Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Nessie On Land: The Overview



What is the largest land animal on this planet? The answer is the Loch Ness Monster when it comes out of the water to make its rare excursions onto terra firma. In making such a statement, we enter a twilight world of strange and misshapen giants seen by incredulous and terrified witnesses reclining on pebble shores, dashing across roads and slithering back into murky depths. They are derided as ludicrous by sceptics and hailed as important by believers. The genre stretches back to the ancient days of the demonic Water Horse waiting on land for its next victim and it continues right up to the present day.

These are the "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in Loch Ness cryptozoology, such is the fascination they hold with people including myself. Back in 1933, it was a land sighting that catapulted the creature to national and international fame and there has been a steady stream of tales of lumbering leviathans that has intensified the mystery as to what this beast could possibly be.

Against this backdrop, I gave a talk on land sightings to the Edinburgh Fortean Society back in January. At the end of it, I had a pile of Powerpoint slides which I had presented as well as some I did not have time to show plus various items of research which never made it to Powerpoint. So, in that light, it seemed sensible to put the material out to a wider audience and begin this series of articles. It is a subject this blog is not unfamiliar with. If you check our steadily growing section on Classic Sightings you will find articles referencing two such incidents involving the Spicers and Alec Muir. However, the list of land sighting stories I have currently stands at 35. There is clearly more to relate concerning this aspect of Nessie lore.

The picture above exemplifies the mystery. It is a reproduction of what George Spicer and his wife claimed to have seen back in August 1933. Using Google Maps and Street View, an approximation to the witnesses' location is made. A modern car is in place about 200 metres from our "creature" to give an idea of scale and the superimposed picture of the beast is taken from Alan Jones' painting which is itself based on the drawing the Spicers sent to Constance Whyte for her 1957 book "More Than A Legend". You can click on the image to enlarge it.

In the months ahead we will showcase various stories and ideas but for now we give the overview of cases. The tight textual columns of blogging does not lend itself to detailed tables so the spreadsheet of land sightings I have is supplied as an image which you should click on for a readable view. Credit is given to Fortean researcher Mike Dash who supplied the initial table to which I added further data. By data we mean all the incidents claimed over the years. Undoubtedly, some of them will be hoaxes or misidentification. The Grant, Hughes and Dallas cases are certainly claimed as hoaxes (I pass no comment at this point) but it is our contention that misidentification is far less likely in these cases than water based sightings.





The key facts from this table can be summarised as follow:
  • These sightings occured over a 130 year period.
  • This works out at one case every 4 years on average.
  • Land sightings are at least 30 times rarer than water sightings.
  • There were seven sightings before the "Nessie" era.
  • Fifteen sightings occured during the 1930s "flap".
  • Thirteen sightings are noted from the 1960s.
  • There are "silent" periods from 1937-1959 and 1980-1993.
  • Many cases are close up  (less than 100 metres).

Note also that the cases will vary in degree of "strangeness". For example, three cases are based on discoveries of depressions while others are just a bit too strange (I think of the Fordyce case). The close proximity of many sightings underlines the lesser margin for error. Of the 17 cases where a distance is mentioned, 11 (65%) are stated to be at 100 yards or less. On the negative side, 26% occur at night time which makes observation of detail less likely. However, estimation of overall size is easier when the creature is seen against various frames of reference such as roads, trees, rivers, etc.

Morphology is also an interesting factor but we will leave that for another day.

The distribution of sightings as best as I can figure are plotted on the map below. One place of interest is what I jokingly call "Monster Alley". It is part of the road on the south side which runs between the villages of Foyers and Whitefield. This six mile stretch of the B852 has 32% of all the reports yet consititues only 12% of loch side road. It also carries less traffic than the other side of the loch and hence less potential witnesses. At a guess we would suggests a third less over the 130 year period (even less during the modern era). This gives an expected ratio of only 4% of total sightings - yet it carries 32%.

Why would this be the case? It is to be noted that the loch is much closer to the shore and road than it is elsewhere. By this we mean there are no sheer drops but it is also to be noted that other stretches such as beyond Inchnacardoch Bay to Invermoriston have similar topography but zero incidents. So why is this stretch of road more significant to sightings?

Perhaps the underwater shelf of Loch Ness is shallower along this stretch allowing easier water to land progression for such creatures? Again, a look at a 2003 Kongsberg sonar map I have shows no advantage in this area. In fact, the shallower areas tend to be at the river outlets (Oich, Moristion, Enrick, Foyers and Ness rivers) and the top end of the loch. Until a better explanation is forthcoming, this remains a statistical anomaly.





However, there are also higher "spot" concentrations of incidents in the Fort Augustus and Urquhart Bay areas. One may argue this is because these are higher population centres but then again Invermoriston and Foyers do not seem well represented in that case.

Finally, what about deer population versus monster incidents? How often do deer go near the loch side for food and water? The answer is nobody knows for sure but since some sceptics claim these witnesses are seeing only these normal but largish animals it is worth a further look.

One avenue of research is deer roadkill incidents. It is a reasonable assumption to say that incidences of deer road kill is proportional to the presence of deer on or near the shoreline. I emailed the National Deer Vehicle Collisions Project for data along Loch Ness roads and was supplied with a map from which I have created the following map. Deer kill recoveries are in white while Monster incidents are in red. I would note first that the DVC data covers reported recovery of deer carcasses from 2003-2010. Secondly, it is to be noted that since car traffic is less on the south side then there has to be some weighting factor to account for this. What that factor is has proven to be somewhat difficult since we have to take into account car traffic volume, car speed, blind spots and deer population compared to the busier north side. In the end, I went for a weighting factor of 3:1.




The main thing to note is the lack of correlation between deer incidents and monster incidents. If people were mistaking deer for monsters we would expect more red on white but this is not the case. This does not preclude a few making that mistake but certainly this should not be considered a major explanation of claimed land sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. The other point to make is why these land sightings only occur once every four years if they are purely down to deer, etc misidentification.

In terms of chronology, of those reports where we reasonably know the time of day, 53% occured in daylight but 26% occured at night which is yet another interesting statistic considering how far fewer people are out and about at night. This would suggest the creature is far more likely to come ashore when it is dark. If we assume a 10:1 weighting of people out at day:night, the nighttime percentage should be more like 10% than 26%.

In terms of dates, it turns out that February was the most frequent month taking in 25% of all reports where the month is known. This compares to the statistical average of 8%.

So from these it seems that the best way to see the Loch Ness Monster on land is on the stretch of road between Foyers and Whitefield at night time in February. I would suggest your chances go up 130 fold (32/4 * 26/10 * 25/8) which means you have an 11 day wait instead of 4 years. Doesn't statistics make everything sound so optimistic? Good luck with those freezing 3am February watches north of Foyers!

So the game is afoot as we pursue the monster (in digital form anyway). I will finish this introduction with two contrasting quotes. The first is from Loch Ness researcher and sceptic, Tony Harmsworth, who has this to say about land sightings at his website:

"I must say, here, that I find it quite incredible that anyone can believe any of these ridiculous land sighting reports. Surely they do nothing but confuse the whole subject?"

But we leave the last word to a land sighting witness from 1994 (as quoted from "The Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster" by Paul Harrison):

"I saw what I saw. It was the monster of the Loch all right ... The scientists at the Loch have got it all wrong, I'm telling you."

Who should you believe the most? The sceptic or the witness? Let everyone be persuaded in their own minds.













28 comments:

  1. At the times of some of the the sightings the foliage at the sides of the road would be much less especially after the road had just been built which may have some bearing on things as the visibility would have been clearer. Certainly in the 60s and 70's there seemed to be less foliage at the sides of the road compared to the present day.
    I am open minded about the land sightings .They seem incredible but as we know so little about what may or may not be in Loch Ness I don''t think we can just ignore every land sighting and say Hoax.Some people saw something,and are prepared to swear they did even if they are ridiculed.What they saw may be open to conjecture but not their belief that they saw something unusual.

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  2. Thanks for the excellent analysis, right down to looking into the deer kills. Do they have similar data for otters? (I'm mostly kidding, for the benefit of Mr. Burton and Mr. S. Campbell!) I noticed this cluster of land sighting reports (and many water sightings, as well) in that stretch of road near Dores, and figured that that's where I'll set up shop on my own future expedition. Wasn't it somewhere along here that Dinsdale camped for weeks on end?
    I think I asked you in an email, and I imagine you'll cover this in a future blog - but where does the suggestion that Grant's land sighting of January 1934 was a hoax? I've seen this bit of local rumor mentioned on Harmsworth's site. Constance Whyte knew Grant and his family, talked with him, and vouched for him -- though she vouched very strongly for Lachlan Stuart, as well, and I've often been less convinced by his photo. Didn't he tell others that it was indeed a hoax? (I'll have to look back to see if you've written about that in your blog.) Look forward to more on the land sightings. Thanks! I'll have to get Harrison's book -- it's one of the main books that I don't have.

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    1. A certain local claimed he heard Grant say something like "they swallowed it hook line and sinker" when he allegedly phoned the story to the newspaper. We'll cover such so called witnesses in later posts.

      Dinsdale was at Foyers when he filmed the beast.

      Otters? They are most likely found by rivers/streams at dawn/dusk. Mistaking a 3 foot otter for a 20 foot beast is probably more amazing than actually seeing Nessie!

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  3. I thought the road between Foyers and the next village Inverfarigaig was at least 100 feet above the water. How many monster sightings have their been on the road at Boleskine? And isn't February, the middle of winter, the most likely month for deer to come down off the hill and be seen on the road down near the lochside?

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    1. 3 out of the 5 Feb land sightings do not occur on the road.

      Yes, some parts of the road are high up but the only account from that area is the Fordyce one.

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    2. A google about suggests Ocotber as a peak month for deer on roads.

      http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/news/aa-insurance-warns-of-cost-of-deer-collisions.html

      Another (USA admittedly) was suggesting November. You pick your website .. you take your choice.

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  4. The thing most people get wrong about people who've witnessed weird stuff is they assume the person goes "Oh look there's the Loch Ness Monster eating a cheese pasty and reading a copy of the Beano" or "Who'd've though Bigfoot could get away with wearing such tiny ballet slippers and a spandex tutu?"

    On the contrary they're in the same boat as people who suffer from things like macular degneration or conditions like A.I.W.S. They quite simply can't believe their eyes and all the time keep try'n'o turn it into something rational like a wind tossed bin bag - anything but what it actually appears to be - because they know there's a tremendous burden that'll befall them if they can't: the guilt of keeping silent or the fear of the consequences likely to come if they 'fess up.

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  5. One of the records stated...."A creature partly onshore sucking on a rock was observed before apparently (Alastair) Dallas threw a sandwich at it!" LAUGHING MY ASS OFF!!!


    I wish we knew what happened after the sandwich was thrown.

    The accounts are a great read and I thank you for providing them. Each account consistently correlate with the other very well, describing something completely different from anything known and identified as living documented in present times. By the horses head account, sounds like a cadborosaurus.

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    1. Well, Mr. Dallas' account seems more suspect, but the sandwich was an opportunity to learn something of the dietary habits of Nessie!

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  6. After all your research, Mr Watson, does Nessie / Water Horse breathe air or water?

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    1. All told, it has to be an amphibian-like fish or a fish-like amphibian. So it is comfortable in and out of water.

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    2. Thank you. Do you think they go out to the sea or do they stay in fresh water all the time?

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    3. There is nothing to stop a determined creature going out to sea. The issue is what would motivate it to do this? Food, breeding? Seals and dolphins have been seen in Loch Ness, so why not the other way round?

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    4. Thank you. I didn't know about the dolphins. Were they the ones brought by Dr Rines?

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    5. No, wild ones. I'll post about that in the future.

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    6. As far as I know (I welcome correction) there are no salt water amphibians. Not sure why that is although probably something to do with salinity/osmosis etc.

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    7. That is correct, which was always a bit of a mystery to me, perhaps more amphibians are extinct than exist today. Some today may be found in brackish waters near saltwater and one or two such as the crab eating frog have higher degrees of tolerance. Anyway, there was my amphibian-like fish alternative.

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    8. An interesting discussion here about amphibians and salt water (although it occasionally veers into more bizarre territory):

      http://www.scienceforums.net/topic/36125-salt-water-amphibians/

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  7. Great work again Roland. Do you have any thoughts regarding the Fordyce sighting that if I am not mistaken appears to have been a good few hundred yards inland and uphill as I am somewhat familiar with the area being an annual visitor to Loch Ness? (We are there again in a few weeks)

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    1. I will cover Fordyce as an article in its own right.

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    2. Thanks, I will be looking forward to it.

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  8. Hello Mr Watson,
    You wrote "Monster Alley". It is part of the road on the south side which runs between the villages of Foyers and Whitefield."
    As a regular hillwalker in the area I must point out that like so many in the past, you seem not to notice the existence of Inverfarigaig, a settlement of almost 100 souls halfway between Foyers (pop 276) and Whitefield,(pop 0), which consists of a derelict steading and one unoccupied residential caravan.

    I would be very surprised if Nessie were to appear on the Foyers to Inverfarigaig road, unless waiting for the bus.

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    1. I have driven past that clump of houses many a time. The Inverfairgaig residents will be mainly dreaming sweet dreams as Nessie takes to land in the dead of night! If Nessie's alleged aversion to noise is anything to go by, she may have beat a silent retreat from our now noisy roads.

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  9. Dear Glasgow Boy - many thanks for an excellent blog. I've been hunting through your posts for an account which I recall reading recently about a sighting of either Nessie or some other British/Irish lake monster on land. The report involved two different drivers (I think a male and a female) independently reporting a big eel or lake monster type making its way alongside a busy stretch of motorway. It struck me that it seemed a pretty big deal, as the drivers' stories corroborated each other perfectly - but I cannot for the life of me recall on which site I read it, nor much else at all. Is this report at all familiar to you? I'm fairly sure it was said to have taken place in much more recent times than the famous 30s cases... Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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    1. It doesn't sound like a Nessie report. I don't think there is any Nessie on land report corroborated by independent witnesses.

      There was a report of a strange creature some years back on the side of a busy road near Perth, Scotland (perhaps the A9). Can't find it now ....

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  10. Thanks very much, Glasgow Boy - I'll hunt down whatever I can on the Perth report. Something tells me I read it on Karl Shuker's blog, but I can't be sure until I've had a thorough hunt.

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    1. Update: I found the account, and I was right about it being from Karl Shuker's blog. Alas, I'd been looking under the wrong tags; it is listed under 'Otter Kings'. Here is the account:

      It's not every day that you see a sea serpent - and certainly not one that is actually making its way laboriously on land, along a major road, in full view of passing traffic. Yet that is what at least two eyewitnesses may well have seen, judging from their independent yet closely corroborating statements. The first of these was Maureen Ford, driving with some friends along the A85 towards Perth at 11.30 pm on 30 September 1965. Suddenly, as she neared Perth, she saw what she subsequently described as "a long grey shape [which] had no legs but I'm sure I saw long pointed ears", by the roadside yet only a few yards from the banks of the River Tay, which enters close by into a North Sea inlet - the Firth of Tay.

      At 1.00 am the very next morning, this bizarre beast was seen again, but on the opposite side of the road, to which it had apparently crossed meanwhile. Its eyewitness this time was Robert Swankie, driving along the same road but in the opposite direction from Ford, i.e. away from Perth and on towards Dundee. As he drove along, however, his vehicle's headlights abruptly exposed an extraordinary sight - a weird creature with a 20-ft-long body that was "...humped like that of a giant caterpillar" (i.e. undulating vertically), and a head over 2 ft long, bearing a pair of pointed ear-like appendages. The creature was moving very slowly, making "...a noise like someone dragging a heavy weight through the grass".

      Source: http://karlshuker.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/otter-kings-to-earth-hounds-in-search.html

      Thanks again, Glasgow Boy - I wouldn't have found it without your reminding me that it took place near Perth!

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    2. Good, worth reading again.

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