Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Story of Arthur Kopit's Land Sighting




I have been looking into some less familiar reports of the Loch Ness Monster on land and this led me to this blog for today which raises the profile of one such case involving an unexpected figure. I had been aware of the case of Arthur Kopit for some eight years, but a recent Internet search has given enough information to tell you more.

The source for the story was a letter Arthur wrote to the New York Times which was printed on the 1st August 1976. The newspaper had been running various features on the loch, the monster and its followers awaiting the result of Robert Rines' AAS expedition. On the heels of the success of the 1975 underwater pictures, the Times signed a contract with the Academy ensuring first refusal on all findings.

As it turned out, the AAS returned empty handed, presumably once they positioned their camera and sonar rigs properly. But that is another story. Meantime, the events of 1975 prompted people to come forward with their stories and so we come to Arthur Kopit and we reproduce the text of his letter which turned up on the Internet and is below.


Oh monster, poor monster

One night in August 1962, I was in the vicinity of Urquhart Castle, on the shore of Loch Ness. I had no idea at the time that this area was the site of the most frequent Loch Ness “monster” sightings. It was perhaps 11, and there was a full moon shining toward us across the loch.

When I parked my car outside the castle gate, at least 100 yards from the loch, I was able to hear a very loud sound. I did not have to strain to make the noise out; indeed, I, and the girl I was with, heard it as soon as we left our car. And as we approached the castle, it quickly became clear that the sound was emanating from a spot beyond the castle - that is to say, the water.

It was a halting sort of sound; uneven breath; a kind of gasping. It made me think of an asthmatic walrus (not that I have ever met one), or some such amphibious creature that could breathe on land but with effort only. A large creature, surely, to expel such a volume of air. The thing was obviously eating a lot. Munch munch munch. Snap snap snap. By the time we reached the castle we had no doubt about what was happening: A large amphibious creature of some sort was feeding on a bush or tree.

At the castle (as I recall) the ground rose so that one could walk from the grass or dirt directly onto the parapet. As we walked up said parapet we realized (she, apparently, to her delight; I to my consternation) that “the thing” was directly beyond the parapet on a small beach or spit of land.

It did not sound like a cow or sheep or dog; it sounded like an aquatic/land creature, Also, the loch is extremely cold; nothing sensible (like dogs or cows) would swim in it by choice. From where I stood, I could see there was no apparent way for a land creature to walk around the castle and get to this spot; it was guarded from land approach by the castle walls.

Well, all I had to do was poke my head over the ledge beside the parapet and I would have seen what it was. However, it occurred to me that whatever it was would also see what I was. Perhaps Nessie was a predator. “You go first,” I whispered to the girl I was with, and she pointed to me. Whereupon I devised a plan: to find a large rock, drop it over the side and (no, not knock it out) drive the creature toward the water, whereupon we would be able to glimpse the thing in retreat. Safely.

However, I made a bit more noise than necessary and the creature departed into the water. The girl I was with claimed she saw a long tubular creature slide into the water. That is her report. I did not see it. I believe I saw a V‐shaped wake in the water by the edge of the beach, but then I may have wanted to see the wake and will not swear I truly saw the wake, as I swear to everything else I report.

Subsequent to this event, it has seemed to me that I came upon, by accident, a favorite feeding spot of “the creature.” Possibly my information may help you in obtaining clear photographs and irrefutable evidence of the thing's existence.

I hope you will not take my slight jocular tone as a sign of a hoax. I really have better things to do than make up this tale. It is just that I have told the story so often to friends - like Jack and Carol Gelber - who have smiled very skeptically, that I suppose I have developed a kind of joking tone in the telling.

This is a grand adventure. Wish I were with you.

ARTHUR Kopit

Middletown, Conn.


Now this is not a story that made it into the classic literature, since Arthur only put it into print in 1976, but it appears again in a letter printed in the September 1999 issue of the Fortean Times. This letter was written by researcher, Ulrich Magin, in response to a previous Nessie article. However, in the letter, the name of Arthur Copit was the name associated in the literature with this event, which led to some fruitless online searching.

But the original letter names him as Arthur Kopit and a google search soon revealed this was the same famed American playwright. His picture below is taken from his Wikipedia page. In fact, the letter title "Oh monster, poor monster" is derived from one of his best known plays, "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad".




Arthur is now aged 82 and so I began a search to make contact with him. This was finally achieved with the help of his daughter who was glad to make my acquaintance and told me how her Dad's Nessie story was a "classic" within the family and "it really sounds like he did encounter her". Evidently, like so many eyewitnesses, Arthur still stands by his story.

She gave me his phone number but I was told that he was in relatively poor health but would be willing to talk. But given that and the current circumstances worldwide, I was more inclined to take a rain check on that and contact Arthur later to get his story and also ask about his female friend who actually saw the creature. But let us move on with what we have.

Now what can we say about the story itself, these fifty eight years on? In August at that latitude, the sun would have set by then, but we are told there was a full moon which places the event around the 14th August which places sunset more precisely at 9pm. But it is a full moon which provides a reasonable degree of illumination. But unlike the well lit castle at the top of the article, I doubt there were any spotlights around and the modern visitor centre was nowhere to be seen.

Having said that, Arthur did not see the creature as the idea of popping your head over the wall did not come across as a great idea to him. I can wholly sympathize with that view. If you heard loud animal noises beyond a wall and it began to dawn on you that the stories of 40 foot creatures may be true, would you stick your head above the proverbial parapet? 

The tactic to disturb the beast and then catch a view of it retreating sounds eminently reasonable, but the monster's classic aversion to noise was not known to Arthur and it was off before its appointed time. However, his female friend is stated as seeing "a long tubular creature slide into the water". That could be interpreted in two ways. She may have seen the long neck of the creature swimming away or it could have been a more extended view of the body. There is no way of knowing more as things stand.

STRANGE SOUNDS

But what Arthur lost in the visual was made up for in the auricular. What are we to make of sounds like asthmatic walruses and munching and snapping noises? Reports of noises associated with the Loch Ness Monster are rare indeed, so we should pay some attention to them when they do come along. The first thing to be said is that the sound was associated with something large. It was heard from 100 yards away and that was with the castle between them acting as a sound buffer.

Naturally seals or some other larger pinniped may be suggested by those more sceptical of a monster and the description of it being akin to a walrus noise may lend credence to that idea. If you want to know what a walrus sounds like, there is a link here. I guess Arthur had looked into some aquatic calls as part of his own attempt to understand what he had encountered and this composite idea of a walrus halting or struggling for breath was the best he came to.

But it is not clear whether this halting breath was due to it being out of water or indulging in these crunching and munching noises. It seems unlikely that the monster would draw much if any nutrition from bushes and trees so one wonders if it was just gnawing at them for some dental purpose? A look at the foliage below the castle in a more recent photograph suggests that even if Arthur looked over the wall, he may not have seen anything for dense foliage until the creature was further out in the water.




But this does make me think that monster hunters on their forages around the loch should pay more attention to trees on the shoreline which have suffered damage - especially higher up. It's a bit of a long shot, but who knows? Any such find should involve a search for any material that is not part of the tree and I wish Arthur had gone back the next day in sunlight to check out what had been left behind!

This episode also bring into focus the competing theories of indigenous water breather and itinerant air breather. Could such a noise be made by something that draws its oxygen from gills or similar organs? The answer seems to be "no" unless there is something other than lungs involved here. The only answer there is the strange ability of the creature to rise and sink vertically using some highly efficient buoyancy mechanism which may involve gas intake and discharge. We have some reports where this sinking and rising involves a foaming action around the waterline of the object. Could this be gas discharge as the object descends? How would that discharge sound out of the water?

I know, just a piece of idle speculation, but as I have said before, a lung breathing animal will not be long unseen and unheard in the loch. The only explanation for that scenario is the horned air tubes that have been postulated for our favourite beastie and as perhaps demonstrated in our previous article which brought you Harry Finlay's horned monstrosity.

I am not so convinced by that, but I know others are. But if it was an air breather, why did it sound as if it was struggling to breath? It sounded like this was a creature that was not accustomed to being out of the water on a regular basis like seals and the extra weight on its lungs due to being wholly or partially on land was actually a burden on its oxygen intake process.

THE EXACT SPOT

Now some are trying to figure out where Arthur was standing when he was at the "parapet". I called upon my extensive collection of postcards and include this one which is a better view of the castle grounds. People can refer to this and others in considering the literal lie of the land. Arthur mentioned

"At the castle (as I recall) the ground rose so that one could walk from the grass or dirt directly onto the parapet. As we walked up said parapet ..."

In the postcard image, there is a small hill rise in the foreground to the castle and a wall along it to the left. It may have been this wall he clambered onto as a first guess. Another possibility are the walls on the far right concerning which I add a second image to show their relatively lower height on the centre right.





So thus ends Arthur Kopit's fascinating account and it may raise more questions than it answers, but isn't that the way with a lot of Nessie stories?


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






35 comments:

  1. I'd never heard of this account before..Very interesting and solid evidence of the amphibious nature of the creature. I wonder is it a herbivore in addition to its well known liking for salmon. There's one sure thing in any case. There's overwhelming evidence of its frequency around Urquhart Castle.... something only confirmed by GBS recent article on Mrs .Cary's sightings over many years with her panoramic view over this particular area.

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  2. Fascinating!
    GB, is that supposed to be the right side wall of the large tower (if looking at the entire grounds from out in the loch) that they were standing on and would've looked down from?

    I ask because your image looks as if the castle base is virtually right up against the water whereas google image search shows a good chunk of land around the towers base

    Jon
    ps. I would've looked, lol

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    1. Since he mentions a parapet, it sounds like he went up to the top, but it could have been the walls beside the tower? I don't know.

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  3. Great account, GB, but I can't visualise the castle as Mr Kopit describes it. I may need to find some old pics of the area..I didn't see the castle until about 20 years ago. Do you still intend to contact the gentleman?...would be very interesting, I think.

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    1. Yes, we need more info, indeed when someone says "castle" it is easy to confuse this with solely the Grant Tower, whereas "castle" refers to the whole complex of walls, etc.

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    2. Right. Never having paid any close attention to the details of Urquhart Castle's layout before now, I had done an image search. Surprised to finally notice that besides the Grant Tower, as you say, there's a long wall like structure in the middle then a smaller tower at the other end. It all looks to me the place the couple could have been at. *shrugging*

      Jon

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  4. The McNab photo

    http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.com/2012/02/analysis-of-peter-macnab-photograph.html

    shows the foliage 7 years earlier

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    1. Yes indeed, and it was taken in late July, so foliage would be similar looking. I don't see much in the way of trees so perhaps it was lower lying bushes that were being chewed.

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  5. Hmm, an interesting tale (note the deliberate choice of words), but I think my first reaction to all of this is a bit like Riita’s i.e I’m struggling to reconcile what Kopit says about the castle with my own firsthand knowledge of those ruins.

    Now, to be scrupulously fair, I wasn’t visiting the Castle in 1962, and I wasn’t there that night with Arthur Kopit, but I’ve been going to Urquhart Castle on and off since the mid 1970s- certainly long before the current visitor centre was ever conceived- and I can state with close to certainty that the distance between the car park and the castle itself was a lot (a LOT!!) further than just 100 yards. If we then add on even more distance to get down to the water (there is a small beach at the other side of the main tower) then it seems to me unlikely in the extreme that any munching or snapping noises would even be heard at that range.

    In fairness to Kopit, noise can travel a surprisingly long way at night (I do enough after dark sea trout fishing on lochs and rivers in Scotland to know this firsthand) but even allowing for that, for him to hear munching noises from the water all that way up on the hill, all I can is that the muncher would have had to have been making one hell of a racket- half of Glen Urquhart would have heard it. People would have been coming out of their cottages... ;-)

    Joking aside, to get a better idea of the distances involved, I think it’s worth having a look at the photo of the castle which was used in the recent Mrs Cary posting. As this shows all too clearly, anyone walking down to the castle from the road at that time still needed to traverse a long stretch of field. I don’t know for sure how long that field is exactly, but it’s a lot more than any hundred yards. I’d guess two to three times that length, maybe more.

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    1. To be more accurate he said "at least 100 yards from the loch" and not "100 yards from the castle". I had a look at an old ordnance survey map which suggests the shortest distance to the loch from the castle gate was just over 200 yards. Since 200 is consistent with "greater than or equal to 100", I am fine with that.

      Also, I suspect it was the louder walrus like noises he was hearing from the starting point and not the munching noises. I live over a mile from Edinburgh Zoo and it is easy to hear the lions roaring from my back garden! The same here but from a much shorter distance.

      The other thing is this may have been Arthur's only (or one of very few) visit to the castle and it was dark. I am not expecting him to remember the contours of Castle Urquhart so easily after 14 years. Onto next comment ...

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  6. Continuing from my previous post about the distances being off, that’s my first objection before we even get into the nitty gritty of what he claims. My second sticking point is Kopit’s reference to the grass leading onto ‘the parapet’. It’s hard to know what he means by this. He makes it sound as if you can walk right up to one of Urquhart Castle’s walls and just look over the edge, like you might do on the battlements at Stirling or Edinburgh, but anyone familiar with Urquhart Castle will immediately know that this simply isn’t the case at all. For sure, there are lots of dirt tracks and grassy mounds, and the fragmented remains of building walls, but you can’t just stroll up to these and have a peep over and see the loch down below you. The only place where you can look down on the water directly is from the main Grant tower, but to get up there, you first need to climb an interior spiral staircase- you certainly can’t just walk onto the parapet from the grass, not unless you have the ability to levitate anyway.

    So, if I was talking with Mr Kopit, I’d want a few more details from him on these points. What ‘parapet’ is he talking about exactly?

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    1. I added some more images and text to the article to clarify the area under discussion here.

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    2. Thanks for that... but it's all speculation at this stage. All we have to go on is Kopit's use of the word 'parapet'- we don't know where exactly he was talking about. It might have been one of the walls to the right (in the video I sent you earlier, if I was going to put my money on a location, it would be the wall off the knoll on the far right- in other words, a long way off Grant Tower) but without further details from Arthur himself, we'll never know. We're just guessing.

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  7. Sorry for the long postings- spot the man under COVID-19 lockdown- but the final thing that just doesn’t sound right to me here is all that prevarication about seeing/not seeing/wanting to see a V wake. The tone that Kopit uses in this part reminds me very much of some of Cassie’s writing, when he was claiming to have seen monsters in Loch Achanalt, but then went on to say something like, ‘of course it must always be remembered that I have poor eye sight and am in want of spectacles’ (I’m paraphrasing from memory here as I don’t have the original passage at hand to check). Either way, this all suggested (to me anyway) that tongue was firmly in cheek here… and I get a very similar vibe about Arthur Kopit.

    That said, of course, I may be doing the good man down. Maybe he did encounter a herbivorous Nessie nibbling on the gorse bushes, but I wouldn’t myself put any money on it.

    To close on a more monster-friendly note though, rather than Arthur Kopit, personally, I’d be much more interested in having a chat with Bill Wright from Falkirk. Back in the 70s- 1978 if I remember correctly- he reported that he’d been fishing from the beach below Urquhart Castle late one night when a huge upturned boat hump surfaced, followed by a long neck with a head the size of a football. Wright was so startled that he reportedly scrambled back up the bank for safety. On balance, this sounds altogether much more plausible to me than Nessie chowing down on the bushes (sorry Arthur) and if Bill Wright is still alive, it would be great to hear this testimony firsthand.

    Good work on tracking down Kopit’s daughter though, Roland- there’s a wasted detective in you. :-)

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    1. Cassie was off the wall, he claimed to see monsters nearly every other day and some 300 feet long! This hardly compares and Arthur is only saying he wasn't sure if he saw a V shaped wake. He says he was surer about what he heard as opposed to what he saw. Darkness is no hindrance to hearing.

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    2. You're not wrong about Cassie being off the wall... but the jury is out on whether or not he was seriously bonkers or just being 'jocular', which is why I made the link between him and Kopit.

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    3. sorry- one last thought about the walls. When I was at Urquhart Castle with my daughter just a few weeks ago, we walked all over the site, especially that area to the far right. When you go over the grass though and come to a wall, you're basically then standing at the foot of it i.e there's no chance of you having a peep over the top. This is perhaps why there are signs all over the place saying do not climb on the walls. I guess what I'm trying to say is that these walls don't amount to parapets, not in my understanding of the term anyway. Just another thought... :-)

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    4. To be more accurate, Arthur said "all I had to do was poke my head over the ledge beside the parapet". So it was a ledge beside the parapet, not the parapet itself.

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    5. Yup, Cassie was having a laugh. I have been looking for his book for years, never seen it for sale anywhere, though I have consulted a library copy in the past.

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  8. Mmmm, fair enough about the darkness, but his girlfriend apparently managed to see a tubular creature, which Kopit himself says he did not. It's still all massively inconclusive, I feel.

    One other thing I haven't yet mentioned though is how representative (or not!) all of this is of Nessie's behavior. I don't recall any other reports like this in the whole LNM history. The nearest we get is Holiday's patch of flattened bushes at Inverfarigaig and Alastair Dallas' creature sucking the moss off rocks. If eating the lochside foliage was a typical Nessie trait, surely this would have popped up more in the sightings database, wouldn't it? The fact that it hasn't, strongly suggests to me that whatever they heard doing the munching that night (deer? sheep? highland cow?) it probably wasn't an niseag as we know and love her :-)

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    1. Yes, he didn't see the tubular form, though if Arthur was making it up, one could argue likewise that he would have added he did see it.

      I think we are not arguing if this is a typical trait but rather the contrary. Land sightings are not a typical trait of the monster - they constitute less than 2% of all Nessie reports. Shall we then argue they should be discounted because they do not happen more often? The same may go for reports of horn like structures or shape shifting humps or sounds.

      There is another report citing eating of vegetation and that is Ian Matheson in 1934 by Glendoe sawmill.

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  9. I don't think that bringing in land sightings or reports of horns etc is a valid line of counter-argument here, Roland. Yes, they're rare, but they DO nevertheless exist in the database- as you know from your own book research, there are, what, half a dozen or more instances of land sightings over the years? If we had half a dozen instances of Nessie munching loudly on the foliage, I wouldn't be querying it. But the fact is we don't- Kopit's is the only case.

    The Ian Matheson report had slipped my mind- it's actually one of my favourites- but if you look at the detail, this was more like the report we have from Alastair Dallas i.e. he claimed that the animal wriggled out of the loch and appeared to be feeding on weeds or grass in the swampy ground at the edge of the water. This is definitely not the same as something munching on the bushes with such force that it can be heard from over 200 yards away. Kopit's report is the ONLY record we have of this and the fact that it hasn't come up in centuries of other sightings is a big red flag for me.

    To put it another way, if a report came in next week that Nessie had been seen throwing baby seals in the air and eating them, would you give it serious consideration, or conclude that something about that behavior just doesn't sound right, based on all the evidence we already have?

    Funnily enough, as it happens, I think there WAS once a report about Nessie tossing seals in the air and eating them, but as I recall, it was quietly concluded that the lady involved was clearly, err, highly imaginative) :-)

    As I said in my first response, it's an interesting tale and I'd like to hear more about it from Arthur himself, but on balance, I still feel that this is either pure imagination or mistaken identity + imagination... or who knows, maybe Arthur was smoking more than just Silk Cut that night. It was the 1960s after all :-)

    Anyway, it makes for more entertaining discussion than COVID-19 though, I'll give it that.

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    1. One could argue likewise that the Matheson case is one of a kind and hence suspect. Dallas' account does not really indicate eating of vegetation IMO.

      The problem is the small dataset and statistical probability. We have about 1800 eyewitness reports from which to extract data points (horns, etc). But we only have about 30 land sightings. By way of example, less than 1% of all sightings describe horns but there are 1800 data points to allow a decent number to be reported.

      If land sightings describing creatures eating land vegetation had the same proportion that would come out as 0.3 of one sighting - i.e. 0 out of 30 would be a reasonable expectation. As it turns out, we have 2 - Matheson and Kopit, but if we only had only one, that would be entirely in keeping with a 1% probability or a 3% probability.

      Of course, we cannot predict what the real proportion should be (i.e. how many times does the creature browse vegetation per unit sighting). But the point is getting only 1 or 2 features out of a small sample is statistically reasonable.

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  10. Were the castle grounds accessible to the public after 11pm anyway ? Unless it wasn't a ticketed visitor attraction in 1962.
    My visits in the early 70s i'm sure you had to pay to get over the moat entrance and up the tower.

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    1. If it was anything like the unloved Historic Scotland sites I remember, you had a gate and a donation box. Probably quite easy to vault over. Being a ruinous heap, there was not exactly much to protect unlike today.

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  11. Great stuff again GB ..Nice to see us still aving summit to ponder over during this stressful time! Stay safe everyone Cheers

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    1. Glad I'm keeping you busy in your bunker, Roy. :)

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  12. Great article as per usual. Is there honestly 1800 reports of sightings? Good grief. Enough to collate some pretty intriguing conclusions.

    Kinda agree with Border Ranger. To me the tone is jocular and the letter very well written in the dramatic sense thigh. Was he just having a bit of fun? Hard to conclude till you follow it up as I'm sure you will in time.

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  13. I wonder if the reported long neck is an adaptation, like the giraffe, so it can crop at vegetation near or overhanging the shore. I also wonder what type of vegetation is in near proximity and if there are signs of this. There is a long necked river creature in Africa, the Mokele-Mbembe, that reportedly feeds on certain fruits near the water in this manner...

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    1. I've wondered about the morphology question regarding LNM.
      Assuming the whole business of a population getting caught the same time in the loch some 10,000 years ago, my intuition tells me that is no where near enough time for any sort of significant adaptive morphology to take place for a large animal.

      Tried googling the question but how to phrase the question properly in order to find a quick layman language answer is rather difficult or time consuming to sift through.
      Jon

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    2. Perhaps the animals that came to the loch were already adapted for this. Why exactly did plesiosaurs need those long necks?

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  14. Had I myself been in a situation to see the LNM up close I would risk it. You will never have that chance again, odds of winning the lottery while been struck by lightning.

    Whatever was necessary but I would silently peek over any stone wall or parapet and observe for every second possible the source of that noise, I would want to smell it. Scared yes but there has never been chewed up bodies, floating limbs, bodies with massive bite wounds around the Loch.

    I would chance it without doubt. This drop a rock story and drive it into the Loch is a wasted opportunity. Arthur bungled it. Frustrating to hear a mans fears overtake his senses.

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  15. This is what you've been waiting for and wanted GB. You're welcome!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaYh7XgiMKU

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  16. Lets assume that this is genuine, I don't know enough about the area (only visited a handful of times) so will defer to you guys who know it well.

    What I find interesting is that this animal may be herbivorous. Yeah, Ok perhaps its using the trees for some dental reason as you suggested GB, however, lets assume it is indeed herbivorous.

    Now lets revisit the the recent "In Search of..." program. At the end they managed to get an underwater encounter with a large aquatic animal around the area where the returning fish are. This sighting suggests the animal is a predator.

    Could this mean there are 2 different species of large unknown animal visiting the loch? Perhaps the animal is omniviorous?

    Very interesting article again GB....keep em coming my fellow weegie..

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  17. Here's the video clip of the "In Search of" underwater encounter; seems like something big!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JebfMhZNYtY

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