Saturday, 9 February 2019

Podcast Talk on the Loch Ness Monster

I had a two hour chat with Scott Mardis for his Monster X Channel a few days ago and we covered a wide range of subjects on the Loch Ness Monster. Scott is a knowledgeable person when it comes to Nessie and particularly on the creature he witnessed himself, Champ of Lake Champlain. He is also the creator of the popular Facebook group, The Zombie Plesiosaur Society.

Follow this link to hear us discourse on things aquatic, Scottish and cryptozoological.

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Thursday, 31 January 2019

Loch Ness eDNA results delayed

A few people have asked me about the results of last year's eDNA sampling at Loch Ness. It was presumed the results of the analysis would be imminent. However, an update from Andreas Muller states this from Professor Neil Gemmell: 

After sample collection was completed in June, a global team of scientists has been busy extracting DNA, sequencing genes, and sifting through international DNA databases to identify forms of life present in the famous loch. It was previously hoped the results would be available early this year, however, the analysis has taken longer than anticipated. Project lead, Professor Neil Gemmell, of the University of Otago now anticipates the work to potentially take another four months to complete.

So it looks like we're looking at perhaps May 2019 for publication of the results now. I still think there is a History Channel type documentary involved here, but I am speculating. 

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

New Book on the Loch Ness Monster

It was last week that I finally went over to the National Library of Scotland and donated copies of my two books on the Loch Ness Monster. The donation form was filled in, the books dropped off and the emails arrived yesterday confirming they were now part of the library's panoply of Loch Ness Monster authors. The books are now accessible to the general public for years to come and further information on the books can be had here and here.

Which brings me to my upcoming third book on the creature. The first book was on the folklore of the beast, the second was on land sightings of the beast and now the subject is photographs of the beast. Not surprisingly, it is entitled "Photographs of the Loch Ness Monster" with the subtitle of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". That subtitle basically tells you that some of these pictures are genuine, some are misidentifications and some are fake. Of course, the debunkers will say they are all bad and ugly, that is their opinion and the aim of the 400 pages is to take a thorough look at the arguments for and against.

You can guess from the cover what some of the subject matter will be, I hope there will be something for everyone as over forty alleged pictures of the monster are covered. So, I hope to tie up the loose ends and get this book out some time in February. After that, it will be another visit to the National Library with another book.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Ricky Phillips Replies

(I had been in contact with Ricky regarding his picture and after a discussion, he offered to post a reply to the reaction and so on. So here it is and I will leave my comments to the comments section --- Ed.)

Why nothing prepares you for the Loch Ness Monsters…

(Ricky D Phillips)

Did I say “Monsters”? – I did – and not the long-necked variety either, but the bipedal kind with a phone in their hand or a laptop and a ready wit. Don’t get me wrong, since “that photo” some of the comments I have seen from people have been hilarious, complete with Gifs and memes, and I have even joined in on the joke with quite a few people, but there have been two or three really, really nasty comments too. Now, I’m no stranger to the press and to the odd moron chiming in, but as a historian, I have to prove every word I write, and I can back them all up: not so with “Nessie”.

If many comments be believed, of course, I am supposed to have a full film crew on standby and a concrete and referencable back-story to the whole thing, and that’s just not how it works. It isn’t like I actually tried to take a picture of it! However, a lot of these comments have been driven by the press and have been misunderstood from there, so I thought I’d set the record straight on “that photo” in my own words, and Roland has been kind enough to let me guest-blog on his site, since he seems to actually be the most decent, well-informed and impartial person I have met in this whole curious event.

What I have done is to write down the common questions or points so that I can answer them bit by bit. I’ll try to keep it humorous, because what else is the whole Nessie myth but fun? It strikes me that a lot of commenters on news sites must be lousy parents… every Christmas they must be debunking Santa to their bewildered children! So here are the answers in my own words, which if nothing else, will teach you not to believe what the press write about you!

So what actually happened? – I was in Fort Augustus, most of my tour group had gone on a boat cruise around the Loch and I went to grab a chippy then strolled along the Oich to take a look at the old wooden bridge there. Fort Augustus is a tiny place but pretty and it was one of few things I hadn’t seen up close. I went to take a shot across the river, heard a noise (the “Darth Vader noise” I will explain below) looked over and saw something with a long neck and head dive back under the water. I got my phone ready to take a picture, but I didn’t see it again. Then I realised I had snapped it by chance. That’s pretty much it…

Do I think it was Nessie? – Despite words such as ‘claimed’ and the Daily Mail’s addition of ‘insists’ I NEVER actually said the words “Loch Ness Monster”. In fact, when a journalist asked, I said that all I would say was “I saw this, it was on my phone, this is what it looked like” – which was as much as I could actually say. “But do you think it was Nessie?” was the reply and again, I answered that I simply couldn’t say what it was. I might as well have said “Absolutely guvnor, no doubt about it at all!” - because that’s effectively what they wrote anyway!

Is it a fake photo? – No, and of course there are so many ways to fake a photo, but I’m certainly no photographer (a few may have pointed that out in comments!) and no I don’t own Photoshop either. That is the original, as I saw it and as my camera phone captured it.

Is it a sock puppet? – I had to put this one down! Let me ask you something: could you please put a sock on your arm, wade into a freezing river in December and lay there whilst I take a photo of it? – If someone asked you that, you’d probably say no, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not even conceivable. Ah, say some, but could it be my arm instead? – So bear in mind I’m driving and guiding and won’t reach Edinburgh until about 8pm – about five hours later – and everyone in the group could see me dripping wet, I’m going to climb into a river, magically dry myself, change my clothes in front of loads of people and appear to my tour group 15 minutes after the incident, looking dry as a bone… and quite who this mystery accomplice is supposed to be, I have no idea. So, no… it isn’t a sock puppet!

Is it a log? – You know, it’s a funny thing about logs… they tend to look like logs! Forty years on this earth and I know what a log looks like, and a branch too, come to think of it! No it wasn’t… a wee bit of credit here for knowing the difference!

Why is the photo so grey and grainy? – An obvious question, this… it’s grey because it’s always grey! The Oich is grey, the Loch is grey, the sky is grey, the creature is grey and temperature fluctuations in the Loch and with the river meeting it, mean there’s usually a grey haze there. It’s grey, not black and white, it’s literally grey there. It’s grainy because that’s a zoom about three times in. It’s a phone camera, not a sniper scope.

What did you take the picture on? – A potato. There, I said it. Everybody else did! No, it was my Huawei mobile, and yes, it is old! I’ve got so many photos stored on it – I write military history and so I screenshot quotes from veterans or save photos for a few upcoming projects and I have THOUSANDS of pictures on it (not to mention thousands more of my dogs!) and last time I had an upgrade, I lost all of them, so I have deliberately ignored the upgrade… but it’s not that old!! Oh and apparently, tour guides are supposed to have great cameras? I’m not sure why. When you see the same stuff every few days, you don’t take pictures. Plus, you take your eye off the tour group for half a minute and someone will wander or do something usually suicidal, like try to take a selfie in the middle of the road.

Where’s the original photo? – Here’s your “Hmmm…” moment, doubters. That phone is so full of stuff that it doesn’t store any more photos. Occasionally, one gets through, for no reason that I can understand. So when I take a photo, if I like it, I have to immediately share to my social media in real time or send it to myself. I’m only lucky I remembered after I had zoomed in and screenshotted it, otherwise there’s a 99% chance it would have vanished. I can hear you all going “Hmmm…” from here… you’re lucky it’s all I got! But seriously, that’s it. If I had forgotten, we wouldn’t even be this far along!

But you run a tourism / guiding business, right? – No! I’m not sure where this comes from. I’m a military historian and author and yes, I also do guiding. When Mrs Ricky got made redundant, right as we were moving house, we needed more income. I’m a trained battlefield guide, I love history and I can make it relevant and interesting, so what else was I going to do? I genuinely love the Highlands, ever since I got to swing a sword around in the film Mary Queen of Scots, so it’s a pleasure to do something I love, in a place I love. It isn’t quite what I planned, but hey, we’ve all had to step up to earn the money. But Nessie or no Nessie, nobody gets paid more or gets more tours, so there was no advantage to the photo, it was just what was there.

Did you get paid for this? – Absolutely not. I didn’t ask, and nobody offered. It didn’t even occur to me. Despite the Sun advertising that they pay for stories, I was actually contacted by a freelance journalist, who obviously did get paid. It was what it was.

Some people have suggested you have a book to sell? – On the Loch Ness Monster? Multi-time #1 Best Selling Military Historian, famed for his work on the Falklands War… can you fit Nessie into that? Maybe it went down with the task force or popped up at Goose Green? No, I have no book on Nessie nor any plans to write one. A military historian actually doesn’t need Nessie in his life! Again, what can I say? It was what it was.

So why did you send the picture in? – I actually thought about not doing it. I joked with a mate about “career suicide” before I did, and I think it took five or six days to decide it couldn’t do any harm. I sent it in to Gary at the Nessie sightings register and asked if it was anything he’d seen before. He contacted the journalists and I was happy to help. I actually didn’t think many people would be so interested. That bit, I got wrong! That said, it was there, I have nothing to gain, nothing to hide, but there are also big Nessie fans out there, and small towns like Fort Augustus need Nessie. Without it, they might as well pack up and move away. So somewhere along the chain, it feeds families and I’m nobody to take that away. I thought about it and my conscience said yes, do it. That conscience is clear and the only gain I have is that my nieces and nephews think it’s just a bit cool to have an uncle who did it.

And the Darth Vader bit? – Let’s get it straight, I said it sounded like something blowing air, like a whale or dolphin does, but it sounded metallic, a bit like Darth Vader sneezing (not breathing!) and I made it clear. My guess is that some papers decided the distinctive Darth Vader breathing noise would sound more sinister, so put it in, but it wasn’t my doing. Like ‘claims’, ‘insists’ or other terms, it’s nothing to do with me…. But then I’ve been in a lot of newspapers and have even read “Exclusive Interviews” I have supposedly given to newspapers, who have absolutely never spoken to me! I’m used to it.

What do I think of the press reaction? – I went to bed on December 18th with it in the Scottish Sun and the Daily Record, and I was quite surprised at that. The first thing I had the next morning was a mate messaging me from Australia to say it had made the papers over there and I thought… “Oh God, they haven’t made this a huge deal, have they?” – They had. The Sun, Express, Mirror and then the Daily Mail. If you want anything to go viral online, it’s the DM. They have more online reach than anyone. The second I saw that, I knew we’d gone from snowball to avalanche. I’ve now read it in German too, in French, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese and even in India where (apparently) I am “a world-famous scientist”! I got a C for science at school, by the way! Famous historian? – Yes. Famous scientist? – Erm…….

And the public’s reaction? – It’s funny. In the history world, they always say never to read your reviews. Bernard Cornwell always says “A good review goes to your head and a bad review straight to your heart” but I always do. I always made it a thing to go back and answer people when discussing my history books, so I did it with this. The reaction is good, and I’m not asking anyone to “believe” but I’m joining in with the joke, because as I said, it is ultimately fun. One guy got verbally abusive, and there’s no reason for that. Another threatened to come over from Motherwell and give me a flying kick in the face! I just said I’d like to see him try and he didn’t answer back. It’s always painful when you read something about yourself which you know isn’t true. I should be used to it by now, but I’m just another normal person who does a job, and there’s no reason to abuse people or make stuff up about them or their families. On balance though, people have been great, but you’ll always find idiots. They get very brave online but the difference between me and other historians is that I’ll always answer you back. We’re all accountable for our words, just as I am for “that photo”.

Am I glad I took the picture? – I suppose yes, on balance. Nessie isn’t something a military historian needs in his life, and I do a lot of controversial stuff, so it could have impacted me adversely. Literally only one person has used it as a vague dig at me and my professional work, and it really wasn’t a big deal. On the whole, professional damage was minimal and I must say this: we military historians are nerds… everyone has an inner nerd and mine is history. But for those whose inner nerd is Nessie, it’s a great thing. Yes, I guess I’m glad I did it and took the plunge to send in the photo. It could have been anyone taking that photo, it just happened to be me. Before I sent it in, I did have a few words with myself about whether or not I really needed this in my life, but the argument which won, was “What right have I to censor this?” – Whatever it is, it’s there and that’s what it looks like. To some people, this is like Christmas day. I just happened to take the photo, and I considered that I really didn’t have a right to sit on it and just keep it for myself. Nessie belongs to everybody.

Do I believe in Nessie? – An obvious one for me to finish on. Nessie has been a story since St Columba. Now and then, we hear of a species believed extinct for thousands of years suddenly found alive and well, so I guess anything is possible. The sea is more unexplored than space for us humans, and Loch Ness goes down at its deepest over 800 metres. That’s beyond crush depth for some submarines still to this day. Certainly, a lot of money is being pumped into it, the Scottish government has a Nessie action plan should it be found, and you can find on the net pictures or videos of unknown creatures partially decomposed on beaches and things. Ultimately, I’d say you’ve got to have an open mind. As a historian, I’ve found things which the history books called “myths” and then I go looking and one day, I’m stood there looking at it right in front of me, so I’ve had to change my perceptions. If you ask me, “Is there a Loch Ness Monster?” I’m going to tell you yes, but it would be a fool to think there’s been only one for all of these years. A small colony of something we don’t know about, seems feasible. The Coelacanth survived sixty-six million years after it was supposed to have been extinct, so can we honestly say we know everything?

And Finally - In closing, I’d just like to add that this simply is whatever it is: a creature of some sorts, and that’s what it looks like. I’ve got nothing to gain, no reason to lie and actually it isn’t the best thing for a historian of all people to find: if anything, it’s probably the worst thing. There are a few times I wish I hadn’t, for all of the hassle involved, but then I don’t want other people to be put off doing it if they genuinely see something either… all I’d say is don’t fake it. People hunt for Nessie like I hunt for lost artefacts or battlefields or whatever… and a fake is not what people need. It just makes the whole thing ridiculous. In fact, if you take out all of the hundreds of fakes which have been debunked, Nessie as a concept looks plausible, so don’t become a fraud. There is something there and I’ve seen it. I’m not going to say what it is, because I don’t know, but there’s something there and I’m glad and perhaps even a bit privileged to have been a part of it. The only monsters I have found along the way, have been the human kind, and I have a clear enough conscience to bear them anyway. So don’t fake a Nessie sighting, but if one day, you should see her, you let people know, and don’t ever be ashamed… Nessie is more than a happy legend or a fun hobby, it is families and livelihoods in the Highlands and you’re never doing the wrong thing if you know you’re telling the truth.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Loch Ness Monster Jigsaw Puzzle and Others

I know there are Nessie fans out there who collect commercial items to do with the monster, be it postcards, toys, mugs or other items. I myself collect any book going on Nessie, so long as it not fiction or kids stuff. Yes, I know, sceptics will say it is all fiction, but you know what I mean. Bid away and the link is here. I also collect coins as a hobby, so any coins of a Nessie nature will attract my attention. In fact, by some strange coincidence, there is also a new set of cryptozoological coins struck in pure silver by the Intaglio Mint and you can see the full set for sale here

Some are pure tourist tat, but even tat becomes valuable over the decades as this 1976 jigsaw puzzle may prove to be. I also noted this children's book entitled "Fida and the Loch Ness Monster" published in the 1960s, not something I would normally look at, but then I noted the author was a Pan Harmsworth which made me wonder whether this person was related to the Nessie believer turned sceptic, Tony Harmsworth? I also wondered if it is one of the first ever kids books on Nessie, though I am sure I saw one years ago dating to the 1930s.

And finally there was this Triang clockwork Nessie I saw on eBay. It has absolutely no resemblance to the monster, but I doubt the kids were caring. Anyone have an idea when it was made? Well, these things do turn up and may never be seen again, so if you want them, you know what to do. Meantime, I continue to look out for some items with by bid finger at the ready, wondering if they will ever see the light of day.

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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Podcast on the Loch Ness Monster

I was invited some weeks back to speak to Jon Mallard on his show, "The Odd to Newfoundland Paranormal Podcast" and had a good half hour chat on Nessie matters with a few words to say on land sightings. The podcast can be found here and my slot begins about 48:30 minutes in. Let me know what you think and if you have any supplementary questions prompted by that discussion, leave a comment.

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Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Nessie Review of 2018

Let us begin the review of the year past by going straight to the list of Loch Ness Monster reports as found at Gary Campbell's sightings register.

26th March 1500-1530: Dakota Frandsen sees a 40 foot dark shape moving about near the Castle jetty. The shape seemed to avoid boat traffic in the area but as a black speedboat came by it seemed to attract the shape's attention which lead it to briefly surface. The "skin" of the object was grey in colour, almost like that of a hippopotamus. The shape started swimming towards the opposite shore and disappeared. Other, similar shapes seemed to also appear but quickly vanished.

30th April 1207: Eoin O'Faodhagain from County Donegal took a ten minute video from the Loch Ness webcam. This was covered here.

28th May 1100-1130: Morag Connor and her friend were driving north out of Drumnadrochit. They saw a creature with a long neck with some humps behind it sticking about 7-8 feet out of the water and about 50m from the shore. The creature had an all dark body but with no discernible head. They were unable to stop as they were driving and there was no place to pull over.

1st June 2230: Natalie Hodgson and her family, on holiday from Yorkshire, took this picture of the head of an unknown creature in the water from the Highland Lodges holiday park where they were staying. The creature, photographed by her daughter, remained for a few minutes caught in the moonlight before disappearing.

5th August 0938: Marylin and her family, regular visitors to the area, were on holiday from Leeds travelling from Drumnadrochit to Fort Augustus when they looked out at the loch and spotted a strange looking lump on the surface of the water, which was very still and quiet at the time. It looked dark brown in colour and 'sort of like an upturned boat'. They revisited the area by boat in the afternoon and there was nothing like that in that area. Unfortunately because they were driving and couldn’t pull in, they didn’t manage to get any pictures.

8th August 1039: Ten year old Isla Ross was with travelling in the back of a car when she took this picture on her iphone of something unexplained near Urquhart Castle. Her family has confirmed that there was no boat traffic nearby.

16th August 1400: A resident local to Loch Ness reported a possible sighting.  The location was the woodlands walk behind the Dores beach and although the witness reckons the creature was forty feet from the shore, they were no less than 100 metres from the beach. I covered this event here.

17th August: Charlotte Robinson, 12, from Leeds was staying at the Loch Ness Highland Lodges at Invermoriston with her parents when she spotted something unexplained just 50ft away on the first day of her holiday. She took some pictures on her iphone and the full report here.

17th August 0940: The Locke family from Ontario, saw a "solid dark shape" appear about 50 yards offshore close to the Castle. The sighting lasted about one minute and this is what they captured on camera.

5th September 1735: Dipak Ram and Tom Smith on vacation from England saw a dark shadow in the water near Dores beach. Initially they thought was just a wave but the shadow remained persistent for about 30-35 seconds with water moving around it. When they zoomed in using their camera phone, it became much more apparent that it was a stationary object. After 30-35 seconds, it disappeared downwards into the water.

22nd November: A visitor from the United States saw a dark green (almost appeared black) object protruding from the water, at about 4.5 feet in height, slowly moving farther from shore. There was no boat traffic and the sighting lasted about 30 seconds.

13th December 1440: Ricky D Phillips, a well known military historian, heard a curious noise while taking pictures where the River Oich flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. He looked up from his phone and saw a long, straight neck, a head maybe the size of a rugby ball, all completely grey, and a narrow face, which was only about 20ft away - it then turned and disappeared. This was covered by me here.

19th December 1020: Caroline Barnett from the south west of England was watching the Loch Ness Webcam when she saw something move slowly up the loch. Initially she thought it was a boat or similar but the object appeared animate and then disappeared into the water before reappearing. It was dark in colour and nearer the east shore of the loch.

So the roster comes out at thirteen reports with five hump reports, five neck reports with three I would consider unclassified with six of them being captured as mobile phone camera images and two as webcam videos, but none of them are mobile camera video clips. What does one make of this year's collection of images?

The first thing to say is that the much vaunted role of the ubiquitous mobile phone camera has fallen short again. The reason is quite simple as these devices are not made for the kind of detailed images we need of long distance objects which pop up in the loch. Proper DSLR or SLR cameras with telephoto lens are what is needed but their use seems to be on the wane.

There is one caveat to this and that is the zoom feature which allowed the images taken by Dipak Ram and Ricky Philips to show more details though the resolution may suffer depending on whether optical zoom or digital zoom is being used. I suspect the inferior digital zoom may often be the one in use. But, of course, in the eyes of readers, there will be a spectrum of opinion of as to which of these reports actually involve the Loch Ness Monster.

The most striking image is the close up of an apparent head and neck of the creature taken by Ricky Phillips just over two weeks ago. I covered that with an initial article, but hope to say more later. Certainly, if it passes the tests, it is one of the best images taken since the Johnston and Gray photographs. We shall see.

Other images of interest that turned up this year, but were taken in previous years starting with that curious object seen in the loch by an anonymous American couple in 2006. Was it the real deal or just a piece of bird shit on a window? I plump for the first option and continue to wonder why the best images are often the most rejected. Yes I know, high level of scrutiny and all that, but it guarantees nothing ever get past these over applied filters.

There was also the strange image noticed by Lisa Stout when she was looking for Nessie on Google Earth back in 2015. Explanations as to what that might be have varied as bird, bat, log, wave, photoshop, lens debris, divers and sycamore seed. Once again, with Loch Ness Monster pictures, you are guaranteed a list of possible explanations, the vast majority of which are always going to be completely wrong!

Meantime, out in the investigative field, the main item of news was the eDNA sampling experiment performed by Professor Neil Gemmell (below) and his team in June of this year as they descended on the loch with the equipment necessary to go back with a large number of water samples taken from a multitude of points across the loch's extent and depth.

Doubtless, this endeavour will form part of the major highlights of 2019 as well as the results of the DNA extraction and matching are published soon. Will they find no significant DNA, giving a boost to those who hold to a no Nessie, paranormal Nessie or visitor Nessie position? Or will they find something not matchable against the known inhabitants of the loch? And there yet may be a surprise as they also took samples from that other cryptid lake, Loch Morar.

Back at base here, the usual trips to Loch Ness with equipment in tow were made and new items of equipment were employed as a DJI drone and a Flir thermal camera were bought. There were trips in April and September amongst others including my new venture of Nessie guided tours. The drone has been operated over the Foyers beach area and also opposite Urquhart Castle where Lachlan Stuart took his famous three humped photograph. There is still some teething issues such as dexterity in use of the drone in flight and when recording over the waters, getting the right height for optimal coverage for an animal over 30 feet long and getting the speed right so that the recorded video is not blurred.

Back in February, I published my second book on the Loch Ness Monster, entitled "When Monsters Come Ashore" which concentrated on the few dozen sightings of the monster out of the loch on land. A curious and hotly contested part of the mystery which even believers in the monster do not accept as possible and we can add Frank Searle to the ranks of Nessie on land sceptics! On this theme, I note that the famous Arthur Grant land sighting finally got a plaque erected at the location, much to the chagrin of the sceptics!

Old and new stories were also reprised in 2018 as we recounted the tale of Sandy and his close encounter with a strange object near his canoe in 2010. There was also the story of a large object passing under a boat in the 1980s and a diver's encounter with Nessie as reprised by a current Nessie fan who knew the person.

Looking ahead, I aim to publish my third book on the Loch Ness Monster in a month or so which will concentrate on the good, the bad and the ugly of photographs of the creature. But what will 2019 hold in general for the mystery of Loch Ness? I have no idea, but I wish everyone a prosperous 2019!

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