Saturday, 14 April 2012

Loch Ness Trip Report April 2012


I loaded up the car and headed north to Loch Ness on the 6th April with my son in tow as well as various pieces of equipment (which were described in a previous post). The five day weather forecast was pretty variable and so the feeling was that each day had to be taken individually depending on conditions. Nevertheless, the drive up from Edinburgh was pleasant enough and took three and a half hours to Fort Augustus at the southern extremity of the loch.

We turned into the Cumberlands Camp Site and pitched the tent by late afternoon under thankfully a dry sky. We then tucked into a healthy portion of monster hunting food (mince and rice) before going into Fort Augustus to check out the town. It was a strange feeling passing by the old Fort Augustus Abbey which is now residential flats. I remember going into the Abbey in the 1980s when it was still a monastery and looking down the cold, dark corridors that spoke of frugal and devoted lives. The monks were long gone and I wondered if there were new witnesses to the Loch Ness Monster in those rooms or whether their fast, consumer lives precluded such activities?

The town was its usual tourist self as Easter visitors from Britain and the wider world arrived in their cars and coaches. That is one aspect of Loch Ness that won't be changing anytime soon. A visit to a local shop betrayed the new Nessie-speak as two sceptical books by Adrian Shine and Tony Harmsworth lay side by side on the shelf competing with one another for the tourist pound. One other book took a more mysterious approach to the loch and I wondered which of the three was more likely to be bought by tourists to aid their journey.

At this point, we then headed off to the loch via a quieter route past the camping site and on to the bridge overlooking the River Tarff. The word "Tarff" is Gaelic for "Bull" and I have mused in the past whether there is a reference there to the old water-bull legends that once held the locals in awe of the place. However, the modern soon overtook the ancient as a powerful odor assailed our nostrils as we walked along the river to Loch Ness. But it was not the sulfurous stench of aquatic demons, but the unappealing whiff of the local sewage works.

Holding our noses we pressed onto Borlum Bay and walked along its shingle beaches. The loch was now before us and opened up into a grand vista that stretched northwards to the distant horizon. The hunt was now on but what were the chances of anything presenting itself to view over the next few days? Statistically, some have suggested an average of 300+ hours of quality surveillance but in reality people have sighted the beast on their first visit while others continue to wait after decades of watching. By the very nature of the mystery I knew the odds were stacked against us, but if you don't go and look, the probability of seeing anything is exactly zero.

Presently, we came upon a fire fuelled by various pieces of driftwood and engaged some anglers in conversation. They were there to hopefully catch some trout but also get ahead of the various fishing clubs that would soon descend upon the loch. Apparently, the catch is not so good once these clubs have had their way with the loch. I asked one man whether he had seen anything bigger in the loch (i.e. the Monster), but he said he didn't believe there was anything in the loch. At this point he told me that he had watched a documentary on TV which stated that only 24 tonnes of fish were in it - not enough for Loch Ness Monsters. I was tempted to correct him on a few matters related to fish stocks and predators but decided to just leave on amicable terms. As we walked along the beach and past some very Nessie-like pieces of driftwood the sky began to darken and the only long necked creatures on display were the slow moving white swans standing out against the dark waters.

We soon arrived at the spot on the beach where in 1934 Margaret Munro claimed to have seen the Loch Ness Monster lying on the beach from her employers' house. I took some footage and pictures and will use those for a future posting but again there was that sense of standing on Loch Ness History. Had a long necked creature of thirty feet or more really lounged 78 years before on the very spot I now stood on? If it had happened yesterday, I would be looking for anything that looked like a DNA sample. Back then, her employers could only visit the beach and note the unusually large depression in the shingle.

Trudging back to camp, I settled down to read a book perfectly suited to the Monster Hunt, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" by Ted Holiday. In my opinion, no book better captures the romanticism and mystique of the Loch and its legendary inhabitant. As I considered my own current trip in a cold tent on a dark evening, I empathised with Holiday as he took us through his own expeditions of the early 1960s with their cold nights on the beach and the lonely vigils during the long Scottish Summer evenings. His first visit in 1962 ended with a hump sighting at Foyers, I wondered if I would have such a stroke of luck or be forced again to admit the loch does not give up its secrets so easily.

With day dawning on Saturday, the first task was to install the trap camera at a suitably quiet spot. This time I was more minded to place it near river mouths where the creature is reputed to chase its food but nothing suitable was forthcoming in the short time available, so I left it strapped to a tree at a previous spot to be picked up again in two days. Having armed the camera to snap anything that moved within 50 feet of it, I stopped off at the shop run by the Hargreaves who had a sighting of the creature last Summer. One of the witnesses gave some details and she also drew what she saw (which I shall post in due time). Apparently, since the sighting got such large publicity, they regularly get lots of enquires about it, more than they can handle!

In the afternoon, we headed to the village of Bunloit near Drumnadrochit to ascend Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, the highest point around Loch Ness at about 2100 feet. It was a battle between us and snow, bog and rocks but we got to the summit two hours later and were rewarded with a superb view of Loch Ness from Fort Augustus in the south up to the north end and beyond to the Moray Firth. Legend has it that a small loch near the summit is unfathomable (perhaps Loch Nam Breac Dearga) and that once a stick thrown into it appeared some days later in the River Ness. Such were the local tales of underground caverns and channels, but this was not some ultimate water funnel ride we were about to test so we pressed on back downhill while the weather was still dry and on our side. Modern technology intruded again as I managed to make a mobile phone call back home from this most barren of landscapes!



When we got back nearer to sea level, food was more on our minds than monsters and after such ardour I was not particularly minded to cook and so we drifted over to the restaurant run by the Drumnadrochit Hotel. This is just beside the Loch Ness Centre which runs an exhibition designed by Adrian Shine and emphasises the complete story of the loch rather than just its famous resident. I often wonder what tourists expect to see when they go in - a 100% Nessie presentation or something more balanced? I found out just before this that almost 300,000 visitors went through its doors in one recent year. I reckoned that was a turnover of nearly £1.5 million, who said cryptozoology didn't make money? But then again, how much has that exhibition got to do with cryptozoology? But thanks to the vagaries of free enterprise and competition, there is the Nessieland Castle Monster Centre just down the road which proclaims that "We believe in the Monster!". So you can check up on food chains and plankton at one exhibition and then check out the plesiosaurs in the other. Personally, I think I prefer something in between - but they were both closed anyway.

After battling Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, I woke up on Sunday feeling the worse for wear but we got moving eventually and headed for a gentler walk by Alltsigh Burn (just north of Invermoriston). This river has some odd stories attached to it (as I outline in my book) and so I was keen to take a closer look as its torrents plunged down in spate towards the loch. There have been some good sightings of the monster at this river mouth and perhaps it is worthy of closer attention in the future. The Youth Hostel beside it also brought back memories as the place I stayed at during my cycling visits of the 1980s.



Moving south, it was famous Nessie places again as I stopped first opposite the Horseshoe Scree where Torquil MacLeod had his well known sighting of the monster in 1960. As I trained my binoculars on that feature one mile away (pictured below), I tried to put myself in the place of Torquil and what he described that day. As I sized up the scale of the trees and the various boats that passed near its shore, I realised how inadequate the various goats and boats explanations were that attempted to discredit this event, but that is for another day and another posting.




After some more watching of the loch and its whipped surface, we headed back for pasta carbonara via the small burn where Jean MacDonald and Patricia Harvey claimed to have seen a large creature hastening past them on a brilliant moonlit night in 1934. With the food finished, we headed out on the evening road back to Drumnadrochit to attend the evening worship at the local presbyterian church. Afterwards, the minister confessed he had not seen any monster in sixteen years to which I half-seriously suggested that sixteen years was not long enough. We then discussed other incredible subjects such as the Edinburgh Trams project finishing on time and under budget, but even I have my limits of credulity and suggested that to err was human, but to forgive was divine.

It was again darkening nicely over Loch Ness, so it was time to deploy the night vision equipment. We pulled in at the same layby that was opposite the Horseshoe Scree and brought out the tripod, IR binoculars, cables and recording devices. The rain was gently falling so I used the opened tailgate of my car as a shelter for the equipment and trained it on the loch. I connected the laptop to the video out port of the binoculars and used the video capture software to set the correct focus. I could have done this looking through the eyepiece but there is a greater latitude for error here as the brightness of the eyepiece can dazzle the eyes which are now accustomed to the night light levels. By using the laptop, one is assured that the device is recording the correct scene.

As I surveyed the darkening loch, I recalled Ted Holiday's words about how the loch was a place best left alone at night and wondered what use he and other famous monster hunters would have made of the technology that is now available to modern Nessie hunters. In olden times, this was the hour of the Water Kelpie, but I pressed on regardless of any supposed demons out there. The loch was dark and it was now difficult to make out features on its surface with the naked eye but the night scope was relaying a good picture to the laptop and anything which broke surface would have registered nicely. I put the IR illuminating laser on but I did not notice a discernable difference on the display which I put down to the large distances involved.

At the start of the watch, I tried out the mini-DVR with its motion detection capability and left it to run for a bit. A walk in front of the binoculars and the record LED lit up on the DVR and I knew it was active. A clip is shown below which I felt was a better quality to the experiment I tried at Dores last October, but the light levels may have been different. I also think the recorded feed to the laptop was of a better yet quality.



However, I had a slight problem. If a black hump or head and neck broke the surface, would the mini-DVR go into record mode? It was correctly remaining inactive in response to the numerous waves rippling across the loch but there was a bit of a chicken and egg issue here since I required Nessie to surface in order to calibrate the device in order to record her in the first place! I could not even rely on a similar sized boat passing by since there is no boat traffic at night time on Loch Ness. I was beginning to think the mini-DVR was more a device to be combined with a daytime camcorder or settle for continuous record at night time. With some more recording on the devices done, we headed back to camp along the now lonely stretches of dark roads.

Monday came and it was time to pack up the tent. I don't know how fitfully the intrepid monster hunters of old slept in the wild, but I don't think I will ever get used to this less than superior form of sleeping. We then headed up along the south side of the loch to retrieve the trap camera and take it home. It was still there after two days but I had the feeling that a more secure way of setting up these cameras was necessary as, given enough time, it would surely be spotted and stolen. On the way back, I stopped off at the spot where Lachlan Stuart took his famous photograph of three triangular humps in 1951. This is another Nessie picture that has been dissed by the critics from day one but I shall put something out on the blog in due course.

By now rare sunshine had given way to rain as we approached Fort Augustus for one final time. The car tank was topped up and we headed back south to the big city. Unlike Ted Holiday and 1962, we did not spot the "Orm" as he called it. The images from the trap camera and night vision may yet show something but the assumption is they will not and the hunt will resume again for myself and others as a hopefully hot summer unfolds before us in the months ahead.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Defunct Nessie Websites

Hopefully this is a "Links" page with a difference. Ever had that frustrating feeling when you click on an interesting Nessie link only to find the page or entire website is gone? Having talked about past researchers and their works, I soon realised there was a number of old Nessie related websites out there which are below the radar and yet should be part of the historic record on the search for the Loch Ness Monster. These websites are now defunct and typing in their URLs merely results in HTTP "not found" errors or the parking pages of those annoying cybersquatters.

But just as visits to libraries to dig up old newspaper clippings and the like is an established method, the Internet is now old enough to have its own digital version. In that light, the Internet Archive WayBackMachine is valuable in digging up these old resources for us to research today. Their archive now stands at 2 petabytes (2 million gigabytes) with information on websites going back to 1996. Their work will prove to be an increasingly valuable resource to all researchers as time goes by and the lifetime of relevant websites continues to be linked to a person's health or commitment.

So below find links to the websites of Loch Ness researchers which for whatever reason are no longer maintained. Needless to say, you may not agree with everything they say, but they are part of the Loch Ness Story. Note also that current live websites are also part of the Internet archive and so you can type in URLs to see how these sites have changed over the years (i.e. websites may persist but not necessarily every page subsume under that URL). The one limitation is that higher memory usages items such as images will not be included, but I noticed that more recent webpage archives did include such items.

If you know of other inactive Nessie websites or pages, send me a comment/email and I will update this page.

Richard Carter's website from 2003: link.
Richard Carter was an active Nessie hunter back in the 1990s and contributed various Internet articles which are still live. His own website lapsed nearly 10 years ago and his own whereabouts and Nessie status continues to be a bit of a mystery.

The website of the Loch Ness Monster Research Society (LNMRS) run by Paul Harrison from 2001: link.
Paul Harrison continues to be active in Nessie research as his recent books demonstrate. However, his own LNMRS in the sense of a website is offline.

Jan Sundberg's website from 2007: link.
A thorn in the side to not a few Loch Ness researchers, Jan Sundberg ran his GUST expeditions to Loch Ness and various other cryptid lakes in years past but it seems he is on a prolonged sabbatical for some reason. His GUST website says he will be back but for now we link to his old website.

Jon Erik Beckjord's Nessie page from 2008: link.
A paranormal cryptozoologist who claimed to have filmed Nessie in 1983. He died in 2008 from prostate cancer and his website followed soon after. My main question here is who now owns his film?

Dan Taylor's mini-submarine "Nessa Expedition" from 2006: link.
A well known figure with his mini-sub plumbing the depths of Loch Ness in 1969. He was working on a return trip but died in 2005.

The Academy of Applied Science pages on their Loch Ness hunts from 2007: link.
Robert Rines and his AAS expeditions are well documented and the AAS website ran some stuff on this which no longer seems available. An alternative version of this site can be viewed at this link under the old monsterhunters.org.

Lieve Petin's Nessie pages from 2009: link
Lieve lived with Frank Searle during the 1970s as his assistant monster hunter. She admitted though in a 2005 documentary that the relationship went a bit further than watching the loch.  Alternate link here.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Statistics of Nessie

Dr. Charles Paxton is giving a talk on the Loch Ness Monster entitled "A Statistical Look at Nessie" as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. A bit short notice this as it is tonight at 8pm, but if you are in the area, check it out.

Details can be found at this link.

Charles gave a similar talk last year at the Edinburgh Fortean Society but that was related to his main interest of Sea Serpents. I am a bit of a graphs and stats man so have always been interested in what patterns may (or may not) emerge from such studies.

POSTSCRIPT: Just back from the talk and have to say that it was very good. Charles takes the line that even though he doesn't think there is an exotic beast in Loch Ness, that does not mean the anecdotal "data" is not amenable to the scientific discipline of statistical analysis.

Charles has probably the biggest database of sea serpent sightings (for which he does think the door is open for exotic species in the wide and deep oceans) and has applied various studies to them. For this talk he outlined his preliminary observations for a study of the Nessie database.

His work is not complete and to this point he has subjected only about 250 sightings to analysis. But what he found turned out to be counter-intuitive and contrary to the studies by such people as Richard Wiseman and their work on eyewitness testimony and reliability. What that actually means he was not sure and the study has yet to be completed with less than half the database being processed.

Once he completes the study, it will go out as a scientific paper which I wait for with interest.


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Forthcoming Book on Frank Searle?

I am just back from a rather damp visit to Loch Ness, but I will post more on that later. When I got back I powered up my daughter's Kindle and it downloaded the new e-version of Paul Harrison's "The Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster". Well done, Paul, on another good job. I posted a review on amazon.co.uk which I reproduce here.

I already have the hardback version but when I heard Paul had revised and updated his book for Kindle, I borrowed my daughter's kindle and purchased it. It was not a disappointment and as I flicked thru the pages, I was again finding stuff new to me despite being someone who researches and blogs on the monster myself. Some indeed was quite revelatory and I wonder if Paul has a website or newsletter as I have failed to find any mention of him at all on the Internet?

There were a couple of errors in the text but this is to be expected of such a vast subject. Firstly, Rip Hepple still publishes his newsletter and I am sure the land sighting of Nessie at a place called "Sandy Point" actually occured at Loch Shiel. Also, some sightings are not recorded in the book which are visible on the Internet. I think particularly of Ala MacGruer's head and neck sighting last year.

All in all, a worthy book.

I would also like to flag up what Paul said in this book about his next work. It is to be a book on the notorious monster hunter, Frank Searle. I had checked Paul's entry in the encyclopedia about Frank and was astounded to learn that he had tracked down Frank to his home in Fleetwood in 2003 and had a long conversation with him about his life at Loch Ness. I say "astounded" because Andrew Tullis had tried to find him for his TV documentary ("The Man who Captured Nessie") but was too late as Frank had died some weeks before. Now it seems we will get a chance to hear what Frank Searle's last words to the Loch Ness Monster "community" were. I put the word "community" in quotes because as far as Frank and the other Loch Ness researchers were concerned, it was anything but a community and more like a battlezone.

Some of what Frank said to Paul is already known from his unpublished book, but Paul goes deeper in that he claims that somebody from over the other side of the loch sent some people round to Frank's caravan and threatened to kill him if he did not leave. It seems they also beat him up by way of proof of intent and after Frank had left, they tipped the caravan into the loch to make sure he never came back. Make of that what you will but I am sure Paul's book will make for fascinating reading. As a result of this conversation, Paul's attitude to Searle mellowed, I wonder if any of our attitudes will change? My own opinion on this has already been posted, there is more to this story than meets the eye and if the old adage "History is written by the Victors" is anything to go by, there will be more to come.

As an aside, Paul Harrison seems to be one of those Internet-invisible Loch Ness researchers. He says in the e-book that his Loch Ness Monster Research Society is still active but I know of no regular publications or web presence. If he is reading this, send me an email to shimei123@yahoo.co.uk and tell us about your current work and new book.

In fact, there is a group of 1990s researchers such as Richard Carter, Alastair Boyd, Paul Harrison and others who do not post to the Internet in any open way that I can see. It would be great if they could engage with other Loch Ness researchers in a more visible way and share their undoubted wisdom and knowledge. Books are one thing but these people are in a sense living books with a limited time span stamped upon them. The generation of monster hunters such as Holiday and Dinsdale were gone by the 1980s. The generation of leading skeptics who followed them will be gone in the next 10 to 20 years. Who will that leave for the next crop of enquiring minds? In that light, the Carters, Boyds and Harrisons of this world who were believers in a large creature in Loch Ness need to make their presence more visible in this Internet age.