Saturday 6 July 2013

Classic Sightings: Michael McCullough

Date: November 21st 1972
Time: Noon?
Location: Near Fort Augustus Abbey
Witnesses: Michael McCullough and five others
Type of sighting: multiple humps
Conditions: Not Known

Back in November, a reference to a Nessie report appeared on the cryptozoological website cryptozoo-oscity. It was a brief account from four schoolboys from the local Fort Augustus Abbey school:

A 14-year-old Bo’ness boy claimed that he had come within 15 yards of the Loch Ness Monster. Michael McCullough was walking along the banks of Loch Ness when the giant creature appeared in front of him and his three friends. 

I began to probe around to find more details on this story and eventually bits and pieces came in. The reference to the Linlithgow Gazette was a dead end as local newspapers in Central Scotland are more likely to go through liquidations or mergers than national newspapers. Investigating various candidates at my local library turned up trumps with this clipping from the Livingston Journal and Gazette date 27th November 1972.

Bo'ness boy sights 'Nessie' 

A 14-YEAR-OLD Bo'ness boy claimed on Tuesday that he had been within 15 yards of the Loch Ness monster! Michael McCullough, son of a well-known Bo'ness practioner Dr Michael McCullough of Rosemount, Dean Road, was walking along the shores of Loch Ness with three friends when the legendary "Nessie" appeared. The monster surfaced "not much more than ten yards away" then swam across Borlum Bay before submerging again about three minutes later. Michael and his friends, aged 13, 14 and 15, reported their sighting to their headmaster at Fort Augustus Abbey School. Dr Edward Buchanan. 


The boys later told "Nessie" expert Mr Alex. Campbell of Fort Augustus that the monster cruised away at a speed of between five and ten miles an hour leaving a one-foot high wake behind it, they say it was dark slate in colour and very shiny. There were three separate parts to the creature which moved through the water like a caterpillar. They estimated the monster to be about 20 feet long with several flipper-like appendages which it appeared to use as a method of propulsion.

Ten yards is very close indeed for a monster sighting but the account is pretty short on detail for something so close. However, the description appears to be of three humps with propulsion appendages being in view. The mention of moving through the water like a caterpillar is confusing as caterpillars do not move through water! This appears to be one of those metaphors applied to Nessie when one is not sure how to describe what one is looking at. I assume it refers to the vertical undulations that are often associated with the Loch Ness Monster.

Explanations will be offered as to what actually happened. The boys merely saw our ubiquitous standing wave which seems to explain everything multi-hump, no matter how fantastical the description. Another explanation is the safety net of the hoaxer. A comment placed on the aforementioned cryptozoo-oscity site says:

It was a hoax. I was at the school at the time. They were bored and made it up. 

However, the fact that the comment is anonymous and placed there on April Fool's Day does not really engender confidence in its authenticity. Forty one years after that event I tracked down Michael on Facebook and asked him what he remembered about that day:

RW: Can you tell me about the time you saw Nessie when there (at the school)?

MM: There were four of us; memory quite distant but a big dark grey thing in the water which shot off at a fair speed was NOT imagination... it was seen independently by two other people from a different viewpoint at the same time too. I have no idea what it was, but it was certainly big and alive. Like over 8m long. What more can I say?

Evidently, the passing of years has not encouraged Michael to admit to any school prank. He is still adamant about the story and the details do not appear to have diminished (I had not shown him the clipping above).

A schoolboy prank or the real deal? You, the reader, must decide!

Tuesday 2 July 2013

The Latest "Nessie" Pictures

These pictures turned up recently on the Nessie Facebook page and are certainly worthy of further consideration. The witness was Daniel Parker and another on the 26th June about 3pm near the village of Inverfarigaig on the south shore.

He was driving along this quieter road when his attention was taken by an object which appeared to be moving against the prevailing water currents.  He estimated it was about 5 to 6 feet in length and about 1 foot out of the water. He quickly took four pictures with his Blackberry phone before it submerged. Two of these pictures are shown here.

Clearly, the two pictures have been taken from different positions as I see no obvious correlation between the foreground branches in the pictures. However, an examination of the object in the pictures shows it has slightly altered its appearance, though again it is not clear whether this is due to the object itself or the water around it.

Could it be a rock? The location is beside a small section of wall opposite Achnahannet. A look at Google StreetView gives a general view of the location. A zoom in to this area in the second photo shows a rock poking out of the foliage to the right but that rock is far closer to the shore than the object in Daniel's picture.

Rocks do appear and disappear with the loch's rising water levels but not this far out. In fact, rocks that far out would be a hazard to shipping! Two pictures I took with my game camera near this spot show how the rising water level can make rocks come and go, but again I emphasise this is more likely right up at the shoreline.

Daniel says he thought he saw something similar the previous day, but that could indeed have been some of the rocks nearer the shore and it was not at the same location. To quote Daniel:

The first picture was from a clearing about fifty yards from the beginning of the scrub, once this thing was out of view, I reversed the car about ten/twenty feet to another clearing, that's your other picture. This thing started to submerge to the right of this picture and as you can see there is more scrub, by this time I reversed the car back to by where the wall is, we sat there a few minutes, seen nothing and drove off.

One other consideration is a log of some shape which is moving against the prevailing wind due to an underwater seiche. This is possible, but the main point here is that the object submerged and did not reappear after the witnesses had waited for a few minutes. Logs do not tend to do this.

So, it could be a living creature and Dan is adamant it was not a seal. If it was indeed showing up to six feet of body out of the water, that limits our options in terms of animals. Perhaps some more information will be forthcoming if the other two pictures become available.

As an aside, I note the good old Loch Ness Hoodoo struck when one of the witnesses told me he had left a "good camera and video cam with great zoom" at their cabin. I doubt that would matter. As soon as Nessie notes they have better equipment, she'll stay underwater! 

But it shows the need for the best equipment one has when at Loch Ness as I don't think most camera-phones are up to the job. The natural assumption is that one is not likely to see anything unusual when visiting and that is true for any given person.

Opinions are invited from readers.


As it turned out, it was a rock and thanks to Steve Feltham's investigative skills, it was located at Loch Tarff which is a small loch on the south side of Loch Ness. My intiial thoughts based on a location given as near Inverfarigaig are obviously not now applicable. Just as well I didn't commit to a "This is Nessie" statement.

More details are at the Loch Ness Monster facebook where the alleged photographer and others debate the whole episode.

Sunday 30 June 2013

Some Old and New Nessie Books

If you're a Nessie Bibliophile, then it's time again for one of our occasional excursions into the world of books on the Loch Ness Monster. At the last count on our list of Nessie books, the number of titles exclusively or partly devoted to our monstrous subject was fifty seven.

Today, that number swells to a round sixty and we start off with a new title which will not actually be published until the 4th of July. It is called "The Loch Ness Monster: And Other Unexplained Mysteries" by J. F. Derry.

I like the way this book starts with the title "unexplained mysteries". In other words, don't take any dissing of the subject from those who put it all down to over-excited tourists seeing driftwood or bow waves. However, the picture on the cover is most likely no mystery as it was taken by that crafty cockney, Frank Searle in 1974. But I will reserve final judgement on Frank until I have read Paul Harrison's forthcoming book on the subject.

The book is actually a compilation of stories and photographs taken from the well known British newspaper, the Daily Mirror. As the book's abstract at Amazon says:

It's 80 years after the first modern-day sighting of the Loch Ness Monster and yet despite frequent eye witness accounts since then, sonar images and even video footage, still no one knows for sure whether there really is a serpent-like prehistoric behemoth inhabiting the famous Scottish lake.

More amazing is that Nessie is only one of countless extraordinary terrestrial and extraterrestrial life-forms that have been reported worldwide over the course of the last century or so: the Yeti and Bigfoot; British big cats such as The Beasts of Bodmin and Stroud; paranormal manifestations in the form of ghosts, banshees and poltergeists; and visitors from other worlds, aliens and their UFOs.

The list is astonishing and extensive, but the remarkable Daily Mirror archive has accumulated a wealth of articles and pictures from sightings, visitations, apparitions and alien abductions, many of which are now collected together in this otherworldly monster of a book, "Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries".

Well, I have ordered my copy and will give it a fuller review in due course.

The second title is one already mentioned on this blog and it is the album called "Alex Harvey presents The Loch Ness Monster" published in 1976 as a vinyl record. This is a compilation of sightings from that time and I wrote previously on this item in this article. However, a CD version of the album was published in 2009 which I bought. To my surprise, the item actually arrived as an 18 page booklet with the CD in the inside back cover.

So inside we are treated to various photographs of eyewitnesses and snippets of their stories all framed in the manner of a travelogue by Alex Harvey. You will even see a picture of a young Dick Raynor with a kipper tie and long hair who, according to Alex, agreed to an interview but then changed his mind. I don't know if that knock-back annoyed Alex Harvey because he cheekily refers to Dick Raynor as "Dick Rayner" and "Nick Raynor" in the booklet.

It's a nice little booklet with some good photographs and you can generally pick it up on eBay for a good price. The same cannot be really said for the final item which is entitled "Loch Ness Monster Handbook" by Jim M. MacRae which was published in 1974. 

The front cover promises amazing facts and offers to improve sighting chances and all this against the backdrop of a grinning Loch Ness Monster. I paid over the odds to get this 15 page booklet but such is the life of a Nessie memorabilia collector. This is what I call a "boilerplate" book which is essentially a book which adds nothing to the store of knowledge or thinking about the subject and pretty much has the look and feel of an item aimed at the tourist trade.

I don't know anything about Jim MacRae who appears to have been a local man but the material he uses is pretty standard stuff for the 1970s. We have the plesiosaur theory dominating and the photographs by Lachlan Stuart, Kenneth Wilson and Frank Searle interlaced with some well known sightings such as that by Greta Finlay.

In fact, it is the same Searle photo as the one at the top of this article. One should not underestimate the influence Frank Searle had on Loch Ness Monster publicity in the early 1970s. After the Dinsdale and O' Connor pictures of 1960, there is a gap of over a decade with nothing of a sensational quality. That was ended by Searle's pictures and the Rines flipper picture.

It has always been a bit of mystery to me why despite the heightened publicity of the 1960s with the high profile searches no one thought of continuing the so called line of faked pictures. You had the alleged litany of deception from Lachlan Stuart, Peter MacNab and Peter O' Connor over 9 years but the next 12 produced zilch. I would actually expect more fakes since increased publicity attracts more attention seekers. But it was not the case, which make one wonder how many claimed fakes are actually fakes.

These last two books exemplify the volume of Nessie literature in the 1970s. Though that decade occupied one eighth of the Nessie era, it produced one third of the known titles. It was a crazy decade, no doubt looked back upon with mixed memories by many. But the record now stands at sixty titles and I hope you enjoyed our little trip into the Nessie bookshelf.