Monday, 13 January 2020

Two TV Programs on Loch Ness and the Monster

Firstly on the National Geographic Channel, "Secrets of Loch Ness" as part of the "Drain the Oceans" series which states "Advanced scanning technology is used to explore the depths of Loch Ness. However, as a full sonar sweep of the loch's depths is performed, more than a monster is revealed.". This will televise at 8pm tonight UK time and further details here. I will interested to know what they mean by "full sonar sweep" as we have had that term bandied about before.

Also, the popular BBC train travel series "Great British Railway Journeys" hosted by Michael Portillo finally gets to Loch Ness and you can watch it here on iPlayer from the UK. Both are being advertised by Adrian Shine's Loch Ness Centre facebook page, so that makes me wonder if Adrian will be making an appearance in both. As an aside, one used to be able to get a train right up to the shores of Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. Then the car came along and the Government closed the line, so that may be discussed as well.

Finally, despite the new "In Search Of" series' visit to Loch Ness being on YouTube for long enough, I just waited until it finally televised on the UK History Channel last week, so I will get round to reviewing that once I have watched it.

The author can be contated at

Friday, 10 January 2020

Another Painting by Constance Whyte

It was back in July 2015 that I featured a painting done by famed Loch Ness Monster author, Constance Whyte. Well, another one has turned up on eBay entitled "Window on the Vatican". The seller states it is an attic find which suggests it has been hidden away from human eyes for perhaps a very long time.

Either way, it is yet another work highlighting her art skills. The back of the canvas has two texts, "Window on the Vatican, Constance Whyte, Clachnaharry, Inverness" and "Medical Art Society, 1957". The latter is written on a label from "James Bourlet & Sons" who are still in business today offering framing and restoration work.

I believe Constance was a doctor (GP) which would explain the link with the Medical Art Society which also exists to this day and features art by doctors, dentists and vets. She may have submitted this work in 1957 (around the time she published "More Than A Legend") to the Society for their consideration and eventually ended up in the attic of someone connected with them. However, the Andrew of the third text "To Andrew, August 1956", may have had more to do with that.

Which finally begs the question, did Mrs Whyte ever paint the Loch Ness Monster? Unlike her previous subjects, I doubt our favourite cryptid struck a prolonged pose for her to reproduce on canvas. Nevertheless, she did sketch various outlines of creatures according to eyewitness reports. One would have thought this a temptation to great for her to resist. Now that is a painting I would love to see. If you fancy bidding on the painting, the eBay link is here.


A commenter below asks a very good question, who painted the cover of Constance Whyte's very own book? As reproduced below one wonders what it is showing. I am asking if it is indeed a painting of Loch Ness as the distant channel between the two hills looks quite restricted for the loch. There are two water disturbances in the foreground that may or may not have been added for monster effect. So what it shows is not entirely clear, but it could have been painted by Constance.

A look inside the book says "Jacket design by BIRO" and there is a small "biro" signature in the bottom right of the front cover. Who is BIRO one may ask? Is it Constance Whyte or someone else? Examining the various acknowledgements in the book makes no mention of the picture's painter which may suggest it was done by the author. So a little mystery within a mystery to conclude this article.

The author can be contacted at

Monday, 6 January 2020

Nessie Hunting in 1971

On the 16th January 1972, the New York Times published an article by their correspondent, Martin Kasindorf, on his trip to capture the Loch Ness Monster on film. Did he succeed? You may well know the answer but his visit to see the established monster hunters constitutes the bulk of the article and makes for a good read. I will leave my comments and observations to the end of this article.

INVERNESS, Scotland—“You're not like most Americans with all their cameras and fancy lenses,” one of my wife's cousins told me approvingly last fall during three days of hand shaking in Glasgow.
I felt complimented. But during the rainy drive northward past Loch Lomond to Loch Ness, I regretted mustering only an Instamatic and my Japanese binoculars for the search. Considering that sonar, mini‐submarines, a gyrocopter and pebbles coated with sex hormones had failed to establish conclusively the presence of the so‐called Loch Ness Monster, I would certainly need luck.

Still, I thought, my equipment worries would affect only the spare hours in which I would not be standing official watch for the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. This well‐organized and well‐equipped body of zoological amateurs was established in 1962 to “identify the species” reported in fearful sightings since St. Columba saw whatever it is in A.D. 550.

The Big Question

Did I see the monster? Well … but before we go into that, let me say that my New Year's resolution is to make use - later this year on a repeat visit - of the tips I picked up at Loch Ness last year. Now, to return to my recently completed first safari, I should explain that before we travelled to Scotland my wife wrote the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau's office in London (Room 209, Artillery Mansions, Victoria Street, SW1) and requested a one‐year's membership in the organization to give me as a present. It cost her $12.

“Can you send me something I can put in a box?” she stipulated. Back came a yellow membership card imprinted with a black, plesiosaur‐like figure rearing a long neck and a small conical head above two of the characteristic humps that are usually the only features of the species sighted. Neatly wrapped in a box was a narrow blue tie with the same Nessie creature in white. A copy of the bureau's annual bulletin mentioned something about members being able to help “take the watch” for a week. I soon lost the bulletin. I was going to Inverness‐shire, anyway, and decided to show up as a volunteer.

If the 24‐mile‐long, mile‐wide loch were near my home in California, Nessieburger stands would choke the shores. In the still remote Highlands I found little commercialism. Aside from a post card showing a swimming green dragon jauntily wearing a plaid Tam o' Shanter, the locals allude to their tourist attraction only in a restrained picture book and in the bookshop presence of a scholarly paperback, “The Great Orm of Loch Ness” by F. W. Holiday, who opts for the giant worm or slug theory.

“Loch Ness Investigation Research Headquarters. Visitors Welcome,” read the sign on Route A82, a two‐lane road which tracks the northerly shore from Fort Augustus to Inverness. Under a sunless gray sky I pulled into the bee infested parking yard of the modest camp. Its long wooden shack, two trailers, three cars and two camper trucks were all painted a dark forest green and arranged in a C, like the hastily formed defense perimeter of a wagon train. The camp's position 200 feet above the peaty, 700‐foot‐deep lake commands a 17‐mile view for a tripod‐mounted 35‐millimeter movie camera (with 36‐ inch telephoto lens) mounted outside the shack next to a spinning wind meter. The camera was shrouded.

I hung my binoculars around my neck and flashed my membership card at a robust, sweatered man of about 60 in the shack‐museum. “You will have to pay the 10‐pence [26 cents] admission charge, anyway,” he said frostily. Shaken, I paid and wandered around the wind‐buffeted cabin, looking at the exhibits; maps color‐coded for the locations of sightings and photographs; British military intelligence's analysis of some 1960 films concluding that a meandering hump “probably is an animate object”; an Identikit rendering of, “the creature,” which is often said to possess two horns and a horse-like mane, and reminders that similar mysterious wildlife has been seen in other Scottish lochs as well as in Ireland, Iceland, Sweden and Canada. There must be at least 20 Nessies in Loch Ness for the being to have survived, a biologist's text said in display.

Request to the Public

“Any members of the general public who genuinely believe they have seen an unusual creature or object in or on the shores of Loch Ness,” a placard pleaded, “are requested to report the occurrence to our expedition headquarters at Achnahannet, two miles south of Urquhart Castle. Should anyone in the vicinity either catch or find a mauled fish, we would appreciate having a sight of the fish.”

I circled back to the desk and asked about the watch. “Oh, the season ended last weekend,” said the staffer, Jeff Hepple, a retired English baker who had been signed up in the bureau by his son Rip, 36, a forester. The fluctuating crew of up to 19 who take the four camera vans around the lake from April to September was now down to four. By October, only one man would be left.

“Except for resident staff, who get their food, it costs the volunteers £5 [$13] each a week to keep watch,” the Hepples explained. “It is all arranged through the London office; we get teachers, doctors, college students and as many women as men - usually in their late teens and early 20's."

“We give two days of training in the use of the long‐lens cameras. A volunteer lives in the camp and does a day's cooking and washing every week. In decent weather he alternates in watching at five different sites. The first watch starts at photographic light, about 5 A.M. You watch until noontime. Then the second‐line crews take over till 9:30 P.M. Off watch, you do odd jobs and oversee the shack. We get up to 200 visitors a day and the admission money at the museum helps pay off our overdraft at the bank. We have two boats, and a volunteer might put the bait down. After the evening meal we go to the Drumnadrochit Lodge for a drink and a singsong.”

Said bachelor Rip Hepple, who has been on the scene for two years, “I didn't find the monster - but I found the bureau.” It had been a terrible summer for monster‐seeking, in fact. Over the years, 90 per cent of the sightings have occurred in conditions of warm sun, dead calm and a mirror surface. Except for one 82‐degree day, the summer of 1971 was cloudy and windy. There were 15 “sightings” but not one by a bureau member. Reports came from two truck drivers, a milkman, a telephone engineer, hydroelectric workers and tourists staying at The Clansman, a handsome cedar inn up the shore.

“We got some film but it was inconclusive - the distance, the sun,” said Dick Raynor, who filmed a believed seven‐foot creature (reports say they range up to 40 feet) in the form of a white wake in 1967. “The tourist cameras are usually inadequate - Brownies,” he sighed. I asked Raynor about the mauled fish. “The theory is that you are how you eat,” he said. Nessie is thought to be particularly fond of the salmon and sea trout which make their way into the loch through the Caledonian Canal.

“There is little we can do for you, unfortunately,” said the younger Hepple amiably. “It is a case of being in the right spot at the right time.” He told me that the chill southwest wind was Force 5, the temperature was 60 and the whitecaps marching evenly on the loch up to Inverness were four feet high. “Another poor viewing day.”

I began driving up the brooding loch, whose slate waters reflect the thickly wooded hills of the surrounding region. Hating to watch the road lest I miss a sight of the greatest wildlife mystery of all time, I wobbled past a stone monument to Sir John Cobb, killed on Loch Ness during a 1952 attempt at the world's water‐speed record. (The locals say Cobb's speedboat collided with “one arm of a V‐shaped wake which had appeared without any apparent cause.”)

Photographic Vigil

At Inverness, I bid farewell to Route A82 and circled down the south shore on the narrower Route B852. While halted at various turnouts to let cars and trucks pass, I snapped useless pictures and once walked through the bracken to a rocky beach, stirred to the marrow by the possibilities so hopelessly underwater.

On this road one day in 1933, when Route A82 was being blasted into the opposite shore and vibrations were spreading through the lake, a vacationing London corporation director named George Spicer was motoring with his wife near the aluminum‐factory town of Foyers. Mrs. Spicer shouted in terror and her husband later reported, “I observed the most extraordinary form of an animal crossing the road. It was horrible - an abomination. First we saw an undulating sort of neck, a little thicker than an elephant's trunk. It did not move in the usual reptilian fashion, but, with three arches in its neck, it shot across the road until a ponderous body about four feet high came into view. When we reached the part of the road it had crossed, we stopped, but there was no sign of it. … It was terrible. Its color … could be called a dark elephant gray. It looked like huge snail with a long neck.”

It is a matter of being in the right spot at the right time. Judging from many reports and the few good pictures the Loch Ness creatures, possibly mollusks or incredible marine worms, are shy, warty and slimy. They can be black, red‐brown or yellow. They exist. One day soon a resident expert from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau may succeed in crossbowing a biopsy dart into the animal's side to take a piece of flesh for classification. Then the bureau will disband. Meanwhile, Its volunteers help keep the watch. Next summer my timing will be better.


Forty eight years on from the penning of that article, it may seem easy to be sanguine, cynical, nostalgic or motivated. Make your choice according to your outlook on the matter. I was still in Primary School at the time and was oblivious to all that was going on up north, though every Scottish kid knew about the Loch Ness Monster. Meantime, there are some today, now drawing their state pensions, who participated in those events and will have mixed views on what it all meant.

The title of of his article makes me wonder if he had picked up a copy of Holiday's "Orm" book which he saw in  a shop and then goes into the slimy details of worm like monsters. You would be hard pressed to find any tourist outlet putting Holiday or any other such author on their shelves today.

Holiday makes much of the Spicer land sighting and so I presume our journalist, like many, saw it as a Nessie sighting par excellence worthy of inclusion to sum up the grotesqueness of what these amateur hunters were in pursuit of. Did he meet Holiday? It doesn't sound like it, but he did meet Rip Hepple, publisher of the well respected Nessletter, and his father, Jeff. To that list we can also add Dick Raynor, now an arch-sceptic, who regards it all as a great zoological waste of time.

No one else is named and that is probably due to it being October. Martin had been a bit disorganised in enthusiastically turning up to volunteer to man a watch station, only to be told the hunting season had just finished (and it had not been a good one weather wise). After some interviews, he conducted his own watch from the south shore and that was that. And, as you may guess, Nessie did not pop up for his camera. As the man told him, you have to be in the right place at the right time. A truism that continues to hold to this day.

Martin concludes by stating the Bureau would disband when conclusive evidence was obtained. As it turns out, they disbanded the very same year his article was published and it was down to the more mundane matter of the lease on the Achnahannet HQ site. The story of the Bureau was soon to be supplanted by an organisation led by Robert Rines not mentioned by Kasindorf and they were to obtain a photo in August 1972 which would set the cryptozoological world abuzz. But that's another story.

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Nessie Review of 2019

It is time to look back on another year of Loch Ness Monster related news as we head into a new year and a new decade. The obvious place to start was the eDNA results put out by Professor Neil Gemmell and his team in September. It was back in June 2018 that Neil arrived at the loch to collect a large number of water samples to pass onto various laboratories for DNA extraction and analysis. Fifteen months later, the main results were published and I put out my thoughts on these a short time later.

The take home was no reptile DNA was found or anything of an unusual nature. Giant eels could not be excluded, mainly because such samples would be indistinguishable from smaller ones and that dominated the headlines. Note that the results did not prove the existence of mega-eels.

The published data set is still incomplete and my focus was on the lower benthic regions where it appeared little sampling was done. There was also a large proportion of unidentified DNA which people locked onto, though even if this did contain something of interest, one would have thought such DNA would also turn up in the identified 75% - unless there was an anomaly in the sampling regime. As such, I await the publishing of Professor Gemmell's scientific paper and full data set in pursuit of a final opinion.

Back at the loch, I resorted to Gary Campbell's sightings register to get the final count with only a few days left of 2019. He has logged seventeen reports which is a hefty number compared to recent years. Examining these reports roughly breaks down into eleven lochside reports, five via webcam and one involving sonar. Comparisons with historic annual totals should take into consideration these online viewers.

My own take on webcam reports is ambivalent. I had a look at one of the webcam clips taken by Eoin O'Faodhagain on the 10th of July. The objects in the webcam are as always a long distance from the camera and therefore inconclusive. My main point was that below the crest of the hill in every webcam footage is Urquhart Castle and its Visitor Centre - a major hub of tourist activity. In that light, I would like to see corroborating eyewitness evidence from down below whenever interesting webcam footage appears. There is no guarantee somebody below will concurrently see anything, but over the years, some testimony should appear.

Of the various shoreline sightings, most were too far away to draw any real conclusions. The fact that a circle is often added to show you where the object is says it all. Two of the reports were, in my opinion, a log which has been stuck in the shallows of Urquhart Bay for a long time. The two most interesting items were wakes taken by Rory Cameron and a Mr. Horsler.

Mr. Cameron's was of prime interest because it was a video, but it does suffer from being about a mile from the observer. However, the video clip includes Urquhart Castle and so estimates of size and speed can be estimated giving an estimate of two white water disturbances each fifteen feet long in a space sixty feet long and a speed range dropping from 10 mph to 1.5 mph. The full analysis can be found here.

Meantime, the image taken by the Horslers was perhaps the clearest image, being that of a wake of unknown origin. The reason it is clear is because the witnesses were on the roadside and the presence of the buoy on the left suggests it happened near the top end of Lochend where the loch narrows significantly suggesting the wake was about 200-300 metres away. Nothing is visible at the head of the wake which Gary Campbell suggests is bigger than the usual bird wakes. The buoy in the picture is no more than six feet high in my estimate and perhaps twice as far away. It is an interesting picture, but the lack of a physical object in the image renders it inconclusive.

The sonar image (below) taken by Mike Bell from his fish finder in June was covered by myself at this link back in August and certainly is a curious image to add to the various anomalous sonar images which should not be readily dismissed as false echoes, fish or waterlogged tree trunks. Of the eleven lochside eyewitness reports, eight produced still images, two produced video clips and one had no recorded images.

So the argument about not enough mobile phone images being taken is proven false again. But the problem remains, out of these eleven lochside reports, only one had the eyewitness close enough to the object to produce an image with any kind of clarity. Unfortunately, it was only a wake formation and we will just have to continue to wait for a human-creature encounter which ideally occurs within 200 metres or so.

One video that did not make it into Gary's list was the curious underwater video of an eel-like object in the River Ness (below). The owners of the camera said it was just a stick passing by, but that was an explanation I did not find convincing as I thought the object was descending in the water. The actual object was in relatively shallow water and was no 30 footer, but it was big enough. What was curious was that the eel-like object glided by the camera only a few days before Neil Gemmell promoted the giant eel theory at his press conference!

In terms of this blog for 2019, having entered its ninth year, it was a somewhat quieter year with 44 articles published, which is the smallest since the inaugural year of 2010. This was due to other projects which are non-Nessie related, but it did begin in February with the publication of my third book, "Photographs of the Loch Ness Monster" which surveys most but not all of the pictures claiming to be of the creature. The subtitle "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" suggests that not all is what it may seem, but not all are fakes or misinterpretations either.

Meantime, a party to a famous eyewitness report was tracked down by myself and that was Harry Finlay who had a classic AAA sighting of the creature from the astonishing range of 25 feet back in 1952 alongside his mother, Greta Finlay. That makes recent reports from half miles away pale into insignificance. Harry was still sticking to his story 57 years on and that conversation was blogged here and I hope to soon video interview Harry, who is now about 80 years old.

Back in July, I also put online a long lost audio tape of famous Nessie researcher, Ted Holiday, interviewing eyewitnesses which formed part of his later book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" (1968). Thanks to Will Matthews, these were found in an archive of the late Ivan T. Sanderson. It was great to hear the words of witnesses going back to the 1930s in one's own ears. The research also continued as articles from the past such as Alex Campbell's reply to Maurice Burton was put online as were reports from the 19th century. I am not sure Alex Campbell wrote anything else apart from his Inverness Courier reports.

But I also note with sadness the recent passing of Kevin Malek, lover of mysteries, including the Loch Ness Monster, on which we exchanged views over time and concerning which I appeared on his Paraversal radio show last year.

I sometimes wonder if those who cross the Great Divide will be any wiser about those mysteries once debated about so much here below. Then again, I am not sure such questions even get near the top of the list once new realms are revealed. Either way, Rest in Peace, Kevin.

Many related to the hunt have passed on since the great mystery of the Loch Ness Monster began in 1933. As we now enter its 87th year, will 2020 be like others years with perhaps one or two good sightings or pictures but again not good enough for all? The year of extraordinary proof could come at any time, just don't bet the house on it being the year to come.

I wish all readers a happy and prosperous 2020.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Another Weird Nessie Book Cover

The 1970s was the heyday of weird and wacky Loch Ness Monster book covers, you can check out the various covers that were produced to entice buyers in those days at this link. But they don't come much weirder than this one that fellow researcher, Nick Redfern, alerted me to a few days back. The advert states it was published by Futura on December 15th, 1974, which was a year after the original hardback book with the more familiar cover below.

What the cover depicted and what it had to do with the book's thesis was not immediately apparent. The artwork was evidently that of William Blake (1757-1827), though the sketch was not known to me. Nick put me right and said it was his work "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun" which is based on the Book of Revelation 12:1-4.

Okay, the dragon correlation is obvious, though the dragon in Blake's work is symbolic of the Devil himself. But the woman clothed in light? You got me there, so answers on a postcard please. That makes it now four variations on the Dragon and Disc covers, including this dragon and UFO artwork below. The fourth variant is a blue version of the green cover above.

The book cover is featured on Amazon though I am not sure how you buy that actual cover. It looks like a stock photo and so I will leave that to other collectors, I have enough books for now! Nick wondered about the provenance of the book as it was advertised as "import". That is what is says on but on, it is not import, which makes me think it is was a book for the British market only and was imported into the USA marketplace.

The author can be contacted at

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Mystery of the Three Toed Cast

In a previous post, I went over a 1934 sceptical appraisal of the then new Loch Ness Monster phenomenon. There was an excerpt from that article which I held back for this piece concerning the Arthur Grant land sighting:

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.

On the other side of the loch the animal which bounded across the road, described above, left a trail. In that trail was an obscure footprint of which a cast was also made. At the museum it was found that this footprint was also the work of a joker - but this time he used the mounted foot of a rhinoceros.

Now I covered the matter of the Arthur Grant case and tracks found on the shore in my book, "When Monsters Come Ashore". Until recently I was aware of these "rhinoceros" tracks that had been found, but I did not connect them with the Grant story and assumed they were related to the Marmaduke Wetherell tracks found on the remote shoreline between Foyers and Fort Augustus. The plaster casts  taken from the Grant site were sent again to the Natural History Museum, but now it transpires these were identified as rhinoceros as opposed to the infamous "hippo" tracks which were created using Wetherell's ashtray.

The question before us is whether these tracks were another Wetherell hoax or something entirely different? The main point being that a hippopotamus is four toed as opposed to the rhinoceros which is three toed, therefore it is unlikely that Marmaduke Wetherell's four toed ashtray would have produced such a three toed track. Indeed, if one examines the sketch done by Arthur Grant at the top of this page, there is a hint of a three toed rear limb in the bottom right of the picture.

What could be going on here? In pursuit of an answer, I consulted Boyd and Martin's expose of the Surgeon's Photograph which goes into more detail than any on the matter of Marmaduke Wetherell and the fake spoors. Firstly it has to be noted that the authors are dubious of any land sightings when on page 31 we have this general quote: "Alleged land sightings must be regarded with some doubt."

Bearing that in mind, it is no surprise that doubt is then cast by them on the whole affair by suggesting that Grant and Wetherell colluded to produce a sensational story, tracks and all. No proof is produced for this opinion other than the alleged phone call Grant is said to have made to parties unknown at that time - an accusation which has its own problems and is covered in my book on land sightings. Laying that aside, the proposed scenario would have Wetherell producing yet more tracks to fool the Daily Mail and the general public.

The sequence of events may even be used in support of such a conspiracy theory when we consider that the Natural History Museum announced their analysis of the hippo plaster casts on Wednesday the 3rd January 1934, the story made the newspapers on the 4th January and the Grant sighting occurred the very next day on Friday the 5th. Was this sequence of events designed to deceive? There are some problems with this conspiracy theory.

Firstly, why would Marmaduke Wetherell even do such a thing? The Natural History Museum had correctly identified the species of the first set of tracks and rightly put it down to a hoaxer. If Wetherell employed some form of rhinoceros spoor, the result was going to be inevitable when the second plaster casts arrived in South Kensington, London. Why risk a second embarrassment to your reputation as a big game hunter and cause further irritation to your client, the Daily Mail?

Secondly, if for whatever reason, Wetherell decided upon the January 3rd declaration by the Museum that yet another hoax was required, he had little time to organise it. It would demand that a co-conspirator be found and a location, plan and setting of fake tracks be done by the early hours of the 5th giving a day and a half or 36 hours in total. There is no evidence Wetherell and Grant had met before the 5th of January, none at all and so the whole idea really boils down to not empirical evidence, but whether one's bias wishes the whole theory to be true or not.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that Marmaduke Wetherell even owned such a rhinoceros foot. I contacted Marmaduke's grandson, who featured in Boyd and Martin's book and asked him if he recalled his grandfather ever owning such an item. His reply was that he only recalled the hippo foot ashtray. So, on the face of it, Marmaduke Wetherell had nothing to produce his three toed tracks with.

Now it has to be pointed out that Wetherell got away with his fake hippo tracks by hiding the hoax tool in plain sight. Marmaduke was a chain smoker and it would be natural to bring along his hippo foot ashtray while he was at the loch investigating the monster. It was a perfectly innocent item put to a more sinister use and one can only carry so many items around without arousing suspicion. So, in the absence of compelling evidence, let us assume that Marmaduke Wetherell had nothing to do with the creation of these tracks.

Indeed, it transpires that another set of three toed tracks were found days before the Grant affair but before the public announcement from the Natural History Museum. The relevant text is from the Edinburgh Evening News, 1st January 1934 which is reproduced below.

The story here is that after the discovery of Wetherell's four toed tracks, a discovery was made of what appeared to be three toed tracks on the opposite side of the loch. Where this exactly happened is not clear, but my guess is somewhere south of Invermoriston. This is also stated as a location near where the creature is alleged "to have crossed the road". Quite what report this is referring to is also not clear to me.

I have no record of land sightings in that vicinity in the months leading up to the end of 1933. The nearest in time was a report by a Mrs Reid in December, but this happened on the other side of the loch. The nearest by location was by a David Stewart back in May of that year just up the road by the Altsigh Burn who saw a grey coloured creature with a long neck come out of the bushes and disappear into the loch.

But the main point is that another three toed incident happened almost a week before Arthur Grant had his encounter and this was reported as discovered, not by Wetherell, but by a Fort Augustus "official". Should we presume that Wetherell was the instigator of not one but three hoaxes? I think that would indeed be presumptuous as the probability of conspiracy decreases as the size of the conspiracy increases.

As an aside, some looking to tar and feather Nessie personalities old and new may suggest the unknown Fort Augustus official was Alex Campbell. After all, he lived in Fort Augustus, as water bailiff he was a government employee and (as they claim), he was up for a bit of hoaxing. Needless to say, there is not a shred of evidence for this theory. Various other people could be officials (canal managers, police and local politicians) and in my years of scouring the literature, I have never read of Campbell relating this story.

So, are these tracks the real deal?

Of course, there is no way of telling for sure. Others may invoke Grant as the sole perpetrator or some other unknown third party, it is pure speculation and I think I will join in this speculation party but take the opposing side. What does a rhinoceros spoor actually look like? The zoologist does not say what type of rhino they decided upon, so I will assume the most common species of rhino which is the White Rhinoceros of Africa. A look around Google Images gave this example track and it is stated that a typical track is 29cm by 28cm in dimensions.

Clearly these look quite different to the hippo spoor from across the loch shown above. The problem is we do not precisely know what those 1934 plaster casts looked like and so we can only go with the museum's closest approximation to the white rhino. I would also note another mystery in that the second group to visit the site led by A.F. Hay measured the tracks at 24 inches (61cm) long from toe to heel, 38 inches (96cm) cross from right toe to left, and 30 inches (76cm) from heel to heel which is more than double the normal dimensions of a rhino track! So what gives here? Did the Museum err too much on the the assumption this was another game animal or did Hay over-estimate the size of the tracks or were these different but better formed tracks from the site? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I would note that a three toed track is not something unique to this story. In fact of the eleven land accounts that describe the forelimbs, two (18%) mention three toes and these are E.H. Bright from 1880 and Donald MacKinnon from 1979. Other instances of three toad tracks have been claimed elsewhere in the lake monster literature. These include a Robert Duff at Loch Morar on the 8th July 1969 as well as one found at Lake Okanagan (as related by Mark Chorvinsky).

To this we can add the 1948 tracks in the River Nith in Ontario (Lake Monsters and Sea Monsters - An Atlas and History), Huilla of Trinidad and Tobago (in "Water Monsters South of the Border"), Lake Tarpon (People Are Seeing Something), the Natal coast and White River (both in Dragons by Richard Freeman). However, one must not discount hoaxes, such as the Florida case related here.

It was probably a futile gesture since many monster hunters before me must have tried to track down these plaster casts without any apparent success. But I emailed the Natural History Museum archives department and they confirmed that they had no such items. That is no surprise as I assumed they would be returned to the owners. That Marmaduke Wetherell owned and then discarded the hippo casts once they had fulfilled their purpose is one likely outcome. But if the "rhino" tracks were not Wetherell fakes, how would they have been treated and by whom?

Plaster casts from the 1930s can easily survive to this day with proper storage, but frustratingly and nearly 85 years on, this potentially unique cast of the Loch Ness Monster is not likely to be with us today. Perhaps the answer lies with Arthur Grant's descendants.

I end this piece with a delightful poem penned by "glorat" extolling the mystery of the three toed monster, which was published in the Falkirk Herald dated 17th March 1934.

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Saturday, 16 November 2019

Rain, Mud and Adrian Shine

By way of a belated trip report, I was at the loch the week before the eDNA results were announced. That was just the way things had fallen, though given the wet weather, perhaps it was better to have gone the following week. The River Foyers beside my campsite was in full spate as the waters flowed down from the hills to rise almost up to the bridge that connects that part of Foyers with the main road higher up.

The rain prevailed for most of that weekend and that rather curtailed activities. To add to that low mood, somebody had nicked the one trap camera I had left at the loch over the summer! Clearly, the thief had found no Nessie pictures to profit from as nothing has appeared in the media. Fortunately, trap cameras are not that expensive, so it will be replaced in due course for the next surveillance.

Nevertheless, things did get done. I had brought a pair of waders with me and used them to wade over to Dinsdale Island with resides at the bifurcation of the River Foyers as it enters the loch. This islet is not labelled as the second island of Loch Ness as it forms part of the river complex and not the loch. In his "Project Water Horse" book, Tim Dinsdale said he conducted watches from the island over the months straddling 1966 and 1967. Below is a photo from that book with Tim on the left.

Now from memory, I had the impression that before Tim left the island for good, he buried a pair of old brogues on the island, awaiting someone to find them years or decades later. Could I find these iconic items? When I re-read the account from "Project Water Horse", Dinsdale states he left the boots on the island in late 1966 and returned in 1967 to find them gone. So he didn't actually say he buried them and he assumed the winter storms had buried them.

I thought it more likely the storms had swept the boots out into the loch and so I had little confidence of finding these fifty three year old items. But I did look around and found some old fragments of various items. Whether these belonged to the great monster hunter himself, I may never know, but it was an interesting exercise in Nessie archaeology. Looking around the shores near Foyers, I also found this interesting alignment of stones. What photo does that remind you of? 

I also participated in the making of a trailer for a potential Nessie documentary. The film maker and I met up and ran through some shots and interviews at Borlum Bay. This involved some demo shots involving the setup of a trap camera. His focus will be on the personalities behind the story and hunt for the monster rather than whatever one may think the creature to be. He was next off to see Adrian Shine and let's hope he gets somewhere with his promo trailer as such as documentary has yet to be made.

Speaking of Adrian, I met up with the Edinburgh Fortean Society who were up there for the weekend and I went along to have dinner with them at the Clansman Hotel. As it turned out, Adrian had been invited along with Charles Paxton to the meal and therein lay a conversation. As we got into chatting about this whole Loch Ness thing, Adrian suggested my blog was a philosophical exercise more than anything else. I don't think he was being complimentary when he said that, but neither was he being derogatory, more an observation on his part.

What did he mean by that? I should have asked but I would say he implied my articles which addressed the question of whether a large, unknown creature exists or existed in Loch Ness skirt round the issue by reframing or questioning questions. To wit, as Adrian said, "Science has found no big animals". Whatever you may say about the various organised endeavours, no definitive proof has been found. Ultimately, a living or dead specimen, part or whole, is normally required by zoologists.

But beyond that, other "proof" is often in the eye of the beholder. When I asked Adrian about the anomalous sonar hits from Operation Deepscan in 1987, he suggested they were side echoes. if one wants to be philosophical about the vagaries of empirical knowledge, he seems to have gravitated between, echoes, seals and unknown. Here is the philosophical point, Adrian and others can go around and say what they want about various proofs, but they can't call their opinions ... facts. Perhaps that is more epistemological than philosophical.

Wishing to solidify this line of argumentation, all the photographs and films have been dismissed in like manner, which leaves us with the large number of eyewitness testimonies. At this point I introduced the matter of the John McLean sighting of 1938 (above). I raised that because I regard it as a top class sighting. The witness claimed he saw the creature from sixty feet and was a local angler, suggesting he was used to what Loch Ness can throw at observers.

He also says he observed it for a full six minutes. What's not to like? Surely, the only way out of this is to call John Mclean a liar (as others have been forced to suggest)? But, no, Adrian confidently asserted that Mclean had seen nothing more than an otter feeding on fish! This is despite McLean relating to Ted Holiday in the 1960s the following words:

I.: Did you feel afraid of it?

J. M.: Well, to tell you the plain truth, I didn't know what I was. I thought it's neither a seal nor an otter. It never dawned on me at first about it being a monster or I'd have run up to the Half-way House and got a camera and took a snap.

Yes, John McLean categorically stated it was no otter, but Adrian, eighty years on says he is wrong. When I pointed out that McLean had estimated the size of the creature to be 18 to 20 feet long, this seemed to matter not to Adrian. His reply was that size and distance estimates go out of the window when the eyewitness' view is level with the loch. Even if you give minimal credence to this theory, can an experienced loch observer get it wrong by a factor of 6 to 7? Methinks the burden of proof lies with the otter theorist, not me or John Mclean.

At this point, I told him I had been to the spot and looked around and there were enough frames of reference to judge size and distance. Since John Mclean was at the mouth of a river, the opposite bank provided distance cues. I show the photo I took myself as evidence of this point. All it required was for the creature to turn up in that general zone. Adrian did not reply to that point.

Furthermore, when I asked about the strangely inflating hump drawn above, just before the creature dived, Adrian told me this was nothing more than the otter's back arching into the water. You may forgive me for thinking this bears little resemblance to the drawings of John Mclean. Well, no matter, just say John McLean didn't draw it properly and all is good again.

Is it again philosophical to suggest sceptics are playing fast and loose with eyewitness testimony by always insisting the perception was bad enough to mis-see monsters but good enough for sceptics to deduce the "real" object? I didn't say it at the time (I wish I had), but I remembered another Loch Ness expert, Tony Harmsworth, had solemnly declared that McLean had seen nothing more than some cormorants. This is in conflict with Adrian's otter. I looked at Tony's reply (below) in a previous article:

The long neck fits in with cormorants. It is well known that people overestimate sizes over water. The body drawings are typical of boat wakes or groups of birds apart from the last drawing which is a bit of a mystery.

So, we have two leading sceptics both confidently asserting their positions. Of course, the fact that they contradict each other implies one or both cannot be so confident. Is it being too philosophical to suggest this is all just a shell game? Perhaps one will eventually get in line with the other to present a united face (as Tony was once obliged to do regarding his at variance account of how the Lachlan Stuart photo was allegedly taken).

The other issue that Adrian thought important was the tail that was visible to John McLean (see sketches above). He suggested this was out of kilter with Loch Ness Monster accounts and was too unusual to be considered. Quite why Adrian was concerned about the integrity of the eyewitness database was a bit ironic as he has no regard for it at all as evidence. Of course, he was directing that question to me as one who does regard it.

But there is no problem and I counted about 5% of all eyewitness accounts including descriptions of a tail. There may be more which are just perceived as a shallow outlying hump. Tim Dinsdale's examination of the best accounts puts it slightly higher at 7% (I think, no book to double check here). So what exactly is the problem here? Yes, they only come in at one in twenty accounts, but they happen!

There was one thing I agreed on with Adrian and that was Ronald Binns' recent claim that he effectively mentored Adrian and others into a final sceptical position. It was no surprise to me that Adrian flatly denied this. I would generally take what Adrian says over Ronald any day. So let us end on that point of harmony, but remind readers once again not to accept everything they hear from the sceptical class.

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