Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Loch Ness Trip Report September 2018

It was back at the loch last month as I spent a few days camping and roving around the famous body of water looking for its even more famous resident. I brought the drone, the thermal camera, trap cameras and the old fashioned hand held camera and binoculars. It was also the weekend of the Loch Ness Marathon which kept me off road for most of that day. The extended weekend was a generally quiet time due to the reduced number of tourists who were all back at work and school. However, that had to be balanced against the colder, wetter conditions. So, I may well go back a few weeks earlier next year.

Sunday was drone day as I strapped the backpack on and went off in search of a suitable site. Dinsdale Island was now off limits to a wellington boot crossing as it had been during the dry spring. Waders will be required next time as I regard it as a good drone site in terms of isolation and a flat beach for safe landings. A walk around the wider area did not provide any adequate take off points and so I headed off to the location of the Lachlan Stuart photograph a few miles up the road and flew the drone there. With a nice backdrop of the castle, no Nessie outlines were discerned just below the surface, so I drew a blank (snapshot of drone video below).

On Monday it was time to don my tour guide hat as I took fellow Nessie lovers, Phil and Cathie around the loch on a tour of their design and with me as their guide. This involved various stops and chats and so we began at the spot where Peter MacNab took his famous 1955 photograph and heading onto other sites after that. Seeing we are on the subject of Peter MacNab, one sceptic declared some time back that the photo had to be a fake because the black hump didn't look glistening enough as he would expect from water splashing and running off it.

So is the photo debunked in one fell swoop? Shall we now consign it to the bin of hoax history? Not if we compare it with an old picture of the Gondolier cruise boat passing the castle in a similar setting. I think you would agree its black, water splashed hull is not giving off much in the way of lustre either. As a side note, if any sceptic tries to gainsay this elsewhere, please feel free to copy and paste their counter arguments here to be dealt with.

Stopping at the site of the famous Arthur Grant land sighting, I got my first chance to see the new plaque erected to commemorate that event at the Clansman Hotel. Fortuitously, there was a life size model of the monster there to add a sense of reality to that moonlit night of January 5th 1934 when Grant chanced upon the creature as he approached it on his motorcycle. As mentioned in a previous article, I had suggested erecting the plaque to local businessman and Nessie promoter, Willie Cameron. It seems this had always been on his mind and this was the catalyst to get it done. The words you can read on the plaque are the exact words I supplied to Willie, so I was pleased with that.


Onwards and as we passed through Fort Augustus and on our way to the southern shore, something was pointed out to me, or rather the absence of something. That something was Kilchumein Lodge, the residence of the Pimleys, from where their employee, Margaret Munro watched a strange creature on the shore of Borlum Bay for 30 minutes through binoculars in June 1934. All that remained was a large tanker of some description with some building materials now lying on cleared land. I recall the house being there on my last visit in June. I am sure some local will help fill in the gaps as to what happened and the site's future. Either way, a piece of Loch Ness Monster history has gone.

And here is the old house photographed seven years ago for Google Streetview.

Visiting the site of the famous Hugh Gray photograph, the site was being surveyed when an unusual object was spotted rising up and down in the water, which I show below. This was in quite deep water and could not have been a rockbed log sticking out of the water, but after a close inspection with binoculars, it was undoubtedly a large piece of tree debris with a squared off end bobbing up and down in the water. It was presumed that the log had been sufficiently saturated with water to achieve this near submerged appearance with the bulk invisible under the water. The media and forums often put up pictures of Nessie like logs as if this was some slam dunk explanation for sightings, but the truth is they are easily enough discerned after a short time.

Having said all that, the patience of this hunt of hunts was driven home again that weekend as the drone, thermal camera, trap cameras and good old fashioned eyeball watches produced no decisive evidence. So, it is time to hunker down for the winter and try again next year. Nevertheless, I hope to be back up at the loch with hopefully good news for Nessiephiles later in the year, so watch this space!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Summing up the Loch Ness Monster (in 1934)

Decades ago, the Field magazine ran an article by Martin Hinton, Deputy Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in London on the 27th January 1934. By then, the monster phenomenon was about 8 months old and people were asking questions of those in authority. The evidence was scant with the Malcolm Irvine film taken the previous month on December 12th and the Hugh Gray photograph of November 12th along with a few dozen eyewitness testimonies. That now lost film formed the top image of the article as Hinton assessed the phenomenon from his point of view as a sceptical zoologist and is reproduced in text below with my comments following.

Facts versus Visions - An Analysis of the Evidence
By MARTIN A. C. HINTON (Deputy Keeper of Zoology, British Museum - Natural History) 

NO zoologist would deny the possibility of discovering a large creature of "prehistoric type" (whatever that may mean) hitherto unknown to Science, in vast ocean solitudes, in imperfectly explored foreign lands, or even in the limited and completely surveyed waters of Loch Ness. But for more than 200 years zoologists have been busy ransacking this world, and the chance of finding a large vertebrate animal of a type entirely new to Science living anywhere, either on the land or in the sea, grows smaller and smaller every day.

The larger animals of the North Atlantic and the North Sea are fairly well known, and the chance of making a sensational addition to the list is now small indeed. To establish such a discovery today the zoologist would be required to furnish rigid proof based upon a personal examination of at least some characteristic portion of the alleged new animal. Without such proof Science, whose first business is the collection of cold facts, could not recognise such a claim, even though supported by an infinity of eye-witness stories, photographs and alleged "spoors". With good faith all through, such substitutes for real evidence could do no more than make every scientific man very eager to go and collect satisfactory material for himself.

Bad faith showing through, here and there, would arouse his suspicion of the whole story, and would merely tend to divert him from the inquiry. We may accept the 51 eye-witnesses interrogated by Commander Gould and the score or more later witnesses who have made statements describing what they have seen of the Loch Ness "monster" as witnesses of truth; that is to say, each of them has done his best to describe without addition, subtraction or embellishment, what he thinks he saw on the loch or on its shores. Accurate observation, even of familiar stationary things on land, is a very difficult art and accurate description of the impression left by the observation is still more difficult. These difficulties are enormously enhanced when the observation concerns an unfamiliar object seen at some considerable distance in motion in the water, when light, reflections, ripple, wind and haze change from second to second.

Considerations such as these would lead us to expect many discrepancies of detail in the stories of the witnesses; so that no adverse criticism could be based upon the variable nature of their accounts. The more honest and uninstructed the witnesses the more they will differ from each other and the more difficult it will be for the zoologist to find out what it is they are all endeavouring to describe. One fact alone does emerge from this great mass of testimony, namely that for some months the loch has been inhabited by one or more large animals not usually there. Accepting the statements of two or three of the witnesses, we find that the intruder is not confined to the water but comes on shore from time to time, crossing the road, and ascending the slope beyond. One observer surprised the creature on the roadside at night nearly 40 yards ahead. "As he approached, the creature moved, turned a small head in his direction, and then with great bounds crossed the road and plunged into the water." Further. " it had . . . large oval shaped eyes set almost on top of its head . .  a big heavy body, and there were two flippers in front. It seemed also . . . to have two legs behind, and they appeared to be webbed".

From other witnesses we learn that the "monster" chases the salmon, and that it is most frequently seen round the mouths of the streams flowing into the loch or near the exit of the Ness by which the salmon enter from the sea. Several mauled salmon have been found, including at least one "kelt", important. as showing that the injuries were sustained in the loch and not on the upward run of the fish. Now all these facts, looked at broadly, are in harmony with the view that the loch has been invaded by one or more grey seals. They are common in the Dornoch Firth and by no means infrequent in the Beauly Firth. They prey upon the salmon, and probably one or more followed the salmon up the River Ness last year. Seals have been seen in the loch on previous occasions.

The river presents almost insurmountable obstacles to any large marine vertebrate other than a seal or a salmon; but to the grey seal, capable as we know of doing a journey of 30 miles over rough country, the ascent would be easy. The general description of the individual seen on land and of its progress across the road into the water, quoted above, fits the grey seal to perfection if we make allowance for an excusable overestimate of size. Great attempts have been made to lead zoologists to a more romantic conclusion. Much stress has been laid upon the supposed colossal length of the "monster", its small head, long outstretched neck, and serpentine body indicated by humps visible above the water. Each description of the swimming animal is a simple summary of the impressions made upon the mind of each observer by a longer or shorter series of continually changing images. In no one of them could we put implicit trust.

The very agreement of the more sensational stories among themselves tells against them. The observers, despite their good faith, appear to have been influenced subconsciously by three things, singly or in combination, namely, the Kelpie tradition, the sea-serpent myth, and by the picture postcards of the "monster" on sale in Inverness. The Daily Mail, with customary enterprise, sent investigators. These included a big-game hunter. who eventually found two impressions of a large foot upon the shore. Photographs and a cast of these were submitted to the museum, where the impressions were found to have been made on a heaped-up bank of fine shingle with the help of a stuffed foot of a hippopotamus. A wag had been busy - had he used a living hippopotamus the impression would have been different and the big game hunter would not have been deceived ...

Efforts were made to "film" the "monster". Some of the first pictures were reproduced in various newspapers, and two slides made from one of them were shown to the meeting of' British zoologists on January 6th. They showed nothing that could be positively identified as an animal. Although apparently not of great scientific interest, the "monster" is of considerable importance to local industries and to the great world of advertisement. In gratitude business men are asked to address it privately as "ministering angel" reserving "monster" for public occasions.

It struck me reading this sceptical article how little has changed in so called critical thinking regarding the Loch Ness Monster. Hinton (pictured below) was an older colleague of later sceptic Maurice Burton and one senses there was not much difference in their approaches thirty years apart. The one distinguishing factor was Burton's pre-occupation with vegetable mats in the 1960s.

To start with, I agree with Hinton that the real proof is a specimen, be it dead or alive and in part or whole. Nothing has changed in that regard and I have no argument with that from an empirical point of view. However, Hinton's dismissal of eyewitness testimony echoes throughout sceptical history in his successors as a piece of poor science when he asserts that they could not possibly describe what they saw in an accurate manner. 

The trouble with this theory is its unscientific unfalsifiability, to wit, no matter how numerous, how skilled or how close the observers, the testimonies go in one end of this meat grinder and come out "unreliable" with infallible certainty each time. If you would ask Mr. Hinton what eyewitness testimony would escape this tautology, I doubt you would get a clear answer. Note I am not saying each witness will deliver a perfect description, but I am saying there will be accuracy in terms of size and power which differentiates the phenomenon from Highland norms.

Having conveniently rejected all accounts with this blunderbuss approach, Hinton does acknowledge the testimony of eyewitnesses enough to admit they were indicative of the presence of one or more large animals in the loch, though not of the thirty to forty foot variety. He considers the Arthur Grant land sighting and some instances of mauled salmon and kelt to fall in favour with some itinerant grey seals. The inconvenient problems of long necks and humps are dismissed as subconscious embellishments. 

That was his summing up some eight months into the new sensation and some eight decades on, not much has changed in the modern sceptic's summing up. But that pre-war summing up has an awkward ending for Mr. Hinton when he discussed the examination of the plaster casts he and his colleagues received from Marmaduke Wetherell. They were correctly recognised as hippopotamus prints and the product of some joker, though they did not suspect Wetherell himself it seems.

Astoundingly, the hypocrisy of this assessment was later exposed when Hinton was accused after his death of being the person behind the infamous Piltdown Man hoax. Wetherell planted his fake spoors in the cause of advocating a prehistoric monster. Hinton it seems planted his fake hominid jaw, teeth, cranium and tools in the cause of advocating a 500,000 year old fossil human. You can read the defence of this accusation in this 2003 article.

It seems it is not just monster hunters who can be accused of fakery. Even those fine upstanding, critically thinking, sceptical scientists are well capable of indulging in deception. And why should we not be surprised? After all, they are just as human and fallible as the rest of us. Does this disqualify Hinton from speaking on the matter of the Loch Ness Monster? Perhaps not, but the tinkling of broken glass houses can be clearly heard.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

A Nessie Photograph from 2015?

Here is an interesting photograph that has turned up in the media this week. The story from the Scottish Press and Journal goes as follows.

An American mother has turned up a mysterious image of Loch Ness by trawling through Google Earth shots taken three years ago. Lisa Stout’s startling discovery has now been accepted as the ninth sighting of the monster this year by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register – and further highlights more and more people are hunting Nessie around the world through the web. Ironically the 31-year-old from Bellevue, Ohio, has a monster – “Bessie” – on her doorstep, but has never seen it. According to Google there are 200,000 searches each month for the Loch Ness Monster.

“As a result of a recent loss of employment, I’ve had a lot of time open up. I had been searching for Nessie on/off for the past few weeks, spending an hour or so a week on Google Earth as well as other places I like to visit in the App,” said Ms Stout, a mother-of-one. “I had seen some of the latest Nessie sightings and thought that I can definitely find a better image of her than that which I used for motivation to challenge myself to find her! Last Thursday at 9.45am, I had got my daughter off to school and began to search for Nessie when I noticed a cluster of pictures taken by an Underwater Earth Contributor all in one area near the Loch Ness Highland Resort in Fort Augustus."

“I noticed what I believe may be the creature known as Nessie – or at the very least what makes up for most of the accounts of Nessie sightings that residents/ tourists are seeing and reporting.”

Ms Stout said she believes the dark figure protruding from the water is “at least three to five feet tall which I believe to be is Nessie’s neck and it also appears rather flat giving the neck a width of at least one foot.”

Gary Campbell, the recorder and keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register said: ”This is a really unusual phenomenon and our panel can’t explain what Lisa has spotted therefore we are listing it as a sighting. However, it may be that by doing this, someone else across the world can come up with an explanation. “The great thing about it being on Google is that anyone with access to the web can go on and see exactly what Lisa has captured and then make their own mind up. This means that once again, you don’t have to come to Loch Ness to be a Nessie spotter.”

A zoom in of the object is shown below and, going by the Abbey steps to the right, I estimated the height of it as something below 3 feet and various theories as to its identity have already made their way onto cryptozoological forums:

1. A log
2. One of the Google diving team.
3. Something on the lens.
4. A "photoshop" creation.
5. A bird in flight.

The log explanation naturally leapt to mind although I find it a rather odd looking log compared to the ones I have seen at the loch or in pictures, plus it looks rather dark for a log unless there is strong sunlight to the left which I doubt considering the rain which appears to be impacting on the loch surface. However, nothing else is as black as this object in the picture. Nevertheless, such a theory cannot be totally discounted.

The opinion that it is a diver requires further explanation, namely what part of a proposed diver are we looking at? That is not clear to me. However, a diver's suit may have been as dark as this object. A piece of debris on the lens seems a big coincidence as the object is lying very nicely aligned with the water surface. Photoshop also seems unlikely as I went to the Google Maps website to retrieve the original image.

The bird in flight suggestion has some more merit if one imagines the "neck" is the right wing of the bird and the "body" in the water line is the left wing. In this scenario one would assume the head and neck of the bird are obscured by the right wing. The left wing looks a bit thin and I see no tail feathers, but the idea has more merit than most so far.

Or it could be the Loch Ness Monster, but that begs the question as to why the crew did not see anything at the time? At least, we are never told they did, but if they did I would expect something more than this. That aside, the neck length to width ratio is a bit lower than I would usually expect for the neck morphology. that is, it is a bit on the thick side. I wouldn't want to dogmatic on such a ratio though.

All in all, a curious picture which doesn't quite bow down to any one explanation.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Latest Nessie Photograph

An interesting image from Loch Ness was published by the Sun newspaper today purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster in its single hump aspect taken by a Dipak Ram from Manchester last week. The account runs as follows:

Dipak Ram, an NHS consultant from Manchester, took the image that shows a large dark “mass” in the waves of the legendary loch last week. The 33-year-old spotted the dark shadow in the water near Dores beach at 5.35pm. The medic at first believed it was a strange wave pattern but insists that when he zoomed in with his camera he found a “stationary object”. Dipak, who says the sighting was witnessed by a fellow tourist, claims that this was “Nessie’s hump or neck” and says it disappeared below the surface after 30-35 seconds.

Speaking today, the NHS doctor who works across Greater Manchester, said: “We have had a breathtaking experience of spotting Nessie and were very lucky indeed.“We noticed a dark shadow in the water which we initially thought was just a wave but the shadow remained persistent for about 30-35 seconds with water moving around it. “It was cloudy without any rain but the waves were reasonably calm and we took the picture from the rocky aspect of Dores beach.”

“When I zoomed in using my camera phone, it became much more apparent that the stationary object was indeed Nessie’s hump/long neck. “After 30-35 seconds, the shadow disappeared downwards into the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t film it as we were in shock.” Dipak named the witness as Tom Smith, a “fellow traveller” from Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, but says he does not have contact details for him.

Now if you read Mr. Ram's account, he is convinced it was no wave as it remained stationary in the midst of the water movement around it. Of course, this cannot be established from one image and it is clear he regrets not putting his camera into video mode. I would accept his testimony in the absence of contrary testimony (e..g how corroborative would Mr. Smith's account be?), but more critical assessors will ignore his words and make a judgement based purely on the merits of the image. I would point out the "hump" is more water blue that monster black or gray, but that may be my imagination.

Not only would a video have been useful to establish its independence from the waves, but also to record the submergence moment to further verify its independent existence from the water. Another useful image would have been a pan out to the Dores Bay shoreline to give an idea of how far in or out the image was (not a log in the shallows). Information is everything and the more we have, the more confident the conclusions and the less chance of fob offs. So we have one image, perhaps there are others, but there is not enough to go on with here unless anyone has any other observations or information.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Saturday, 8 September 2018

A Question on the Roy Johnston Photos

Roy Johnston took a sequence of eight photographs purporting to be of the Loch Ness Monster in the act of submerging back in August 2002. Naturally, the reaction to the pictures was mixed but they were generally dismissed by those who examined them. Sixteen years later I plan to cover these pictures in one chapter of my forthcoming book on the monster. For the time being, I will assume a neutral position and be a listener as others possibly express their opinions but also perhaps offer data on the event.

To that end, I have a request asking if anyone has the article on these pictures from the News Of The World newspaper dated Sunday 8th September 2002? An enquiry to the British Library suggests it only made it into the Scottish edition and so far I have not found it. I do remember reading the article years back but cannot recall the source now so any help will be appreciated. I am aware of the arguments made by leading researchers and these will be considered in the book as well.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A Diver's Encounter with the Monster

A regular on various cryptozoological blogs and forums told me this tale which she had related before to others. It was a friend of the family whose name she cannot remember and the story suggests the event perhaps happened during the Second World War. This is what she told me concerning the tale of a diver friend:

He had a facial disfigurement when his plane was shot down and after convalescence he was visited and offered a desk job, which was not him at all. They noticed diving certificates from when he was younger on his wall and suggested that was the way to go. So he did and one of his jobs was to dive under at Loch Ness. He told me when I was six. He took a job with the Pru when older and told me because I was looking at my kids encyclopaedia at the time and he'd come to collect mum's money on her insurance.

He told me casually about his encounter as I was looking at a dino picture at the time. He said he was told to go down beside a wall and had lights with him. He said while he was working he noticed something was moving above him. Thinking it was the boat he'd dived from he looked up and his goggles were filled with something just above his head, he realised it was a huge animal. He said he froze and waited for it to move again and when it floated on, he started to surface as fast as he could shining a light downwards to see what it was.

He said he saw the Loch Ness Monster, the classic plesiosaur shape was described and how it moved with his hand, which I can remember. He was a quiet religious man who never drew attention to himself, especially because of how he looked he preferred to melt into the background. He was very sincere with what he told, so I have no reason to disbelieve what he told me and for him, I would like to see whatever it is discovered.

So concludes a story we can add to the experiences of Robert Badger, James Honeyman, Duncan MacDonald, Beppo the Clown (see Badger case) and doubtless a few others as well. It is the rarest of Nessie encounters and I would wager the most unsettling when one considers you are in the monster's domain with little avenue for escape (though no casualties have ever been disclosed).

Actually, when I read the story and how the diver had gone "down beside a wall", I wondered if he was part of the diving team that were involved in the search for the body of Mrs. Hambro, who drowned in an accident at Loch Ness in 1932? I thought the wall could be the sheer drop that occurs at the Horseshoe Scree, where the accident happened. However, this event seems to have happened in the 1940s and was perhaps training at the loch for wartime operations. Did he report the event to his superiors or keep it to himself? An FOI request on wartime operations at Loch Ness would be an interesting exercise, though perhaps ultimately unfruitful.

It was also mentioned that her diver friend said the closest picture he had seen to it was a sea monster called a "Tomberino" or something like that. Off the top of my head, I don't know what that may refer to, but if anyone knows, leave a comment here. 


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 24 August 2018

The "Legend of the Loch" BBC Documentary

I wrote a while back on the various productions made by the BBC over the years that referenced the Loch Ness Monster. Without a doubt the one I would most like to see is their 1958 documentary, "The Legend of the Loch" which was hosted by that famous BBC presenter Raymond Baxter of "Tomorrow's World" fame. I believe they still have it in their vast warehouse, but the BBC Archive is not exactly like Netflix or any other modern VOD service.

As it turns out a copy of the Radio Times dated the 9th May 1958 came up on eBay with a picture of one page promoting that documentary. I certainly recall Lachlan Stuart was interviewed on it, but who else I do not know, though I imagine Nessie expert of the time, Maurice Burton would have appeared. This was in the days before Tim Dinsdale's film and everything was pretty quiet. What prompted the BBC to make this programme may well have been inspired by the photographs taken by Lachlan Stuart, Peter Macnab and Herman Cockrell in that decade. The page and text are reprodcued below.

In Search of the Loch Ness Monster
BBC Television will pay a visit to the Loch on Thursday for a Scientific Investigation

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, on May 22, 1933, the Loch Ness Monster hit the headlines. Before then its existence had been an accepted fact in the area for many years, and legends of a "water horse " had been handed down for centuries. Since then many reputable people from Britain, and tourists from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere have claimed to have seen a strange creature on the surface of this loch. Some of these sightings can probably be accounted for by unusual wave formations, water-fowl chicks learning to fly, otters playing and other ordinary events. Some can not. If the people have seen and heard what they have claimed, then some large creature (or creatures) of a species or size at present unknown to science lives in this extremely deep loch.

Many theories about its identity have been advanced. Some people think that from the descriptions it is a plesiosaurus, but this beast is thought to have become extinct about seventy million years ago. Some think it is a giant eel or form of oar-fish. Some think the whole thing a hoax or a hallucination. What is the truth? Recently people in Inverness have been pressing for a thorough scientific investigation into the subject and the matter has been raised in the House of Commons. They argue that it is no use relying on chance photographs or film of the beast on the rare occasions when the loch is still enough for these to be taken. They point out that the photographic evidence which already exists is looked upon with great suspicion anyway. They claim that underwater television and echo-sounding equipment are the keys to the problem.

The aim of Thursday evening's programme, The Legend of the Loch, is not to "Hunt the Monster" but to find out how far modem equipment can, in fact, penetrate the secrets of a loch some twenty-three miles long, the maximum depth of which is 754 feet, the water of which, stained brown by peat, is only penetrated by the sun's rays to a depth of forty feet, and the banks of which are reported by divers to contain great caves. On Thursday, after a review of the facts concerning the mystery and an air survey of the loch and surrounding countryside, viewers can come under water with BBC television, hear from a frogman, and see what it like to go down into these black depths.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com