness before the modern Nessie era, this seemed like gold dust. But no one had ever found it and I stated so in my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". Henry Bauer said he had scanned every issue from November 1896 and found nothing. I concur with this, having done the same via online resources recently. There is nothing from that month that bears the slightest resemblance to  a monster in Loch Ness.

Naturally, sceptical books from Binns' "The Loch Ness Mystery- Solved" in 1983 to the recent "Abominable Science!" have latched onto this as proof of poor claims on the part of Loch Ness Monster researchers. They don't, however close the book on this story. That can now be done.

The solution was simple, having an online resource, change the terms of the search and another issue with the image below turned up.

Do we have a woodcut image as described by Keel? Yes. Do we have Nessie like images? Yes. Is this part of a full page article? Yes, this is a full page article, but it is not on the Loch Ness Monster. It is from the Atlanta Constitution issue of May 2nd 1897 and is titled "What We Know of the Sea Serpent" and draws on the work of A. C. Oudemans' prior book, "The Great Sea Serpent". The full page is shown below.

Keel had got his dates wrong. The issue he had in mind was six months later. Moreover, the article was not on Nessie, but her marine relation, the sea serpent. Keel made an honest mistake and misremembered what he had seen; possibly years later. If he had made a note of the date at the time he was going through the microfilm, the issue would have been resolved and put to bed a lot earlier than August 22nd 2016!

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The H. L. Cockrell Photograph

And so we come to the final of the "classic" photographs of the Loch Ness Monster. By this I mean those black and white pictures which were the mainstay of Nessie books from 1934 right up to the end of the manic 70s and beyond. It began with the Hugh Gray photo of December 1933 and ended with the Peter O' Connor photo of May 1960. Colour photography came in but, strangely, the dramatic surface images dried up for 17 years despite the heightened attention from the good, the bad and the ugly (I exclude serial hoaxer Frank Searle from this observation).

These have been argued over and analysed with a fine toothcomb as believers and sceptics alike look for evidence to justify their stance on each photo. Eighty three years on, the claims of fraud, misidentification or genuine continue to this day. Six years on, this blog finally gets round to the final one - the H. L. Cockrell picture.

The time is also ripe to write this article for another reason - establishing contact with Herman Cockrell's son, Peter. A bit of detective work, sending off some letters and eventually Peter touched base some months back. Peter was a teenager at the time his father prepared for his Loch Ness expedition and he recalls helping with the equipment, the kayak and his father's enthusiasm and enjoyment for the whole project.

I am very glad to make his acquaintance and obtain material from him that helps form a fuller picture of his father and that expedition he made to the loch over 50 years ago. There is enough material for several articles, but first we focus on the main event.


Herman Louis Cockrell (or "Gus" to his friends) at that time ran a salmon fish farm near Dumfries in the South of Scotland. But before that, he led a self sufficient life on a farm supplemented by his interests in gun punting, a venture that combined shooting wild fowl with a large bore gun on a punt, which was a flat bottomed boat with a square bow adapted to carrying the rather large punt gun used in commercial operations.

Shooting wildfowl provided an unpredictable income and food in a time of post-war rationing and austerity. But Herman was a man who loved adventure on the water and this led to his passion for building his own boats which is most clearly shown in the photo below of his workshop. In fact, the work in progress you see was the kayak for his Loch Ness expedition.

Reading his articles conveys a sense that his knowledge of aquatic animals overlapped into his speculations concerning the Loch Ness Monster. For example, Herman Cockrell thought that the creatures took to land not primarily for food, reproduction or anything territorial, but rather to rid themselves of parasites. I find that an interesting take on this particular aspect of Loch Ness lore.

Combining this with his natural ability to be inventive and come up with solutions led to the pursuit of his other interest in the Loch Ness Monster. Today, people such as myself just order what is required online. The task of the monster hunter today is pretty much off the shelf, multi-feature electronics. Back in 1958, what Herman Cockrell lacked in products was made up for in practical ingenuity. The picture below shows Herman with the improvised camera he was developing for his one man kayak search.

In the words of his son, Peter: 

This began partly as a publicity stunt for the Solway Fishery and partly “…just for the hell of it” but as time passed it became much more serious and he put a great deal of mental and physical effort into the project over a number of years.  It appealed very strongly to his curiosity, his sense of adventure and, very definitely, his sense of humour. His idea, very carefully thought out and executed, was to patrol the loch on calm nights when any disturbance would be more visible on the surface and when, possibly, Nessie would surface more readily.  This required a special craft, good photographic equipment and a means of verifying results and of publicising his efforts whether or not he caught up with the monster! 

This was achieved as follows. An Eskimo kayak was built to give speed, manoeuvrability and stealth on the water at night.  The boat had steel frames to withstand a close encounter with a possibly angry monster.  A well-known photographic company supplied two high quality cameras which Gus built into a waterproof case with multiple flash guns and wiring inside the boat. And finally “The Weekly Scotsman” provided coverage and the use of their photographic labs to develop sealed film capsules to counter any charge of faking photographs. 

The construction of the camera housing exemplified the hands on approach to this whole affair.

In brief it was constructed from a paint tin with a platform for the camera inside and a glass porthole soldered on the front.  A spotlight on top, made from a cinema usherette’s torch, served as a view and rangefinder.  The switchgear was held in a tobacco tin on the side filled with glue to exclude water.  An expanding and waterproof rubber tube operated the shutter and film winder.  There were two flash bulbs on the top in aluminium shaving soap containers plus two more on the bow of the kayak mounted under cocktail glasses to protect them.  It all worked well under test and then in action on Loch Ness.

Leaving nothing to chance, Herman conducted night time experiments with his setup, as shown below. The equipment was ready, the game was afoot, it was time to head north.

However, as publicity for the expedition increased, the mention of explosives was made, and a degree of concern arose amongst parliamentarians which led to a question being made to the Secretary of State for Scotland, John Maclay, on the 25th March 1958:

Mr. Hector Hughes asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that Mr. H. L. Cockrell, of the Fish Hatchery, New Abbey, Dumfries, intends to explore the depths of Loch Ness using a knife and explosives; and what steps he proposes to take to protect the amenities of Loch Ness and the fish in it.

Mr. Maclay: I have seen Press reports of Mr. Cockrell's intentions. The use of explosives might constitute an infringement of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Protection (Scotland) Act, 1951, and other statutes, but I feel that this possibility can safely be left to the appropriate authorities.

We can safely say that a bit of exaggeration cropped up in this entire mini-episode. As an aside, when Peter O' Connor made references about bren guns mounted on canoes a year later; you can be sure this was merely a humorous play on what the media had got wrong concerning Herman Cockrell!


Moving onto the nitty-gritty of the story behind this picture and what better place to get it from than Herman Cockrell himself? As it turns out, Mr. Cockrell had been invited by The Scotsman newspaper to write a series of articles on his upcoming expedition to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. That series ran from March to October 1958, culminating in the account of his famous photograph. I reproduce the relevant section below.

The night was very dark until the moon rose, the water calm with a slight swell, as usual coming from a direction completely unexpected. There was a little traffic on the shore. It was pleasant in open water, but the water was a bit colder after a storm. Just about dawn I had my first real test. A light breeze suddenly dropped and left me on a mirror surface about half way between shores with Invermoriston almost abeam to starboard.

Something appeared - or I noticed it for the first time - about 50 yards away on my port bow. It seemed to be swimming very steadily and converging on me. It looked like a very large flat head four or five feet long and wide. About three feet astern of this, I noticed another thin line. All very low in the water just awash.

I was convinced it was the head and back of a very large creature. It looked slightly whiskery and misshapen, I simply could not believe it. I was not a bit amused. With a considerable effort of will I swung in to intercept and to my horror it appeared to sheer towards me with ponderous power. I hesitated. There was no one anywhere near on that great sheet of water to witness a retreat but it was obviously too late to run. Curiously enough I found this a great relief. My heart began to beat normally and my muscles suddenly felt in good trim. I took a shot with my camera in case I got too close for my focus, and went in.

The creature headed slightly away, my morale revived completely. I had another shot and closed in to pass along it as I didn't want to be thrown into the air by a sudden rising hump or two. There was a light squall out of the glen behind Invermoriston, and the object appeared to sink. When the squall cleared I could still see something on the surface. I closed in again cautiously. It remained motionless and I found it was a long stick about an inch thick.

I thankfully assumed it to be my monster and took it aboard as a souvenir. I suddenly felt very tired and stiff and wanted my breakfast. The wind freshened. It can get quite choppy in ten minutes well offshore and I had a hard plug back to my camp in the flat cairn of the north shore. but I felt made. For the last few nights I had rather doubted my metal but I now knew I could do the job if necessary, because I really believed I had found the beast.

I arrived home and I really believed my particular monster was a stick - until the films were developed. The film showed things I had not noticed, either through fatigue of the night or - let's face it - the fright of the dawn. The film showed quite a large affair which had a distinct wash. There was no reason for this wash as the picture also shows the water mirror calm when the snap was taken by the reflection of the hills. What caused the wash? Could it have been Nessie after all? I just don't know.

Another point: the creature was seen by a Mr Brown and his wife from Invergordon next day in the same place but farther inshore. He describes it as "three big black humps churning through the water leaving a foaming trail, with 30 yards ahead of the humps a curious wake on the surface which seemed to be the leading part or head." We have never met and at the time no one knew of my own experience. Perhaps later I shall succeed. Anyway I cannot be accused of mistaking the monster for a stick - but it appears I mistook the stick for the monster.

Overall, the entire series is a fascinating account of one man's pursuit of the monster and the resourcefulness employed in that endeavour. As I read his story, I came to realise that Herman Cockrell was no ordinary monster hunter for in more ways than one he epitomised the spirit and adventure of that genre.

The two pictures Herman took can now be shown for the first time together and both uncropped. The first picture Herman took has never been seen mainly because newspapers tend to pick the best picture and ignore the others. Since Herman took the second photo closer to the creature, it won out. The first and previously unpublished picture is shown first followed by the more familiar shot.


I will look at these photos in more detail later; but what did he see and how did the various Loch Ness experts react? Naturally, various theories have arisen to explain what was in the second photograph. The first focuses on the stick mentioned in Herman Cockrell's account. Because Herman speculated that he may have mistaken the stick for what he initially took to be the monster, that has been seized upon by sceptics who then summarily dismiss the case. I will address the stick theory in the next section.

Of the main Loch Ness authors, Tim Dinsdale believed the picture was of the Loch Ness Monster (Herman's son sent me correspondence between Tim and his father requesting permission to print the photo in Tim's 1961 book). However, Tim is the only one I found that came out in support of the picture.

Others were non-committal, such as Nicholas Witchell in his "The Loch Ness Story", who says it "may" be one of the animals. Henry Bauer is also a "maybe" in his "The Enigma of Loch Ness". Other pro-Nessie authors make no mention of the photograph at all in their main works, such as Constance Whyte, Peter Costello and Ted Holiday. Whether that makes them pro, anti or neutral is not clear as sometimes I have found comments in minor works by authors which do not make it into their main books. For now, one must assume they are no better than neutral.

Which proved to be somewhat of a disappointment to me, but the stick incident seems to have muddied the waters too much for some. Indeed, if Herman Cockrell was non-committal in his initial public pronouncements, it is no shock that others have followed suit.

Of the critics, I was somewhat surprised that Maurice Burton does not mention the picture in his book, "The Elusive Monster". However, Ronald Binns is unequivocal in declaring it as a tree trunk (and first proposes that you can see through it). Steuart Campbell writes in his book that it looks like a stick, but in the end is not entirely sure what the picture shows. Nessie believer Roy Mackal concurs with the sceptics in his "The Monsters of Loch Ness" in identifying the object as a small log or stick.

A further search revealed that Maurice Burton did propose that Herman Cockrell was witness to his favoured vegetable mat in a 1982 article for the New Scientist. This mechanism causes vegetation to rise to the surface on the buoyancy of a build up of methane and, having discharged, allows this natural construct to sink out of sight. Today, this is a theory that has generally fallen out of favour in sceptical circles due to the eutrophic nature of Loch Ness. My opinion is that, even if true, an inspection of an area of water after the eruption of a vegetable mat would surely leave more than just a thin stick behind.

Going back to log theories, by proposing that a log was behind the photo, Ronald Binns was basically accusing Herman Cockrell of being economical with the truth (because he only reported a puny stick). In response to such log theories, Herman Cockrell wrote back to the Weekly Scotsman on the 6th November 1958 with these words:

The statement by the monk from Fort Augustus speaks of logs, floodwater and foam. But none of these were involved.

These are the main theories, now let us move onto a more thorough analysis of these pictures.


First of all, let us go back to the stick that seems pivotal to various commentators on this incident. Herman  Cockrell described it as a long stick about an inch thick. When I asked his son, Peter, about it, his reply was: 

I do remember seeing the stick at the time because he brought it home.  It didn’t resemble the picture – it had some stubs of branches but was basically quite thin and straight.  I do not have any photos of it unfortunately.  

So let us try and dismiss the theory that the object in the photographs is a stick. I begin with my own experiments with a stick at Loch Ness a while back. The photograph below shows the stick for this simple experiment. It was about three feet long and at least an inch thick.

The procedure was simple. Throw the stick into the loch and take some photographs of it. I leave it to the reader to figure out where the stick is in the photograph. It was no more than 10 metres from me.

Just in case a black and white photograph may enhance the appearance of the stick, I include such a version below. Admittedly, the light levels would have been lower for Herman Cockrell, but I see that as a stronger argument that the object in the photos is not a stick. For your information, the stick is just left and above of the centre of the picture.

In fact, I would have been at a more elevated position than Herman would have been in his canoe. Again, that would make the stick more visible for my pictures than it would for Herman's situation. Based on this experiment, I would conclude the object in the photograph is unlikely to be a branch of four foot length and one inch thick.

One other aspect of the stick theory I would like to address is the idea that the better known version of the Herman Cockrell photo shows a gap in the object, thus suggesting it is indeed a log or stick. This is shown in an enlargement of the object. You can see a lighter region on the left side of the object.

There are three reasons I wish to advance as to why this is not a convincing view. Firstly, the stick, as described by Herman Cockrell and his son, does not sound like a stick that would create a gap. It was long and thin and that, to me, means no possibility of a gap between it and the water.

Secondly, Herman Cockrell himself, suggested that what is seen is no more than a wave briefly hitting the object. I quote again from his letter to the Weekly Scotsman of 6th November 1958 where he briefly speaks of the trouble he had with his photographic setup:

The spotlight for view finding was no use after dawn so I had to improvise by holding the camera up and viewing through a tiny hole under the light case. This may be why I missed the splash that appeared during the taking of the snap.

The third reason can be deduced from the now available first photograph. As you can see below, a zoom in of this picture shows no indication of a gap between object and water. Based on these three arguments, I would suggest the light area is indeed a splash which, by consequence, reinforces the idea that this was an object more substantial than a stick.

Realising that the stick theory was in troubled waters, W. H. Lehn, an electrical engineer from the University of Manitoba, attempted to salvage the theory by proposing that the appearance of the stick had been visually exaggerated by a temperature inversion creating mirage conditions. You can read his 1979 article at this link. Though this theory may have some merit for vertical objects, I was not convinced it did for a low lying, horizontal object showing no more than half an inch above the water (assuming such mirage conditions actually prevailed at the time).

By way of example, Lehn demonstrates the mirage effect on a near vertical stick on Lake Manitoba where the temperature layer difference was at a maximum of 25 degrees centigrade (way above Herman Cockrell's environmental conditions). Viewed at a distance of 10km, the stick can be seen at one point to vertically distend to double in apparent height. A doubling of half an inch of stick is hardly going to constitute much on any photograph.

However, Herman Cockrell only had about 20m of potential temperature inversion to look through compared to the much more distortive effects of 10km of such atmosphere. Moreover, an examination of the better known photograph shows no evidence of a mirage. There is no indication of the surrounding waters being distorted or the distant shoreline.

In concluding this section, perhaps a comment from Herman Cockrell's account may explain the role of the stick in the whole affair:

It looked like a very large flat head four or five feet long and wide. About three feet astern of this, I noticed another thin line. All very low in the water just awash.

May I suggest that the "thin line" seen was the stick. I can't prove that, but if it was in close proximity to the creature, it would have registered a small visual presence.


That the picture was taken at the location specified is in no doubt as this image from Google Street View shows. The hill contours from left to right match those in the second photograph taken. Mind you, no one was seriously doubting that Herman Cockrell was where he claimed to be.

Now having both photographs available for analysis allows new information to be extracted. The main question is whether the object in question moved of its own accord? By examining the shorelines in the two pictures, correlation points can be identified. Two such points are circled on the two pictures below.

As you can see, the object has moved in relative terms from the right of the two reference points to the left of them. But the difference between the two pictures is the combination of both the movement of the object and the kayak. The movements between the two shots are described thus by Herman Cockrell:

I took a shot with my camera in case I got too close for my focus, and went in. The creature headed slightly away, my morale revived completely. I had another shot ...

Merging the two photos over the two reference points give us the following composite showing the relative motion of the creature. Note Herman's reference to the object as a "creature" in this quote and herein lies his ambiguity. A stick may move along with the prevailing south western wind up the loch, but Herman's language does not suggest an object driven by external forces. The phrases "it appeared to sheer towards me with ponderous power" and "the creature headed slightly away" suggest Herman witnessed a degree of self propulsion in the object under view.

Critics may take it as read that Herman Cockrell stated he merely saw a stick, but his ambiguous language, such as referring to the object as the "creature" suggests otherwise. In fact, given what I have said about his experience on various waters, Herman Cockrell strikes me as a man well equipped to judge the movement of objects on water. He had spent many a time on his own home waters in pursuit of his punt canoe and even describes himself as a "sailor" to Tim Dinsdale in one of their correspondences.

My own judgement is that the relative positions of the object in the composite suggests a motion not accounted for solely by wind or Herman's cautious approach to the object. That would suggest an object possessing a degree of inner motion.

The object itself presents what is a mainly uniform dome shape in the tradition of the single hump sighting. If the width of the object is the maximum of five feet stated by Herman, then the maximum height is about 10 inches out of the water. Is this symmetry evidence of a living object? I would say so, certainly it is not consistent with the shape of tree debris.

What is perhaps of equal interest is the whiteness surrounding the object. This is contrasted with the darker tones of the hills being reflected on the surface of the water. This is most likely an area of water disturbance around the object. It is evident around the object in both photographs which suggests it is a phenomenon associated with and generated by the object.

The extent of the disturbance is not as symmetric as the object itself as the disturbance extends an apparent distance of about 7.5 feet to the left of the object and about 10 feet to the other side. My own interpretation is that this is in fact the bow wave of the object generally moving in the direction of Herman Cockrell. If the creature is heading towards you at near water level, then the disturbance caused by forward motion will look a horizontal line of turbulence.

That this situation is intimated by Herman himself is again exemplified by the phrases, "swimming very steadily and converging on me" and "it appeared to sheer towards me with ponderous power". Furthermore, the phrase "the creature headed slightly away" before he took the second photograph would also imply that the furthest arm of the bow wave would undergo a degree of foreshortening in the picture, and this is what we get with the left arm being 25% shorter than the right arm. The first photo, though more indistinct in showing the wake, suggests more equal bow arms.

Finally, there is a suggestion of another object about 10 feet to the right of the main object in the picture. It is somewhat spherical and has a maximum extent of 8 inches. It is visible in the second, well known picture, but is not visible in the first picture. What this might be would be a matter of speculation on anyone's part. Is it physically connected to the main object under the surface or is it completely unrelated?

For me, there is just not enough information to favour one explanation above another. However, I would say that if the object is heading towards Herman Cockrell, then the object on the right is not likely to be the head.


In between planning and plotting his trip to Loch Ness, Herman Cockrell imagined what he might encounter in doodles such as the one below. But what did he really encounter in 1958? Did fatigue and exertion really make him mistake a thin stick for what is portrayed in the two photographs? I do not think so, the evidence of his testimony and a more detailed examination of the pictures points to something larger and moving under its own power.

That is enough to satisfy me that what we have here is a genuine encounter with one of the monsters of Loch Ness. Using a rule of thumb that one third of the object is exposed above water, gives us a minimum size of this creature of fifteen feet.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Review of Darren Naish's "Hunting Monsters"

It appears that the latter end of this year will have more than its fair share of book reviews as several books on the Loch Ness Monster make their way to the publishers. In that light, I thought I would get one review out of the way that has lain in the form of written notes for some months now.

I refer to Darren Naish's "Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths" which was published in Kindle format back in January this year. As you can guess from the title, the mode is very much debunking the "myth" and presenting the sceptical view of "reality".

Darren's ebook comes after a similar publication from 2012 entitled "Abominable Science!" by Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero. That book was praised to the skies by the sceptics but when a closer look was taken by those who did not have a vested interest in the book, things began to fall apart. My review of that book can be found here.

Is this book any better? I would say it is, though the presented "reality" against the "myth" of the Loch Ness Monster is again far from conclusive. Compared to "Abominable Science!", there is more attempts to be original in the thinking behind sceptical interpretations of Nessie cases. However, it has to be said, that a lot of that thinking seemed to originate from sources other than Darren. 

The book begins with an assertion that the diversity of creatures described points more to human imagination than actual animals awaiting discovery. The book seems to present us with an either/or choice here, but it is not as simple as that. My alternative opinion is that differences in monsters described is down to various factors.

Firstly, witnesses do not always get the details right. Even though they may have seen something large and alive, the finer the detail described, the greater the room for error. This is especially so at greater distances and other conditions which disturb a clear view. Also, it is clear that some of the 1800 or so accounts will be tall tales. If you have someone fabricating their account, then they could describe almost anything that muddies the waters and corrupts the database. 

Roy Mackal, in his book, "The Monsters of Loch Ness", took the position that 90% of all sightings were fake or misinterpretation. I do not personally think the percentage is that high, but if it was that close, it is no surprise that non-monster accounts contribute to an unclear picture.

Again, the King Kong film is raised as an influence. I covered this in my review of "Abominable Science!". Suffice to say it is not a convincing theory. Some mistakes began to surface as I read through the book. For example, in "showing how things were afoot at the loch at the time" before the famous Spicer report, Darren mentions the 1932 Fordyce land sighting. However, that story was not made public until 1990 and had nothing to do with the mood "at the time".

The aforementioned Spicer story is examined and I wish to point out an example of exaggerated narrative from Darren. Of this sighting he says:

Over the years, the description became increasingly sensational. It started out as 2– 2.5 m in length but gradually increased to 9m.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of subliminal language that implants the wrong kind of impression into the mind of the reader. Darren appears to be trying to demonstrate that monster stories grow with the telling. However, he is completely wrong. The first account from the 4th August 1933 does indeed state the size of the creature as being 6 to 8 feet. However, the "gradual" part is not true.

The truth rather lies in Rupert T. Gould's book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others", published about 10 months after the Spicer event. Gould quotes a letter to him from George Spicer which states:

After having ascertained the width of the road, and giving the matter mature thought in every way, I afterwards came to the conclusion that the creature I saw must have been at least 25 feet in length.

It's as simple as that. George Spicer re-evaluated based on the width of the "ruler" the monster had been seen crossing over - the road. Why Darren Naish omitted this detail is not clear. After all, he quotes Gould in regard to this case. In the context of such inaccuracies, I noticed one withering reviewer of this book on Amazon declare this:

"Anyone who actually believes in the Loch Ness monster ... should read this - it would help them to grow up.

Now I don't know if this reviewer could even find Loch Ness on a map, but one gets the impression that such reviewers have a picture of "believers" running to their caves in fear of such cutting sceptical books exposing their so-called psychological deficiencies. The truth is that a lot of these reviewers know little about Loch Ness and its Monster and assume these like-minded authors speak with unerring accuracy on Loch Ness matters. They don't. Period.

Whereas Loxton and Prothero seemed to not go beyond 1994 in sceptical Nessie thinking, Darren presents more modern interpretations - such as the famous Hugh Gray and Peter O'Connor photographs. He suggests Hugh Gray photographed a swan and Peter O'Connor used his canoe to fake the well known hump picture. 

Well, I looked at the Gray and O'Connor theories and put a bullet through them here and here. Advocates of a large, exotic species in Loch Ness need have no fear of such theorising by sceptics. In fact, I enjoy dismantling their weak theories and this book was no exception.

Now I mentioned that Darren was not the actual source of these swan and canoe theories. That honour goes to long time Nessie sceptic, Dick Raynor. How much of Darren's treatise on the Loch Ness Monster is actually his own or others such as Dick Raynor is hard to ascertain, but these easily challenged theories were known to me well before Darren's book.

Another place where Naish relies on Raynor is the aforementioned Fordyce land sighting. We are told that, in fact, what Mr. Fordyce saw that day was a donkey carrying a dead deer bagged by some hunting party. Here is a picture of a horse carrying a bagged stag compared to the animal that Lt. Cmd. Fordyce claimed to have seen.

Yes, I can see what they are driving at here ... not. Some of the interpretations of the sceptic baffle me. I admit the Fordyce creature is strange - even by Loch Ness Monster standards. But, even allowing for memory lapses on the part of Fordyce, nobody should accept such a weak explanation. Better to say nothing and take a neutral position.

I could go on with the problems with this Nessie section of Darren's book. His handling of the folklore of the Loch Ness Water Horse is unsatisfactory. You can read my introduction to this theme here. His dismissal of pre-1933 accounts is, of course, vital to the framework of the sceptical theory since it relies on Nessie being a creation of the Great Depression years.

Moreover, his description of Richard Franck's 17th century "floating island" at Loch Ness, as a man-made raft runs completely counter to what even Franck theorised about this strange object from 1658.

A thought did cross my mind as to whether Dick was grooming Darren as his successor. After all, Dick is now moving into his late sixties, as is Adrian Shine. Despite our best intentions, old age will eventually put a stop to any argument or debate one may wish to engage in and the question of succession seems to be a serious question for Loch Ness sceptics.

As I survey the online and published domains, I see no clear and worthy successors. Perhaps Darren is seen as "The One", but in my view, once Dick and Adrian get out their slippers and pipe, Loch Ness scepticism will go down the plug hole.

The author can be contacted at

Monday, 1 August 2016

Karl Shuker's Book on Nessie

It seems I am going to busy for the next few weeks. No sooner have I just publicised Malcolm Robinson's book, "The Monsters of Loch Ness", than Karl Shuker's book, "Here's Nessie!" is about to be published too! Here is the front and back covers for your enticement.

You wait ages for one Nessie book and all of a sudden two turn up!