Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Podcast on Loch Ness Monster

 


Andy McGrath of "Beasts of Britain" recently interviewed me on the Loch Ness Monster. We covered various topics in a discussion lasting over an hour. You can listen to it on YouTube or via his Google Podcasts webpage.

Now, is that the infamous Searle brontosaurus image I see in Andy's graphics above?


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Sunday, 13 September 2020

Excellent!


I have been collecting books on the Loch Ness Monster since I was a kid. Back then I had the well known titles such as "Loch Ness Monster" by Tim Dinsdale, "In Search of Lake Monsters" by Peter Costello, "The Loch Ness Story" by Nicholas Witchell and "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" by Ted Holiday. After a hiatus of some years, I went back to collecting monster titles in the late 1990s and it has grown steadily over those years but tailed off as nearly all the titles came into my possession.

Some take a lot longer due to their rarity and when they do come up, a bidding war may ensue. So it was with Constance Whyte's "The Loch Ness Monster" published in 1951. It is a small work of fifteen pages and is a prelude to her greater work, "More Than a Legend" published six years later. I actually put out scanned copies of this booklet a few years back and you can read them here. But I did not own it and had to consult a library copy. Now the booklet did appear on eBay about six years ago and the bidding went up to about £250. I was not the highest bidder.

Last Tuesday another copy appeared with a Buy It Now price of £10. That is good and bad at the same time. It is good because you will get it at a great price. It is bad because others will be looking for it. When I got the eBay alert to its presence I was surprised no one had grabbed it hours before. Providence was on my side and I had no hesitation in clicking that buy button as fast I as could. The booklet is now sitting proudly amongst my other Nessie books.

How much is the booklet actually worth? Ten pounds or two hundred and fifty pounds? The answer is whatever someone is prepared to pay at the time. It may be another six or seven years before another one appears, so I would rather not wait for the next opportunity. But who knows? Another may appear in a matter of weeks. We shall see, but the problem with being a collector is that the more you collect, the less there is left to collect. There are now only three titles I do not possess and they are all booklets. I have never seen any of them on eBay or on the leading second hand book websites. It may therefore be reasonable to conclude that there is no one on earth who has the complete collection.

As befits a serious collector, I have also collected the various revisions and reprints of Nessie books. For example, Tim Dinsdale's aforementioned book went through four editions and all were updated in line with Tim's adventures and the latest news from the loch. Other titles were republished with the exact same content, so it seemed unnecessary to me to buy them. Of course, new titles continue to come onto the market, the last I think was "The Loch Ness Sea Lion" by Rob Cornes back in August 2019. Stories, films, photos and investigations always appear each year, so there is always scope to publish a new book on the subject.

Anyway, here's to all the Nessie books out there, the good, the bad and the ugly! With apologies for any omissions.





The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Possible Nessie Photos from 2005



I recently came across some issues of "Animals and Men" published by the Centre for Fortean Zoology which is run by veteran monster hunter, Jon Downes. It was issue 35 that caught my attention with a series of photographs allegedly of the Loch Ness Monster. I think it was published in early 2005, though there is little details about when these pictures were taken. Jon says the following in that issue:

A couple of months ago the CFZ were e-mailed several pictures purporting to be of the Loch Ness Monster. The person who sent them did not leave a name and did not reply to e-mails requesting further information. The sender said that they had taken the shots from a lay by above the loch. They had been driving along and saw something in the water. They pulled over and took three pictures before the creature disappeared.

The pictures seem to show an object with the classic "Nessieform" shape, a humped back and snaky neck. A road is clearly visible in the background as is a buoy. Richard Freeman showed the pictures to the gentleman who took the Loch Ness film shown on our website.

He believed them to be fake. Firstly the angle at which they are taken is too low to be from a lay above the Loch. They look as if they were taken from a boat. Also the width of the visible water is to slight for it to have been taken from were the witness said it was.

So there it stands. Without further information there is little we can do but it appears that, like several recent pictures of "Nessie", that these shots are fabrications.




I asked Jon about these pictures, but he says he could no longer remember anything about them and he could not find the originals in his files. Moreover, three pictures are mentioned but we have only two. The quality of the pictures are poor due to the print process and I suspect the originals looked better than what we are left with here. So we have various unanswered questions which I would prefer to have answered before forming an opinion.

Aside from obtaining better pictures (perhaps Richard Freeman could help), there is the mystery person who gave their interpretation that these were dubious due to the alleged angle of view versus where the observer was meant to be. You can see a navigation buoy beside the alleged creature and that looks like one of the buoys photographed below which are at the narrow top end of the loch at Lochend. That would be consistent with the closeness of the opposite shore. However, the text says a road is visible on the other side, but there is no road along that opposite shore. The analyst of the pictures also claims the loch is not wide enough to match the stated location.




These buoys I think are no higher that six feet which would mean the alleged creature is showing about ten feet out of the water if it was as distant as the buoy. That could translate to a potential overall fifteen feet of total length. There is that classic long neck and single hump to this picture with the other picture showing the presumed neck almost submerged.

So, can we find better versions of these pictures plus the third unpublished image? Who was the person who had previously filmed the monster prior to 2005 and was deemed a suitable person to analyse these pictures? Until we can get some further information, I will suspend judgement on these photographs from fifteen years ago.

UPDATE

Further information from Richard Freeman of CFZ suggests the object in the photographs is indeed of the fifteen foot size suggested and is long necked with a single hump, but it is man made. I refer to "Lucy the Plesiosaur" which was an animatronic plesiosaur created and used at Loch Ness in that timeframe of Summer 2005. The model was used in a Channel 4 documentary which I now recall watching from that time and was swum in front of various people to note their reactions. Here is a BBC article on the subject dated August 2005.





The model allegedly sank to the bottom of the loch, which reminds me of the photograph below which had a parallel monster model history.





The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday, 20 August 2020

The Monsters of Achanalt

 


Achanalt is a small village on the road between Ullapool and Inverness in the Highland region to the north and west of Loch Ness. It has a nondescript loch amongst other nondescript lochs in this lonely wilderness setting. However, back in 1935, a man by the name of Robert Lawson Cassie (b.1859) came forward with some incredible tales of monsters swimming in these lochs and rivers. The cryptid stories appeared in two books entitled "The Monsters of Achanalt", volumes one and two. These were published in 1935 and 1936, created a minor stir and then disappeared from view as general interest in Scottish loch monsters waned. But first, where is Achanalt on the map of Scotland? The general locality is circled below and is about 40 miles from central Loch Ness. 



Zooming into that area reveals various small lochs and lochans and river systems surrounded by general mountainous terrain with a small population. Loch Achanalt (centred in the picture) itself is described as a body of water about three quarters of a mile across and a maximum depth of nine feet. You could walk around the loch in about half an hour. This is no more than a puddle in terms of lochs and would have escaped our notice if Cassie had not taken up his pen. However, other local lochs of various shapes and sizes are included such as Loch Rosque, Loch Crann, Loch Culan, Loch Luichart and Loch Garve.



By dave conner - originally posted to Flickr as Wester Ross - Loch Achanalt


But to give a flavour of what Cassie talked about, I quote two stories about monsters he claimed to have sighted with friends.


A VISIT TO THE WESTERN WATERSHED

On Thursday, August 29, I ordered a motor car from the Achnasheen Hotel. We left the Auld Hoose at 2.30 p.m., and our journey was by Achnasheen Loch Rosque, Loch Crane, past the watershed, the highest point on the Glen Docharty road, and down the brae as far as the vicinity of Kinlochewe, where we finished the outward trip. Our party consisted of Mr., Mrs., and Master MacMahon, Aberdeen; Mrs. Macrae, the Auld Hoose, Achanalt; the chauffeur, and myself. Stoppages were made at convenient points for scrutiny of the rivers and lochs. Creatures of varying sizes were noticed where the river was easily visible. Loch Rosque is about six miles long by half a mile wide. For the greater part of its length it is screened from the road by trees. We stopped twice at gaps in the wood before reaching the west end, where we made a very thorough survey. At the breaks I was able to distinguish at least a dozen of the immature reptiles, mostly about mid-loch, and showing only the briefest glimpses in the rough water. It was impossible to guess at their length. In most cases they escaped the notice of my companions, but experience made them unmistakable to me. Stopping at the western end of the loch, we all saw a number of large reptiles — about six at one time. general trend of their progress was across the loch to the brae of the south shore, where there was a tendency to leave the  water at the base of the high hill that rises steeply from the loch.  Their probable lengths would be from thirty to fifty feet.

Mr. MacMahon took various photographic exposures under favourable conditions. Proceeding a short distance farther, we left the car when we reached the nearest attainable point to loch Crann. It is a small, roundish, pond-like loch joined to Loch Rosque by a short and narrow stream. Reptiles were seen in this burn, and there were some five longish ones visible in Loch Crann itself. As they were partially submerged, approximate lengths could not be guessed at, but in my considered opinion, fifty feet average would be a safe estimate, perhaps erring on the side of moderation. They were not active, and their poses did not lend themselves well to photography; but Mr. MacMahon took several exposures, including that of a contracted or dinosaur-like pose of an animal seen on the brae, several yards from the bank, at the foot of the southern ben. Here I may interpolate that they seem to be landing in swampy places fairly often. On our return journey we noticed a slender form, a few feet long, motionless on a gravelly spit at a bend in the river. There is an extensive region of dry land at the watershed. For a mile or so we followed the course of a small burn that flows west to Loch Ewe, but it seemed too shallow to be the abode of reptiles. At any rate, no sign of life was observed in it. We saw two small reptiles, however, in the burn that feeds Loch Crann from the west. 


EXPLORATION OF THE EASTERN WATERWAY

On Friday, August 30, 1935, we scanned the lower reaches of the waterway as far as the Upper Blackwater - i.e., for some distance along the course of the river, after it leaves Loch Garve. This time the car came from our obliging friend, Mr. D. Mackenzie of the Garve Hotel. The party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. A. W. MacMahon and their young son Michael, Miss Jean Macrae, the Auld Hoose, Achanalt; Mr. Roderick Macrae, chauffeur, Garve Hotel; and myself. We left the Auld Hoose a little before 5p.m.

Loch Achanalt is now very populous, and we had a passing view of some of the creatures in it. From prolonged observations I consider that the northern section of the loch now contains reptiles up to fifty feet in length, while there are many measuring between ten and thirty feet. Their characteristics have been described in previous chapters. The southern or Badluchie side of the loch is nearly shut off by a long tongue of grassy land, leaving only a narrow strait of communication. For several weeks past, dating from a heavy rainstorm and inundation, there have been indubitable signs that the southern loch contains one or more creatures of incredible dimensions.

From the Auld Hoose, a mile or more away, I daily see a long and high "plough furr" crossing the loch from north to south. Any curve of extra length cannot be determined. But it is alive and moving. The humps and elevated ridges along its back cannot be mistaken, and - perhaps from its very length - it behaves very differently from the smaller reptiles, and is far less elusive. It bears a marked general resemblance to pictures of the sea-serpent appearing in the current literature on the subject.

I ought to have inspected this stupendous animal at close range,but I suffer from various disabilities. The walk over rough ground taxes my powers. The river is spanned by a long, swinging bridge with ricketty planks, causing an uncomfortable feeling of tension. Lastly, one has to cross a marsh tenanted by a black bull of uncertain temper. Providence, however, has enabled me to get a very near view of this animal, or his double. On Thursday, August 29, 1935, between 11.30 and 12 noon (the time was not exactly noted) I left home in the company of a witness of unimpeachable credence in every respect. At a distance of about thirty yards we saw the high back of a reptile gliding up the river. Our field of view was somewhat restricted by out-buildings. This creature took quite a number of minutes, moving at a slow rate, to pass our point of observation.

Proceeding to the road giving a complete view of the river between two bends, we saw the animal still slowly coming up. At the bend next us it seemed to dispose of its head and foreparts deeply in the water, under the east bank. I marvelled for some minutes at the manner in which it could be stowing itself away. Suddenly a whirl of numerous flat-topped humps, black or dark in colour, appeared in the nook at the east bank. The creature was turning! The process was a long one, and an elongated shape had lengthened well down the straight section of the river, between the bends, before the reversal was completed. So far as the witness and I could see, the length of the creature was about the distance between the two bends. I estimate this distance at three hundred yards or nine hundred feet. A local friend of great experience confirms my view. 

So what are we to make of these fantastical reports? The answer is simple, they are all fabricated nonsense. No one else ever corroborated such reports and, despite being told of various photographs of these creatures being snapped, none of them make it into Cassie's two books. The almost monotonous appearance of these creatures makes them easier to spot than deer and perhaps even sheep. The description at the end of a nine hundred foot serpent struggling to contain itself in a comparable river is surely designed to elicit sceptical reactions in even the most gullible believer.

One of the witnesses was an A. W. MacMahon of Aberdeen who took various photographs. A search of the online newspaper archives does reveal an A. W. MacMahon who ran a photography business in Aberdeen at that time but no mention of monsters. So the co-eyewitnesses likely did exist, but they were just in on the joke. But it has to be asked what made Cassie write such garbage? One clue is in a newspaper clipping from the previous year in which he claims a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. The headline below is taken from the Aberdeen Press and Journal dated 25th June 1934.



The Aberdeen Press and Journal had published some of Cassie's previous books, so it is no surprise they take up his story. In this story, Cassie is again with a Mrs. MacRae and Mr. Healy, a chauffeur of the Garve Hotel. This report was not in the eyewitness database I use, so it was new to me. An examination of it gave me some doubts about it. The "disporting itself vigorously" involved Cassie's creature taking a sequence of leaps out of the loch in Urquhart Bay near the castle at 45 degree angles to the water revealing a roundish body and ending in a big splash and spray of water. I presume he had the idea of a humped back whale or a dolphin breaching the water as it leaps out.

The reason I have my doubts about this story is because I can find no other account in the stories of 2000+ witnesses that mentions such a breaching action. I therefore conclude the creature does no such thing and Cassie has made the whole story up by overdramatising it. However, his Achanalt stories would already have cast doubt upon anything he would say. Another account of Cassie's stories can be found in an article by Mike Dash in Fortean Times No.177 from 2003. He states that Cassie claims the Achanalt monsters began to appear in June 1934 which is the same time he claimed to have seen Nessie. I suggest this coincidence is no coincidence and rather denotes the time Cassie decided to embark upon his tales of deception.

Why June 1934? Well, stories of the Loch Ness Monster had been steadily rising since the summer of 1933, but Nessie fever was about to peak in July 1934 and news of the monster was just about everywhere all the time. That month of July would prove to be the busiest month right up to the present day for monster reports. As an undoubted sceptic of anything monstrous in any loch, Mr. Cassie must have been quite fed up with the coverage by June and was no doubt convinced anyone could submit a report and be published. With his reputation as a local and respected author, he put that to the test and was proven right.

The resulting mix of satisfaction and disdain he must have gained from that initial toe dip into the media would have emboldened him to expand the story into his basically satirical work on loch monsters in the region of Achanalt. His book was an attack on believers and not sceptics. However, he could not continue his story at Loch Ness as it was too busily watched and so he moved the story to the relative solitude of the hill country of Achanalt where Cassie (pictured below) lived.



So the booklets were published, nobody believed them, but that was not the point, it was Cassie's own personal commentary on the Nessie mania of 1933 to 1934 and his contempt for anyone who genuinely or ungenuinely claimed to have seen them. It's a pity he did not make a better attempt to properly evaluate eyewitness reports. That task was left to his contemporary, Lt. Cmd. Rupert T. Gould. I wonder what he made of Cassie's pack of lies?


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Thursday, 13 August 2020

Loch Ness and the Scientists

 



Here is an article I found recently from the Today magazine dated 8th July 1961. Tim Dinsdale had just recently published his first book on the monster entitled "Loch Ness Monster" and this had generated some interest amongst the media. The article itself does not interview Tim or go into the matter of his 1960 film or book in any great detail, it is more interested in the scientists and what they were going to do about it.

To that end, Doctor Denys Tucker, once of the Natural History Museum, figures prominently as he is interviewed about the negative attitude of the British scientific establishment and his failed attempts to drum up support from them. Constance Whyte who authored the book, "More than a Legend" which was published four years previously tells of her visits to the Natural History Museum to garner support for some kind of expedition to the loch by these fellows.

The author of the article then tells us of his telephone merry-go-round as he interrogated various scientific establishments on their plans. The Natural History Museum had none and it was a matter for the Royal Scottish Museums. The Royal Scottish Museum said they had no funds and it was a matter for the Natural History Museum.

A call to the Royal Society produced subdued titters and they had never heard of Denys Tucker. A final call to the government's Minister of Science elicited the response that it was a matter for the Scottish Department of Fisheries. Our caller must have gotten quite dizzy by that stage.

Now this was all before the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau had gotten off the ground and since then various scientific endeavors have been mounted at the loch, with or without the help of said institutions. The last was the eDNA studies conducted, not by a British establishment, but one from New Zealand on the other side of the world.

To view the article, click on the image and, depending on your browser, you can right click to view image and a magnification option may come up.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Loch Ness Trip Report July 2020



After a long wait, we finally arrived at Loch Ness last week. The coronavirus restrictions had made it nigh on impossible to get to the loch at my usual dates in April and May. By April, I would have usually collected the trail cameras I had left wintering beside the loch. By late May or early June, we would have made our first full trip to the loch. So everything was delayed by about three months until the Scottish Government finally allowed travel beyond five miles from home and facilities, such as the camp site we use, were allowed to open to the public with some social distancing and hygiene rules.

Now we do not usually go to the loch as this time of year simply because it is so busy. The place is heaving with tourists and it is harder to get things done in the quiet and lonesome way that we monster hunters like to do things. However, turning up at the camp, it looked about as busy as it does in May due to the owners having to close down some pitches for social distancing purposes plus the usual rules such as wearing face masks indoors and all the urinals were taped off. The shops were also enforcing these rules. The drive up from Edinburgh was also somewhat easier than usual due to lighter traffic, so I got there in about three hours, which looked like a record time. In fact, we got to the loch early enough to pick up the trail cameras before checking into the camp site.

The cameras had been there three months longer than anticipated, which would normally raise concerns that the increasing number of tourists clambering around the shores would find and steal them (as has happened before). Since there were no tourists at the loch during lockdown, that fear was allayed as all five cameras were retrieved safely. The only annoying thing during that process was a small cloud of flies that had taken a liking to me and followed me down the road. Yes, the midges head net was left in the car.

Once at the site and we had erected the tent, I took my first walk along the beach at Foyers, as is my habit. I strolled to the far end near where Hugh Gray had taken his photograph of the monster in 1933. The loch was in a choppy mood, so it required a bit more concentration to see anything out of the ordinary amidst the churning waves. As it happened, a long but small neck arose from the surface some 30 yards out from me. It was evidently a bird, I would say a cormorant, which quickly dived back below the surface, presumably in search of food. I waited for a few minutes for it to come back up, but with no success, the choppiness of the waters made visual contact harder. I also had a look around the estuary of the river Foyers beside "Dinsdale Island". I had my waders with me and I mused whether I should go over there some time. I also recalled it was the 60th anniversary of the Dinsdale film back in April and his sons had planned to go up for this but were prevented by the lockdown. I wondered if they were due up anytime soon.

A quick check of the trail cameras proved that four out of five had recorded a gamut of images. One had failed to record any images at all, so that would have to be carefully checked before it is deployed again. The other cameras displayed the perennial problem. They record three images on every motion detection. That is great as only boats, birds and you know what will trigger close up images. However, waves coming inshore can also trigger the cameras and produce a glut of useless images unless something coincidentally passes by. The unfortunate result of this effect is that the SD memory card normally fills up within two months and the camera stops, despite the batteries being charged.

Just one camera actually achieved the best balance and recorded only boats and canoes. It is a matter of setting the cameras at the best height above breaking waves but not so high that objects fall outside the conical area of detection. I am still working through these images, though the one of most interest so far was an object or wave in the water which was strongly reflecting the sun behind it, making identification of whatever is was somewhat difficult (see below). The two images are one minute apart as the reflection fades.





The next day, I had a watch at the site where Lachlan Stuart took his famous 1951 picture of three humps. I also brought my metal detector to see if I could find anything of interest, Nothing turned up apart from a wire clip and some old tin cans. I then noticed a helicopter approaching from the south in a manner suggesting they were looking for something in the loch below. I recalled later on that a man had fallen into the loch off Dores the week before. I had no idea whether they had retrieved him dead or alive and whether this helicopter was looking for him. Just as the helicopter passed beyond me, a jet fighter from the nearby RAF base roared past from south to north. I thought, did they know a helicopter was in the area at the same height? That was a potentially unhappy combination of events. As it happened, the jet stayed on the north side of the loch as the helicopter stayed on the south side and both eventually disappeared from view. I leave it as an exercise to see if you can spot the jet fighter in the picture below.




The day was broken up with a trip to Inverness and I went into the Waterstones bookshop. A perusal of their Inverness and Highland section had one paltry booklet on the Loch Ness Monster. This was the slim Pitkin edition I had reviewed before. This was pretty pathetic I thought for the main bookshop of Inverness. Shouldn't they, of all bookshops, be promoting Inverness' main tourist attraction? However, a look at the adjacent Folklore and Mythology section had Gareth Williams' "A Monstrous Commotion". Folklore and mythology, my ....! I quietly moved Gareth's book to the Inverness section, facing front forward, not spine!




Back on the road to Loch Ness, I decided to check out an area where there had been an alleged land sighting in 2003. I covered that story in a previous article back in May where the witnesses described something akin to a giant eel, but which one Nessie expert had decided was just black plastic piping from the local salmon farm. As I drew up beside the Dores septic tank I thought something did not smell right and I went for a walk along the shore where I think they had their encounter.




I walked for a mile and encountered no such piping, old or new. I guess the salmon farm must have cleaned up their act since 2003. I found one three foot section of green corrugated plastic pipe which may or may not have had its origin at the farm. So I had no opportunity to be surprised by a plastic pipe masquerading as a thirty foot giant eel. As I indulged in a kind of combination of beach combing and monster spotting, I came across the various body parts of a deer (below). I wondered what had made a meal of that unfortunate creature. It was here that I first thought of that man who fell off the boat at Dores some days back. Not knowing his fate, I became slightly more vigilant about finding something more macabre on the shore but then there was the old saying that the loch never gives up its dead. If he had not been rescued, I suspect the poor chap was a long way down never to come back up. But then again, how did the deer parts get to shore?




As usual there was too much rubbish on the beach. Some had been washed shore, which is fair enough, but the dinghy like object (below) I saw looks like it was just discarded. Did the truck tyre wash in or did it roll in from the road? have Mind you, there was also this monster like visage which glared at me as I headed back. Was it scowling at litter bugs?





One more stop on Friday was inspired by a chapter I always read when I come up here. It is the chapter entitled "Sunrise at Foyers" from Ted Holiday's "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" published in 1968. It describes his first expedition to the loch in August 1962, which also included his first sighting of what he called the "Orm" of Loch Ness. It sums up the mood of the hunt perfectly for me and so I read it as a form of inspiration to me and no doubt other monster hunters throughout the decades. In that chapter he says he pulled up for the first night on the south shore almost opposite Castle Urquhart. I drove back looking for that spot and I plumped for the parking lay-by beside the old ruin of the Change House. I don't think Holiday's spot was just a grassy bank as he says a truck pulled up beside his van with a dinghy on board or in tow. It sounded like a proper lay-by to me and so I took the picture below to complement his inspiring chapter.




After tea there was an evening walk to the spot where Frank Searle used to live and have his rather modest exhibition hut. He left the area in 1984 but I recorded a video clip of the area with a commentary on Frank's last days there which complements the podcast I did with Scott Mardis on famous fakers of whom Frank Searle is numero uno. You can see that video clip here. Saturday brought intermittent rain and shine and I intended to finally visit the Hambro monument on the Glendoe estate. Armed with some directions from a Nessie fan who had been there previously, we got there and followed the main track straight to the hill on which the pyramid-like monument stands to this day since the death of Winifred Hambro in 1932. I covered that tragic story three years ago at this link. The only mystery in that story is how a fit athletic lady like Winifred failed to swim to the near shore whilst her children and husband managed to do so.




The inscription on the monument reads:

WH-ROH
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
WINIFRED HAMBRO
WHO DIED NEAR THIS SPOT
WHICH SHE LOVED
AUGUST 28TH 1932


Some of the letters are now missing and it is not clear what "WH-ROH" means. I assume the "WH" is "Winifred Hambro". Now just below the monument is Corrie's Cave where the notorious sheep stealer, Alexander MacDonald (nicknamed "Corrie"), hid from English soldiers for some years after he shot at the Duke of Cumberland's army about three hundred years. It is a cleft in the rock perhaps about 15-20 deep. It was somewhere directly below the monument as it faces the loch, but the place was completely overgrown with ferns and heather. I made a somewhat sheepish attempt to descend into the ferns of unknown depth but decided to give up and let the ticks find another victim. Nevertheless, the view of the loch looking towards Fort Augustus is splendid, as the picture below shows.




However, not to deprive you of a view inside the cave, Doug, who gave me the instructions, had kindly sent me his video of his descent into the cave which I include here. He descended during the month of February, when I suspect the vegetation was decidedly more sparse.




After that, it was time for some monster watching at Borlum Bay and a walk past the spot where Margaret Munro's land beast was seen to move about the shore in 1934. There was then a visit into Fort Augustus and the place was pretty much like a ghost town despite the easing of the coronavirus lockdown. I asked a shop attendant what normal month the crowd outside would suggest and she said February. It was certainly quieter than when I am usually there in May. We did our bit for the local economy by buying at a few local establishments. After a time at the pier and trying to spot the Hambro monument in the distant hilltops, we went to pay my respects to the great Alex Campbell at his cottage in the town. Actually, I did more than that, I brashly and boldly went up to the door and knocked to the consternation of a growling dog who perhaps thought I should not be there.




The owner opened up and I asked about Alex Campbell. He knew all about him and the history of the man and was quite happy to talk. He never met him, but since the reason I knocked was to find a living relative who knew Alex, he helped me by pointing out one relative who knew him and may still be alive. I took some notes, we chatted in general about the man and his monster and I left with some detective work to do. As you may know, some sceptics give Alex Campbell a hard time. Well, they give anyone who claims to have seen the monster up close and personal a hard time. This blog defends Campbell against these attacks on his character and reputation.

Come Sunday it was time for an unexpected change of itinerary. I was off to Loch Morar. I had hummed and hawed about taking my drone to that loch with its monster reputation and clear waters and was inclined just to use the drone at Loch Ness. So we drove early from Foyers and I shall expand on that trip in a separate report soon. After tea in Fort William, we got back to Loch Ness about 7pm and I did my usual walk around the Foyers beach. However, as I turned to walk along the river, I was arrested by an unusual sight - a large area of flattened reeds right beside the River Foyers. Some obvious thoughts did go through my mind, but I first had to evaluate the situation and go through all the possibilities. The area is shown below and it tape measured out as about 30 feet by 9 feet, with the thirty feet parallel to the river. As you can see, the reeds beyond are untouched as are the ones in the water. A survey of the ground revealed no tracks of any kind, be it deer or larger. There were some human tracks but not much. It was tempting to conclude some massive weight had dropped on this vegetation and crushed them, i.e. they were horizontal with the stalks bent just above the soil.




Here is a video clip of the depressed area.




So it was time to go through the options. Had a storm caused the river to flood and flatten them? That seemed unlikely as the reeds around them were perfectly vertical. I then remembered there were canoeists camping beside me. I told them about this area of flattened vegetation and whether they had launched from there. The answer was they had not, as they take off from the main pebble beach further back where all the boats are moored. Thinking further, I recalled the campsite owners conduct nature tours around the area and have a den building activity for the families, but they don't go there either.

How about wild campers who had pitched their tent and then moved on? That was a possibility as I had recently noticed two groups of wild campers nearby, further up the river and further along Foyers beach. In fact, wild camping seems to be a bit of a problem in Foyers just now with more wild camping than usual due to the lockdown and some of them selfishly leaving waste and rubbish behind (of which I found none). With that in mind, I surveyed the spot and quickly sketched the directions of the various flattened reeds (below). The distribution of the flattening was not consistent with a large object moving from the water to the land which would have the majority of stalks pointing away from the water, but that assumes a scenario akin to a bull elephant seal coming ashore. Of course, I could probably conjure up a scenario where a large beast could contort to produce this pattern.




My main doubts about the tent scenario was that it was right on the water's edge which is usually a dumb move as a windy night can result in a waterlogged tent and a night time evacuation. There were other spots right beside this one that were good enough to pitch a tent and be away from water. Also, a 30 foot by 9 foot tent footprint looked unusual as wild campers usually move around in smaller tents. It just didn't look right as there were better places to camp nearby, but it seemed to be the explanation that "sucked the least". I left it at that and began packing up for our return home the next day.

On the final day, we stopped by in Drumnadrochit and headed to the Loch Ness Centre Exhibition. I was curious to see if anything had been added since we were last there some years ago. Going in, I noticed the usual covid-19 precautions were in place. We had to supply our names and phone numbers in case someone there turned out to be infected with the virus and we would be phoned and told to self isolate for two weeks. I wonder what Marmaduke Wetherell would have made of the exhibition and the fact that his infamous hippo ashtray was on display? He died about seventy years ago, so we will never know. 




I don't think it had changed much, but perhaps I had forgotten parts of it. We went through various rooms highlighting various stages of the Loch Ness Monster story in a chronological fashion ending up in the penultimate room with the sturgeon theory being expounded. The various propositions delivered to us via the PA system were that the loch was too nutrient poor for large predators and practically all witnesses were fooled by waves, birds, logs, deer, boats and so on. The rest were liars and a few, perhaps just a few, saw an errant sturgeon at some unspecified locations and times in the loch. I found this all just too simplistic and dismissive, but what else do they have to explain the strange things people are prepared to swear they saw?




It was, as it has been for decades, an exhibition designed to kill the monster in a hail of logic bullets. For me, the bullets miss the target. For others, they may wonder why they came here only to be told they were wasting their time. To my disappointment, my favourite feature of the exhibition was closed off. It was the dashboard of eyewitness testimonies. You put on the earphones and press the button to hear the eyewitness recount their own story of what they saw that day. It is the part of the exhibition which is least touched by the hand of scepticism, it is just you and that person from decades past telling a story which raises a defiant fist against logs, birds and boat wakes.

Alas, it was closed due to coronavirus since it involves pushing buttons. Speaking of monster exhibitions, we went outside and I wondered what had become of the competing Nessieland exhibition 100 yards away. I think the business has been sold as I noted that the polystyrene Nessie that dominated the tour was lying in two pieces inside an adjacent alleyway. Perhaps they will appear on eBay soon or end up in a skip along with the other artefacts of the exhibition. I was tempted to take the head home with me, a Nessie discovery in a kind of artificial way.





After that amusing epilogue it was off back home and the end of another trip. Perhaps the thousands of trap camera images will yet give a cryptozoological end to the trip, otherwise it is time to think ahead to the next trip which will be later this year.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Audio Interview on the Famous Nessie Fakers




My latest online interview is with Scott Mardis on his "Monster X" channel and you can listen to that here. It is entitled "Fearless Frank and the Fakers" and I guess you can figure out who the Frank is in that title. We cover recent fake news photos from the catfish fraud by Steve Challice all the way back through Loch Ness Monster history including the infamous Frank Searle. By way of a bonus when I was at the loch last week, I produced this short video clip of where Frank used to be stationed and I give a commentary on his last days there.


During the interview, I told Scott I had met Frank Searle back in the 1980s but the details were vague now. However, I later on recalled I still had my monster watching log book from those days and dug it out to find out what I had written about Frank. Sure enough, the entry for 19th July 1982, day 4, details my bike hike over to Foyers from the Youth Hostel at Altsigh. Not an easy trip by bike, but I quote:

Decided to cycle to eastern side of loch, or Foyers, to be exact which was 24 miles away. The gear wire gave me some trouble but after miles of bike pushing I made it to the Foyers beach at about 1:15pm or a  hour trip. I set up my equipment on this pebble beach near the old aluminium works and watched till about 3pm.

Then I visited Frank Searle's exhibition just round the corner. It was an old hut affair which has newspaper clippings, drawings, articles, information sheets and his photographs on the wall. Some of the material was anti-propaganda on THE Loch Ness exhibition and Rines' expeditions. When I talked to him in his drab, adjacent caravan, he was critical of the British media and his own critics; saying that he had given up on showing his material to British newspapers, etc and now only shows them to Japanese, American and other media.

As to my suggestion that he was a complete faker, he just said that he saw what he saw (in his belief, an evolved member of the plesiosaur family) and photographed them (and in one instance, a cine film). So I bought two of his photos, stated my beliefs (shrugged his shoulders) and left.

It was not exactly an epic meeting and I never went out to meet him again. The only thing of interest to me now was this claimed cine film he took. I would like to see how that was produced but I am not aware of any medium on which that is available to view.  I am glad I get around by car now, that is for sure. As you can see, it is a good idea to keep a log of your activities around the loch as the details are sure to fade over time, especially after thirty eight years in this case.

I made three trips to the loch over that time when I was a student at Glasgow University studying Astronomy. Getting a degree from there was easier than seeing Nessie! After I graduated, the trips stopped when I started my computing career down in England for the next ten years. I probably only visited the loch a few times and certainly not for two weeks of monster hunting.

Enjoy the talk.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com








Wednesday, 22 July 2020

A Recent photo from Loch Ness





I was emailed by someone who was at Loch Ness at the same time as me last week. He had visited the Grant Tower at Urquhart Castle and noticed an object in the water below. This occurred on Sunday, 19th July about noon day. The location where he was standing is shown in this third party photographIn his own words:

This picture was taken from inside the castle walls, looking down into the loch facing south. It was probably about 100-150m away, and the circled area is a 2x digital zoom in photoshop.


Didn't think much of it at the time. Was just happy to see something in the water other than choppy waves we'd seen all day! It was just moving about in the water down below the castle as we were leaving, we were kinda rushing around as obviously we weren't meant to be in the castle having climbed over 2 locked gates. I'd estimate the tip and the section fading into the water was about 2 or 3m long. Thought it was probably just some piping or something, but looked more interesting in shape on my laptop at home. Thought you might want to have a look anyway, could be anything really.

Two photographs were taken, the first with a wider angle lens when the object was first spotted and then when he switched to his 50mm lens. However, I could see nothing in the wider picture suggesting it had temporarily submerged. The white foam lines are like Langmuir circulations which are a common sight on the loch, but likely have nothing to do with the object. Our photographer further adds:


From the exposed tip above the water line, which I'd estimate was about the size of a divers head (my brother guessed the same thing), but you can see something of the same diameter trailing in a slight S shape for perhaps 1 or 2m behind before the water becomes too dark to see where it ends. 

It must have been there for a good 5 minutes as I believe I'd quickly changed lenses to get another snap as we were leaving. Difficult to say on the movement, certainly not ruling out it was just something fairly large/long/flexible gently bobbing about in the water/current though. Wish I'd had some binoculars. I didn't see it submerge in the time I was there.

I got the original SD card file and it checks out as clean on the EXIF data. Actually, I also thought it looked like a diver's head at first glance and here is the best zoomed in shot suggestive of this interpretation. The only issue is, was there a diving team at Loch Ness on the 19th July? I am aware of the recent search for a man who fell into the loch last week at Dores, but that is 10 miles north and searching around the castle would seems futile - unless someone went off for other reasons.

Any extra information will be helpful to include/exclude suspects.




UPDATE:

Jeremy emailed with the photo below which he says was taken from the same spot on the 8th May 2019 and says it is a log. Of course, that implies the object is still there over a year later which is not impossible if the water there is shallow enough. A look at the 1903 bathymetric map suggests it is not shallow enough to hold a log captive, so I am not sure of this one.






The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Saint Columba's other Water Monsters





It is one of the best known Loch Ness Monster stories and also the first dating back over fourteen hundred years to the sixth century when the heathen Picts were being evangelized by Saint Columba and his followers from Ireland and Iona. The story was publicized pretty much soon after the monster gained worldwide publicity in late 1933. However, there are two other tales of sea monsters from the same work entitled "Life of Columba" written by his cousin Saint Adomnan who was the Abbot of Iona after Columba. But before we explore those stories, let us reprise the tale from the Ness which is taken from the Fordham translation:

On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank.

And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed."

Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

My main article on this story can be found here and is actually the fourth most popular article in the ten year history of this blog, so I will not dwell on this in any great detail. How much of this story is legend, myth or history is always going to be a matter of debate. It is to be remembered that the story is taken from a hagiography rather than a biography. It certainly does not carry the factual weight of a modern eyewitness report, but it has a cryptid kernel of truth in it as far as I am concerned. 

What I find interesting is the lack of any identification of the creature dubbed as an "aquatic beast" by Adomnan. Other creatures Columba met on his travels are readily identified throughout the book, so why not this one? I suggest it is because there was no ready identification for this beast in the River Ness. Some have suggested a bear or a walrus, but bears do not lie at the bottom of rivers and walruses do not bite or attack with wide open mouths. In this, Columba's beast and the modern beast have something in common, they are both unidentified.




But let us move onto the other two water monster stories, starting with the tale of a wandering boat.

When Cormac was laboriously engaged in his third voyage over the ocean, he was exposed to the most imminent danger of death. For, when for fourteen days in summer, and as many nights, his vessel sailed with full sails before a south wind, in a straight course from land, into the northern regions, his voyage seemed to be extended beyond the limits of human wanderings, and return to be impossible.

Accordingly, after the tenth hour of the fourteenth day, certain dangers of a most formidable and almost insurmountable kind presented themselves. A multitude of loathsome and annoying insects, such as had never been seen before, covered the sea in swarms, and struck the keel and sides, the prow, and stern of the vessel, so very violently, that it seemed as if they would wholly penetrate the leathern covering of the ship. According to the accounts afterwards-given by those who were there, they were about the size of frogs; they could swim, but were not able to fly; their sting was extremely painful, and they crowded upon the handles of the oars.

When Cormac and his fellow-voyagers had seen these and other monsters, which it is not now our province to describe, they were filled with fear and alarm, and, shedding copious tears, they prayed to God, who is a kind and ready helper of those who are in trouble. At that same hour our holy Columba, although far away in body, was present in spirit with Cormac in the ship. Accordingly he gave the signal, and calling the brethren to the oratory, he entered the church, and addressing those who were present, he uttered the following prophecy in his usual manner: "Brethren, pray with all your usual fervour for Cormac, who by sailing too far hath passed the bounds of human enterprise, and is exposed at this moment to dreadful alarm and fright, in the presence of monsters which were never before seen, and are almost indescribable.

We ought, therefore, to sympathize with our brethren and associates who are in such imminent danger, and to pray to the Lord with them; behold at this moment Cormac and his sailors are shedding copious tears. and praying with intense fervency to Christ; let us assist them by our prayers, that God may take compassion upon us, and cause the wind, which for the past fourteen days has blown from the south, to blow from the north, and this north wind will, of course, deliver Cormac's vessel out of all danger."


Now what could these strange beasts be that so assailed the vessel of Cormac? The description of being like frogs or insects which could swim, sting and swarm around the boat suggests these may have been some species of jellyfish. In the right warm conditions, we can have a population explosion which can clog boats and could cause consternation to travelers. The fact this happened in the summer supports such a theory and I note a modern story from the south of Scotland concerning a swarm of common moon jellyfish. But then again, one would have thought they would have known jellyfish when they saw them? Other monsters are mentioned in this story which we are told were beyond the scope of the book. We will never know what kind of encounters these were.



The final story goes to the opposite end of the size spectrum as a real monster of the deep is encountered by another associate of Columba by the name of Berach as he sailed from Iona to Tiree:

One day when the venerable man was staying in the Iouan island (Iona), a certain brother named Berach intended to sail to the Ethican island (Tiree), and going to the saint in the morning asked his blessing. The saint looking at him, said, "O my son, take very great care this day not to attempt sailing direct over the open sea to the Ethican land (Tiree); but rather take a circuit, and sail round by the smaller islands, for this reason, that thou be not thrown into great terror by a huge monster, and hardly be able to escape." On receiving the saint's blessing he departed, and when he reached his ship, he set sail without giving heed to the saint's words.

But as he was crossing over the larger arms of the Ethican sea, he and the sailors who were with him looked out, and lo, a whale, of huge and amazing size, raised itself like a mountain, and as it floated on the surface, it opened its mouth, which, as it gaped; was bristling with teeth. Then the rowers, hauling in their sail, pulled back in the utmost terror, and had a very narrow escape from the agitation of the waves caused by the motion of the monster; and they were also struck with wonder as they remembered the prophetic words of the saint.

On the morning of that same day, as Baithene was going to sail to the forenamed island, the saint told him about this whale, saying, "Last night, at midnight, a great whale rose from the depth of the sea, and it will coast this day on the surface of the ocean between the Iouan and Ethican islands (Iona and Tiree)." Baithene answered and said, "That beast and I are under the power of God." "Go in peace," said the saint, "thy faith in Christ shall defend thee from this danger." Baithene accordingly, having received the saint's blessing, sailed from the harbour; and after they had sailed a considerable distance, he and his companions saw the whale; and while all the others were much terrified, he alone was without fear, and raising up both his hands, blessed the sea and the whale. At the same moment the enormous brute plunged down under the waves, and never afterwards appeared to them.


The likely two candidates for this beast identified as a whale are the killer whale or a basking shark. The huge gaping mouth described in the story reminds one of the filter feeding action of the basking shark, though it could hardly be described as bristling with teeth. Both creatures are compared below. It is to be noted that Adomnan readily identifies the creature as a whale like everything else in his book apart from the one creature encountered on the River Ness and those strange frog-like creatures north of Iona. I made an educated guess concerning them, what was encountered in the river does not readily fit anything normally seen in that river.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com