Friday 25 March 2011

Classic Sightings - Greta Finlay

Date: August 20th 1952
Time: noon
Location: Aldourie Pier
Witnesses: Mrs. Greta Finlay and son
Type of sighting: Head, neck and back in water

Greta Finlay was an ordinary housewife of Inverness who had an extraordinary experience - one of the closest encounters with the Loch Ness Monster. Here is her sighting in her own words (reproduced in Tim Dinsdale's book "Loch Ness Monster"):

I was sitting outside the caravan when I heard a continual splashing in the water. After several moments passed and realizing this was not the usual wash from a boat I walked round. To my surprise I saw what I believe to be the Loch Ness Monster. My son and I stood looking at this creature in amazement. Although I was terriļ¬ed, we stood and watched until it submerged, which it did very quickly causing waves to break on the shore. We had an excellent view as it was so close to the shore. Its skin was dark in colour and looked very tough. The neck was long and held erect. The head was about the same width as the neck. There were two projections from it, each with a blob on the end. This was not a pleasant experience. I certainly never want to see the Monster again. My son had drawn several sketches, one of which I enclose.

This can be compared with the account given to Constance Whyte (author of "More than a Legend") just two days after her sighting:

I was so taken up with the strange appearance of the head and neck that I did not examine the rest of the animal at all closely. There were two or three humps and the total length visible would be about 15 feet. The neck was held erect, and where it met the water it enlarged to join a bulky body. The head and neck together were 2—2.5 feet in length, the head alone being about 6 inches long and of about the same width as the neck. What astonished me, apart from the hideous appearance of the head, was that there were two 6-inch-long projections from it, each with a blob on the end. The skin looked black and shiny and reminded me of a snail more than anything.

Mrs. Finlay's experience was first recorded by Constance Whyte in 1957 for her book but Dinsdale interviewed her about eight years later while he was researching his book. Here is the drawing her son Harry sketched for Whyte's book.

The reaction of Mrs Finlay to the sight of the creature was one of being terrified and paralysed with fear. Now the critic who thinks Mrs. Finlay only saw a deer would merely retort that once someone has convinced themselves that they are looking at something unusual then such a reaction will naturally follow. This may well be true but the fact that her son reacted in the same way diminishes that argument. In fact, according to Dinsdale, the lad gave up fishing after this episode.

The episode is placed about half a mile south of Aldourie Castle at the old pier and the creature was about twenty yards out in the water.

This kind of sighting is much loved of debunkers. It gives them a chance to dismiss a dramatic sighting and then turn round and say "If such a close up report can be dismissed, then what about the more distant ones?". To that end, the three sceptics I normally consult (Binns, Burton and Campbell) are unanimous that it was nothing more than a reddish brown deer. They cannot pass up on this opportunity to bolster their case.

In fact, Maurice Burton was so convinced that he also reproduced a drawing in his book of what a young buck with short stumpy horns would look like at that distance. Not surprisingly, the drawing he executed looks exactly like the Finlay drawing but with the eyes, nose and folded back ears. He even tries to explain away the grey, leathery appearance of the creature's skin with reference to the water's glistening effect.

Now finding an image of a deer on Google Images that looked like Burton's was totally fruitless. The best I could find was the two images below.

Note the height of the neck is shorter than that of the Finlay sighting. Also the ears are a bit of a stick out problem. Ears are important to a deer and are constantly rotating around like radar assessing any potential dangers. This would be especially true when they are in a vulnerable environment like water. The other problem is that these deer are standing in the water and not in the act of swimming. A swimming deer looks more like the picture below:

Note the head and neck are much lower in the water and stretched forward in the act of swimming - nothing like the Finlay account. This I presume would force the sceptic to admit that for the deer explanation to have credence then the animal must have been standing in the water. In that case, given the dimension of a typical roe deer, the depth of the water could not have been much more than 3 or 4 feet. Burton takes this up and claims that this is indeed the kind of depth at that place but the facts say differently. Consulting the 1903 bathymetric survey of Loch Ness (maps held at National Library of Scotland), the depth is more likely to be nearer 20 feet as this zoom in of the map shows:

The "22" near the centre is where the pier is drawn and indicates a sounding depth measurement done by the survey. It has a depth of 22 feet just over twenty yards out. In other words, too deep for a deer to stand in.

This is to be expected because there is a pier here and some kind of depth is required for boats to safely approach the mooring point. The "6" (6ft) to either side of the pier is perhaps what Burton intended but a deeper depth is required when deciding where to put a pier.

Apart from this problem, there is the other issue that the creature is reported to have submerged after some seconds. Not one of the three sceptics addresses this point. Deer do not submerge and disappear under the surface (unless dragged under the surface by the Loch Ness Monster). If this was a deer then it would have remained in sight for a long time or clambered onto the shore. Either way, it's identity would have quickly become apparent.

Perhaps the deer was having a heart attack and fell dying into the water? This is one ridiculous interpretation I have heard and again we see how on examining the sceptical case, things begin to fall apart. What Greta Finlay saw terrified her, her son gave up fishing because of it. If it was a deer, this would have become apparent fairly quickly as the deer did its normal thing in water.

As additional information, here is a Google Earth zoom of the pier with the circled area where I believe the witnesses were and the general direction of the beast. No options for a deer to covertly disappear behind an outcrop or dash onto shore.

Again with skepticism, it is the plausible versus the possible. A deer sounds plausible but given an examination of the facts not probable. Some may suggest a strangely floating deer fooling someone 20 yards away whilst having a coronary is still more probable than a large unknown creature in Loch Ness. At least the monster theory does not involve some strange gymnastics to force the deer to fit the data.

So the Loch Ness Monster again submerged back into the waters leaving people perplexed and mystified as to what it is that lies in those dark depths.


  1. what i would give to have been there ! sounds incredible...what is in loch ness ????

  2. I think the male creatures have horns and the females don,t it's like with cradnales the male is red and the female is brown.

  3. This is a really interesting sighting. The drawing immediately made me think of Captain Arthur Rostron's (best known as the captain of the Titanic's rescue ship, the Carpathia) sketch of a creature he spotted off the coast of Ireland. Here is his drawing:

    His account, (citation afterwards):

    In his memoirs Home from the Sea (pps 45-47) Commander Rostron tells how he was acting as Chief Officer on board the Campania [on April 26, 1907], when something remarkable happened -

    “We were coming one Friday evening into Queenstown, when off Galley Head, I noticed something sticking out of the water. ‘Keep clear of the snag right ahead,’ I called out to the junior officer who was with me on the bridge. We swung away a point but gradually drew nearer so that we were able to make out what the unusual thing was. It was a sea monster! It was no more than fifty feet from the ship’s side when we passed it, and so both I and the junior officer had a good sight of it.

    So strange an animal was it that I remember crying out: ‘It's alive!’ One has heard such yarns about these monsters and cocked a speculative eye at the teller, that I wished as never before that I had a camera in my hands. Failing that, I did the next best thing and on the white dodger board in front of me I made sketches of the animal, full face and profile, for the thing was turning its head from side to side for all the world as a bird will on a lawn between its pecks. I was unable to get a clear view of the monster's features, but we were close enough to realise its head rose eight or nine feet out of the water, while the trunk of the neck was fully twelve inches thick.”

    Rostron told the newspaper in 1907: ‘There were two protuberances where eyes might have been, but I could see no eyes... It had very small ears in comparison with its enormous bulk.’

    On Rostron’s sketches, these very small ears look like snail’s horns, similar to many descriptions of plesiosaurs and lake and loch monsters. When the Captain of the Campania heard about the incident, he asked Rostron what he had drunk at dinner. Neither the sketches nor Birnie's corroboration convinced him. In due course the Campania docked at Liverpool.

    After shore leave, the Captain called on Rostron and raised the matter again. ‘Did you see it, Rostron?’ he asked. ‘Yes Sir,’ replied the religious Rostron.

    For my money, the creature spotted by Greta Finlay is likely of the same type spotted by Rostron - assuming both accounts were accurately recounted.

    1. Who knows? Those who follow Holiday's giant invertebrate theory may think the stalks are eyes. You may note that a snail's eye stalks can retract if touched.

      I found another old sighting mentioning protuberances (I won't say "horns" to avoid confusion with deer theories).

  4. Love this sighting. Even though Aldourie is a deer hotspot, I just can't accept this is a deer - at that range and for that length of sighting it would be impossible to not eventually recognise a deer i'd have thought.

    Which means we are left with 2 options; either they are lying or they saw something very unusual. Obviously i don't know either of them, but their accounts have never been suggestive of either being attention seeking people, quite the contrary they always seem rather bashful about the whole thing.

    I wonder if Greta's son is still around the area today?

    1. I agree. Harry would be quite old by now. I had a look around for him, but ti wasn't an intense search.

  5. Sounds smaller than I expected. Might be a curious juvenile?

  6. One thing that I'm surprised hasn't attracted comment is the difficulty of describing Greta Finlay's description with her son's sketch. If the total length of whatever it was they saw was 15 feet, then the head and neck in Harry's drawing would be between six and seven feet long (excluding horns). Conversely, if the head and neck was two feet above the waterline, then the total length of the two humps would have been only about three feet.

    Re-imagining the Finlay "monster" as something of such relatively small size does put a rather different complexion on the whole report.

    1. I'm not sure the kid was drawing to scale. With regards absolute size, the European lynx is not huge, but I don't want to turn a corner and meet one. I personally think that there is another force at work here that causes extraordinary fright, even if the folks were never at risk. I don't think that this is your average undiscovered creature. Or it might have been discovered by now.

  7. The sketch’s proportions (specifically the head) sound a bit off from the description of “the total length visible would be about 15 feet. The neck was held erect, and where it met the water it enlarged to join a bulky body. The head and neck together were 2—2.5 feet in length”

    Pretty wonderful sighting though. I like this one quite a bit.

    1. Does a bit, pity she was frozen to the spot with a camera nearby ...