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:

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.


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

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Nailing the latest Nessie Photograph

Okay, so the previous article and the analysis of the photograph's EXIF data led me to conclude this was not a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. I continued to talk to Steve, the photographer, but that has come to an end as he could not provide the original SD card image. But I was looking for something objective and not just opinions that would seal the deal on this one and it came from Jeriah Houghton who found the above image of a catfish at this site.

As you can see, the spots on the catfish all line up nicely with the spots on our Nessie. So it is beyond doubt that this catfish photo was cut and superimposed on an empty shot of the loch with the colour of the catfish portion being altered in colour. So, nice work, Jeriah!

There is also a nice animated GIF made by "rewyndwilliams" which is here and reproduced below showing the two images sequentially overlaid. The case is closed but I will write a follow up article on photoshopped images as I feel there are some deficiencies in how we approach this subject.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Is this a new photo of the Loch Ness Monster?

A week ago on the Facebook group, Anomalous Universe, a photograph purporting to be of a strange object in Loch Ness was posted by a person from the south of England. The group was founded by fellow cryptid believer, Steve Patrick Carrington and the thread that started this can be found here. The person added the comment "Took this in Loch Ness last September but I don't know what kind of fish it is" to this intriguing image. A zoom in on the object raises an eyebrow.

What we see is a large hump like object making its way up the loch past Urquhart Castle. Naturally, people started to ask questions and making comments. The CGI comments came in to which the person said "No it's just a fish but not sure what sort. Love the idea of cgi but I'm not that good at it... Lol". I chipped in and asked him if had taken any other photos in a sequence to which he said yes and I requested to see them. I got those by email four days later as he said he was away from home in Devon looking after his mum. There were two taken before the image with the object and one after as shown below. These extra images also led to another thread.

The photographer added he was on the wall at the castle and the object was only there momentarily and it was a fluke shot. There were "loads of other tourists" there as well as his brother, but he says his brother saw nothing or the tourists. He says the picture was taken on either the 15th or 16th September 2019 and estimated it was 30 feet away and about 8 feet long and could even be a catfish. All in all, the potential for a great photo, but as we have learned in the past, a probation period had to be initiated. So I first found out more about our photographer and discovered on his LinkedIn page that he was a 3D graphical artist and he had a portfolio of images of various constructions such as the one below. To be clear, he earns a living creating CGI - computer generated images.

Naturally, this raised a big red flag and I put it to him that this monster picture would not look out of place in his CGI portfolio, to which he said "I didn't say I didn't do cgi I just said that I'm not that good. The photo is genuine and it was taken at Loch ness last September. Will happily show you the rest of the images when I get home next week". Well, if he makes a living from this, he must have some skill in the matter. So let's get on with some analysis.

I asked him to email me the original images from the SD card and was sent some jpeg images of about 1Mb in size each. That was curious as I expect any half decent camera to deliver images a lot bigger than that for size. I ran a jpeg quality check which came out at 80% which is too low. It should be near 100% for a virgin image. In general, when a jpeg image is opened and saved in an application, this leads to a degradation in quality each time.

Nevertheless, I extracted the EXIF data which is metadata describing parameters such as camera type, aperture, resolution, exposure time, etc. It was taken with a Sigma SD1 Merrill, which is a decent camera which came out about nine years ago. It can take images up to 45Mb in size or as low as 1Mb, but I doubt that was the default setting. However, the EXIF also said the image had been through Adobe Photoshop version 21.1 for the Macintosh. Moreover, the date of the photo was created was January 1st 2011, not September 2019, though this could be explained as the factory reset date if the date was never manually set.

However, there was also a modify date of the 16th June, which was suspicious. So, I raised this matter with him suggesting this image was not the original file. He replied that the image file had been opened by Photoshop and then saved as a jpeg file, the original files were too big to send by email. That being said, a day or so later he sent links to download some larger files in TIFF format which he said were from the original card and were bigger at about 15Mb each.

This presented a problem to me as the specification for the Sigma SD1 Merrill camera does not list TIFF as a native format. It produces images in only one of two formats, raw format or the smaller jpeg format. As an explanation, raw format is a kind of digital equivalent of an undeveloped frame on a silver nitrate film. All the information is there, but it is "raw" and is not processed for human viewing. The jpeg format is there to provide a human viewable image in the camera display, such as one might use for reviewing images for deletion or retention.

In fact, Sigma uses the raw "x3f" format to store its images. I replied to the photographer on the 18th June pointing out this problem and will consider any reply I get on this matter. Meantime, I extracted the EXIF metadata from the TIFF image and compared it against the JPEG metadata. The TIFF data said it had also gone through Photoshop as well, not what is to be expected of an original SD card image. Indeed, the "History Parameter" field of the EXIFs revealed more. The JPEG list was:

History Parameters from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, converted from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, converted from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg

While the TIFF parameter was:

History Parameters from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, converted from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, converted from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, from image/jpeg to image/tiff, converted from image/jpeg to image/tiff

In other words, the TIFF file had the same history but had an extra stage at the end - converted from jpeg to tiff. Other parameters such as "History Software Agent" and "History When" also demonstrated this TIFF image was likely just an upscaled image derived from the JPEG via Photoshop. By upscaling, I mean an image that is converted to a larger file size, but without any additional information being added. Indeed, when the 1Mb JPEG and 15Mb TIFF files are zoomed in, there is no visual difference in the images, suggesting a zero-information upscale as shown below (jpeg first):

I could have performed further analysis, but at this stage, there are discrepancies which need to be answered first and which currently render this photograph unusable as evidence for a large creature in Loch Ness. However, I am in still in communication with the photographer about the issues raised.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Captain Fraser's Nessie Film

There are three classes of films which allege to show the Loch Ness Monster. The first are the ones which have been published and are still generally accessible to varying degrees. The second are those which have been seen by only a select few with little in the way of stills or clips. The final class are those which are discussed, but no one can even confirm the existences of such items.

Examples of the first group are the Dinsdale, 2nd Irvine, Raynor and Smith films. Those which we could place in the second group are the 1st Irvine film, G.E. Taylor, Beckjord and various LNIB films. Finally, the esoteric third group include the mythical McRae and Currie films. The film taken by Captain James Fraser comes into the second category.

Captain Fraser was part of the first serious surveillance operation mounted by Sir Edward Mountain in the summer of 1934. In fact, Fraser was the man that Mountain put in the charge of the whole operation. From his base near Urquhart Castle, he would coordinate the twenty men employed to watch the loch from various points armed with supplied cameras. At the end of each day, they would log their results with Captain Fraser and his immediate team back at base. The expedition was due to last four weeks, but the poor conditions that prevailed in the second fortnight led to a one week extension. 

The result was over twenty photographs taken of which five were considered of interest. The fact that none were taken in the second fortnight shows how difficult surveying the loch can be. Captain Fraser was invited to continue the watch with a colleague from a vantage point above the castle with a cine camera fitted with a telephoto lens. The entry in Roy Mackal's "The Monsters of Loch Ness" summarizes the taking of the film.

F 4: 0715, September 15, 1934; made by James Fraser and an assistant on Sir Edward Mountain's expedition. No stills published. [positive evidence] The film, 10-20 ft. in length, was made at a distance of about 3/4 mile with a cine Kodak and 6" telephoto lens. It appears that the film has been lost, but when it was viewed by experts in 1934, the consensus was simply that some kind of animal was being observed. 

But going back to the oldest sources, The Scotsman for the 17th September 1934 below is representative of the various clippings I have found for that period. Fraser was about three quarters of a mile from an object he at first thought a boat which was itself half a mile east of Temple Pier and fifty yards from that shoreline. The object was described as fifteen to twenty feet long and about two to three foot out of the water, no head or tail visible and it traveled for about one minute before submerging.

The letter reproduced below adds some more detail, though it was typed decades later for use in a publication. The passage of 30 years or more had led to some fading of memory as he now states he thought he was initially looking at a rock, as opposed to a boat in the 1934 account. Such discrepancies are common when the years have lengthened between event and recall. Unlike the oldest report, Captain Fraser does mention a possible head-neck being seen at the start, but he is not sure it could have been a flipper as well.


Towards the end of June 1934. I was approached by a representative of Sir Edward Mountain who had taken over Beaufort Castle from Lord Loost for the salmon fishing. I was asked if I would like charge of some men he intended to place round Loch Ness with cameras to see if they could find evidence of an unusual animal that had been seen from time to time by locals and visitors. 20 men were engaged and I placed them at strategic points on both sides of the Loch, 14 men on the North side and 6 on the South side. Several snaps had been taken but not sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the animal. The search was continued for about 6 weeks when the men were withdrawn.

Sir Edward then asked me if I would stay on with one man to carry on the search. This I did, which meant that I had to take up residence which I did. in a Bell Tent on the hill above Urquhart Castle.. The procedure I adopted was at dawn I took up my stance at the roadside to the East of the Castle, I had with me a 16mm Cine Camera also a pair of powerful binoculars. I was relieved for meals by my assistant.

On Saturday about midway through August I took my usual stance at dawn. There was that morning a thick haze hanging over the Loch, it afterwards turned out to be a very hot day. I carried out my usual procedure, that was to scan the Loch Westwards then turn to scan the Loch Eastwards; then to my surprise I observed what I thought was a rock about 100 yards from the shore East of the Urquhart Bay. This object which appeared inanimate I had under observation for over a minute then I remembered that there was no rock that far out from the shore. I then took up my camera and trained it on this object and started to film it, when to my surprise the object raised out of the water either its head and neck or a flipper then lowered it, raising quite a volume of water, then it disappeared.

I then phoned Sir Edward Mountain who laid on to take the camera to Inverness and have the film taken out by a competent person and have it carefully packed and sent Registered Parcel Service to Kodak. The train was met in London and the film taken to their Laboratory and developed.

The film was shown to several Scientific Societies in this country and abroad but unfortunately the film did not give sufficient evidence of what the creature might be. Opinions by the experts were divided on what it could be but I had the pleasure of showing the film in-Inverness to interested parties. I regret that my film was not able to identify the animal but only to prove that there is something unusual in Loch Ness. 

Trust you find the foregoing account of interest. Thanking you. 

J.W. Fraser.

And here is a picture of the man himself, taken in the 1960s. So runs the encounter and a rough map of the encounter is added below. The film was dispatched for processing by Kodak in London whereupon it was viewed by various experts at a showing organised by Sir Edward Mountain on the 3rd October at Kodak House. It seems that James Fraser, who lived hundreds of miles away in Ross-shire, was not there and it is not clear if he ever saw the film himself at any time.

Shortly after, the Field magazine for the 13th October 1934 published the various views of some who had attended that showing. From the clipping below we see that W. T. Calman, Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum, offered the opinion that it was likely to be a seal and deems this important evidence in identifying whatever the creature was in the loch.

Mr. Calman also makes reference to a recently taken photo of a dorsal fin-like object in Loch Ness which he attempts to reconcile with his seal interpretation, suggesting the "fin" could be a seal flipper. The photo he is referring to is the James Lee picture published the previous August and which I covered here.

Meantime, David Seth-Miller, Curator of the Zoological Society of London, was also of the seal opinion as was a Mr. A. Ezra; though he did not discount some other creature yet inhabiting the loch. Burgess Barnett, Curator of Reptiles at the same Zoological Society also plumped for large grey seal while Francis Fraser of the Natural History Museum finally joins the ranks with .... a seal ... which makes one wonder if they had all coordinated their responses beforehand. 

Were there any dissenting opinions from the mainstream scientists? Yes there were, as this seal discourse led to some sending in their letters to The Field editor with some contrary comments. A Major Radclyffe of Thurso, who had spent long times observing and hunting seals in the Arctic, suggested the eminent scientists did not know what they were talking about. The text of the major's letter suggests he had also seen the film and he was adamant it was no seal and it was his opinion seals did not swim like that object as they dive and submerge before swimming and do not swim in a wake-like manner. He also quite rightly pointed out that seals would soon be seen in and around the loch if they had taken up residence there.

A Mr. Gilfrid Hartley also chipped in saying in like manner that seals would soon be spotted as well as their predilection to follow boats, as he attested to their behaviour when seen in Loch Awe. He also mentioned a friend who had seen the monster in its four foot long neck aspect and it was no seal. Thus was a similar opinion ventured by a C. M. Hope; who I assume had not seen the film either. The matter of whether a seal was in the loch from May 1933 to September 1934 is unlikely as they would soon be shot as they attacked the salmon stocks. No such seal shooting has been reported from that period.

The film was shown again a few weeks later to the Linnaean Society at Burlington House who specialized in natural history. Famed Nessie author, Rupert T. Gould was there and in the light of the previous meeting, he quoted the editor of the Inverness Courier that some of the London scientists seemed to think the locals were half-witted and did not know a seal when they saw one and rather they probably saw more seals in a month than the scientists saw in a lifetime! The views of the society's members turned out to be more diverse, with two expressing the seal theory, one an otter and another who said he did not know what it was but it certainly was not seal or otter! Sir Edward later opined that it was better that the scientists had just said they did not know what it was.

The final item to consider in this investigation was found in an obscure Loch Ness Monster pull out folder entitled "Orbit reports on the Loch Ness Monster" published by Wiggins Teape in 1969. I bought this back in 2009 and it has largely lain low until I scanned through it for relevant material. I do not consider it as a book, so it didn't make it into my blog article on past books on the phenomenon. But by way of a review, the publication is a folder with four pullout sections which cover three eyewitness reports, three famous photographs (Wilson, Stuart and MacNab), the geography of the loch and various theories to explain the creature.

The three eyewitnesses covered were Alex Campbell, Captain James Fraser and loch keeper, John Cameron and it seemed evident that the publishers had interviewed the three men (or used a proxy). The photo above of Captain Fraser was scanned from the Orbit report. So what was of interest for this case was the facsimile reproduction of two documents which it seems belonged to Captain Fraser. The first was a typed letter from the captain in which he describes the event which largely follows the accounts of older newspapers. The other item is more fascinating and is a letter sent from famed Nessie researcher, Rupert T. Gould to James Fraser. It is dated 3rd December 1934 and is shown below.

Woodfield Lane,


Dear Capt. Fraser

I am exceedingly sorry that, owing to pressure of work, I have not written sooner to thank you for so readily sending me particulars of the posting of your men round Loch Ness. They will be of great value for reference.

I don't know whether you have yet seen the film you secured - I mean, the earlier; I understand you secured two. I saw it a few days before I met you at Urquhart Castle; and I have since seen it exhibited at a meeting of the Linnean Society. The meeting was chiefly remarkable for the diverse views expressed by various zoologists. Mr. Hinton, of the Natural History Museum, stated he was entirely certain that, on the evidence of the film, the "monster" was a seal. Dr. Kemp, of the "Discovery' investigations, who had seen enormous numbers of seal in the Antarctic, said that he had never seen a seal move in such a manner as the film showed. Another, whose name I didn't catch, said that he was absolutely satisfied, on the evidence of the film, that the "monster" was a large otter!

Actually, the best I could make of the film was occasional glimpses of a head and neck, with indications of something which looked like a dorsal fin close behind the head. Here is a very rough sketch of the creature as the film presented itself to me. 

With renewed thanks and all good wishes, believe me sincerely yours, 

Rupert T. Gould

We had already stated that Gould had seen the film and there are three things to take from this letter. The first is that Gould actually saw the film twice and formed the opinion that there was indications of a head-neck with something like a dorsal fin behind the head-neck. An enlargement of his sketch is shown below showing Gould's impression of the head and neck. I presume that the small peak at the far left is Gould's dorsal fin impression. Gould does not explicitly state it is the monster, but he certainly does not side with seal and otter interpretations.

Secondly, Gould talks of a second film by Fraser which seems to have been taken between the first one in mid-September and this December letter. My search of the newspaper archives revealed no mention of this film and so I must conclude it was of an inferior quality to the first and therefore did not gain any significant attention. Thirdly, Gould was at the loch between the two film showings, the only time I was aware he was at the loch was on November 1933 when he was gathering material for his June 1934 book. What information he garnered on this second visit is now long lost along with this film which it seems has now perished.

Which is a great pity as only a select few have ever seen it which brings us to the photograph at the beginning of this article. It appeared in Peter Costello's "In Search of Lake Monsters" back in 1974 when he discussed the Fraser film and reproduced the still as a sketch (presumably because he could not get permission or the cost was too much). However, the image was later reproduced in full in Henry Bauer's "The Enigma of Loch Ness" published twelve years later in 1986. Where did Henry get the picture from? As it turns out, it was taken from a Danish book on the monster entitled "Gaden I Loch Ness" ("Riddle of Loch Ness") written by Palle Vibe in 1970.

So is this a genuine still from the Captain Fraser film? Henry contacted the copyright holders of the photograph in an attempt to find its provenance, but they could not help him. As a result, Henry dubbed it of "extremely dubious provenance". I also attempted to make contact with Palle who actually republished his book last year, without success so far. However, having considered the description of the object made in the previous accounts, it hardly seems likely that this still has anything to do with the film. 

What we see in the still is something that looks very much like a dorsal fin. But if this had been so plainly visible in the film, I doubt anyone would have gone for a seal explanation as seals obviously do not have dorsal fins. Neither do otters and one scientists dismissed cetaceans as an explanation. It seems more likely that this still is a photograph of something like a basking shark, of which we reproduce a picture from the Illustrated London News published only four months before the Fraser film. How Palle Vibe came by this picture is a story for him to tell.

So, this is a film, which from its description, reminds me of the 2007 Gordon Holmes video. But all we have left from this episode are verbal descriptions and a sketch made by Gould. Roy Mackal declared it as positive evidence, despite never seeing even a single image from the film. We can discount the seal interpretations, but are left in a cryptid limbo wondering what this long gone film actually shows. I still hold out hope that Sir Edward Mountain went to the trouble of making some still images from the film which now lie in a dusty box somewhere in some descendants' attic, unrecognizable to their new owners. Only time will tell if that avenue produces any fruit,

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com