Thursday 27 December 2012

Nessie Review of 2012

I hope you all had a good Christmas. I feel slightly heavier for it and it's not over yet. Cryptozoologically, I had one experience of an out-of-place animal. The turkey I ordered was one size too big - it shouldn't have been there. That's an official bona fide sighting.

Anyway, it is nearly the end of the year and a good time to look back at what has made Loch Ness Monster news nationally and internationally as well as a personal view of the perennial mystery of Loch Ness.

The first thing to say is how quiet things have been at Loch Ness in 2012 compared to the previous year. In 2011, we had the Rowe and Jobes photos, the Atkinson sonar contact and various sightings such as the Hargreaves/MacGruer head-neck sighting. In fact, perhaps because it was quiet, the Atkinson sonar story was rerun again in 2012!

But this year only one story hit the media headlines both nationally and internationally and that was the George Edwards photograph. The fact that this picture turned out to be a fake leaves us with a fairly echoing void as far as the media is concerned. As a result, any alleged Loch Ness reports have to come in under the radar of "normal" reporting.

The first report came via Gary Campbell and was covered on this blog here. The witness reported a strange whirlpool in the area just south of Urquhart Castle on April 4th. Despite the witness saying there was no boat traffic in the area, one Loch Ness researcher suggested it was just one of the cruise boats doing a circular turn. A while later when I was at Loch Ness I watched one of these craft doing a turn. The water disturbance created died down pretty quickly and the boat did not get out of sight quickly enough to fool me or anyone.

Strangely enough, another potential witness of the webcam variety emailed me with his sequence of webcam shots taken the next day. That event was reported in this blog article. Now, normally such images are inconclusive at best but this one had the advantage of being animatable plus the object in the sequence appears to change shape (see below). I speculated whether this was due to the changing front portion submerging and resurfacing or some trick of the light. It was suggested by the same Loch Ness researcher that this was due to this being a two-tone boat. However, the snapshots do not really suggest this and the sun at the time was to the right and mostly behind the observer and object. Once again, make your own judgement.

The third alleged sighting once again came via non-conventional routes. This time it was the comments section of the online Inverness Courier in August and I discuss it for the first time on this blog. The comment ran thusly:

I know of two ladies who have recently seen the same sort of thing as Mr Edwards in the Loch, quite near Dores Inn but no way would they ever go to the press with the news for fear of attracting the ridicule that we see on this page today. 

I emailed the author of the comment for further details. His reply was:

No, I am very sorry but I cannot breach their confidence in any way. Neither had ever believed in the “Monster” but like many others, myself included, let folk get on with the matter.

What he could tell me was this:

They are retired ladies but have been close friends since childhood and meet up from time to time to take a walk. They had parked at Dores Pub and gone down the path in the direction of  Aldourie Castle. It was on their way back that they saw this object maybe 200 yds from shore but then it just submerged ... there is no way that this pair want any publicity.

I also have a new sighting report from 2010 but again getting details, let alone anyone to name themselves, is not easy at all. This blog will respect people's anonymity 100 percent but I can't force people in these situations.  The thread running through these these reports is anonymity. The current trend of demythologising Loch Ness Monster reports into logs, dogs, boats and goats creates a negative feedback loop where witnesses feel foolish going public with something they think is out of the ordinary but fear getting a far from sympathetic hearing. The negative feedback circle completes when the absence of such reports is taken to be proof that people are now more properly educated and not as easily fooled by such everyday objects. Far from it, I would suggest.

That brings me to the one big story of 2012 and that was George Edwards. That event was covered in my two posts here and here. However, you won't see it listed in my recent sightings page as it is most certainly a hoax. Long time monster hunter, Steve Feltham was alerted to this when a local told him that the hump in the photo looked like the one used in a Nessie documentary a few years back.

This fibreglass prop was traced and the expose was complete as Steve went public with the prop. George to this day denies it is a hoax but the fact that he is also accused of another hoax photograph years before plus it was his boat that hosted the fibreglass hump documentary does not help his case at all.

On top of these lochside stories, we had some interesting "offsite" ones like some people claiming that Nessie disproves evolution. Well, I thought about that at the time, but it would help to identify Nessie first before jumping to conclusions! The Olympic Torch also crossed it way up Loch Ness prior to a very successful Games in London and the TV camera typically went offline, just in case Nessie appeared. Also, the most famous painting of Nessie came to light and sold for £4,750.

From a personal point of view, I made several trips to the loch in 2012 conducting various hunts and following up on monster cases both old and new. One such trip report can be found here. Visits to such famous locations as the Lachlan Stuart and Hugh Gray photographs were made as well as using trap cameras and night vision equipment in the more modern hunt for the Loch Ness Monster.

This blog has also gone from strength to strength thanks to your visits. To gauge how much the message of the real mystery of the Loch Ness Monster is getting out there, I normally do a search for the phrase "Loch Ness Monster" on Google's search engine. Currently, this blog tends to sit around midway on the first page of hits which is great and this means that the sceptical sites are not getting it all their own way when people look for Nessie information on the Internet.

In regards to the Edwards photo, the blog even got at least as high as third spot in August as people looked for more information on this outwardly intriguing picture. Whether this was a good thing or not is arguable. They say all publicity is good publicity but in this case I am not so sure.

Looking ahead to 2013, we enter the 80th year of the phenomenon known as the Loch Ness Monster (though it was seen and known centuries before under other names). We cannot say what will turn up in terms of sightings, photographs or films. I can only hope for the umpteenth time that next year will bring forth that final, conclusive evidence but you may not be surprised that my optimism is very much tempered by past experience. However, with such CGI clips as this recent fake eagle trying to kidnap a toddler, one wonders how often the mantra "That's CGI, that's CGI, that's CGI, ..." will be chanted from now on when a half decent Nessie footage appears next?

I am hoping that Paul Harrison will publish his new book on Frank Searle in 2013, based on interviews with Frank in Fleetwood about ten years ago. There is also one other event coming up, but more on that later.

As far as this blog is concerned for next year, I have a growing list of subject titles for articles and that number is sixty just now. Since this does not include articles on as yet unforeseen events or whatever else may spring into my mind over the next twelve months, I would like to think the blog is well stocked for material in 2013 and beyond. Expect analysis and opinion on a wide range of subjects both old and new.

So I thank readers - be they sceptical, believing or undecided - for their custom and wish you all a prosperous and happy 2013.

Friday 21 December 2012

Another forthcoming Nessie Lecture

On the back of my own lecture in January sea serpent researcher, Charles Paxton, will be giving a talk about the Loch Ness Monster on April the 9th, 2013 at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in the harbour town of Anstruther, near St.Andrews in Fife, Scotland.

The promotion webpage says:

The talk will explore what science says about the biology of the loch, about what people see and the probability of an unknown species in the loch.

You can find more details here.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Nessletter No.159 now published

Rip Hepple, veteran Loch Ness Monster expert, has published the latest issue of his long running Loch Ness newsletter, "Nessletter" (dated November 2012). As usual, it is a good read, but if you want to find out for yourself, his address at:

Subscription rates are: £3 (UK) or $10 (USA) for 12 issues (published intermittently, not monthly)
7 Huntshieldford
St John's Chapel
Co Durham
DL13 1RQ
United Kingdom
I would point out that an archive of Rip's older newsletters can be found here. This is half complete, but I have now scanned the remaining newsletters and uploaded them to Google Drive. All that remains is to add these as links to the aforementioned archive link.

Rip's newsletter will enter its 39th year next month and has been a valuable source of information and analysis throughout those years. Here's to another year!

Monday 17 December 2012

The Beast of the Beauly Firth

Whilst looking through some archives, I came across some items of interest on a creature reported in the Beauly Firth. This stretch of coastal water outside Inverness is about six miles long by two miles wide and has some significance to our interest in Loch Ness as the mouth of the River Ness meets the Beauly Firth at its exit into the Moray Firth (see map below).

The first report was found in a couple of far flung newspapers and the clipping below is taken from the Schenectady Gazette of the 1st March, 1955 (a newspaper from Schenectady county in New York state).

The next account is sixteen years later and is taken from the Inverness Courier for the 30th July 1971.

"Was there a monster in the Beauly Firth on Monday afternoon? Twenty boys of the Newcastle Cathedral Choir, who returned home yesterday after spending a nine day holiday in Inverness are convinced that they saw such an object some miles west of Inverness in the Beauly Firth. The boys were returning to Inverness by train on Monday afternoon after a day outing to Skye, when one of the party, Peter Harrison, noticed a trail of foam in the middle of the Firth. He shouted to his pals, and the three leaders of the party - Mr. G. East, Mr. R.? and Mr. G. Bolton - to look out of the window of the train.

After two minutes there was a splash and a large, black slimy object appeared. It moved eastwards for 40 seconds, at a speed of 25 miles per hour before producing another splash, again creating a trail of foam. The boys, who said the object had one hump and was too large and too fast to be a porpoise, managed to obtain a clear sighting of the object, and each was able to draw a sketch of what they saw.

Only last week, a family from Cupar, Fife, walking along the shore at the Longman, claimed they saw a 'monster' in the Beauly Firth."

I don't have any more on this second sighting despite checking back in the Courier archive. The reporter takes a somewhat sceptical stance and suggests his own explanation for the sighting:

"Porpoises are frequently seen in the Beauly and Moray Firths, swimming in schools, while seals are occasional visitors, and there have even been bottle-nosed whales. There may therefore be a simple natural explanation of these sightings, especially as the foam disturbance may have been caused by porpoises in battle with salmon or other fish which can be an awe inspring sight."

The famous Nessie witness Alex Campbell was a correspondent for the Courier at this time, but it is not known if he was the author of this report.

What are we to make of these reports? Apart from simplistic explanations about porpoises which are regularly seen in those parts and are easily recognised by their dorsal fin, could this alleged beast possibly be our own Loch Ness Monster out of its regular "chez mois"?

Now reports of strange creatures have been reported from adjoining Loch Dochfour, the River Ness and now the Beauly Firth. No doubt more could be dug up with further investigation. But should we seriously say that these were not the Loch Ness Monster but the Loch Dochfour Monster, the River Ness Monster and the Beauly Firth Monster?

Probably not. That the monster could get to these parts is not impossible and has been discussed since the days of Rupert T. Gould in 1934. His motivation for this topic was obvious enough having authored the book "The Case for the Sea Serpent" not long before in 1930. Gould believed the Loch Ness Monster could be a stray sea serpent and hence an access route from the sea which did not prove too difficult was uppermost in his mind as he traced the route from Loch Ness to the Moray Firth in his book "The Loch Ness Monster and Others".

A passage up and through the River Ness looked the most obvious while the other journey through the Caledonian Canal looked rather more daunting to a sea serpent considering the number of locks that have to be negotiated.

The other option not taken up by Gould is the famous or infamous subterranean passage running beneath the Highlands and out to some unknown outlet in the sea. Going by the sightings mentioned here, perhaps subterranean advocates should concentrate their efforts to find this fabled tunnel in the Beauly Firth area. Whether such a tunnel actually exists is another matter...

Friday 14 December 2012

Forthcoming Nessie Lecture

I will be giving a talk on the Loch Ness Monster to the Edinburgh Fortean Society on Tuesday January 8th 2013. The title will be "Recent Events From Loch Ness" and reviews the various Nessie related events that have been going on at the loch in 2012 and also a look at 2011. 

It will look at events covered by the media such as the Edwards photo, the Atkinson sonar contact, the Jobes and Rowe photos as well as other sightings. Not all these items will be genuine sightings but then again, neither are they all hoaxes or misinterpretations!

There will also be a personal view from the grassroots as one who has been to the loch multiple times over that period armed with various monster hunting devices and visiting monster sites and monster witnesses.

The event will be rounded off with a Q&A session.

The talk will be held at The Counting House at 7:30pm and you can also check out the Society's webpage. If you can make it, that would be great.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Loch Ness Book Free Online

Tony Harmsworth, long time Loch Ness researcher, is putting his book "Loch Ness Understood" online for free viewing. The book also goes by the former title "Loch Ness, Nessie and Me". I reviewed this book last year but now you can read it for yourself at Tony's link.

Tony says the project has not quite finished, so check back for updates.

Saturday 8 December 2012

A Good Old Fashioned Nessie Documentary

I came across this old documentary from 1976 called "Mysterious Monsters" which was narrated by the well known American actor, Peter Graves, of "Mission Impossible" fame. Funnily enough, it was another actor from that program, Leonard Nimoy, who also narrated the similarly themed "In Search Of ..." series.

Actually, the documentary itself concentrates mainly on Bigfoot, but there is a nine minute clip near the start of the hour and a half film that talks about the Loch Ness Monster. It starts about 8 minutes and 50 seconds in but click on this link to go direct to the Loch Ness part.

In it you will see clips of Tim Dinsdale, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, Roberts Rines and his team at work and that perennial eyewitness, Father Gregory Brussey, from Fort Augustus Abbey talking about his long necked sighting. The snapshot of Dinsdale above shows him with his model monster which I have seen in films and books multiple times. I wonder if it survives to this day?

Good fun although a bit dated. The documentary itself typifies a more dynamic, mysterious and romantic age for these things. I remember as a kid in the late 1970s regularly going into one of the main bookshops in Glasgow to be confronted with row upon row of books on mysticism, monsters, ghosts and UFOs. This filtered through to TV, newspaper and magazine articles which abounded. I have some to this day including the 150 plus issues of the very popular "The Unexplained" magazine which I religiously bought from my newsagent every week. In some sense, it was exciting times, something to distract oneself from the troubles of that turbulent decade.

It was a generation of people exploring the weird and wacky but go into a bookshop today and you behold a different scene. Those books are gone but they are now replaced with a similar acreage of tomes on popular science and scepticism. You are not likely to easily find a book on the Loch Ness Monster. Such is the shift in culture after a span of thirty years. I wonder what the popular titles will be to excite the imaginations of men another generation from now?

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Das Ungeheuer von Loch Ness

The fame of the Loch Ness Monster spreads far in place and time and Germany is no different as a country that loves a good mystery. The title is how I think the Germans label Nessie, I may be wrong (I did French at school). However, there is one little episode that caught my eye as I perused the newspapers of old some time back. I came across this article below from the the Courier-Mail of Queensland dated the 3rd of April 1934.

The headline reads thusly:

German April 1 Hoax
BERLIN, April 1.
"Captured at last; Loch Ness monster brought to Edinburgh." 

These headlines appear In "Berliner, Illustrierte Zeitung," a weekly magazine, devoted to the more stolid type of pictures, science, and exploration. Under the headlines a photograph shows a monster, 100ft long, with a 20ft tail weighing 30 tons, being caught in a huge steel net on the shores Loch Ness, with two tugboats waiting to head the monster back in case it escaped.

Another picture depicts a vast crowd viewing the monster at Edinburgh, the caption stating that an American circus proprietor's offer of £500,000 was likely to be refused owing to scientific reasons. This and other equally wild pictures are the only justification found.

Now hoaxes are not unheard of concerning the Loch Ness Monster, but one from Nazi Germany adds a little bit more grist to the mill. That date of April 1st 1934 has already been suggested as the actual date the Surgeon's Photograph was taken, but certainly the editor of the Berliner got there first. 

By a stroke of luck, I managed to find one of the hoax photographs that the Berliner had concocted. I found it in an old issue of The Scots Magazine and it is here below. I would love to see the other pictures that are mentioned in the article, but nothing as yet has turned up.

As far as Nazi Germany was concerned, not much more is mentioned in the literature. That may be partly due to the language barrier as the vast majority of Loch Ness researchers speak English (the one notable exception here is Ulrich Magin who has made some good contributions to the Loch Ness story - great if you could email me at 

Indeed, as wartime austerity and fuel rationing set in, Highland tourism dropped and so did Loch Ness Monster reports. Add to this the demand for column inches on the war effort and we have little from any country on Nessie. In 1940, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, wrote a double page piece for the Hamburger Illustrierte which espoused that the Loch Ness Monster was the invention of the tourist trade and that a nation which believed in such nonsense was so monstrously stupid that they could not win the war.

Looks like he was wrong on both counts. I guess he was just jealous because Germany had no lake monsters. Scotland must have more lake monsters per head of population than any other country, but I wouldn't swear to that as Ireland might have a claim.

A year later Mussolini's paper Popolo D'ltalia claimed that bombing of Britain had been so  successful that the Loch Ness Monster had been killed by a direct hit. An Italian bomber pilot had apparently seen the body of the stricken creature. Subsequent post-war reports of the creature proved he must have mistaken an otter in a heat haze or a flock of mersanger birds for the great beast!

For indeed, in 1943, Commander Russell Flint was in command of a motor launch as it made its way south towards Fort Augustus at 25 knots when:

"there was the most terrific jolt. Everybody was knocked back. And then we looked for'ard. And there it was. There was a very large animal form disappeared in a flurry of water. It was definitely a living creature - certainly not debris or anything like that."

Flint sent this message to the Admiralty:

"Regret to inform your Lordships, damage to starboard bow following collision with Loch Ness Monster. Proceeding at reduced speed to Fort Augustus."

For which he received a "bit of a blast" when he got back to HQ. Cynics may reply Flint was just covering up some botched navigation. I won't pretend to have all the answers and just class it as an interesting story from those dark, war torn years.


Tuesday 27 November 2012

The Marks of Honesty and Deceit

While the final part of the series of the Lachlan Stuart photograph was in progress, a thought occurred to me as I was considering this oft vilified forester.

Lachlan Stuart and other authors of classic Nessie pictures have been branded as hoaxers by mainstream Nessie analysts today. For example, it has been suggested that Hugh Gray knowingly photographed a dog, Kenneth Wilson was in on a plot hatched by Marmaduke Wetherell to fool the Daily Mail. Likewise, Lachlan Stuart is accused of setting up some hay bales in the water whilst Peter MacNab deviously photographed nothing more than a boat wake and then touched it up in his photographic dark room.

Of course, there are others such as Frank Searle and Tony "Doc" Shiels, and the list of the accused is long and wide. 

Now, I reject the contemporary statements that all the classic Nessie pictures have been explained away. I have critiqued that assertion on this blog before and found it wanting. However, it was a series of similar statements from debunkers that got me thinking.

Whenever a photograph was discussed, such critics would, of course, reject it but they would sometimes add a statement to the effect that the hoax got out of hand or what started out as a simple joke blew out of all proportion when the media got their hands on it.

The implication of such a statement being that the hoaxer underestimated the public reaction to their photographs. This led me to ask a question. If the so called hoaxer was taken aback by such a media reaction, what then should his reaction be? One might retort that the answer depends on the personality of the hoaxer. That is true but tells us nothing. But if we look at the reactions of known hoaxes, we may get a better picture.

As it turns out, only one photograph (as far as I know) had a public confession and that was the Surgeon's Photograph. The confessor was Christian Spurling who admitted to modelling the now iconic image. However, the man who was the focus of attention was Dr. Kenneth Wilson and his reaction to the limelight was markedly different. As Alastair Boyd and David Martin point out in their expose book, Wilson did not confess but was very evasive in his answers to Loch Ness researchers, even to the point of obliquely suggesting all was not as they thought with the photograph.

But was not Wilson a great practical joker who loved a laugh? I wouldn't wish to dispute that, but when a practical joke such as this becomes a media monster of international dimensions, even a hoaxer knows when to stand back and say no more. 

Wilson, of course, did the right thing, the hoax had produced the desired effect at the time but there was no need to prolong it or succour it any more and he henceforth minimised his involvement with the affair. Pushing it any more would be counter productive, intrusive and possibly detrimental if it ever was exposed in his lifetime.

I would put it to you that Kenneth Wilson is the model one-off hoaxer and provides a template as to how other hoaxers would proceed once the initial, desired effect has been achieved - they tend to retreat and shut up. In that light, how have other alleged hoaxers reacted to the spotlight being trained on them?

In the case of Hugh Gray, after the initial flurry his photo caused, he did not batten down the hatches but continued to retell his story with deliberate conviction. So, we find that he met up with Constance Whyte 22 years later in 1955 to openly discuss his photograph. Five years later, Tim Dinsdale met up with the man he described as a gentleman and courteous in 1960 and they walked to the spot where it all happened. I suspect Hugh Gray was aged about 70 by the time he met Tim, so the record of his persistence in being public about his story probably did no extend much further.

In the case of Lachlan Stuart, there was the initial publicity as reporters from the Sunday Express plus Constance Whyte and Maurice Burton who engaged Stuart during their investigations. However, again, this Loch Ness Monster photographer did not shirk the limelight thereafter as he appeared seven years later on the BBC TV documentary "Legend of the Loch" in 1958 to be interviewed for national broadcast. Details of that interview can be found here.

When Peter MacNab's photograph hit the headlines in 1958, it became a classic, possibly only outdone by the Surgeon's Photo. Did MacNab do a Wilson and duck the attention of the media once the initial hubbub was over? Not a chance. In the decades ahead, he would readily correspond and help out various Loch Ness researchers such as Mackal, Raynor and Boyd. In fact, nearly 25 years later, he would take part in the making of the "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" episode on the Loch Ness Monster which was televised in 1980.

So we see nothing in the way of distancing themselves from the supposed hoax or any attempt to offer subtle suggestions that what they photographed was perhaps not a Nessie. The psychology of these so called hoaxers is running counter to the one test case we have.

But what about Frank Searle and Anthony Shiels you may ask? Did they not hoax photographs but continue to defend them to the hilt? Does this not nullify any argument here about hoaxers distancing themselves from their work?

I would suggest the answer to that is "No". The difference between Searle and Shiels and the other grouping is that these two were serial hoaxers whilst the other alleged hoaxers were "one shot" perpetrators.

If you are a serial hoaxer, you do not cast doubt upon your own work because after one picture is out in the public domain, the seed for the next one is already planted. If you distance yourself from one, you have to distance yourself from the rest and this is counter-productive to your lifestyle. This group has to be treated differently to the others in terms of modus operandi.

(As an aside, I presume the charge of hoaxing against Shiels is sustainable. He produced at least four monster photographs which put him in the serial hoaxer class. The main charge against him is a taped interview of him discussing how to fake a monster picture. I have not yet critiqued this accusation and even then may find nothing to dispute the hoax label. So until then, I side with the current view on him.)

In summary, the scenario of the "single hit" hoaxer based on Kenneth Wilson suggests an underestimation of the media attention and an attempt to walk away from the story without confessing outright. The high such a hoaxer gets from this adventure is short lived and further intrusions into normal life tend to be unwelcome as one is obliged to repeat at length a lie. Gray, Stuart and MacNab displayed no such behaviour which suggests they may have actually been telling the truth.

A Look At Some Nessie Books

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Nessie Books: Plesiosaurs, Plagiarism and Prägnanz

Back in March 2012, I constructed a bibliography of the Loch Ness Monster detailing all the publications I was aware of on Nessie. That total came to fifty four books and booklets but since then I have picked up on more books of varying character which I would like to bring to your attention.

1. The Mysterious Monsters of Loch Ness
Harmsworth, Tony
Precision Press, 1980

This title is a slight variation on the 1934 booklet "The Mysterious Monster of Loch Ness". I thought I had covered the bases on older publications on the Loch Ness Monster, but one should never be presumptuous on this mysterious subject. Tony Harmsworth was curator of the Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition back in the 1980s and they produced several publications. This 32-page item was one of the introductory booklets to the subject aimed mainly at the tourist trade.

Tony has gone over to the sceptical side of the debate now and in an effort to erase his past, he even reviewed his own book on with this comment:

I wrote this 30 years before my new book Loch Ness, Nessie and Me. At the time I was working with very little material and it was all pro-monster. My learning curve over the next few years was dramatic to say the least. If you buy this it might be a bit of fun, but don't expect it to help you understand the mystery at Loch Ness, even in the slightest. My apologies to anyone who ever bought it. LOL. Collector's item possibly though.

One did not need to wait 30 years to discern Tony's changing stance as his 1985 booklet "Loch Ness - The Monster" demonstrated a more measured tone with such stories as Richard Frere telling Tony that he had personally witnessed Lachlan Stuart setting up his famous three humps photograph with hay bales and tarpaulin.

Having recently purchased the 1980 booklet and read it myself, I think Tony is being too critical of his own work. But then again, I continue to hold that some of the evidence he puts forward is still valid. But it warms the cockles of your heart to read Tony being "totally committed to the animals' reality" and putting the case strongly for a modified plesiosaur which he reckons is "very near to the truth indeed".

Well, the Loch Ness Monster may be a modified plesiosaur but those evolutionary changes would have to be quite a lot. But I'll leave that for another day and another article.

While we are on the subject of Tony's books, I would point out that his 2010 book, "Loch Ness, Nessie and Me" has been republished this September as "Loch Ness Understood" though Tony tells me this is to satisfy distributors and any changes in the book are more of a grammatical nature.

2. Loch Ness: An Explanation
Seniscal, Ben
Privately Published, 1982

This book, despite being listed on Amazon, is one of those Nessie books that has completely vanished from the face of the Earth (well, I am sure someone has a copy somewhere). Fortunately, the booklet is reprinted in his 1993 autobiography, "On the Road to Anywhere".

Ben Seniscal worked for the Forestry Commission in the 1950s and 1960s but was forced to retire on medical grounds in 1969 due to coming into contact with the pesticide chemical dioxin. He is pictured below in this photograph of forestry students at Benmore Forester Training School in 1959. He is seated to the far left on the front row (original link here).

I was curious to see whether his forestry work in Scotland crossed paths with two men I have discussed elsewhere - Lachlan Stuart and Richard Frere. As it turns out, I found no mention of them, to which I conclude he never met them or had nothing to say about them despite devoting two chapters to Loch Ness.

The first chapter on Loch Ness concentrates on his attempts to get his booklet published. With a private print run of several hundred copies, he was not particularly successful in getting his argument across to publishers. This would explain the extreme rarity of the booklet.

The next chapter is the reprint of the booklet and essentially it is similar to Maurice Burton's Vegetable Mat theory. Using his experience of forestry, he crafts a persuadable theory about how various aggregations of organic materials from forests can sink, decompose and then rise on methane gases to the surface of Loch Ness to form a hump like display. Add a protruding branch to the mass and you have your legendary head and neck. We even get the bonus explanation of gases ejecting horizontally to move the object forward!

However, practise contradicted theory in subsequent studies which showed that Loch Ness was generally not a suitable place for such scenarios due to conditions which slowed down decomposition rates. To this day, records of such organic eruptions are rare indeed and at best can only explain a small fraction of claimed sightings.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, he puts across the theory better than anyone and I hope to use his thoughts as a basis for a future article on this particular subject.

3. Gestalt Forms of Loch Ness
Byrne, Gerard
JRP Ringier, November 2011

I haven't purchased this book yet, but there is an abstract from another website:

In this book, Gerard Byrne brings together the culmination of ten years of research into the Loch Ness Monster, the myth fuelled in the 1930s by the popular press in order to sell newspapers. Appropriating formal conventions from the history of Land art that position landscape as the "other," Byrne has compiled a series of images that deploy Loch Ness as a signifier for the enigmatic, the unreadable. Using both the populist literature spawned by the Loch Ness myth and the photographic material his own expeditions have yielded as "found material," Byrne has developed a project both humorous and melancholic, that ultimately reflects a crisis of belief in the photographic image that has surfaced since the last heyday of Loch Ness interest in the 1970s.

At this point, I suspect the book is not only a personal voyage in pictures but a look at how everyday objects can deceive. The word "gestalt" is interesting in that it may refer to Gestalt Psychology which, according to Wikipedia:

is a theory of mind and brain of the Berlin School; the operational principle of gestalt psychology is that the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The principle maintains that the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts. Gestalt psychologists stipulate that perception is the product of complex interactions among various stimuli.

The "Prägnanz" in the title is described thusly by Wikipedia:

The fundamental principle of gestalt perception is the law of prägnanz (in the German language, pithiness) which says that we tend to order our experience in a manner that is regular, orderly, symmetric, and simple.

Now, this may chime with a theory mentioned in previous posts which deals with the so-called "Nessie Effect" where witnesses see more than is actually there because their brains "interpret" the visual signals through various filters including an alleged "I Want To See Nessie" filter for want of a better phrase.

An interesting theory which resonates with a postmodern interpretation of cryptids suggesting "Nessie is whatever you want it to be". However, the theory's force is in inverse proportion to the clarity of the sighting. No one should seriously suggest this theory has any credence when the creature's proximity increases. 

4.  Loch Ness Monster in Popular Culture

5.  Loch Ness Monster
Russell, Jesse and Cohn, Ronald
2012, Bookvika Publishing 

Here we have a couple of books that seem worthy of a Christmas purchase, but this is a recommendation NOT to buy these books. It turns out you may well be wasting your money as previous buyers of books from Bookvika Publishing complain that the titles are just cut and paste jobs of various Wikipedia articles, etc. Actually, the product descriptions at says this:

"High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles! The Loch Ness Monster is well known throughout Scotland and the rest of the world and has entered into popular culture."

Which is probably a clue to the buyer. The two authors may or may not exist but they have "authored" numerous books on diverse subjects such as Lee Remick, Diazepam and Syriac Literature which suggests they probably known little about the subject matter of their books.

But if you like Internet content packaged up into a book then this might be for you, but don't expect anything new. One could even argue that the web content might be gone or changed significantly in a few years and books like this have some function as pure and simple Internet snapshots. I think I remain to be convinced on that, but sites such as already do a pretty good job of archiving web pages.

The word "plagiarism" from this article title alliterates well but is probably not so applicable since these people are not making any claims to originality. I am also curious to know if any other material from the Internet (such as this blog) has ended up in their books because at 116 pages, it is hard to believe that Wikipedia alone could supply all that material. I may buy it just to find out, but in general, don't waste your money.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Sceptics' Corner

This post is a "folder" for the various articles I have posted on this blog regarding the sceptical position on the Loch Ness Monster. But what exactly is a "scepticism"? In this particular context, it refers to a modern trend in scepticism which questions a belief in a large set of creatures in Loch Ness on the basis of scientific understanding and logical deduction.

When applied to various people, it can be a rather nebulous term since "sceptics" just like "believers" can come in various forms. I say that because, people can take a sceptical stance on subsets of evidence for the Loch Ness Monster but still believe there is a large creature in the loch.

For example, Nessie Hunter Alastair Boyd is well known for exposing the Surgeon's Photograph as a hoax but is firmly in the camp of "believer". So, in this case, there is scepticism focused on a particular item of evidence.

However, there is also a form of scepticism which focuses on theory. This refers to a disbelief in a proposition about the creature. One good example is the opposition to the theory based on eyewitness accounts that the creature has a long head and neck.

So, in some sense, there should be an element of the "sceptic" in every Loch Ness Monster researcher. The problems in being sceptical arise from either applying faulty logical processes or using data that is either incomplete, false or irrelevant to come to incomplete, false or irrelevant conclusions. I think it is safe to say that everyone has at some time has fallen foul of these pitfalls, because after all, we're all fallible humans.

The main articles are listed but a lot of other posts address sceptical arguments for various Loch Ness Monster cases.

1. A general overview of the sceptical position: LINK.

2. The problem of finding evidence that would convince the sceptical position: LINK.

3. Seven things sceptics will focus on to debunk eyewitness testimony: LINK.

4. Case Study: The debunking of the Greta Finlay sighting: LINK, LINK.

5. How sceptical enquiry can be exaggerated by the media: LINK.

6. Does scepticism reduce motivation to collect sighting reports? LINK.

7. And to balance things, when being sceptical proves correct: LINK.

8. Yet for all the naysaying, some might just say "perhaps ...": LINK.

9. Do sceptics bother about what witnesses claim? LINK.

10. The marks of honesty and deceit - LINK

11. Review of sceptical book "Abominable Science" - LINK

12. Should we be seeing more Nessie photos? - LINK

13. Sceptics, Steamships and Nessie - LINK

14. Sceptics and Scottish Independence - LINK

15. Those otters again - LINK

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Search Box added to Blog

The blog has now racked up nearly 200 posts since July 2010 and so some means of searching has become more desirable.

The links I put on the right hand side plus the archive further down help to some degree but how many times do I refer to Marmaduke Wetherell in my posts? I don't know either without some further help!

So I have added a "SEARCH THIS BLOG" box on the right just below the Hugh Gray photo for anyone who is interested. Note this facility will also search the comments section.

As to Marmaduke Wetherell, the answer is that he is mentioned in five posts.

Monday 12 November 2012

The Creature of Loch Ulladale

Beneath a certain mountain on a certain island lies a small loch by the name of Ulladale. With a length of about half a mile and a width of one quarter mile, there is not much to commend this body of water which lies under the gaze of its namesake mountain, Strone Ulladale.

Situated in the windswept south of the Isle of Lewis and Harris, there are no trees to offer wayfarers shelter and, indeed, there was something there in days of old which offered the very opposite in the way of hospitality. We talk, of course, of the Each Uisge or Water Horse.

This loch was discussed in The Water Horses of Loch Ness as one of the waters across Scotland's terrain that was reputed to be home to this pernicious and devilish pursuer of men's flesh. By way of a detour from An Niseag, we recount the tale of this island beast and add a new story recently gleaned from the literature.

It was over 200 years ago that the Water Horse of Loch Ulladale was mentioned by James Hogg in his 1807 work, The Mountain Bard. It is one of the older references to water horses, but unlike various tales of water horses that had passed down through the generations, this one was fresh in the minds of the fearful locals. We take up Hogg's tale as he recalls the reticence of a Hebridean guide to go past a certain loch:

“In some places of the Highlands of Scotland, the inhabitants are still in continual terror of an imaginary being, called The Water Horse. When I was travelling over the extensive and dreary isle of Lewis, I had a lad of Stornoway with me as a guide and interpreter.

On leaving the  shores of Loch Rogg, in our way to Harries, we came to an inland lake, called, I think, Loch Alladale; and, though our nearest road lay along the shores of this loch, Malcolm absolutely refused to accompany me by that way for fear of the Water Horse, of  which he told many wonderful stories, swearing to the truth of them;  and, in particular, how his father had lately been very nigh taken by  him, and that he had succeeded in decoying one man to his destruction, a  short time previous to that."

The decoying undoubtedly refers to the Water Horse's universal habit of enticing weary travellers to mount its inviting saddle only to find themselves stuck to it at the moment of terrifying revelation. The victim's fate was invariably sealed as the devilish creature sped to its loch to drown and then consume its prey.

One wonders how the Hebridean's father had evaded captured. Did he possess a piece of the talismanic rowan tree or did he invoke the name of the Christian Trinity by way of divine protection? We will never know, but rather than fading into the mists of folklore, this particular creature refuses to go away. Most water horse traditions stay no more than that, but some, such as the water horses of Morar, Ness and Treig live on and claim the attention of men. So it is with the Loch Ulladale Monster.

As it turned out, and months after the publication of my book, I was perusing some archives and came across a Scottish magazine of tales, songs and traditions called "Tocher". In the issues for 1991 (one of numbers 40 to 43), a Mrs. Peggy Morrison was being interviewed on the history of the Isle of Lewis (though Loch Ulladale is in Harris). The relevant part of the interview was as follows:

McL: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladale?

PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody knows - the Monster of Loch Ulladale, everybody talked about it in the old days. But it isn’t all that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was going out.

And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long nights and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light of dawn he was going out, and he saw this big black beast at the edge of the loch and with the fright - evidently the road was near the loch - he turned back. He didn't dare go past. And, anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was going to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light - they weren't  risking going past.

And, anyway, when the day had got quite light, they went. There was no sign of this thing. but they went back to look at the shore of the loch - there’s sand there, apparently - and the tracks were there. the tracks of whatever it was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was.

If I have read the magazine correctly, this interview was conducted in 1977.

One hundred and fifty years since Hogg, the water horse had returned again to strike fear into the hearts of men! A big, black beast beside the waters which left tracks of an unknown nature. What could it have been that caused these two men to wait until the Hour of the Each Uisge was over?

A problem common to many such legends is the size of the lochs these creatures reputedly inhabited. Surely there is not enough food in these lochs to sustain such beasts? This is a charge laid against the vast Loch Ness - how much more these small lochs?

But in the eyes of the Highlanders, there was no such problem. These supernatural creatures ate men, not fish.

In the words of one old seeker of An Niseag, a beautiful story can be destroyed by an ugly fact. Those that deride such stories may suggest the natives merely saw a grey seal pursuing some fish from the River Ulladale that empties into the sea loch of Resort. For after all, is not Loch Ulladale well stocked with tasty salmon and sea trout?

Perhaps it is, but the two mile winding river is tight and hazardous for a seal. And can't the natives of Lewis and Harris recognise a seal when they see one?

Ah, but was not the creature seen by the first grey light of dawn when viewing conditions were not ideal comes the retort!

But then again, should not such river faring seals produce such legends for all the local lochs and not just this one? And so the arguments go on. Ugly facts or just ugly speculations?

I mentioned this loch in a previous post about creatures of the Western Isles. At the time, I did not know about this modern encounter. If I had, perhaps I would have been bolder to forge into that treeless region.

Well, bolder while the Hour of the Water Horse had not yet come upon me!

The author can be contacted at


Here's a YouTube clip of someone fishing on Loch Ulladale to give you a sense of the place.

McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR:
McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR:
McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR: