Thursday, 18 April 2013

Nessie at 80 - The Tail End

Following on from the Nessie 80 symposium last week, various people, including myself, gathered at Loch Ness to celebrate the date of the first modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster by the Mackays. I normally go up to Loch Ness at around Easter time, so this was all very convenient. I will write up a report on my own little "expedition" at a later date, but for now I concentrate on Nessie's 80th Anniversary.

I wonder if those who were first involved with the mystery such as the Mackays or researchers such as Rupert T. Gould had any inkling that this phenomenon would grow as it has and still be with us eighty years on. They probably did not and perhaps assumed it would blow over or be decisively solved in some way.

The enquiry has become more sceptical, but then again, perhaps the majority were always sceptical of any large creature inhabiting the loch. A poll last year found about a quarter of Scots thought the Loch Ness Monster was definitely or probably real. If the respondents had not just assumed the poll was merely talking about plesiosaurs, the figure may have been higher (well, I am not sure what they meant by "real").

Even against that current public mindset, Nessie is still a subject the press love to write up on. They would arrive on the Sunday, but on Saturday, Adrian Shine and his colleagues from the Loch Ness Centre held a gathering in the very room which was once the dining room of the Mackays' Drumnadrochit Hotel. It is now the foyer of the Loch Ness Centre, which all seemed very appropriate.

Whilst nibbling on some bites and sipping wine, we were treated to a video of Aldie Mackay recounting her tale of an object like a whale rolling in the water. It's an interesting account which has received various interpretations. I hope to devote an article to it soon in this blog's Classic Sightings section.

After this, we resorted to the restaurant of the new Drumnadrochit Hotel where talk of Loch Ness and Nessie was very much to the fore. I must admit I spent a fair amount of time discussing the subject with Adrian Shine and Dick Raynor.

Though Dick is sceptical of traditional monsters in Loch Ness, he had an unusual tale to tell. It was in 1968 and he was with the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau doing some monster hunting. It was about two in the morning and they were carrying out a night drift in a small boat equipped with a powerful flashgun/camera unit and Roy Mackal's crossbow and biopsy sampler. They were a few hundred yards off Achnahannet waiting for something to come into view. He then described how they heard a large splash in the distance akin to someone throwing a "kitchen sink" into the water. Shortly after, waves came up and lapped against their boat.

What was it? Dick in his typical down to earth way wondered if someone had dumped an old fridge or cooker into the loch. Not as exciting as a large beast thrashing in the water, one must admit, but a possibility.

The next day, we gathered for a boat trip to the spot where the Mackays witnessed their beast. It was off Abriachan near the top of the loch. We were on the boat cruiser operated by Gordon Menzies and Dick Raynor whilst the Loch Ness Centre's "Deepscan" cruiser went off with some of the Press to Urquhart Castle for a photo-op. 

It was a trip combining the ancient with the modern. Gordon Menzies would tell me how his father and grandfather would discuss the long necked Kelpies of Loch Ness in the old Gaelic tongue. When a stranger entered, they would cease talking in that manner which suggested it was bad luck to speak too much of the feared beast.

At the modern end, he showed me their latest sonar technology which could pick out objects in greater detail than before. I watched as the contour of the loch drew out into greater depths as the boat headed out into mid-loch. Will such technology eventually capture discernible images of large animals in Loch Ness? Only time will tell.

When the two boats finally met near Abriachan, an 80th birthday cake mysteriously appeared along with liberal doses of whisky and rum. Nessie did not appear to claim her cake so we ate the lot whilst the whisky did not seem to enhance our chances of seeing her.

There was one long necked creature that did appear beside the boat, but its name was Goldie rather than Nessie. Here you can see her beside Gordon Rutter of the Edinburgh Fortean Society. Dick Raynor told us she was a regular passenger as tourists would feed her various morsels. At one point she huffily disembarked when no crumbs were forthcoming and floated off a hundred yards or so. All it took was for Dick to wave his hands and she speedily flew back to the boat. I wish Nessie was so obliging.

So the cake was eaten, the whisky and rum was quaffed and the Press got their pictures. On the way back, I wondered what we be a longer lasting memento of this day. The Loch Ness Centre had kindly given some memorabilia such as RedNess beer.

Surfing the Internet tonight, I had a better idea ... well, maybe.


  1. an enjoyable read, the Nessie 'mystery' deserves to endure despite what is becoming more and more apparent with each passing year. Or maybe there were some real beasties that in Loch Ness in the 30's and endured until the 70's. Seems hard to believe though that a group of animals that had survived millions of years finally went extinct in the past 30 or 40 years. If science ever can clone a plesiosaur, the first one deserves to put in Loch Ness

    1. One more way to look at it though: ALL of the endangered species that have gone extinct in recent decades were around many millennia, or even millions of years prior to that extinction. If a Loch Ness animal has gone extinct that recently, I'd suspect an indirect human cause first, and mere coincidence second. The effects of our industrial society have reached every corner of the Earth, and our impact on aquatic life in particular is only poorly understood. We cannot know the sensitivity and vulnerability of a particular species without knowing quite a bit more about it. Chytridiomycosis has devastated some 30% of amphibian species world-wide, and continues to do so. It particularly affects amphibians in colder climates. Again we humans are likely to blame for that, as the original carriers may have been African frogs we transported widely out of Africa. Although we've outlawed the hunting of whales in most countries, we're only now learning that military and industrial sonar can damage their nervous systems, and may account for the massive increase in beached whales in recent years.