Thursday 8 January 2015

A Victorian Account of Nessie

I recently found a little treasure trove of Highland folk tales at the Calum MacLean Project blog. To quote the blog headline:

The Calum Maclean Project is based at the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh and focuses upon the collected archive materials of the renowned folklorist and ethnologist Calum I. Maclean (1915-1960). For further details, please visit the project website.

The actual project website is at this link. There are a few gems of stories to be found as you look around and there was one on the Loch Ness Monster or Uile-bhèist Loch Nis that caught my attention. 

The story was told to Calum MacLean by William MacKenzie in 1952. MacKenzie was a retired gamekeeper, aged 80, residing in Cannich, Strathglass.

It’s true and I believe in it. I heard it from my father and mother, and they were very old, that the old folk saw it there. I heard from one old man who stayed near there. He was working at something or another. I think that he was digging or something on his croft in the red earth. And his feet were very dirty because of the earth. He went down to the lochside to clean his feet by the lochside. And this wild beast appeared, it came to land near to him. He scarpered and left his shoes behind by the lochside. A few folk mocked him but he was a good enough [i.e.honest] character.
There are folk who have seen it long ago and they would tell stories about it. There is absolutely no doubt that it [the monster] exists.

The rest of the blog article suggests this story happened no later than 1880. I was wondering if it was the 1871 hump sighting by a similarly named D. MacKenzie, but it does not appear to be the same account as we are told this one involved a head and neck rearing up twenty yards from him. This sound very like the previous article on John MacLean which also involved a head and neck report at about 20 yards distance.

The list of sightings I have perused suggests it is a new story which I now add to the roster of claimed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. However, I am open to suggestions as to possible known parallels.

One other tale that caught my attention was the legendary Beast of Barrisdale. You can read about it here and here This is (or was) a beast alleged to live around the hills of Loch Hourn, which was more heard than seen as its blood curdling roar echoed through the region.

It seems a few tales from the same period as our Nessie story concerned this curious animal. The beast was described as: 

About the size of a donkey but with a mane and a tale like a horse. The head was broad at the top like that of a wild boar but there was no snout. It was a heavy over-hanging jaw and terribly, terribly ugly.

As I read these tales, I was reminded of a story by Tim Dinsdale which was retold in an article here. It related how Tim further was in his boat at Loch Morar when he heard a blood curdling scream echo across the loch as he sought a safe haven during a storm at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Loch Morar is only a few miles south of this reputed region of the Barrisdale Beast. That made me wonder whether Dinsdale had heard this strange beast. Then again, the last report of the beast was seventy years before Tim's story. Then again, perhaps it was just a Banshee!

One final story which has always intrigued me from near Loch Ness was the so called miraculous footprints of Finlay Munro. This is a set of footprints just down the road from Invermoriston which reputedly appeared after a preacher by that name left them as a sign against some hecklers.

Apparently, the prints are still there, despite being stolen and returned. Perhaps I will yet get to visit these legendary footprints as I visit Loch Ness on my next trip.

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