Wednesday, 24 May 2017

More on Nessie the Predator

I recently published a letter from Tim Dinsdale to Herman Cockrell and was struck by Tim's concern to Herman in case he ever ventured out in his kayak again - "... for heaven's sake, be careful ... the plesiosaurs were predatory animals!".

That was back in 1961 when Tim discussed his first book, "Loch Ness Monster". What he thought of their predatory habits twenty years later as his book approached its final revision may have been less dramatic, but it brought back to mind my article on the possible predatory habits of the creature on land as well something Tim wrote some years later.

That view of mine was twisted by some sceptics, but I want to quote a story I read recently in Tim's other book, "Monster Hunt" on page 38:

During the course of the Loch Ness expeditions I have been careful to collect 'odd' stories, and scraps of information which, for one reason or another, lie outside the usual category of evidence. Much of this information is based on hearsay, which can be very unreliable; but some of it is believable because of the circumstances connected with it. One such account emphasizes the carnivorous nature of the beast — or Beiste, as it is known in the Gaelic. Some years ago, a stag was hunted down one of the glens which lead to the northern shore of Loch Ness.

In fear it entered the water, swimming out strongly. When some way out it became involved in a sudden swirl. Changing direction, it headed back to the shore — but on climbing out, over the rocks and shingle, it was seen, quite literally, to be walking on three legs. The fourth leg was missing! The reason why this account has not been publicized is because the stag was not, I understand, being hunted legally. A recurring situation in the Highlands of Scotland, one may add.

If this story is true, I would surmise the Loch Ness Monster was the only Loch Ness inhabitant capable of parting a deer from one of its legs. The thought naturally arose as to why we don't hear more of these predatory stories. Admittedly, it is rare to even see a deer swimming across the loch, let alone an incident like this. But I would add one other story here. It comes from the Inverness Courier of the 20th October 1933.

The community of Benedictine nuns who once resided near Fort Augustus are now living close to me here at Holme Eden Abbey, and one of the lay sisters, an old Inverness-shire woman, says she can remember fifty years ago talk of an uncanny beast being seen in the Loch, and also that animals grazing by the loch-side disappeared.

Livestock grazing beside the loch shores was undoubtedly a more common thing back in those days than it is now. This is exemplified by the postcard below of sheep moving along the shores of the loch. Clearly, such a sight would not be possible now on these car dominated roads, but I do not see much in the way of shoreline livestock on my trips and there is more in the way of wire fencing between them and the loch.

It also seems as if predation of humans is limited to the old water horse stories. I can think of no instance of a modern story which ascribes the disappearance of anyone to the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, people have disappeared around the loch over the decades and centuries. Most would have fallen into the loch from the shore or from boats and drowned. When searching old newspapers, I found quite a few stories of drowned people from the 19th century when health and safety procedures were not so important.

If such a thing happened alone and the body was never recovered, it is easy to raise a question mark over the cause of the disappearance. But is the lack of human predation a proof against the Loch Ness Monster? After all, if the monster is partial to salmon, trout and the odd deer, then why not humans?

It all goes back to Dinsdale's warning to Cockrell. It is reasonable to assume humans are on the menu if the monster is a form of plesiosaur. After all, it is doubtful that plesiosaurs have evolved into herbivores. Of course, their relatively small jaws could not swallow a human whole, but they could undoubtedly cause a fatal injury.

Yet multiple people have swum the loch and nothing has happened. Was this just expected due to the vast size of the loch or because the creature mainly sticks to the sides of the loch? Is this a proof that the creature is not carnivorous or, for some reason, humans are off the menu? After all, didn't Saint Columba only grant the creature the freedom of the loch if it left people alone? Only kidding.

However, my own opinion is that these creatures will in theory eat humans. If you eat meat and are a lot bigger than a human, it is reasonable to assume you will go for them. I would think, though, that they are opportunistic since their hunting instincts are not primarily geared to seek out humans. For example, a drowned body being scavenged or someone falling in 200 feet above them.

I don't think the number of times swimmers and divers have been in the loch has been statistically significant enough to trigger such an event. The loch has a volume of 7.4 billion cubic metres, the volume of a human is about 0.07 cubic metres. The odds of a human and a Nessie being in proximity are pretty small; but given enough time, something will eventually happen.

On an unrelated but interesting point, you would have noted our quote from the Inverness Courier of 20th October 1933 saying "she can remember fifty years ago talk of an uncanny beast being seen in the Loch". That would place events around 1883. By some strange coincidence, on the very same day, the historian, David Murray Rose, had a letter published in The Scotsman, saying this:

In the summer of 1885, stories were circulated about a strange beast being seen by many people about Loch Ness. It usually only appeared for a few minutes on the surface of the loch, so that no one could properly describe it.

Murray Rose has been panned by sceptics many a time. It's nice to see some corroboration for what he was claiming. Whether the kelpie-averse newspapers picked this up remains to be seen.

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Sunday, 21 May 2017

More Monster Hunting on the Isle of Lewis

I had previously written of my monster hunting activities in the distant Isle of Lewis back in 2011, including my attempt to get to Loch Ulladale, the stories surrounding that creature as well as the various other lochs of legend. I was back on the island last July and was minded once more to go about some cryptozoological business of the aquatic variety. 

As a primer, I purchased a rather delightful book entitled, "The Secret of the Kelpie" from the tourist shop in the town of Tarbert (which is actually on the adjoining Isle of Harris). What could I find in the way of modern kelpies in 2016? Back in 2011, I had made the long hike to Loch Ulladale and was within sight of the loch before being turned back by deep bogs and a plague of horse flies. 

That was frustrating, but I had another loch in my sights and that was Loch Urabhal (pronounced "uraval"). This was motivated by a story from the Glasgow Herald of 29th July 1961 which is reproduced here from Paul Harrison's "Sea Serpents and Lake Monsters of the British Isles" (2002).

A monster appeared in Loch Urabhal, near the village of Achmore, in Lewis, on Thursday evening (27 July 1961), Mr Ian McArthur, a Forres school teacher who is holidaying in Lewis, said yesterday. Mr McArthur had gone out fishing with Mr Roderick Maclver, a teacher from Stornaway, and his brother Donald, on leave from teaching in Aden. `Roddy and I were fishing at the shallow end of the Loch, when Roddy jumped to his feet shouting "There's something in the Loch".

I then saw it myself. Donald, who was fishing farther up the Loch, did not see it, but he saw we were excited about something. It was about 45 yards away from us in shallow water and it appeared three times. It had a hump and there was either a small head or fin about 6 feet away from the hump. It swam like a dolphin but was much bigger. `Urabhal is an inland Loch, and no dolphins could get into it. I have been fishing there and so have the Maclver brothers since we were boys and have never seen anything in the Loch.

I asked my father if there were any legends about the Loch, but he said there was none. He thought it must have been an otter, but this did not swim like an otter. We saw it distinctly because the sun was shining and the water was calm. I had my camera out ready for a picture when it submerged for the last time.' According to a local historian, Dr Donald MacDonald, of Gisla, there are no traditions attached to Urabhal.

With all this in mind, it was off to Loch Urabhal on the 28th July 2016. The maps below give you some idea where this little loch is in relation to Loch Ness.

Parking at the village of Achmore, we donned the hillwalking boots and waterproofs and headed north. The hill adjoining the village was ascended as we navigated round the hi-tech communication masts erected there. After that, nature resumed and the going underfoot was firm to soft depending on the nearby streams and contours. As you can see, Lewis is a place rather bereft of trees.

It took over an hour to trudge there, but the loch eventually came into view once a ridge was cleared. As expected, it was a rather small affair. The loch measures about 900m by 400m at its widest points and I suspect the depth was not great, but obviously enough to fish from, going by the Herald account.

I panned across the loch as you can see on this video.

The loch was scanned for a while and nothing of a cryptid nature showed itself, apart from this object which was noticed on the other side of the loch during our surveillance. Was it a shark or some other finned life form? Unfortunately not, as it was immobile throughout and so was presumed it to be nothing more than a rock (there were other small outcroppings dotted around).

Now it was pretty clear that nothing of the size described could live here for long in terms of an indigenous, breeding population. So, if this was an accurate account, it seemed the best theory was that something came in from the sea. The fact that the report stated the men were fishing implied that, like the surrounding lochs, there was a supply of trout or salmon to be had and these most likely migrated from the sea (as opposed to being resident trout).

The loch is about five miles from the western coastline as the crow flies. An examination of the map does show a complex pattern of small lochs and their interconnecting streams and that revealed a route to the sea from the loch that takes in four other lochs along the way. So, a large creature could with some effort get from sea to loch.

I agree with the original account that a dolphin is an unlikely candidate which leaves a seal or some other semi-aquatic creature. My only quibble with the seal theory is that a seal is unlikely to disappear in such a loch and should have surfaced frequently enough to be identified.

So, whatever appeared in that loch fifty six years ago was likely a "flash cryptid"; here today, gone tomorrow and a guest rather than a resident. Having said that though, it is entirely possible that the skeleton of a large creature which failed to get back to the sea still resides at the bottom of this shallow loch ......

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Friday, 19 May 2017

An Interesting eBay Item (Secret of the Loch)

Here is an interesting item that has a few days to run on eBay. It is a collection of old 9.5mm reels containing that epic 1934 film, "The Secret of the Loch" and directed by David Lean who went onto fame as an Oscar winning director for the film, "Lawrence of Arabia". Quite a contrast.

I previously wrote on this enjoyable old monster romp some years back, so there is nothing much to add apart from the shot below which seems to think Nessie is a giant iguana. These hapless creatures were a mainstay of early monster films when they were placed amongst miniature houses and have terrifying prosthetics attached to them. This was probably a cheaper alternative to the stop motion animation technique used in King Kong and so on.

I was pondering bidding myself, but I have a DVD of the film and transferring 9.5mm film to DVD/MP4 is an expensive task if you don't have your own equipment. But perhaps some reader may feel compelled to own a genuine piece of 1930s Nessie memorabilia - and it does have a sequence from the 1933 Malcolm Irvine film as a bonus.

My previous article had embedded a Youtube link to the entire film, but that has now gone. Anyone know of a new link?

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Monday, 15 May 2017

Tim Dinsdale Prepares His First Book

A bit of Loch Ness Monster history here as I reproduce a letter Tim Dinsdale wrote to Herman Cockrell dated February 1st 1961. Tim was in the late stages of completing his seminal book "Loch Ness Monster" and sought Herman's permission to reproduce his classic 1958 photograph of the creature. 

Indeed, the photo had formed part of the 1959 magazine article that inspired Tim to study the phenomenon and head north to Loch Ness where he obtained his famous film footage in April 1960. Click on the images of the letter, then right click for "View Image" to read them.

I have edited out Tim's address, but looking around the web, it appears to have been sold over 20 years ago. If you want to know what Tim's house looked like, take a look below.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Yet More Nessie Images?

Hot on the heels of the image snapped a week ago, a video emerged from the weekend taken by a Rob Jones which the Scotsman newspaper ran. What is shows is an animal nonchalantly swimming away from a cruiser boat as they cross paths and both eventually disappear from view.

Now, one may just dismiss this as a swan or cormorant, especially since Nessies are not known for hanging around boats in a relaxed manner. So the one thing that intrigues me is the possible size of the object. We have a scale here as you would have noticed the man on the boat watching the animal swim away from it. The visible portion of the animal looks almost as tall as the man.

Now I know there is the matter of perspective which can make objects closer look bigger than those further away. So the matter is to be resolved by the man (or woman) on the boat. What do they think they saw from their prime vantage point? A simple bird or something else? I hop he was recording whatever is was! However, the Scotsman theory it was a log looks rather far fetched.

One other possibility is that someone is playing games (or experiments) here as we noted in our previous article the curious picture that turned up on the same day in the same area of Urquhart Bay. Watch this space I guess.

POSTSCRIPT: An interesting analysis of the video can be found here.

From the Scotsman:

After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch. A large group of tourists watched and took pictures as the object moved slowly close to a passing boat before disappearing.

Mr Jones said he remained sceptical: “I saw it quite far across the Loch near the castle, but by the time I stopped the van, It was very close and other people stopped to take photos too. Sadly I don’t believe in monsters, but would love to know what it was.”  

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Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:
After being posted missing for months without a sighting, tourists have captured new video of Nessie..although it may have been a log. Rob Jones, 35, from North Wales, shared the footage taken on Sunday of a mysterious shape moving across the Loch.

Read more at:

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Some Game Camera Pictures

Every year, I leave some trap cameras strapped to trees as silent sentinels monitoring the ever changing waters of the loch. This year I upped the count to five cameras and will continue to add more as time and money allows. I am still working through the thousands of pictures they snap, but show you today what they have seen.

Watching the surface of Loch Ness for things of cryptozoological interest is largely a thankless task. If anything appears beyond a certain point, you may get your own personal experience and even get a clear view through binoculars, but the resultant camera image is not likely to be decisive in the Loch Ness Monster debate.

The trap camera paradigm solves that issue by only snapping object within about twenty metres in accordance with the sensitivity of their motion or heat detection systems. Clearly, if the creature puts in an appearance at that distance to an 8Mb or 15Mb pixel resolution lens, we will likely get something of considerable interest. 

The cameras are also configured to take three pictures in succession to provide further data in examining any objects that come into view. I have decided that taking video clips is not a generally good idea as the video clips are not of a good quality and only last 5 seconds lest they consume the entire SD card in a matter of weeks! Having said that, one camera is set for combined picture and video.

Of course, in the process of taking thousands of images, something may randomly appear further out, but I am not pinning any hopes on that and it is not the main purpose of the venture. With that said, here are some examples of images taken this year. Ignore the date and time in the image, they are miscalibrated.

Firstly, a typical view of the loch from this camera. Waves rolling in to break below the camera, branches gently shaking and green hills beyond. All set to catch the usual and unusual. Click on each image to enlarge them.

The next sequence shows the "three rapid shots" setup as some kayakers slowly make their way in front of the camera.

However, some things are just too fast, even for an automatic camera. This shot shows the trailing wake of either a speed boat or a rib boat or something like that. Of course, it could be a Nessie, but that would require calculating the speed it requires to clear the lens without detection. For now, its a speed boat!

In terms of night shots, clarity of image will be compromised by the lack of light, hence the infrared component will flash a series of LEDs in the infrared spectrum to illuminate the area on the heat detection going over the threshold. The branches are visible as usual as they reflect back the infrared flash and note the lights in the distance which correspond to houses perched on the hills opposite. The headlights of traffic will often also appear (though it is the branches triggering the IR).

Which make wonder what the object in the next three images could be that was moving in front of the camera? It is not in the water, but rather some feet up right in front of the camera. Note the object is bright purely due to its close proximity to the IR flash. It will be some kind of animal, though what is not clear to me. Suggestions are welcome.

Other pictures look a bit odd such as this "smudge" picture showing something in the middle of the image. It appeared at the end of a three picture sequence which means it did not trigger the sequence and one may presume that is was something on the lens.

The review of the images continues (I am at 3000 out of over 7700 images) and the cameras will be back at their stations later in the year. Clearly, five cameras covering a total of about 330 square metres is a very small portion of a total loch surface area of over 56 million square metres is a long shot, but the hunt continues.

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Is Nessie Back?

Has the Loch Ness Monster put in an appearance for the camera for the first time this year? Sceptics will scoff and believers will mull it over. I reproduce the story below which you can read here. The Sun newspaper also adds some eyewitness testimony:

I had stayed in a backpackers’ hotel and on my last night decided to go for a walk through the woods and ended up on the banks of the loch. It was lovely and at dusk. Then about half a mile away I saw this dark shape sticking up – like a neck. I thought at first it was a tree, but it was very strange. I took a picture. It was there for a couple of seconds, but when I looked back it was gone. I was shocked.

Thanks to Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, I have more information on the event, so we can proceed a bit further. The witness, Hayley Johnson, was at the part of the bay near where the rivers Enrick and Coiltie empty into the loch at Urquhart Bay. The date was yesterday (1st May) and the time was about 8:30pm. 

The viewing conditions were good under a cloudless sky (see accompanying photograph). The length of the sighting was about 30 seconds before the object disappeared and it was about half a mile away as the Sun recounts. The camera was an iPhone 6 and she was the only person present. Hayley emphasised to Gary that the object was not there this morning when she went back to check.

But what was it? A log or a bird or something else? My inclination is not to accept a log purely down to the shape of the object. As I pointed out in a short article last month on deceiving logs, these things tend to grow in straight lines and not undertake curves as this object appears to do. I sketch a general outline below, but if it is a log, it will still be around, so let's see if anyone produces a picture. In that light, I will let this lie for a week to see what happens on that score.

This was another picture Hayley took at the time. note the log on the beach showing a rather more straight configuration.

POSTSCRIPT: Apparently this was photographed in the vicinity on the 7th May (six days later). It has a very papier-mache look to it and one wonders if an Adrian Shine type experiment is going on?

A tourist has captured an image she believes could be the famous Loch Ness Monster - the first reported sighting of the creature in eight months.

Hayley Johnson, from Manchester, noticed a strange and dark shape at dusk in Urquhart Bay, near Inverness, Scotland. 

Nessie's official recorder, Gary Campbell, had became 'worried' that there had been no sightings of her for almost a year. 

Fans from Adelaide, Australia, and Moscow, Russia, called Mr Campbell - who records every reported sighting - to voice their concerns.

The Home Office recently rejected a cheeky bid by a group of artists from Glasgow to grant the Loch Ness Monster permanent UK residency after Brexit.

But Mr Campbell, keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, had said it had appeared Nessie had left the country already.

However today he was relieved after Ms Johnson's sighting on May Day.

The 51-year-old, from Inverness, said: 'She was taking pictures on her iPhone at dusk when she spotted a dark shape in the water, higher than the waves.

'There have been sightings of Nessie there before. This a credible sighting but is obviously unexplained.

'I was quite worried that there had been an eight month gap since the last sighting and so was the whole world it seemed. 

'I fielded calls from around the world - from Moscow, Adelaide and California, everywhere, asking what had happened to Nessie?

'I am relieved and delighted with this sighting - and so will the planet.

'Last year was a record year for the 21st Century with eight sightings and then she seemed to have disappeared.

'Nessie is seen in the winter but she's much more common in the summer - this is why it was unusual that nothing was seen after August 21.'

Mr Campbell added: 'The reason for the summer sightings is twofold - there are more people around in the summer but more importantly, there are much longer daylight hours and the weather tends to be better.'

Mr Campbell said 2016 was a 'fantastic' year for Nessie sightings - which he put down to the growth of smartphones and webcams.

He said two of the sightings were by webcam, including one from an online watcher in America.
Mr Campbell said: 'It means that there are more people than ever before are looking for Nessie - which would explain the rise in last year's sightings.

'In fact, you have to go back to 2000 when there were 11 sightings, for more appearances of Nessie.'
The last previous sighting was on August 21 when Ian Campbell, a government worker from Argyll, was cycling along the west side of the loch near Drumnadrochit.

He was with his son and a family friend when he pictured two creatures in the loch about 33 feet in length just out from the shore.

On the same day a Mr Smith, visiting the area, also saw something very similar.  

It was in 1996, Mr Campbell saw something resembling a 'mini whale' - with a black shiny back - at the south end of the loch.

He added: 'I have spent the last 21 years trying to explain it. Like most sightings I only saw it for a few seconds. When I went to record it, I found there was no register, so I started one, the following May.'

Since then Mr Campbell, a chartered accountant, has logged 1082 sightings. 

Among the most famous claimed sightings is a photograph taken in 1934 by Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson.

The image was later exposed as a hoax by one of the participants, Chris Spurling, who, on his deathbed, revealed that the pictures were staged.

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