Sunday, 15 April 2018

Rumour of New Sighting and Photograph




Well known cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman, has heard something on the grapevine about an event at Fort Augustus. I checked with the local cruise company at Fort Augustus, but they know nothing about it, so we will just have to wait and see what transpires. The only other time I can recall someone fainting at the sight of the creature was the 1916 James Cameron story when a large hump reared up near his boat and he passed out!

It is to be noted that even when a newspaper has the rights to print a photograph, they can dither and defer, depending on what the news of the day is to fill their pages. This was the case with the Kate Powell fin photograph which took a few days to appear


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Sunday, 8 April 2018

Monster Hunting Raw and Undefiled




I reached Fort Augustus, after a two-day drive from my home in West Wales, with the bare minimum of equipment and no fixed plan of action. Unlike Dinsdale, I intended to sleep on the shores of the loch. This was partly to avoid hotel routine, which interferes with field work, and partly because I believed that most forms of wildlife are active early in the morning and late in the evening. If anything happened I wanted to be on the spot, not in an hotel bedroom. 

My hunting-cabin was a light van and the accommodation was pretty spartan. Two Army mattresses covered the floor and were covered by a tartan blanket. A box held provisions and cooking-gear. By the rear doors was a cylinder of cooking-gas. Two fly-rods and some fishing tackle were tucked into a net strung below the roof. A terylene sleeping-bag, blankets and spare clothing along with a few books made up the balance of the living-quarters equipment. The rest of the outfit was equally down to the bone - a pair of 10 x binoculars, a Rolleiflex camera, a few filters and a light-meter. It was a sort of do-it-yourself expedition kit.

F. W. Holiday, 1968

As I stood at six in the morning on the beach besides the River Foyers this Saturday past, I was reminded of two men of renown in the pursuit of Loch Ness' most famous inhabitant. These were Ted Holiday and Tim Dinsdale. The two came to my mind for different but similar reasons as I was in the middle of one of my trips to the loch.

In what has become something of a habit now, I am minded to read some of Ted Holiday when I sojourn here. Certainly, one chapter entitled "Foyers at Sunrise" from his work, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" has become required reading for me as it connects me with what gone before. Here we find the memoirs of a true solo monster hunter and Dinsdale's first book is not far behind in this regard.

I quote above from that chapter to relate the rawness of the search going back to August 22nd 1962 when he drove up from Wales. I was not even born then and Holiday would have been aged about 41 years. A light van, spartan accommodation, two Army mattresses and various other basics. Unlike Dinsdale, who had stayed in a hotel when he filmed his 1960 film, Holiday's austerity stretched to sleeping by the shore in his modest vehicle.

No defilement of the comfortable hotel bed for Ted as he explained that wildlife tended to be busiest around dawn or dusk, and he intended to sacrifice comfort for proximity if any action happened his way on the shore. Whatever you may make of such strictures, days later at almost the same spot as Dinsdale's film, Holiday found himself staring at the "Great Orm" of Loch Ness.

The time he saw it was about the same time I arrived near the inlet where his monster had appeared. I had not slept in a van, but as usual, had pitched my tent at the local campsite. Like Holiday, I resorted to a gas stove, unlike him, I bought my food rather than catch it from the loch. I wondered how much my approach to monster hunting was as raw and undefiled as his.

Loch Ness was not a far flung lake akin to a Lost World, but compared to today, it was very much underdeveloped when Dinsdale and Holiday scanned the waters between 1960 and 1962. The Clansman Hotel had just been built, but the choice of accommodation was far less than today. Tourists shops were less in number and Urquhart Castle was a ruin you could just walk into.

Those in pursuit of a profit have probably always outnumbered those in pursuit of monsters. There is nothing wrong with that per se,  but I sense the whole thing has gone beyond saturation point. I note that one campsite by Fort Augustus is building chalets for the monied tourists to rent. After all, why charge pennies for tent pitches when you can charge pounds for chalets?

That is a trend I have seen elsewhere. Perhaps one day I will end up parking my vehicle along the lochside like Holiday as tents and caravans are swept aside in the name of bigger profits? I assume the local authorities will note this in the various planning applications. Then again, perhaps all they are interested in is the tourist pound as well?  Time will tell.

The tourist shops likewise are shrines to tat and piffle. I would expect no less, but any kind of informed hat tipping towards the reason everyone comes is evident by its absence. There is next to nothing in the way of pro-cryptid literature and even the sceptical literature is barely visible. I guess they don't sell as well as Nessie shortbread or tartan monsters.

Going back 55 years to that raw and undefiled monster hunting, when Loch Ness seemed like a wilderness compared to the tourist mania of today, Britain was not long out of post-war austerity. Perhaps that was reflected in those monster hunters habits as I found myself standing at 6am on Dinsdale Island, scanning the loch before me.

Well, that is not actually its name. It is the small triangular island that bestrides the bifurcation of the River Foyers. We are told that Cherry Island is the only island of Loch Ness, but perhaps this is one as well? I suppose that depends, as it is not always separate from the mainland.

As it turned out, the water levels at the mouth of the river were at the lowest levels I could recall in years of coming here. The sandbar had been exposed and that meant I could walk over it unhindered to the island. Meantime, the River Foyers was almost becoming Loch Foyers as it was nigh cut off from Loch Ness (below).



A fellow enthusiast, by the name of Doug (pm me btw) reminded me that this used to be a haunt of Tim Dinsdale's back in the early days. He would be ferried over from the world of the Highland inhabitants to the raw and undefiled aloneness of the hunt. Once again raw, as Dinsdale lived off the basics he could bring over and the undefiledness of solitude. Not loneliness, but an apartness from the world around him. Just him and the Monster.

I believe Tim built a kind of hide to watch out for the creature. Whether Nessie would be fooled by such a contraption I cannot say. What I can say is that my almost unrelenting watch of the loch relented. Holiday alluded to this in his aforementioned book, the distractibility of water watching. It is not easy to stare at the waters of the loch once the initial enthusiasm ebbs away. 

I am no good at it, but had a remedy when I was there later in the day, I plugged a portable radio into my ears and listened to the commentary on the Scottish football. Monster hunting suddenly became a lot easier, especially when your team was winning. By coincidence, Holiday's book mentioned the temptation to flick on the radio!

So I explored the island, and when the waters began to rise again after some rain, I crossed in my wellington boots for my own bit of raw solitude. This time, however, I also brought a very un-1960s quadcopter; more on that in another piece. Doug had suggested I indulge in some crypto-archaeology if I ever got to the island. You mean, dig up a plesiosaur perhaps?

No, not at all. I was told that Dinsdale, in his book, had said he had buried an old pair of boots there. That was interesting. What should I do if I found them? Keep them as a souvenir of the great man or just leave them to moulder in their grave? I think the lie of the land answered those questions for me. Although small, the islet was still up to 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. 

A reconnaissance of the area was performed in the hope that an old boot lace may be seen to emerge from the ground like the proverbial morning worm. Alas, I think Dinsdale did a good job of burying his boots as nothing obvious was seen. I did find a shed antler to add to the deer skull I found last year, so all was not in vain, However, I think Tim's boots, of which I would suggest none of us are fit to fill, will nevertheless remain filled with soil.

Walking back to mainland about 7am, I had a Holiday moment as I met an angler about to push his boat out into the loch. Ted Holiday wrote about a similar episode when he chanced on an angler about to do the same early morning thing.

I had a brief chat with the man who was from Inverness and had a boat moored there. He was off to catch some salmon, but he had never seen the "Orm" as Holiday called Nessie and did not believe in it. In contrast, Holiday's angler matter of factly stated he had seen the creature twice and just accepted it was part of the loch.

In conclusion, Holiday and Dinsdale died in 1979 and 1987 respectively. Less worthy men stepped into the void and began to dismantle all that these two giants had worked for since those early 1960s. If both were alive today, they would be aged about 97 years old. I am glad they are not here to see the anodyne mess the whole thing has become.

Monster hunting, raw and undefiled. Old vans, gas stoves, grubby old boots and demob mattresses. Dinsdale and Holiday arrived with old style cameras and binoculars. I arrived with drone technology, digital SLRs, laptop, thermal imagers and image intensification hardware. In a fast changing world, I would like to think some of the old traditions are maintained by those who have not turned their back on the monster hunt, but continue the search to this day.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Did Nessie pass under their Boat?

By accident, I came across this letter to "The National" newspaper dated the 6th March this year. It was in response to an article on the beast's truly iconic nature, but this time it was something of a more solid nature. I reproduce the text of the letter here (original link here).

I AM intrigued by Pat Kane’s piece on a new ten pence coin bearing an image of Nessie (Here’s to Nessie! Why we’re all in thrall to Scotland’s mystic monster, The National, March 3). 

While not putting forward any theory, I did have a strange experience on Loch Ness. We were spending a holiday weekend with friends in Turriff, and were invited to visit another friend who had a cabin cruiser, the Rubicon, on Loch Ness. 

It was a lovely day and we cruised down the loch to Drumnadrochit, where we had lunch. In the late afternoon we cruised back and just off Foyers the boat’s owner, Jim Hunter suddenly said: “We’re running out of water!”. He switched the depth sounder from fathoms to feet and it was as if we were approaching the shore, but we were in the middle of Loch Ness! 

The ladies came out of the cabin to see what all the excitement was about, and we watched the depth sounder coming up and sticking until there was only eight feet under the keel. There were six adults, four of whom have since died, and three boys – I am talking at least 30 years ago. 

In any event the eight feet depth lasted probably about five minutes, then the echo sounder went back to no recorded depth; as soon as this happened Jim opened the throttle and we departed the scene, sharpish. We saw nothing, we heard nothing, and we discussed what had happened. My Turriff friend finally said: “There was something big underneath the boat.” 

I sent a letter to the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau in Foyers recounting this experience but I did not receive an acknowledgement; I know I have a copy somewhere in my loft as I came across it some years ago – I am not in the habit of throwing things out, as my wife continually reminds me.

Jim Lynch, Edinburgh.

There may be some small inaccuracies in the letter (the LNIB were not based at Foyers) but the drama of that day is I am sure etched onto his mind. However, it would be great to see the original letter which would carry more details for us to ponder. So if Jim Lynch is reading this, let me know if you have anything further to say.

This actually gives me some greater anticipation as regards the use of a drone. Whether the 4K video recorder could register anything definitive eight feet under the surface of the loch, I am not certain. However one wonders how often the creature drifts towards the surface but no one is any the wiser as to its presence?


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Sunday, 1 April 2018

Any Other Dumb Nessie Stories Today?




In the past we have had a dead "Nessie" stopped by police from being taken out of Scotland. It turned out not to be Nessie. Then we had the medieval Nessie story which more evil than medi. And people have always wondered if the infamous Surgeon's Photo was made on April 1st. Not forgetting even Adolf Hitler got in on the joke. Anyway, here's something along the same lines, had to do a double take before I realised the date.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Thoughts on the Alfred Cruickshank Land Sighting




As part of the promotion for my new book on land sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, I thought I would cover the curious case of Alfred Cruickshank and his encounter on a lonely road during an April night in 1923. Before I proceed, may I ask readers who have bought the book to consider posting a review to amazon.co.uk or amazon.com?

But what of that event 95 years ago and the closest we have to primary sources? Alfred Cruickshank of Buckie, Banffshire near Loch Ness wrote a letter to famous monster hunter, Tim Dinsdale on the 9th January 1961 regarding his curious encounter. That communication made it into Tim's first book, "Loch Ness Monster", which I reproduce verbatim here:

I thank you for your letter about our famous `Nessie'. I usually went from Buckie to Speanbridge to meet a train from Glasgow at 8 a.m. This meant leaving home about 3 a.m. as the roads at this time were very narrow and rough, 112 miles. The car I had was a Model T Ford and the headlamps were off the low tension magneto. The faster your engine ran the better the lights, so that when you slowed down at a corner (there were hundreds of them) your lamps faded.

I have done this journey hundreds of times but I have had only one view of the Monster, and I believe I was the first to see it, but I never told anybody (bar my wife) what I had seen (also my boss). If I remember rightly it was on a Monday morning in April, 1923, when I was going to Speanbridge, that I had the encounter with the Monster, of which I got a very good view as it crossed the road in front of me; but as I was nearing a corner of the road I was slowing up and the headlamps dimmed. I can still show you the place although the road has all been remade and widened.

If the road had been wider I would have turned the car for a further look but it was too narrow. My view of the Monster was: Body 10-12 ft. long, 5 ft. 6 in.-7 ft. in height, tail 10-12 ft. Colour, green-khaki resembling a frog, with cream coloured belly which, trailed on the ground. It had four legs thick like an elephant's and had large webbed feet, in reality it looked like' an enormous hippo, but arched back and long trailing tail which was on the same level as the belly, as you will see in my rough drawing. It gave out a sharp bark, like a dog, as it disappeared over the road into the water.

I think this is all the information I can give you. I wrote the B.B.C. about the Monster when they put down divers to photograph under Loch Ness for the Monster, for one bite of its large mouth would have halved any man, but they never replied. Hoping I have been of some assistance to you ...

A second source comes from the chapter on land sightings in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story", published 13 years later in 1974 which is reproduced below. Since I believe Mr. Cruickshank lived about 60 miles from Loch Ness in Buckie at the time, this looks a visit from Nicholas Witchell rather than a letter.

It was still dark and Mr Cruickshank's route was being illuminated by the car's rather primitive headlamps as he bumped and wound his way along the deserted road. About two miles north of Invermoriston he crested a small hill and his headlamps picked out a large object on the outside of a bend in the road about 50 yards ahead of him. "I could see something moving - it had a large humped body standing about six feet high with its belly trailing on the ground and about 12 feet long, to which was attached a long thick tail which was ten to 12 feet in length. It was moving slowly, sort of waddling away from the road on two legs which I could see on the near side.

I saw the outline of what appeared to be the head which was big and pug-nosed and was set right on the body — in other words it didn't seem to have much of a neck. I was slowing down to go round the corner so the lamps faded but as I went round the corner 1 heard a grunting noise from where it was. I stopped the car once I was round the corner but I couldn't turn the car round and I certainly wasn't going back on foot." Mr Cruickshank described the colour as dark olive to khaki and lighter underneath although obviously in the poor light it was difficult to determine colour clearly.

When Mr Cruickshank arrived at Speanbridge station and met his employer, the latter apparently asked him what was wrong since he was looking very pale. "He thought I must have had an accident," recalled Mr Cruickshank, "but I told him what had happened and he said I must have been dreaming. A couple of other friends who I told about the sighting said I must have been drunk. Apart from them I just told my wife and then kept quiet about it all." 

So what are we to make of this extraordinary account of a huge beast upwards of 25 feet crawling across a dark Highlands road during the inter-war years? The sceptics will of course dismiss it out of hand and we shall come to their theories later. However, even those who accepted there was a large beast in the loch were a bit non-plussed by the account as it did not include the obligatory long neck of Nessie lore.

Be that as it may, as researchers, Dinsdale and Witchell were honest enough not to sweep it under the carpet and both published the account for the world to read. What disappoints me is that we do not have any sketch to accompany either account. From the above, we know Cruickshank sent Dinsdale a sketch which, rather than printing, describes as:

a squat and bulbous creature with a large doglike head, little or no neck, four stumpy legs with flipperlike endings with fingers or claws, and a huge tail ...

I contacted the Dinsdale family regarding the possibility of this sketch still being in their father's archives, but nothing was found. But gone is the small head perched upon the long slender neck and to summarise the statistics:
  • larged humped body 10 to 12 feet long and 5.5 to 7 feet high
  • tail about 10 to 12 feet long
  • big, pug nosed head
  • little or no neck
  • four thick legs like and elephant with webbed feet 
  • belly and tail trailed along ground
  • emitted bark or grunting noise
  • colour dark olive to khaki with lighter cream coloured underbelly

What are the mitigating factors that may compromise this description? The first is that the event (according to Witchell) happened about 0500. The specific day in April is not given, and so we can only surmise that sunrise occurred between 0643 and 0529. A mid-April date gives a sunrise of 0605 which suggests there was not much natural light around and Mr. Cruickshank was largely dependent on his headlights.

As stated above, the headlights were driven by the engine in a manner similar to wind up torches today. As Mr. Cruickshank initially saw the creature fifty yards ahead of him, he was not about to take a corner and so the headlights were at normal brightness for his given speed. However, I am pretty sure a combination of seeing this hulking beast and knowing he was about to reach a familiar corner was sufficient for him to start applying the brakes. So, though Alfred says he had "a very good view" of it, this would have only lasted for seconds.

I say seconds because we are told he regularly undertook a 112 mile journey in 5 hours for an average speed of 22.4 mph. At an initial distance of 50 yards from the creature, he would be upon it no sooner than five seconds. In terms of movement, our creature had to move its 25 foot length across a road probably 15 feet wide in about the same time which gives a probable speed of five feet per second or about 3.4 miles per hour to avoid a collision. As a comparison, bull elephants seals can comfortably manage such a speed.

Apart from brevity and light levels, there is also the memory question as Alfred Cruickshank's letter to Tim Dinsdale was 38 years after the event happened. As stated before, whatever the eyewitness testimony, the passage of decades is going to have some effect on the powers of recall. I say that asking the reader what events they can recall from 38 years ago in 1980?

And herein lies the rub, the vast majority of what we saw in 1980 is long gone and beyond recall, but what is memorable, exciting or traumatic is not so easily eroded. Seeing a large form filling the road in front of you on a lonely road is what I would call "traumatic" and is more permanently encoded onto those ancient memory paths which carry those things which had to be recalled for the purposes of survival and preservation of life and limb. That he arrived at Spean Bridge looking like a sick man sums it up.

I think a large, unknown monster fits that bill nicely and note that the two accounts given about 13 years apart do not differ greatly in detail. Having said that, even this will not be subject to perfect recall in regards to exact details as I note that the two accounts differ in who Alfred Cruickshank told his story to (but note details omitted in one account do not constitute a contradiction). One also describes the noise emitted by the creature as a "grunt" but the other says a "bark".

One may think I am using brevity, light and memory factors to wriggle out of this lack of a long neck, but the Witchell account states that he only saw the "outline" of a head which suggests the full beam of the headlights was concentrated on the middle portion of the creature and weakened towards the sides of the road putting the "head" in relative darkness.

Thus, Nicholas Witchell asked whether the neck may have already progressed out of view into the trees or perhaps the neck had turned to look at the approaching car to give the impression of no neck. Mr. Cruickshank did not think so and thus some Nessie researchers are left with an incongruity. Others are not, such as advocates of a giant salamander like creature or those who think the creature is not resident in the loch but is actually several differing cryptids that occasionally find their way into the loch over the centuries.

But where did this all happen? I made some provisional deductions and visited the potential site back in April 2015 when I was investigating the nearby John MacLean sighting of 1938. As Alfred Cruickshank rightly pointed out, the road has been remade and widened since 1923 and so comparing his account to the current road is not a good idea. However, the incident is said to have occurred about two miles north of Invermoriston and happened near a cornering of the road. Using a pre-1933 Ordnance Survey map of the area will help narrow down the options as shown below.



As you can see, there is not much in the way of bending roads closer to Invermoriston (out of view to the bottom left). Also, as the road heads south to Invermoriston the road rises away from the loch and provides less of a comfortable route for the kind of creature described unless it was into high board diving. With that in mind, my gaze turned to Altsigh which is about 2.5-2.9 miles from Invermoriston, depending from where you start your measurements.

At Altsigh, we find a bending of the road which is not so much pronounced on today's A82 road (as suggested by Cruickshank). Zooming in gives us this view of the road below and I would suggest the event occurred at the first northernmost bend above the "A" of "Alltsigh" on the map. I say that because the witness stated that the creature became visible on the "outside bend" of the road which suggests a bend pointing towards the loch rather than away from it (as we see over the Altsigh burn).




Actually, this location is very near the spot where the old Half Way House hotel was located which later became a Youth Hostel. It is not visible on this old map nor the later 1921-1930 "Popular" OS map series, so I suspect it was built to take advantage of the later improved road. That would suggest this was a much lonelier road in 1923, though the credibility of the case hardly hinges on this.

With that location in mind, I did a reconnaissance of the area to see what lay beyond the road, mindful that topology may have changed somewhat between 1923, 1933 and today. Below is the road looking south as Alfred would have travelled, just before the now renamed Hostel (just out of sight to the left).




The outside bend you see is where I speculate the older dog leg bend once existed and the creature would have crossed ahead of it. To the right are some houses and I had an interesting conversation with one of the owners at the time concerning frightening events. To the left was the loch and I made my way down to the general view of the shingle beach shown below. It was a short trudge down from the road, perfectly consistent with the kind of quick escape route back to the loch that our favourite cryptid likes.




Looking back to the road from the beach I inspected the rising hillside back to the road. My first impression was that this would be an easy enough incline for a beast to slide down, but it was unclear how scalable it was in the opposite direction. But then again, I have no idea what the elevation of the road was like in 1923 or where the sweet spot for ascending/descending was. That particular answer is now lost in the mists of time.



 
OPINIONS
 
Given the knowns and unknowns, I was quite comfortable with this as a possible location. But let us get back to the varying views on this curious event. First, there is the matter of the greenish colour of the beast. Admittedly, it is a departure from the usual darker shades of the monster, and this led Tim Dinsdale into the speculation that the car's ancient magneto lights as they faded gave the creature a green tint.

That sounds reasonable but I emailed the owner of a Model T Ford enthusiast's website and asked if the colour of a magneto headlight emitted any colour in full or fading luminance. His reply was this:

"The bulb was a typical light bulb of the time. It was bright white at full brilliance but turned a bit yellowier as the engine slowed down. Looking at it, it just dimmed ... a color change was not too evident."
 
That doesn't totally exclude this as an explanation, but for me it is not likely to turn a grey/brown creature into a khaki green one. Looking back at the sightings record, I can find only three other explicitly green skinned events - the Lowrie family (August 1960), Christie (May 1962) and Kennedy (November 1974). So they do happen, but very infrequently. 

How much this colour variation is an issue partly depends on one's bias in the subject. Sceptics want multi-coloured Nessies to bolster their case against a single variant creature. The other extreme is to liken the Loch Ness Monster to a chameleon, which is going to far in the opposite direction. But these are both missing the point.

The vast majority of sightings are dark brown/grey/black and one cannot not always be sure how many grey-blacks are due to shadow rather than skin colour. So the green (and yellow) variants are a very small percentage which hardly swings the case. If 25% were green, 25% brown, 25% black and 25% yellow, that would constitute a bigger problem. These green outliers suggest to me a variant in monster morphology that does not happen very often. 

Meantime, sceptical interpretations are a bit thin on the ground. Steuart Campbell slots this case into the "otter like" category without explaining how an otter can fill the road or appear green. Unfortunately for the sceptics, otters in a heat haze cannot be wheeled out here! One could try and invoke larger creatures such as deer or seals, I leave the defense of such shaky theories to their protagonists, though I don't recall a seal ever being reported on a road by Loch Ness or ever out of the loch (and of course seals are not 25 feet long - unless a very large walrus got into the loch).

Perhaps an admission that this case is not amenable to natural explanations is found in Ulrich Magin's sceptical analysis of pre-1933 cases done for Fortean Studies Volume 7. He suggests that the whole thing was just a joke by Alfred Cruickshank based on the less than compelling observation that the month of the event was April and hence may be an April Fool's joke. A look at the calendar for 1923 shows that none of the Mondays in April fell on the 1st.

CONCLUSION

Otter, seal, hoax or monster? Make up your own mind. If Mr. Cruickshank did want to fabricate a report, you would have thought he would have played safe and gone for the standard grey, long necked beast. Seals and otters are far too small which leaves little room for any other explanation.

Alfred Cruickshank died in 1978 and so I leave the final word to Alfred Cruickshank's grandson who I tracked down to the same town of Buckie and had a phone conversation with a few years back. He acknowledged he knew of the story bit didn't have much to add. But he reminisced with me how his grandad often used to sit him on his knee and tell him the tale of how he once met the Loch Ness Monster on a dark, lonely road.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Entering the Thermal Dimension





As my first visit of the year to Loch Ness approaches, I mentioned my previous plan to use a drone to scout the waters just below the surface of the loch. I have now added a thermal imaging device to the repertoire of scientific devices as the hunt for data on the creature steps up. To be more precise, I will be taking up a Flir TS24-Pro imaging device shown above.

You may have seen devices similar to this in use by the popular series "Finding Bigfoot" and I have always wanted to acquire one for the Nessie hunt.  The device works on the principle of constructing images from heat and not light. This is demonstrated in the two images below which shows an optical image taken at night and the corresponding Flir image built on the heat emitted by the deer and surrounding foliage, etc.




This is in contrast to another data collecting device I use which is the Yukon Ranger Pro night vision binoculars which work on the principle of intensifying the low level of ambient light into a monochrome image. An example of the use of this device can be viewed in this previous article. One advantage the TS24-Pro has over the Yukon is that it has an SD card feature to allow video or still image recording while on the move. The Yukon video stream can only be recorded by attaching its composite video output to a cumbersome device like a laptop running video processing software.
Nevertheless, each device has its own particular domain of use. In the case of the Flir, if I am fortunate enough to record a heat image of the Loch Ness Monster, then that could be used to determine to what degree the animal is endothermic or exothermic by comparing its heat signature to other animals. Mind you, getting any heat image of the beast would be a bonus. Clearly, this is a device that is suited to the night environment where things invisible to the naked eye cannot escape the gaze of the thermal imaging device.

How and where the Flir will be used is still in the planning. I may employ it on the dawn night run alongside the optical dashcam or just use it on beach patrols. One possible problem I envisage is that having gazed at the bright thermal images through the eyepiece, it will take a while for the eye to re-adjust to the surrounding low light levels of the night.

By coincidence, I was recently watching a documentary on the Lake Champlain Monster and noted a couple who had taken the hunt to a small island on the lake with a similar device looking out for Champ on land by night. I can relate to that tactic, firm in the belief that Nessie also has nocturnal habits.

Wish me luck.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Nessletter No.164 Now Published

 
Rip Hepple, veteran Loch Ness Monster expert, has published the latest issue of his long running Loch Ness newsletter, "Nessletter" (dated February 2018). The main focus of his newsletter this issue is the search for Nessie DNA, though the story he tells of the mysterious yellow water of Loch Ness is worth the price of the issue alone!
 
If you wish to find out more, the subscription rates are: £5 (UK) or $10 (USA) for 12 issues which are published intermittently, not monthly. Send your payment and address details to:
 
R.R.Hepple
7 Huntshieldford
St John's Chapel
Weardale
Co Durham
DL13 1RQ
United Kingdom
 
 
I would point out that an archive of Rip's older newsletters can be found here on Google Drive. Rip's newsletter has been running now for nearly forty five years and has been a valuable source of information and analysis throughout those years. I continue to look forward to his wisdom and analysis.
 
 
The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Monster Hunt Takes on a New Dimension




The hunt for the Loch Ness Monster takes on a new dimension and that dimension is height as I take possession of a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone. Next month I hope to take this device to the loch and put it through its paces above the loch surface.

Now I say new dimension, but I am not the first to take the hunt to the air. Certainly the honour of using a drone at least goes back to fellow Nessie Hunter, Gordon Holmes, who was testing his drone for Loch Ness two years ago. Gordon tells me that mission did not end well, but the idea itself is sound, and taking his advice onboard, I will press on with my own search this year.

But, of course, the airborne search for Nessie goes back much further than Gordon or myself. Nessie fans will doubtless remember the adventures of Ken Wallis and his autogyro back in 1970 as his services were enlisted by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau to fly over the loch.




However, the airborne reconnaissance has now been automated with high resolution video feed and various stabilising features which can produce a stream of images superior to anything Ken could have produced. All we need is the Loch Ness Monster to pass just under the surface in full view of the drone with its video camera trained on it.

There are various classes of sighting - the traditional on the water surface scenario, the small subset of monster on land events and the even smaller clutch of encounters underwater. To that we can add the smallest of all - airborne sightings of the creature just below the surface. Indeed, has anyone claimed to have seen the monster just below the water surface from above?

The answer appears to be at most twice. The first comes from Tim Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster" where on page 114 we read this: 

... on 7 June 1933 in the newspaper Argus the following statement appeared.

'Sir, having seen in the local press the report of a strange monster in Loch Ness, it might interest you to learn that while flying over that loch last week in the vicinity of Urquhart Castle we beheld in the depths a shape resembling a large alligator, the size of which would be about 25 feet long by four feet wide.'

The second account is found in Constance Whyte's "More Than A Legend" on page 44 where a BBC radio broadcast from 16th October 1954 is recounted:

The witnesses were interviewed for the B.B.C. by Mr Andy Cowan Martin of the Glasgow studios who made personal contribution on the subject of the Monster. This is his story as broadcast.

"Where the strange and the weird are concerned it is a very satisfying thing to meet and have a chat with somebody who has seen what you've seen. But I'd better start at the beginning. It was a day in month of June 'way back in 1939 and I was flying from Kirkwall to Inverness and, just for fun, the pilot said he would take us over Loch Ness and we might see the Monster.

We flew down the loch as far as Fort Augustus and on the way back I actually saw the Monster for about half a minute or so, but by the time I'd yelled to the other people in the 'plane to look where I was pointing and the pilot had brought the 'plane down nearer the surface of the loch the Monster . . . the thing . . . giant eel or whatever it was, had submerged and all that the others could see was a swirl of foam.

Frankly they didn't believe me when I said that for a few seconds I had a clear view of two very prominent sort of humps and a third one that was not so prominent and it looked something like the head of a seal. Ever since then I have got a kick out of reading newspaper stories about other people who've been reported as seeing something like what I saw, but until this week I have never actually met anybody who's seen whatever it is that's been given the name of the Loch Ness Monster."
 
Okay, the second account seems to involve a creature at the surface, but there you have the only two airborne sightings I am aware of. Getting back to the present, preparations will have to be made for this new aspect of my visits to the loch.

Firstly, there are rules regarding the general operation of drones that have to be obeyed pertaining to distance, proximity to others and so on. Secondly, I will have to get practise operating one of these things as it will be over the waters of the loch where operational failure could lead to a watery grave. After all, these things are not waterproof.

Thirdly,  where would be the best part of the loch to fly the drone over? Flying it to the midpoint of the loch may actually violate drone regulations, but I am wondering if near a river mouth may be a good start?

Anyway, as Holmes said to Watson, "The game's afoot!" (sorry, Gordon).


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com





Thursday, 1 March 2018

A New Book on the Loch Ness Monster



Coming your way is a new book about the Loch Ness Monster by the author of this blog and entitled "When Monsters Come Ashore". As you may guess from the title, it is the first book on the creature that dedicates itself to a study of a mystery within a mystery - alleged sightings of the monster on land. We have a few dozen of these stories gathered over three centuries and they are the most provocative of all monster accounts.

This aspect of Loch Ness lore has always fascinated me and indeed has prompted debate amongst monster believers as to what it means for their view of the creature. Even the notorious Frank Searle pronounced that all land sightings account were rubbish!

The book draws on material from this blog amassed over these past seven years as well as adding new material written especially for this book. Cases covered and unique to the book are the famous Arthur Grant and Torquil MacLeod incidents and also added is the most recent land account - the Ian Monckton incident (who the author managed to contact last year). You can also expect a few others items, such as the Una MacPherson case. Who is Una MacPherson you may ask? Buy the book and you'll find out!

As stated elsewhere before, one day this blog will cease to exist for whatever reason and this book is the first step in transferring that knowledge to a more permanent, physical form. The original intent was to do it all in one book, but at 600+ articles and counting, it was decided to split the job into at least three books, of which this one constitutes the first. 

Copies can be purchased from the UK at this link and from the USA at this link. As with my previous book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness", there is no plan to put this in Kindle format for the reasons stated above - moving from the digital to the physical.


 The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Nessie to Feature on British Coinage




The Loch Ness Monster will feature on the British 10p coin as part of an A-Z series of British icons. This dovetails nicely with my other hobby of coin collecting, though I assume this coin will appear in general circulation. The image looks a bit better than the usual cultural representations, though I am pretty sure Nessie never smiles! Urquhart Castle appears in the background so you don't confuse Nessie with Mhorag or Lizzie.

This is from the Royal Mint website - where you can pick up a silver proof version for a mere £35:

The elusive Loch Ness Monster is next on our list, A highland sighting that’s not to be missed!

Nothing gets the mind wondering as much as traditional British folklore. And the top of all the mythical beasts is the Loch Ness Monster. 

Reportedly a huge monster which mauls and drags its prey to the depths of Loch Ness, it has been described by the lucky few to set eyes on it as ‘the nearest approach to a dragon I have ever seen in my life’. 

It was during the 17th century that Britons really took an interest in Nessy. In 1871 D. Mackenzie spotted an object, similar to a log or an upturned boat “wriggling and churning up the water”. After this story was passed to Rupert Gould, interest in the Loch Ness Monster increased.

I spotted four mistakes in this short description, I will leave it as an exercise to readers to spot them.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Monday, 26 February 2018

The Peter O' Connor Photograph (Part IV)





THE OBJECTIONS CONTINUE

Having taken a rest from the previous three articles on this intriguing photograph, I now consider some other objections to its authenticity. The first is taken from Maurice Burton's 1961 sceptical work, "The Elusive Monster" and makes the claim that the light configuration in the picture suggests a camera elevation of twelve feet (about 4 metres) rather than O'Connor's two feet. He also claimed that the object was no more than 15 feet away (New Scientist, January 1969). He added the further thoughts that the photograph showed the object was in water less than a foot deep with the object itself no more than three foot across.

Now Burton states these numbers but makes no attempt to demonstrate how he came to them. No maths, no diagrams, no nothing. It seems we just have to take him on trust in this matter. As it turns out, Burton had been relying on someone else to do the maths and that person was a Neave Parker, former RAF photographic analyst turned wildlife artist. In fact, Parker was an accomplished monster artist as the drawing below shows. Going by this, perhaps Parker had a mutual interest in goings on at Loch Ness?





So, as things stand, what Burton says here should not be accepted unless the maths and the assumptions made in the calculations are brought to light and can be verified by independent parties. Enquiries made to Loch Ness researchers who had made contact with Burton in the past managed to reveal the name of Neave Parker, but nothing else as regards calculations.

But taking these numbers at face value raises one or two issues. A calculated camera elevation of twelve feet is hard to envisage from a visit to the site where the photograph was taken. Assuming the foot to eye distance was about five feet, that leaves seven feet of height unaccounted for. There were some raised areas along the beach such as the one mentioned before where I found the circularly arranged stones, but I would not give that much more than three feet above the usual beach level.

The only two options I could think of was either to fall back to the wooded area as the hillside begins to rise to the road or climb up one of the occasional trees that grow out of the shingle. The problem with the first scenario is that being so far from the shoreline would undoubtedly bring the beach into the foreground of the picture. But why would a hoaxer even step back that far?




Concerning the second scenario, a typical picture of the trees along that beach is shown above. One could conceivably climb seven feet up a tree to take the picture, but that makes no sense either.  Apart from introducing an unstable photographic environment as the tree groans under ones weight, it also risks injury as such trees are rather thin trunked. To that one could add the foliage interrupting the field of view as it sways between you and the loch. But again what advantage is gained from taking such a picture seven feet up in a tree as opposed to the safe terrain of the beach?

As a consequence, I suggest the numbers stated by Burton make no sense from a practical point of view and so we move on to another objection.


MORE PHOTOGRAPHIC QUESTIONS

The following objection to the photo was posted as a comment at the end of one of the other O'Connor articles I published.

The distortion of the circular ripples emanating from the left of the image can be calculated by extending these into an ellipse on a graphics package and dividing the short axis by the long to give the cosine of the angle at which they were viewed. This turns out to be somewhere between 62 and 65 degrees (the reproduction of the photograph is distorted such that it no longer conforms to the original aspect ratio of the negative, although this is only by a few percent.) 

Should the object be at the claimed distance of 75 feet, then the camera would have to be 35feet above the water level to account for the geometry of the ripples.

In summary, the equipment used could not have produced a flash exposure of a subject (whatever that subject indeed was) at the distance claimed, but instead the picture should have shown the subject and it's surroundings lit mainly by ambient (sun) light.

Also, the distortion of the ripples in the picture suggest that it could not have been taken under the claimed conditions, that is, at the distances claimed.

I would point out that the statement "the claimed distance of 75 feet" is not quite accurate as O'Connor told Tim Dinsdale he was "within 25 yards of the creature". Needless to say, "within" is not the same as "at" and estimating the distance of an object without a frame of reference in low light can lead to errors. As we focus on the commenter's ripple calculations, I have four problems with this interpretation of the photograph.

First, the calculation does not make sense. If the stated angle of viewing was indeed 62-65 degrees, then the height of the observer to an object 75 feet away would have to be 160 feet and not the stated 35 feet. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he may be referring to the angle between the hypotenuse and the height of the observer, in which case the viewing angle is 25-28 degrees which agrees with the commenter's alleged 35 feet height. But if the commenter really did suggest 62-65 degrees, there is a contradiction in his analysis.

Secondly, there is the assumption that the ripples in the picture will be circular. That is an essential requirement to calculate the angle of incidence. However, these waves are coming into the shore and that means they will suffer from the effects of refraction. That is, the part of the wave nearest the shore will slow down in relation to the rest of the wave and this is going to result in the overall arc distorting and becoming non-circular. This has not been taken into account.

Thirdly, there is a lot of perspective leading to foreshortening in this picture considering how close the subject matter is. That will again distort the apparent elliptical shape of the wave. This also has not been taken into account.

Fourthly, an angle of incidence of 62-65 degrees is calculated. But just where exactly does this point of incidence occur in the photograph? The arc used to calculate the angle takes up half the height of the photo (or more depending which arc is chosen). Since the angle of incidence from the camera decreases as an object recedes from the camera position, then the angle of incidence of the object in question will be less than the angle of incidence of an imaginary object visible at the very bottom of the photo. The wave arc used is too big to give a precise answer. This also has not been taken into account.

The great thing about using mathematical equations such as these is that it gives ones analysis an air of authority and accuracy. However, equations are useless without numbers to plug into the input side of the equation. They are even more useless if the numbers plugged in are speculative assumptions rather accurate numbers.

On a final trigonometrical note, assuming our commenter meant 25-28 degrees, I note that when I apply Burton's 12 feet height and maximum 15 feet distance, I got a viewing angle of 38 degrees. When I attempted my own calculation of these ripples, I got 33 degrees (see picture below with an ellipse ratio = 106mm / 2x146mm = 0.363 gives 32.7 degrees). That is a 13 degree difference in calculations.




Did Neave Parker use the same ellipse calculation? If so, this looks just as much art as science. But one may say these calculations are way above what one would expect from O'Connor's account. If he was waist height in the water and was up to 75 feet away from the creature, that gives an angle of incidence of no less than 2.3 degree based on a water to camera height of three feet. Quite a difference, but my aforementioned objections to the objection makes it all look rather imprecise.


A WAKE BEFORE THE FUNERAL?

Now from this and my previous articles on this subject, you may have guessed that sceptics have been all over this photograph like a rash looking for anything that can give them a reason to dismiss it. Even the most obscure and tiny blobs of light or darkness are transformed into die cast objective facts that settle the case for those with a solution looking for a problem.

There was, however, one feature on the photo that seems to have evaded all their fine tooth combing and interpretations. I am referring to what looks like a bow wave emanating from the presumed neck of the creature. If you inspect the zoom in below, you will see two lines either side of the neck moving out from right to left of the picture. There is also a light area on the water under the head which I take to be the reflection of the head-neck from the flashlight and forms no part of what I interpret as a wake.




If that is the case, then it poses a problem for sceptical theories which all presume the object to be static. If the object is indeed moving, then some kind of bow wave should be visible either side of the neck and what we see here is perfectly consistent with that idea.

That thinness of the neck compared to a typical boat hull would suggest a less pronounced bow wave which is tighter to the creature's profile. Also, if O'Connor was also as low down in the water as he said, there would be a foreshortening effect visually drawing the two bow waves closer together. Which of these two factors  is most influential in the picture is not readily apparent. Indeed trying to analyse this theory by comparing similar animal wakes proved to be challenging. 

What I was trying to find was a creature in motion with the body followed by a gap and then the head-neck. Long necked water birds looked an obvious choice, but every image I found had no water gap between body and neck. Turtles fared no better while snakes gave you a water gap behind the "neck" but little in the way of body. Finally, the otter came to my rescue with this photo below.





So compare and contrast as best as one can between two creatures of very different genres. What I did notice was the lack of bow wave immediately to the side of the main body in either the otter or O'Connor picture. This appears to become more visible further to the back in the otter photo, but we do not have an image of the water to the left of the O'Connor creature's rear and so cannot confirm the main body bow wave is there.

Mind you, there are some creatures which swim with little in the way of bow waves as this slow moving crocodile demonstrates. It is to be noted O'Connor's creature was not described as moving at a fast clip when he describes it as moving "at a fast walking pace". The case for the object moving in the photo is stronger and has a thin lined wake pronounced the funeral for various sceptical theories?





There is another reason why I do not think the O'Connor object is stationary and that is shown in the montage below. If an object is stationary (like the island in the drawing) then incoming waves will diffract around it to create a mesh of constructively and destructively interfering waves.




The problem with the O'Connor photograph in this regard is that we only see waves coming in from the left. If, as is reasonably assumed, the loch waves were roughly heading towards O'Connor, then we ought to see diffraction occurring around the alleged stationary object and waves also bending in from the right to create some kind of discernible diffraction pattern.

I don't know about you, but I only see waves coming in from the left, which to me suggests again that this object is not stationary.



CONCLUSION

Quite why the various sceptical researchers have failed to comment on these features may seem a mystery, but it is not to me. One leading Nessie sceptic devotes a whole research paper to this picture and makes no mention of this bow wave or lack of diffraction pattern. Perhaps their negative bias towards the photograph blinded them to these and that is why you should always read the arguments on both sides if you are serious about coming to a conclusion.

Don't be fooled by researchers who are always putting down research by those who advocate the existence of such creatures. Indeed, such people may now tell us how they always knew of these features but quietly dismissed them as unimportant. In some cases, that may well have known about them, but I await comments from those who will try to say that not only is it not a bow wave, but it is not even a defensible position to take. Not only should there not be a diffraction pattern, but it would be idiotic to expect one.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Friday, 16 February 2018

On the Track of Unknown Animals




I recently attended a lecture by cryptozoologist, Richard Freeman, on the matter of unknown or unexpected animals and his attempts to prove their existence. It was a great talk and covered various beasts such as the Orang Pendek, Thylacine, Almasty, Olgoi-Khorkhoi and others. What came across was his enthusiasm for the quest as he has undertaken various expeditions across the world under the aegis of the CFZ. That includes such far flung places as Sumatra, Tasmania and the Gobi Desert.

His stories about intolerable heat, parasites, dysentery and various other afflictions in the face of research made me think my excursions to Loch Ness were no more than a walk round the block in field research terms. So I take my hat off to him and wish him well in his endeavours as he continues in the tradition of Heuvelmans and Sanderson "on the track of unknown animals".

What also struck me was his disdain for zoologists whom he described in somewhat flowery language and the prejudice in which they hold people such as himself. Richard has a degree in zoology and continues in the tradition of the zoological explorers who tracked down the Mountain Gorilla, Okapi and Komodo Dragon. It seems the negative bias of such so-called learned people does not stop with the Loch Ness Monster.

Which is somewhat surprising as the search for the possibility of surviving hominids in the form of the Orang Pendek or even the less sensational survival of the well documented Thylacine is a degree of magnitude below so called relict plesiosaurs. The problem seems to lie partly in what he calls "armchair sceptics" who never once went into a jungle or across a desert. Sitting in their labs or standing in their lecture halls, they have assumed the world is largely explored and the likelihood of large animals being discovered is next to nothing.

Richard thinks he is "that close" to getting scientific evidence for his two favoured animals, the Orang Pendek and Thylacine. What he does not need is a group of "experts" carping from the sidelines and offering nothing in the way of encouragement. But one question did come to mind as I considered what he had said.

If, for example, the presence of the Thylacine is finally proven by live capture or carcass, what does that say about eyewitness evidence? The thylacine became extinct in 1936 when the last captive one died. Since then there have up to 4,000 claimed sightings of the creature along with inconclusive films and photographs.

However, like sightings and pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, the pronouncement from science is that the Thylacine does not exist. At this point, there is no carcass, live specimen or close up photographs to allow zoologists to move in that direction. However, if a Thylacine is eventually found, what does that say about zoology's assessment of the anecdotal evidence?

It means that a percentage of the eyewitnesses were indeed correct in what they claimed to have seen. It means that the misidentification-hoax theory used to explain these things away is flawed because it was a theory that always produced a negative conclusion as regards species existence.

For now, the misidentification-hoax theory stands relatively unscathed because no cryptid claims have been validated and so advocates of the theory can continue to claim it is the best theory. However, the arrival of a dead or living Thylacine will blow this theory out of the water and will have ripple effects for sceptical treatments of other cryptid phenomena, including the Loch Ness Monster. I will bet that proof of a thylacine will come before those for surviving hominids or aquatic monsters. When it does, critics of cryptozoology will be in for a rough examination.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Friday, 9 February 2018

A Review of "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded" (Part II)



BINNS ON THE MACKAYS, SPICERS AND RUPERT T. GOULD


In the first chapter of his new book, Binns continues his retrospective on his previous book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", by revisiting some old classic cases. The first is Aldie Mackay's report from 1933, generally regarded as the first sighting of the modern Nessie era. Binns rehashes some of the arguments he levelled against the Mackays in his 1983 book, finally concluding this witness had just seen a boat wake. Binns in both books does not answer the objection of how a long time resident who was an angler and familiar with the moods of the loch surface could be taken in by such a simple deception.

Despite Binns admitting he reads my blog, he makes no mention of my 2013 article on the Mackay sighting which takes him to task for errors in his analysis. This was a perfect opportunity for Binns to show how weak my arguments are, but no answer came. I could make some argument from silence, but I refrain as I will point out for effect later on in this article. However, Binns adds nothing new of substance to his previous book on this matter.

The Spicer case is equally dismissed on questionable grounds such as the fact that the witnesses were driving a car. Now why this should cast doubt upon the case is unclear, especially since they were driving towards the creature, not to the side and not away from it. What is worse is that, like the Mackays, the nebulous tool of "expectant attention", which can magic away many an inconvenient eyewitness testimony, is employed as Binns tries to convince us that George Spicer knew all  about the monster beforehand and this therefore prejudiced his judgement.

The theory of "expectant attention" is the idea that an observer's assessment of an observation such as bow waves, otters, etc is compromised by an expectation that the Loch Ness Monster needs to be included in the list of candidates. It is a theory that no one disputes has merit. What is under dispute is the application of it. In what circumstances should it be used? How can its use be judged when nothing is known about the witnesses' psychological state? How is it to be used, if at all, when we have a witness that has experience of the loch's various facades?

I do not recall any article by any Loch Ness sceptic on application guidelines. Rather, it appears to me that the theory of "expectant attention" is applied in a lazy and indiscriminate manner without any regard to the situation it is being applied to. I put it to the readers that this is the case here. Now I covered Binns' objections to the accuracy of the Spicers' account in a previous article, but since it was published after Binns' book, I do not expect to see a response in said book (if ever).

Binns does add a new complaint concerning changes to the original Spicer-Gould sketch in the books of Whyte, Dinsdale and Holiday. I had already pointed out this issue in my aforementioned Spicer article and took Whyte to task for it, but it clearly has no impact on the original sketch and account which should be taken as the primary source. As for Dinsdale and Holiday, apart from Dinsdale relocating Spicer's "flap" to be a tail tip, this matter looks very much to be in the eye of the beholder - be they sceptic or believer. To me it just looks like hand copying errors, to Binns it is one of his  overstated "important" things. 

Binns further takes Holiday and Dinsdale to task with the suggestion that they had a dodgy agenda missing things out in the Spicer case which again look wholly insubstantial to me. Yet how ironic that Binns decides to omit the subplot of William McCulloch who was a corroborating witness to the area of flattened undergrowth which "was as if a steamroller had been through". Dodgy agenda? Surely not.

For some reason, Binns changed his mind on George Spicer. He initially put him down as taken in by an otter but now he is fooled by some deer. The deer "huddle" argument is covered in my aforementioned article. Indeed, Binns was mainly covering old ground here. I could get most of this stuff from his 1983 book, so what was the point in these chapters?


BINNS ON GOULD

Now moving on, Ronald Binns devotes a chapter to Rupert T. Gould and, not surprisingly, the critique is designed to cast doubt upon the subject's integrity and ability. Binns makes certain accusations against Gould that are questionable. This latest book has given me renewed opportunity to analyse this form of argumentation and I would liken it to the traditional game of Jenga.

As you may know, Jenga is a game based upon a tower constructed from wooden blocks. Blocks are successively removed by players until the tower collapses. I would suggest the Binns argument against Gould is a Jenga tower doomed to topple. In fact, the Binns tower appears to be one constructed from easily challenged sub-arguments, the successive removal of each causes eventual collapse. The tower may look impressive in sum total, but the overall structure is not sound at the individual level. Let us look at each block in turn as they are then pulled from the tower.



BLOCK ONE

The first "block" is an accusation that Gould was a liar. Binns tells us that Gould was indulging in a fabrication when he said that he initially put down the first reports of monsters coming from the loch as something with a normal explanation. To quote Gould from his introduction in his book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others":

In so far as I had any theory on the subject, I considered that the witnesses had probably seen, but failed to recognise, some well-known creature which, in some unexplained manner, had made its way into Loch Ness.

However, Binns does not accept this statement from Gould on the grounds that he had previously written a book in 1930 entitled "The Case for the Sea Serpent" which advocated the cryptozoological existence of sea serpents. Binns portrays Gould as a prejudiced researcher loaded with confirmation bias.

But where is the proof for such an accusation? There is none provided and the grounds for such an attack is merely based upon a line of reasoning that says, "Gould believed in sea serpents", "People were reporting sea serpent like creatures from Loch Ness", therefore Gould would have believed them to be sea serpent reports.

This makes no sense at all as a deduction and looks more like biased speculation. When I thought about this from my own point of view as a believer in aquatic cryptids,  I certainly do not jump on the next monster bandwagon whenever I hear about some report from a lake in some other country. Neither do I presume there must be a large, unidentified animal in a body of water just because a distant blob is snapped from someone's mobile phone camera.

Indeed, examining Gould's 1930 book, one is left wondering whether Binns had actually looked at it. I have a copy and so reviewed it in the light of Binns' accusation and what I found was a Gould who didn't swallow every sea serpent report that came his way.

In his introduction, Gould admits that "there were practical jokers who took a delight in hoaxing the public with stories of sea serpents". As to the matter of misidentifications, Gould refers to the previous work of Oudemans entitled "The Great Sea Serpent" and its 187 sea serpent cases. From these, Gould dismisses "at least half" on the grounds of insufficient evidence or more natural explanations. So much for the version of Gould that is desperate to see monsters everywhere.

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Gould did believe in sea serpents. But it does change the idea that he uncritically accepted claims for them from any old region of the world. The last word against this feeble accusation goes to Gould, who with keen prescience saw Binns coming when he said (pp.16-17):

Of course, if anyone chooses to assert that I went to Loch Ness with the intention (conscious or subconscious) of identifying the "monster" as a "sea-serpent," and points for confirmation to the fact that I have already committed a book about such creatures, and am an avowed believer in their existence, I have no means of disproving his assertion. But if I am any judge of what I think, and of how I form my convictions, I can - and I do - contradict it most emphatically. I retained my original theory - that some known creature had found its way into the Loch - so long as it appeared to fit the facts; I only discarded it under the compulsion of what I consider to be reliable and convincing evidence. 

It is to be noted that Binns decided not to quote this passage in his book.


BLOCK TWO

Binns move on from his whataboutery tactics by further accusing Gould of not consulting any sceptics at Loch Ness. This employs the decidedly weak approach of argumentum ex silentio since Gould does not explicitly state this to be the case. Indeed, Binns tries to wrestle Gould's words to imply he was out only to speak to believers. This is said to be the case when Gould stopped off in Edinburgh to confer with Scotsman journalist, P. G. Stalker.

Binns employs hyperbole by describing Stalker as "an ardent promulgator of the monster" and "second only to that of Alex Campbell". However, Binns cannot even get his basic facts right here as it was not Stalker, but his boss, J. W. Herries, who directed reporting of events at Loch Ness. Herries told Stalker to break off from reporting on Navy manoeuvres on the Moray Firth to find out what was going on at Loch Ness.

Consulting my copy of Herries' autobiography, "I Came, I Saw";  he makes this clear enough and  admits it was a bit of a risk putting such articles into the normally sober minded newspaper. However, the reaction of readers proved it to be the right decision and The Scotsman began a long association with the Monster of Loch Ness.  It is no surprise that Ronald Binns is not pleased with this "promulgation", after all, he does not believe there is anything unusual in Loch Ness. To deride the Scotsman newspaper for printing these eyewitness accounts says more about the derider than the derided.

Of course, Gould did not go to Edinburgh to be indoctrinated by "ardent promulgators". His chief mission was to examine the various articles to extract eyewitness information for his own research purposes later on at the loch. At that time, only Scottish newspapers were reporting with any consistency and detail on events at Loch Ness. Therefore, it is no surprise that Gould made his way to Edinburgh.

Did Gould only consort with "believers"? Well, Gould's book says he consulted with Mr. E. W. Porter, resident engineer of the Caledonian Canal on the waterways between Loch Ness and the sea. That doesn't sound like an exercise in confirmation bias. I guess that disproves Binns' accusation and it is clear from Gould's book that he quotes and examines the opinions of well known sceptics such as the zoologists Calman and Boulenger.

But Binns demands to known why Gould did not visit Captain John MacDonald. John MacDonald is one of the poster boys of Loch Ness Scepticism. Back in the early days of 1933, MacDonald wrote to the Inverness Courier as captain of one of the loch's steamers saying he had not seen anything unusual in his decades of navigating the loch. Binns rolled this man out in his 1983 book and does so again here.

Unfortunately, for someone who puts himself out as an accomplished researcher, Binns seems yet again unaware of an article of mine from 2011 in which MacDonald recants his scepticism with these words to the Daily Mail in 1934:

If so many reputable people say they have seen 'the beast' one inclines to the belief that there is something in it.

MacDonald says his daughter, Christina, saw the monster and I take her to be the Miss C. MacDonald who saw the creature in its single hump aspect on 22nd October 1933, and whom Gould interviewed for his book. Perhaps Gould met the captain while he interviewed his daughter? If so, I suspect John MacDonald was less than sceptical. So what other local sceptics should Mr. Gould have consulted? Perhaps Mr. Binns can name some more for us.


BLOCK THREE

Binns then takes Gould to task for eventually deciding that the Spicers had seen nothing more than a huddle of deer. Yes, that's right, Ronald even finds fault when somebody comes to, in his eyes, the correct conclusion. The basis for this argument is that if Gould had this"extraordinary volte face" on the Spicer case, it doesn't say much for his research techniques and therefore calls everything he did into question. Gould said this:

"Were I rewriting the book, I should have omitted this case. I think the Spicers saw a huddle of deer crossing the road. RTG".




Now Gould concluded his research for his book in the first half of 1934. I had contacted Jonathan Betts to get the original annotations of Gould's book and it turned out his Spicer recantation happened no later than November 1941, or about seven and a half years after his book. I suppose I must go out on a limb here and ask how changing ones mind on a single case seven years later calls into question ones entire methodology?

After all, Ronald Binns changed his mind on the same case when he went from an otter to a deer explanation. Does that call into question his investigative techniques? The answer is "no"; well, in this instance anyway. Gould does not explain why he changed his mind but one may presume he came across information he regarded as new data which was fed back into his assessment of the case. For Gould, it seems the data changed and not the method of investigation.


BLOCK FOUR

Binns then descends into more whataboutery by taking Gould to task for not contacting Hugh Gray or Kenneth Wilson about their headline grabbing photographs. It is not enough that Gould discusses the photographs in his book, but he must also show proof of interviewing them. The lack thereof is taken by Binns to again prove that Gould was not a thorough investigator.

This is another instance of Binns devising ways in which Gould should have gone about things and since he didn't, it is an easy win for Binns. But the correct deduction from the source material is not "Gould did not contact Wilson or Gray" but rather "We do not know if Gould contacted Wilson or Gray".  However, by setting up his straw man statement, Binns can proceed to fill the fact free void with less than neutral speculations for another Jenga block.

In the case of Kenneth Wilson, my counter balancing speculation is based a bit more on the facts. Wilson's role in faking the Surgeon's Photo was documented by Boyd and Martin in 1994. What comes across in their investigation was a picture of a man who was very reticent to talk about the picture and indeed give oblique hints that all was not what it appeared. In that light, it seems more unlikely than likely that Wilson would have granted Gould an interview (if anyone is aware of Wilson granting interviews to the media, let me know).

In the case of Hugh Gray, the two men were separated by over 500 miles. I have no idea if Gray had his own phone line and I am sure Gould would not have undertaken a special journey just to see him (note Gray's photo had not been published at the time of Gould's loch visit). If Gray was amenable to written correspondence, we will never know as such a thing is not stated either way.

 I would add that Gould comes across as not too enthusiastic about Gray's photo and employs words such as "vagueness" and "indefinite" to it. Having said that, he does accept it as a photograph of the creature. One also has to add that as a sea serpent investigator, Gould would have had next to no experience in critiquing such photographs. Indeed, I find no reference to such pictures in "The Case for the Sea Serpent" as such an item is even more rare than any of the Loch Ness Monster.



BLOCK FIVE

The final argument Binns employs against Gould seems to have some merit and that was Gould's use of sketches from his sea serpent book to help eyewitnesses in their description of what they had seen out on the loch. This appears like an attempt to influence witnesses in a certain direction. Unlike Binns' other assertions, we know this to be true because Gould said it in his book:

I must plead guilty to having taken a copy of the book North with me, and I must also confess that I occasionally showed it to a witness - but I made it my rule not to do so until after I had taken the statement, and to attach no weight to suggested modifications of this which I considered the book might possibly have inspired.

I used its illustrations as a means by which witnesses who could not draw might be able to indicate something to me which more or less resembled what they described; and I consider that this was a very natural proceeding. If, for example, I were an insurance official, going to interview a witness who had seen a car accident, but could not tell the make of the car, I should certainly take an illustrated catalogue of cars with me. And if for some reason (or prejudice), no such catalogue were available, I should certainly do my best to compile one of my own.

The Binns hyperbole machine goes into action as phrases such as "extraordinary admission" and "blatantly manipulative" are wheeled out to increase the impact of the argument. As the old preacher's notes used to say - "argument weak here, thump pulpit". Note that Binns does not include the first Gould paragraph above which lessens the alleged impact of the second paragraph.

However, Binns claims Gould used these sea serpent illustrations to "clarify some of his drawings" for his Nessie book. That is certainly not clear to me as I read the two paragraphs in toto. What is clear to me is that Gould did not allow any feedback from the sea serpent sketches to colour the statement from the witness. Neither is there any indication that these sketches formed any basis for any sketch that appeared in his Nessie book. In other words, this is another straw man argument and the pulling of the final block gives you this:





CONCLUSION

In the hierarchy of persuasive arguments, there are empirical facts, deductions and finally speculations. What Binns has done to Rupert Gould lies at the far end of the "speculation" spectrum. The fact that Binns employs some ready made binnsisms* to dress them up in the language of empiricism should not fool anyone.

Since I undertook to review this book, I have found so many errors, exaggerations and weak logic it would be a herculean task to enumerate and dismiss all of them. But I have better things to do with my time, such as finishing off my own new book. So, I will do one more review and that is Binns' critique of my own previous work, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". In the meantime, take it from this and the previous article that this is a book that continues the ignoble tradition of "slasher" scepticism.


* Binnsism (n.) A psychological tactic derived from politics in which the weakness of an argument is obscured by the use of hyperbolic language.