Wednesday 8 May 2013

Loch Ness Trip Report April 2013

It was off to Loch Ness once more on the 12th April on what is becoming a regular Easter trip to the abode of the Loch Ness Monster. I was there for five days and have already covered some of the activities which were part of the "Nessie at 80" festivities. This article covers what I got up to at other times in the great pursuit of the monster (of which you see a representation below).

The three to four hour drive up to the loch from Edinburgh was pleasant enough and we even managed to avoid getting stuck behind tractors on the mainly single carriageway road. Arriving at Fort Augustus in the late afternoon, we turned into the camping site that is just beyond the old Monastery (which has been residential flats for some years now).

The campsite is cheap enough, but being a 100% born and bred Scotsman, one is always looking out for a better deal to save a pound or two. As it turns out, "wild camping" is allowed along many parts of the loch's shores. Apart from the obvious advantage of paying nothing, you are right up besides the loch and never far away from the action (whereas the campsite is a 5-10 minute walk from the loch shoreline).

In fact, whilst engaged in Nessie activities, I stumbled upon such a tent near Invermoriston on the shore beyond the roadside bushes and well out of sight. However, the disadvantage of such a camping tactic became clear as the beach was only really big enough to accommodate a one man tent. I had a bigger tent which would have no chance of being pitched in such a place.

There may be other wider spots but the other disadvantage is what happens if Nessie takes to land near your tent? Now I know the chances of this happening are very rare (one land sighting reported every four years) but you never know. One apocryphal tale from the 1970s tells of some teenagers camped out somewhere near Fort Augustus who heard loud animal noises outside their tent at night.

Not daring to poke their heads out to investigate (in case there was no heads to pull back in), the morning came and they discovered that the shrubbery around them was crushed. I mused to myself what I would have done in that situation.

The weather throughout the time was best described as mixed. Fortunately, the worst of the rain tended to confine itself to night time with occasional outbreaks during the days. The downside of that is the constant pitter patter of rain on the tent fabric which does not help a light sleeper such as myself! However, apart from some nice sunny spells, it was mainly a cloudy trip.

The first thing to do on the next full day was to install my trusty trap camera which stayed strapped to a tree for the duration of the trip. This time round, not too many pictures were triggered due to the relatively settled waters. The two pictures below show the different moods of the loch. Nessie being a water breather was not too inclined to make a surface appearance for the camera.

In regard to the elusiveness of a creature that does not primarily breath air and tends to haunt the sides and bottom of the loch, one calculation was on my mind. As I watched out over the vast expanse of the loch (below), I wondered what the odds were of being present at one of the sightings of the monster? Assuming a historical average of ten sightings per year, the odds came out at about 18,000 to 1 against if you were there for just one day looking at the loch for one hour.

Of course, there is a degree of simplification in all that but it reminded me that Monster Hunting was essentially a game with loaded dice. Even searching underwater in that inky darkness is no idle pursuit. Adding up the surface areas of the silted bottom and the rocky sides gives an area of over 5 million square meters. That is more than twice the size of my own city of Edinburgh. Imagine trying to find a randomly parked bus in Edinburgh at night in fog during a power cut and you get the general idea.

Apart from gazing at the loch, I like to do some investigation of old sightings. One place I returned to was Borlum Bay where Margaret Munro had her famous land sighting in 1934. I had noticed during Adrian Shine's presentation at the April Symposium that he thought she had only seen a seal.

With that in mind, I went back to the scene, did some measurements, took some photographs and came away thinking that explanation was not likely. I will present my thoughts on that at a later date. I also tracked down the place where this interesting photograph from 1992 was taken. Based on an investigation of the scene, I do not think it was a bird but then again monsters are not necessarily the explanation either. I have still to digest the pictures I took for another future article.

One final case to look into was the classic picture taken by F.C. Adams in 1934 (below). Not a lot is known about this picture and it tends to be dismissed as the dorsal fin of a dolphin. One thing I am sure of is that this is no dolphin and it was off to Urquhart Castle where the picture was allegedly taken according to a contemporary report of the time. This photo still has further light to be shed on it, but again, this awaits a future article.

I had not been to the castle for some years and certainly not since they redeveloped the area. However, in the interests of research I paid up and took the tour. Admittedly, they have done a good job on the site with the actual castle grounds being largely untouched. The film they showed was informative as were the various displays.

As I explored the various stony caverns that once functioned as rooms in a busy castle and I wondered what stories those past residents had to tell of strange sights on Loch Ness. I had a close look at the stones on display that were remnants of the final destruction of the place. I even imagined one showed a long necked creature rising from the centre right of the picture towards the centre (see picture below). Oh well, nice to imagine, but one wonders how such medieval inhabitants recorded such things since pen and paper were not exactly available or useable.

One highlight was a trip on Marcus Atkinson's high speed boat which forms part of the Cruise Loch Ness trips. Marcus is known for the strange sonar contact he got whilst one of their boats were idling in Urquhart Bay. These sleek boats can get up to 30 knots per hour and with some of the Symposium attendees, it was off on a fast hike to the Horseshoe Scree where we had a look at the sonar readings and hunted for goats on the hillside (we managed to spot one).

A mention must also be made of the exhibition at the Loch Ness Centre at Drumnadrochit. I had not been to this for a long time but I was there for a look around and it had been upgraded. Adrian's stamp is very much on the exhibition with a mix of science, history and monsters and a look at his favourite sturgeon. However, an annexe had been added which covered various events such as the retrieval of the Wellington bomber and a very nice exhibit which had audio-visual presentations of witnesses to famous Nessie sightings giving their own personal accounts such as Alastair Boyd, Ian Cameron, Father Brussey and Winifred Carey and so on. There is nothing like hearing the original witness give their own account of what they saw.

However, when all was said and done, it was nice to get a picture of at least one long necked creature swimming on the loch. I look forward to my next trip later in the Summer!