Tuesday 28 January 2014

Jeremy Wade at Loch Ness

Finally, the two part episode of "River Monsters" at Loch Ness will be televised on British TV on 11th February at 7:30pm. Presumably, part two follows next week. This was first televised in the USA in May last year. More details here.

By some strange coincidence, I will be starting my talk on the Loch Ness Monster on the same day at the same time. Thank goodness for video recorders!

Monday 27 January 2014

The Dornoch Dragon and Nessie

Over at Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, I stumbled upon a reference to my book "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". The subject in question was the Dornoch Dragon which was reputed to have terrorised that Highland town in the 13th century.

The point of referencing that story in my book was to highlight the difference but co-existence of dragon and kelpie stories in the folklore of Highland times. The Loch Ness Monster is a Kelpie, but it is no Dragon. You can go over to Beachcombing's website to get the story.

But what interests me is not so much the story but the source. I picked up on the story from a letter to The Scotsman newspaper on the 1st January 1934. The author of the letter was a Mr. David Murray Rose. 

Mr. Rose had previously sent a letter to the same newspaper mentioning some pre-1933 references to a strange beast in Loch Ness. These are important references but they have been dismissed by sceptics because he does not state his sources. Now for those who think Nessie is merely a media creation of the 1930s, such pre-1930s references are inconvenient and the sooner they are debunked away the better. Now I admit he does not state his sources, but I accept they exist. This week's article on the Dornoch Dragon has reinforced that view.

The article ends with doubts being cast upon the veracity of Rose's account and again poor old David Murray Rose is in the dock. But then help came along in the shape of Mr. Borky (who I believe also frequents this blog). Borky informed Beachcombing that there is indeed an earlier source for the story and refers us to the Folklore Journal, volume six, published in 1888. You can find a link to it here.

So David Murray Rose is vindicated in this letter to The Scotsman and therefore I would suggest that he is also trustworthy in his other letter on the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, the task is to find these original sources and that is not a simple task if they have not reached the scanners of Google Books yet.

I examined Mr. Rose's research material in Edinburgh when I was researching my book. Suffice to say, my two days there was not enough to cover the vast volume of boxes there. Indeed, trying to read his pencilled handwriting was no easy task either! If I ever retire, I hope to revisit them.

On a side note, I noticed that the 1888 Folklore Journal stated the following:

The dragon killed by St. Gilbert (before-mentioned) must have been a salamander, since it was born from a fire which has lasted seven years. It lived in fire, and its breath burnt all the forests of the Highlands : onlv a man who should see it before it saw him had power to slay it, St. Gilbert dug a hole and hid himself in it, so as to get the first sight of it. 

Interestingly, the Loch Ness Monster was also reputedly referred to as "The Salamander" in the 19th century. Is there a connection here between dragon and kelpie?  As it turns out, folklore has an interesting view of the salamander. The old Gaelic dictionary of animal names say this:

SALAMANDER. — Corr or corra-chagailte ; Teighiollas ; Urchuil or urcuil. 
Fire-form, sometimes fire-bird. 
A belief exists, or existed, that one of these nondescript creatures grew in any fire that was kept burning continuously or incessantly for seven years, hence the reason for extinguishing all furnaces periodically within that period ; it need hardly be added that the reason is of a more utilitarian and prosaic nature in cities. 

Of Sir Robert Gordon, the Third Baronet of Nova Scotia, it is said of his wizardry:

He is said to have fitted up a forge, and here night after night for seven long years he sat watching the glowing embers, until at length his patience was rewarded by the appearance of a live salamander. From this creature he tortured many an unearthly secret.

Perhaps not the salamander of modern day theories, but I wonder if the two were connected?

And finally, I also stumbled upon this piece from 1907:

The Adder as a swimmer — I do not suppose that the adder which was discovered swimming across Loch-Ness knew what it was attempting. Apart from the doubt whether snakes have long sight, it is obvious that a creature whose eyes are always close to the ground must have a very near horizon, and can, therefore, have no notion of the width of a large piece of water. - (to P. C. Inverness.) 

Snakes swimming across Loch Ness? You learn something every day! The sceptics can add that to their list of misidentifications!