Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Gavin Maxwell's Loch Ness Sighting




A reader of this blog passed this clipping onto me which recounts the story of naturalist Gavin Maxwell's sighting of something strange in Loch Ness about 70 years ago. As you may know, Gavin Maxwell was the author of the acclaimed book, "Ring of Bright Water".




This was lifted from the Gavin Maxwell Facebook page, which had this to say:

During the late 1960's, a wave of sightings and press reportings began to take hold of the British public's imagination, on the existence of a possible monster in Loch Ness. I distinctly remember that Summer of 1969, as a boy of 11 years old travelling down with my family from Inverness to Arisaig and witnessing the hysteria of tourists jamming every layby down the A82. This wasn't helped by the various TV cameras set-up on timber custom-build platforms every 5 miles down the lochside hoping to bring 'live' sightings of 'Nessie'. An article in The Scotsman newspaper dated 2nd August 1969 confirms that even Gavin Maxwell was a believer in this mystery. This article was published just five weeks before Gavin Maxwell died on the 7th September, about the same time that Gavin realised he had cancer according to Richard Frere. This article was/is possibly the last published writings of Gavin Maxwell.

Gavin's account is known to Loch Ness researchers, but this account adds more detail. The earliest I know about it was a BBC television programme entitled "Your Witness" which debated the existence of the Loch Ness Monster in July 1968. The program sounds like a Who's Who of Nessie personalities from the time and even today would doubtless be well worth a watch. Those called as "witnesses for the defence" included Gavin Maxwell, and this is the account as reproduced in Peter Costello's "In Search of Lake Monsters":

It was in September 1945. I was driving from Inverness to Mallaig. The weather was dull, drizzle, flat calm, and about five or six miles on the Inverness side of Invermoriston I stopped to relieve myself. There was a knoll about 80 feet above the loch. While walking round the broom bushes on this knoll, I noticed what appeared to be a line of stones, a submerged wall stretching out from the shore, perhaps 20 to 30 feet in all, shining wet. Perhaps two minutes later I returned. The “stones” were not there: there was only a slight disturbance in the water which subsided very quickly. I waited half an hour and saw nothing more.

I must admit I like Maxwell's almost prophetic reply to the skepticism of today when he classes himself as no fool as regards the accuracy of what he saw and would probably not take kindly to someone taking him by the hand to "help" him in what "he really saw". Given his stated two years of sea observation and a lot more years as a naturalist who observed the moods of the Scottish landscape on land and water, I would class him as a seasoned and experienced witness.

Having said that, what did Gavin Maxwell see? He said he had driven south to a point four miles out of Invermoriston, that places us somewhere just north of the Alltsigh burn that runs into Loch Ness and is the location of the famous John McLean sighting about eight years before as well as the curious land sighting of Alfred Cruickshank in 1923.




I scouted this area last year in connection with the McLean and Cruickshank cases and one likely spot for Maxwell's story is shown below. This is the shingle beach that runs past the back of the Youth Hostel and I walked it from Alltsigh Burn northwards until it ran out.





The object was described as looking like a row of partially submerged stones commonly seen on drystone walls. Not being exactly sure how that would look, I did an search for some similar images and came up with the following pictures of submerged walls below, though I do not claim that they are an accurate representation of what Maxwell saw.





The suggestion is therefore that the appearance of the object is somewhat narrower compared to normal hump like reports. Did Gavin Maxwell observe the uppermost part of the creature's back as it lay still just under the water near the shore? 

Or was it a line of stones just as the description suggests? After all, the account says it ran perpendicular to and close to the shore line. For what it is worth, I walked along this area right up to Alltsigh Burn and I certainly do not recall a line of "stones" similar to that described by Maxwell (albeit 70 years later).

The main point, though is that the objects were not there when Maxwell returned from relieving himself a couple of minutes later. If they were still there, we would never have heard this story. His mention of drizzle allows for the idea of the loch level rising from previous rainfall. However, given that he returned only two minutes later, it is unlikely the loch level would have risen that quickly and certainly other stones round about would have given that explanation away.

In conclusion, Gavin Maxwell's experience is not one that is going to make it into the classic sightings list. The fact we know about it is more to do with the man rather than the story. Nevertheless, it has taken its place in Loch Ness Monster history and people will form whatever opinion on it.

POSTSCRIPT:

Doug, a regular reader and Nessie enthusiast, adds these observations about Maxwell and Loch Ness:

The Maxwell family connection to Nessie was probably the strongest via his brother Eustace. He had a boat on the loch in the early days of the search and was very active there up until his death. Ted Holiday mentions him directly in ‘The Dragon and the Disc’: ‘In 1969…Major Eustace Maxwell chartered a trawler and a crew of professional fishermen. Bringing these into Loch Ness, he trawled the bottom but brought up only leaves and some plastic bags. 

Hundreds of large hooks, baited with herring, were lowered to the loch-bed by cable but nothing relating to the mystery was captured’ (pp31-32). In a later chapter, Holiday also mentions that Eustace Maxwell had told him of a Nessie-type sighting of his own in Loch Fyne: ‘Major Eustace Maxwell told me how he once saw a huge hump projecting out of Loch Fyne which he took to be a sandbank. As the car moved behind some trees, he knew it couldn’t possibly be a sandbank. When the car was at once reversed to the original spot, the object had gone’ (p184).

I also recall reading in Douglas Botting's biography of Gavin Maxwell, ‘The Saga of Ring of Bright Water; The Enigma of Gavin Maxwell’ that when one of his otters (Edal) savaged a visitor (Margaret Pope), Maxwell was so frightened of the potential for bad publicity that he asked her to put the story about that she had actually been bitten by something while paddling in Loch Ness! Not sure if this story ever did fully do the rounds, but it's quite interesting grist for the LNM mill nonetheless.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




27 comments:

  1. I'm guessing Mr Maxwell immediately filled in the blanks in his own mind regarding a 'wall', unless the creature has a ridged back (I don't recall, but someone else might). I wonder why it would be at rest like that, although I do seem to remember other accounts of a stationary creature, but I don't imagine it had popped up to breathe, as one would then see it regularly.

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    1. Maybe, if it was nessie in shallow water..... A number of animals that live in water lay eggs or give birth in the shallows. Just a thought.

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    2. If the creature is indigenous to the loch (i.e. does not get to the sea and back), I would take the view this happens deeper down the water column.

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    3. Possible, what concerns me about that GB is what reference as to location/depth 50/60/100ft depth would the mother have, to re-locate the young ones?

      I would consider a very shallow depth for birth presuming the young would feed on plankton (more abundant in shallows) before small fish as they mature. Just a thought.

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    4. I would speculate (as one must in this matter) that the young would live amongst the rocks deeper down. No idea at what age adult and juvenile go their seperate ways.

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  2. If there were large animals in the loch prone to laying eggs in the shallows / hatching in the shallows, they'd have revealed their existence unequivocally a long time ago.

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  3. Now who can doubt him. How telling and timely is his last paragraph that future generations would still struggle with this mystery.

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  4. I have added some observations from another reader as a postscript to the article.

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  5. Re. postscript. Haha! Maxwell blaming Nessie.

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    1. Yep, shows he's not above spinning a yarn ;-)

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    2. For a man of his literary ability, he could do a lot better.

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    3. Hilarious, One would think Nessie would have took a chunk, rather than a nibble. Seems no one is above reproach. LOL

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  6. Another article with a difference. Fair play your blog continues to go from strength to strength whilst other blogs/ forums on Nessie seem to have fallen by the wayside. In fact one has gone that flat it has just resorted to copying your stories Glasgow Boy. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks. I do have the unintended advantage of proximity to the loch, the largest archive of scottish books in the world and one advantage is that over time, people know who you are and convey information to you.

      Other websites are free to link to my articles, that helps to get the message out further.

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  7. I'm thinking he may have seen a row of floats that were attached to a net to catch fish ?? poachers perhaps after salmon ??

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  8. You don't really see that kind of fishing in the loch.

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  9. What really bugs me, Op Deep Scan in the 70s On a tv series, Shine said (words to the effect) that when sonar 'hits' were recorded other boats would later investigate the area. WHY later??? Follow the sonar returns as they happen.

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    1. Yes, sounds reasonable to me to immediately station a boat over the “hit” to observe any possible activity. As I understand it, the sweep was one continuous scan from one end of the loch to the other without any follow up. Was there another going the other way? That operation was just about thirty years ago. I would assume a renewed scan and with more refined sonar equipment, we could get to the bottom of this enigma once and for all. But, with the caveat that as with a polygraph it would not be admissible as true evidence. At least not to the most hardened skeptic.

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  10. Deepscan took place in October 1987. I believe it was a two day event. There was a scan on the first day when the 'sonar curtain' went from the area of the Clansman Hotel down to Fort Augustus. The following day featured the return trip (from Fort Augustus back to the Clansman). And their were tracer boats that followed the main line of boats and homed in on targets. That's how it was determined that the three targets picked up by the boats in the front line had moved.

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    1. Thanks Paddy, I was not aware of the tracer boats. Sometimes they don't give you all the details in some of the narratives. Plus I'm too lazy to look up the details.

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    2. Paddy, agreed they did have tracer boats but.... "Adrian explained that he had sent 5 boats out that morning to check the sites of the previous days contacts but nothing could be found that could have made them" WHY the next day? link can be posted if desired.

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  11. I would imagine Adrian Shine could provide the details. But don't hold your breath on him coming on to this blog to say anything. He would never deign to do so. I don't think he has ever posted any opinion or comments here or on any forum. At least not one I've ever seen. Too “low brow” for him to say on here to us "commoners" maybe. There! I've said it... come hell or high water. Now I will incur the wrath of the Gods!

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  12. Happy Easter to my cousins across the pond. I am hailing you from California. We celebrate here.

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  13. You must understand, dear readers, that my intention is not to vilify Adrian Shine. Rather it is to have him come forward out of the shadows, if you will. And for him to tell us his side of the story. To provide a narrative here on this blog, directly to us readers. Sure, he has his website and his take. Adrian, dear Sir, you are regarded in high esteem, , address us here. I'm sure you read this blog and we want to hear from you directly of your experience in this matter. In regards to me, to paraphrase Shakespeare: “I think this fool doth protest to much”, or something like that, I will shut up now. Thank you very much.

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  14. BTW, When I said my cousins, I meant my Scots too, and me Irish and my Welsh and my Brits of course. Oh, what the hell, all of you over there on that little Island. Sheesh!

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  15. Darryl, in the last edition of Nicholas Witchell's book, Witchell writes (and I'm paraphrasing)that tracer boats - including the Loch Ness and Morar Project's New Atlantis - did try to home in on the contacts picked up by the line boats but they failed to pick anything up. Shine had New Atlantis fix the position of the contact, then had the boat go out to the position the following day and attempt to pick something up on sonar. Nothing was picked up, which led Shine to conclude that whatever caused the contact had moved.

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