Thursday 20 June 2024

Adrian Shine's New Book


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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday 13 June 2024

Fordyce's Monster walks over Sceptical Theory


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Right? Wrong!

Fordyce says two important things:

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

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

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

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

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

Asked to describe the creature he had seen, Mr Wm. Macgruer, Oich Bank, Fort-Augustus (who was one of the children concerned), said that it reminded himself and the others of nothing so much as a camel. It had a long neck, a small head, a humped-up back, and fairly long legs. It was, however, considerably smaller than a camel, but its skin or coat was almost the same colour - pale yellow.

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

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

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

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

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Sunday 21 April 2024

The First Plesio-Turtle?


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

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

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

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

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Tuesday 12 March 2024

Follow Up to MacLennan Land Sighting


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday 20 February 2024

The MacLennan Land Sighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday 2 January 2024

Nessie Review of 2023


Whatever may have come to pass at Loch Ness in 2023, it was always guaranteed to be the year of anniversary as ninety years passed since this story of a strange beast in the loch took off in 1933. Of course, stories had circulated for centuries before and even up to 1930, but this stuck and it has stuck in the public imagination and media attention ever since. 

I recall the events around the 80th anniversary in 2013 as a special symposium (link) was organised in Edinburgh and a commemorative trip was made out to the spot where Aldie Mackay saw her twenty foot double hump creature. However, this 90th anniversary took on a more public persona as the new owners of the Loch Ness Exhibition arrived on the scene and announced a total redesign of the current exhibition. By the 10th June, Continuum Attractions opened their new exhibition to the world, about five weeks after the 90th year since the Inverness Courier newspaper article announced the monster to an unsuspecting world.

A few weeks later, I got my chance to visit the new exhibition and was pleased with the way the story of the Loch Ness Monster had been reimagined and posted a review to that effect. The balance had shifted from a negative view of the idea of a large unknown creature in the loch to one that kept that idea alive as a possibility and encouraged people to watch the loch.

But it did not end there as Continuum Attractions set about organising a weekend observation around the loch involving a crowd of volunteers and a boat with sonar and hydrophone at the disposal of the Loch Ness Exploration group headed by Alan McKenna, who put a lot of effort into fronting this for the media and taking part in the boat trips.

I took part in the proceedings myself as I headed up for that weekend of the 26th August to be met with rain lashing down on the loch. It was a wet forecast which no doubt kept some from the loch but a hardy group turned up to mount the loch side watch and the media were there in force to cover events. It was a pleasure to meet up with some of these fellow monster hunters and also help out Dragonfly Films who were employing some new technology in the search (top picture). Their production should be televised some time in March 2024. My report on those events was documented here and the official report from the Loch Ness Centre can be found here.

The most intriguing sighting from the Quest was by a couple named as Matty and Aga, who had cancelled their trip to the Lake District to take part in the watch. They recorded what looked like a double hump formation in the manner of Aldie Mackay ninety years before. This moved before disappearing and I show a still from the video which can be seen at this link. One does have buoys floating in Dores Bay, but I do not think they come in pairs?

Some other sightings were logged but as you can guess, no one saw the beast close enough to see the white of its eyes and therefore capture conclusive images (if one can keep their cool in that situation). It was a pity the media men with their high quality professional video equipment did not have such an opportunity. However, it was an enjoyable experience to be part of a greater whole and I look forward to a similar quest in 2024.

Later on in the year, the ninety years rolled into the anniversary of the first photograph of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Hugh Gray on the 12th November 1933 which I summarized here. Some articles were written up by the media such as this one for the Washington Post. At this point I will insert the mandatory photograph of the possible head of Nessie whenever this photograph is mentioned.

Inevitably, we are going to roll over into a lot of 90th anniversaries in 2024, starting with the famous Arthur Grant land sighting which falls this coming Friday! So much for anniversaries, what about the other claimed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster in 2023? The Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register at this link documents nine accounts, two includes sketches, one include a video and five include photographs. The site makes no mention of the video taken by Matty and Aga but mentions a video taken by a Richard Story on the 3rd October whose account reads:

Richard Story, visiting from Wigton was on the high walk from Fort Augustus to Invergarry when he reported seeing a creature swim from the bank to the centre of the loch at 10.45am. It then disappeared and  then reappeared. He took some pictures and a video ...

The two stills available from this video are shown below and then overlaid using the single tree top as a merge point into the third composite image. There is some movement consistent with the statement that it moved towards the centre of the loch in the composite, but the error margin in the overlay doesn't make that a certainty. Currently, I have not found any clips from the video and so have to suspend judgment on it.

One of the other photos taken by a Siobhan Janaway on the 27th August during the Quest Weekend is below with the following account.

There was something causing turmoil in the water off Foyers point then it coalesced into a single object moving at speed just under the surface causing at least a 20m white wake" She confirmed that there were no boats near the location.

Now I can give this a non-Nessie explanation as I was there as a resident of the nearby camping site that same morning. As I stated in that trip report:

When I arose on the Sunday morning at Foyers, I looked out to the area where the River Foyers met the loch. The heightened flow of the river was rushing down to meet the loch and there was a lot of disturbance where the two collided. The general flow of the vaster body of the loch water was from the south west up the loch. However, the river water was hitting it at almost a right angle. 

The result was a wall of resistance as the river water tried to merge with the main waters. The dynamics of this interaction led to the river water rotating in the direction of the loch water but also turning back towards the river giving us a sort of whirlpool. I have seen this phenomenon before at this location some years before. It is not very dangerous as the waters are quite shallow there.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the correct explanation as I have seen it myself in previous visits. An interesting sketch was produced by Sash Lake who recounted this tale from the 7th October 2023:

I was leaving Drumnadrochit on a coach, admiring the view while the coach was driving past the Loch. It started to rain and a light fog rolled in, my view/ vision was partly limited due to the trees alongside the Loch, but something caught my eye for approximately five seconds and made me jump out of my skin, I saw a huge black mass/ hump in the middle of the Loch, roughly the size of a double decker bus. I would say it was around 75-100 yards away from me. I was confused, and in disbelief. I jumped to my feet to get a better look, trees completely blocked my view for about 5-8 seconds, there was a clearing in the trees, and when I looked back to where I saw the black mass/ hump, there was nothing there.

How big is a double decker bus? Over thirty feet long, over seven feet wide and over fifteen feet high. Okay, not all those figures apply, but Mr. Lake was basically saying the size of the object was ... monstrous. A distance of 75-100 yards is good for a sighting but 5-8 seconds is not. The fact the object was not there on the next clear view excludes a variety of objects but it would have helped to know the rough location.

But the photographs which grabbed the attention most in 2023 were actually taken five years earlier in 2018 by Chie Kelly. She sat on them during that time fearing ridicule for her and her family but then said that the publicity associated with the weekend Quest motivated her to release some of the images she had snapped - apparently about sixteen out of over seventy as she employed a lot of rapid shooting as the object made its way out of Dores Bay. I found five of them and typed up a report here

A lot of discussion ensued with theories ranging from the interesting to the idiotic along with the promise of further images and perhaps even an animated sequence constructed from the dozens of pictures taken. Nearly five months on, no further information has been released and it seems we should get to the bottom of what these images are because if they are genuine, they may well contain valuable data. My take is these need to be explained, be they monster, natural, artefact or fake. This remains an ongoing story. 

In other news, there were three documentaries on the Loch Ness Monster which were televised, "Enigma: The Monster of Loch Ness", "Monster - The Mystery of Loch Ness" and "Loch Ness: They Created a Monster" which is pretty good going for one year. On this blog, the historical research continued as we covered some old LNIB reports, the first alleged sonar contact of the monster, the alleged connections to the early monster with the King Kong film of 1933, the Land Sighting of Alistair Dallas and the evolution of a famous diver's tale from the 1880s.

Looking forward and looking back, 2023 added its own images and talking points. The monster was not proven to exist but neither did the sceptics prove it does not exist. Zero progress you might say. Perhaps, but the analysis of 2023 is not yet completed.

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Sunday 24 December 2023

Tim Dinsdale and Two Original LNIB Sighting Reports


It was a while back that I got my first view of some original sighting reports from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau which existed from 1962 to 1972. I don't recall if I was looking at an original or a photocopy, but certainly the contents were genuine enough. I was looking at two eyewitness testimonies to the same event of the 13th October 1971 which was of the double hump type, one of the most common genres amongst Loch Ness Monster testimonies. The eyewitnesses were two police officers,  Inspector Henry Henderson and Sergeant George Mackenzie. 

Both sightings came to the attention of the LNIB who interviewed them and invited them to fill in sighting reports. Each were two pages long with each side consisting of the kind of questions you would expect such as personal information about the eyewitness, their location, distance to object, description of object in terms of appearance and motion, weather conditions, loch conditions and any camera information if a picture was taken (which did not happen).

On the last page is a simple outline map of the loch inviting the witness to place the position of themselves and the object. This is finished off with a signed declaration. Now it has to be said that there are a lot of these reports still held in archives, but they are not available online due to data protection laws. In other words, nothing can be published without the eyewitness' consent (though I suspect if all personal details were simply removed, that would cease to be an issue). Here are the two witness declarations.

George Mackenzie:

At time, date and place overleaf, the witnesses HENDERSON, (report submitted same date) and MACKENZIE were motoring in private car from Inverness towards Fort Augustus. When at point of sighting two black 'humps' wore observed about 'mid-loch' submerging and surfacing, travelling about 10/15 MPH, for a distance of about one quarter of a mile. The object was travelling from west to east. 

The Loch was mirror calm and a wash was seen coming from it. It was observed for exactly two minutes, (timed by witness HENDERSON) then it submerged and shortly afterwards waves of about 4ft. in height started to break on the north shore of the Loch, which then returned to its previous flat calm. 

The object sighted bore a liking to porpoises or dolphins, but much larger and I am convinced that the two humps were connected and was only part of the whole body. 

Henry Henderson:

About 14.15 hours on Wednesday, 13th October, 1971, accompanied by the witness MacKenzie, was motoring from Inverness towards Fort Augustus. About half a mile east of Altsigh Mr. MacKenzie drew my attention to something he had just seen in the loch. I stopped quickly and stood at the roadside above the loch i.e. on the north side.

The first thing noticed was a wave pattern coming towards the shore below us. The water below was flat calm and a 'V' shaped wave pattern was coming in from about the centre of the loch. The first wave would have been about two ft. high. Following the wave outwards I saw two large black coloured 'humps' about 10 - 12 ft. behind the point where the 'V' parted. I would say that there would be at least six to eight feet between the 'humps'. The 'humps' were rotating together and the impression was quite definite that they were connected below the surface.

The objects were visible for two minutes at which time they appeared to go lower and lower in the water and gradually disappeared. The significant point in this was that the water then returned to a flat calm condition. By this time the original wave pattern had also subsided. We waved down two vehicles one of which was being driven by a van - either Morganti or Simonelli from Dingwall. Both he and his son saw the latter part of the sighting. 

The other vehicle was a black coloured Mercedes which stopped further eastwards and it is not known whether or not anything was seen by the occupants of this car. The objects gave the appearance of two large seals or dolphins sporting but this was only an initial impression - as time went on it became obvious that the two objects were part of one large animate object. 

As it turns out,  this multiple eyewitness account was worthy enough to be published by Tim Dinsdale in the 1972 edition of his book, "Loch Ness Monster". I quote from page 150 to 151 and reproduce the sketch from the book:

Later I was to learn that shortly after Miss Turner's experience on 13 October several people had reported seeing humps and a very big V wake from a place eastwards of her sighting point. Among them were two policemen, a sergeant and an inspector. Holly Arnold, the young American who was secretary to the LNI had obtained reports from them, and excellent tape-recordings. She also obtained one from Father Gregory. I listened to them, and realized that in this trilogy of witnesses' reports there might be found the key to modern credibility.

No one could honestly doubt such people, or their ability to describe what they had seen. For this reason it would be doubly important to publish these accounts, exactly as recorded. Police Inspector Henry Henderson, of 208 Old Edinburgh Road, Inverness, Scotland, recorded in his LNI sighting-report form that the estimated overall length of the object was 25-30 ft; it was travelling at 10-15 m.p.h. from west to east in a straight line. It was about half way across the loch, at a point half a mile east of the Altsigh Youth Hostel. It was visible to him and his co-witness, Sergeant George W. Mackenzie, from '1415 hrs. to 1417 hrs.' 

The first thing noticed was a wave pattern coming towards the shore below us. The water was flat calm and a 'V' shaped wave pattern was coming in from about the centre of the loch. The first wave would have been about two feet high. Following the wave outwards I saw two large black coloured 'humps' about 10-12 feet behind the point where the 'V' parted. I would say that there would be at least six to eight feet between the 'humps' . . . the impression was quite definite that they were connected below the surface. The objects were visible for two minutes at which time they appeared to go lower and lower in the water and gradually disappeared.

The significant point in this was that the water then returned to flat calm condition . . . the objects gave the impression of two large seals or dolphins sporting, but this was only an initial impression—as time went on it became obvious that the two objects were part of one large animate object. Seen travelling over a distance of about half a mile Sergeant George Mackenzie, of 152 Bruce Gardens, Inverness, filled out a sighting report independently. He said much the same about the experience, although his estimate of size was bigger. He thought the overall length was '30-40' ft. He said that waves about '4 feet in height', caused by the two-humped object, broke on the shore after its submergence. He estimated that both humps were 'five feet' out of the water. Both men said that there were no craft in the vicinity. 

Now Tim reproduces a lot of the report even down to the addresses of the men, so I do not think there are data protection issues here as this has been out in the public domain for over fifty years now. He uses the Henderson sketch as the basis for the one in his book and largely relies upon his description because it was longer with additions from the Mackenzie account. As always, it is interesting to compare simultaneous eyewitness accounts to gauge the variance of observational powers.

It is no surprise that the parameters which we may call the abstract parameters show the most divergence between the two eyewitnesses. Namely, distance, height and length. One would normally add speed to that list but the two policemen are in full agreement as to the estimate of 10-15 miles per hour. It may be that knowing that other abstract parameter of time from a measuring device (a watch), they may have noted the object's starting and end positions in relation to memorable points on the opposite shore and calculated it from the simple equation of distance divided by time.

Reversing that calculation gives distance covered by the object(s) as in the range of one third to one half of a mile. As you can see, points of reference are important be they a watch or shoreline markers. In like manner, one would surmise that the near and opposite shorelines would help as reference points for distance. That can be argued though it partly depends on the elevation of the observer. The higher they are above the loch waters, the less effect foreshortening has on estimates. Based on their location statements, I would say they were 40 to 100 feet above the loch.

As to the object(s) themselves, the highest divergence is in the height of the humps with one witness estimating more than double that of the other. Admittedly, such a difference may be understandable at a distance of 600-800 yards but I think this is an incomplete statement for in the original report Henry Henderson states:

The first wave would have been about two ft. high. Following the wave outwards I saw two large black coloured 'humps' about 10 - 12 ft. behind the point where the 'V' parted.

So, the "first wave" at two feet high was the water disturbance at the head of the bow wave and not the humps behind it. As to the height of the humps, Henderson states they were "at least six to eight feet between the humps" and looking at his sketch suggests each hump was comparable in height to that distance.

However, there was only a small difference in the estimated total length of the object if the averages are taken. Looking at Mackenzie's original sketch with his 5 foot height, a ruler can be used to calculate the distance from front of the first hump to the back of the second hump and that gives us a total length of 38 feet which is within his written estimate of 30-40 feet. If we do the same for Henderson's sketch and his 2 foot high estimate, the length using his sketch comes out at only 7 feet, but he added that the head of the V-wake began 10-12 feet ahead of the humps giving a total of up to 19 feet long or 6 feet below his lower range of 25-40 feet.

The last point is regarding the black colour of the objects. Were they inherently black in colour or did the viewing conditions affect this observation? The weather was stated as clear and bright and it was after 2pm in mid-October. If the object(s) were between the sun and observers, then they would be in shadow and darker. So calculating the actual solar azimuth for that day and time gives the line below.

So the sun was just to the right of the observers at an azimuth of 199 degrees and an elevation of 23.5 degrees with sunset four hours away. Therefore the object(s) would be in 20% shade and the day was bright enough to allow the level of light to display its true colour. Naturally, the sceptical explanation would be that they were watching a couple of standing waves. This explanation should be rejected on the following grounds.

  1. Waves do not produce bow wakes.
  2. The object(s) submerged.
  3. The object(s) are too high.
  4. There was an undefined source of the bow wake ahead of the object(s).

The best known example of the kind of waves being talked about is the Jessie Tait photograph of 1969 as shown below from a tourist handbook. Note the succession of waves which recede in size to either side with a general line of disturbance extending out for hundreds of feet in both directions. The height of the waves is also very low in relation to their length and nowhere near the triangular aspect reported here. 

What's not to like from two reliable observers? But the most curious part of all this was Tim Dinsdale's reporting of them. Tim said above: "For this reason it would be doubly important to publish these accounts, exactly as recorded". Well, that was not the case are there is the presence of two ellipses in the recounting denoted by the familiar "..." notation. One ellipsis replaces the statement where Henderson flags down some motorists to draw their attention to this creature. One can understand this omission as it is incidental to the reporting of the object, but the other missing text is:

The 'humps' were rotating together and

The original report page is shown below with the omitted text included.

Now I imagine, like me, Tim perhaps found this statement a bit confounding. After all, how do triangular humps rotate? Inspector Henderson had gone on to say that the movement was akin to seals and dolphins sporting, doubtless a reference to such animals seen in the nearby Moray Firth. Such displays can involve an apparent and brief rotation around an imaginary point below the surface as they surface and submerge. 

However, those involve roughly circular surfaces in which features on the skin act as reference points to indicate a different part of the body is coming into view. But a triangular object cannot rotate forward and present a uniform shape to the observer at the same time. Tim's solution is to edit it out as if it was never there and we do not have it all "exactly as recorded". The inference is that Tim decided Henderson had made an observational error but didn't want to say so lest the entire account was weakened.

He may have felt this was justified as Sergeant Mackenzie did not mention this rotation feature and so it was a divergence where agreement on both sides was desired. However, both men do not mention the head of the bow wave ahead of the humps and so this is a weak argument. An omission by one witness is not a contradiction unless the other explicitly said there was no rotation.

The only obvious way rotation can preserve a consistent appearance is for a cone like structure to rotate around its vertical axis but that makes no sense and this is not a feature I have seen reported at any other time. We have been reminded of this rotational aspect recently with the Chie Kelly photographs where she said the object "was spinning and rolling at times", though this was a more spherical appearance.

So what do we do with this? Did Inspector Henderson misword what he was trying to say or did he really see something on the object which gave the impression of "rotating"? If Tim or some other researcher had got back to Henry to clarify his meaning, the problem would surely had been resolved, but that does not seem to have happened. So something for you to munch on apart from the turkey and sprouts tomorrow. Have a Merry Christmas Day when it comes!

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