Tuesday 25 October 2016

The Beast of Loch Achtriochtan

It is now over five years since I published my book on the folkloric aspects of the Loch Ness Monster and other Scottish beasts. Not surprisingly, new material continues to come to light on the matter and I have continually added to the blog's section on Water Horses and pre-1933 Nessie reports here. Recently, I found this small piece that was published on the 18th July 1868 in the Oban Times. I have provided text below since the scan is rather difficult to read.


FISHING. - The Leven and the Cona are swarming with fish. The former river has not been much fished of late years, but the latter has, and with all the exterminating engines, as if extermination was the object. For this reason, "pot sport" has been added to the common appelatives by the natives. Proprietors stand often in their own light in not making a proper distinction among those to whom they let their ground, for there were no conditions which can be written that are able to prevent mischief being done by bad sportsmen. A boat has been put on Loch-trichadain, Glencoe, and it is found to be swarming with trout. No less than 12 doz ave been taken by Major Shirley, Invercoe House, in one day. The loch is 8 fathoms deep, and on that account has vast room for concealing its permanent occupiers. James Cameron, who has put the boat on the loch, has better pluck than the parties who had been severally chased away by the water horse.

Given the imperfections of transliterating Gaelic place names, I would suggest that Loch Trichadain is Loch Achtriochtan or Trychardan located about five miles east of Ballachulish on the main A82 road between Glasgow and Inverness. The Google map below shows it in the bottom right corner and the loch is pictured at the top of this article.

To add some context to the 1868 account, here is the same area drawn up in map from 1877 (courtesy of the National Library of Scotland). The River Coe runs from the loch into Loch Leven and hence a route into the sea via Loch Linnhe.

 But going back to the article, the part of interest to us is the last sentence:

James Cameron, who has put the boat on the loch, has better pluck than the parties who had been severally chased away by the water horse.

Curiously, this water horse reference came up just three months before the well known account of a strange fish in Loch Ness (see link). Whether they are linked in any way would be pure speculation, but one wonders as to the what and the why of this reference. Having protested about unsporting sportsmen and the abundance of trout, our columnist surprises with a reference to a water horse chasing various bands of boat users. 

Clearly, something was doing the rounds amongst the conversation of locals in 1868 Glencoe to encourage the columnist to put this sceptical comment in the Oban Times. However, a wider search of the Oban Times turned up nothing regarding reports of strange, aquatic beasts in the area. This comes as no surprise as the general attitude of the Highland Press to loch monster stories was disdain and any rare reference to them would be couched in humour or hostility.

After all, science and industry were now sweeping their way up the previously mystical glens and so the local newspapers had to be seen to be "with it" and not publish ridiculous old stories about Water Horses and Water Bulls.

So, we are left to try and piece together what our columnist was on about. Did a "Water Horse" discomfit anglers on Loch Achtriochtan to the point where they felt they had to get back to shore? One can assume that the columnist has indulged in exaggeration for the purposes of deflection and debunking. However, the impression here is that several parties reported that they had seen something in the loch which was akin to the old tales of loch monsters and provoked a degree of fear. 

Having read this, it rang a bell and I consulted my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness" and found a quote from Mackinlay's "Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs", published in 1893: 

The lochs of Llundavra and Achtriachtan, in Glencoe, were at one time famous for their water-bulls; and Loch Treig for its water-horses, believed to be the fiercest specimens of that breed in the world. If anyone suggested to a Lochaber or Rannoch Highlander that the cleverest horse-tamer could clap a saddle on one of the demon-steeds of Loch Treig, as he issues in the grey dawn, snorting, from his crystal-paved sub-lacustral stalls, he would answer, with a look of mingled horror and awe, "Impossible!" The water-horse would tear him into a thousand pieces with his teeth and trample and pound him into pulp with his jet-black, ironhard, though unshod hoofs ! 

I wouldn't get too dogmatic about one source talking about water bulls and the other about water horses as authors and researchers often mixed and confused the two. But it seems Loch Achtriochtan had a reputation for water monsters. Given that the columnist states the loch is only 8 fathoms deep (48 feet), one may look to the river which empties into the sea for clues as to whether something large and intimidating was chasing the "abundance" of migratory trout up to the loch? 

One may proceed along those lines and then speculate further as to the identity of this mysterious creature. Seal, whale, or something more sinister? Given the several miles of river between sea loch and inland loch, a whale seems an unlikely option and one struggles to see how a seal could put the fear into the locals. However, something invovled in a one-off stranding may have more merit - whatever that "something" may be.

Readers are left to form their own opinion, but these days, trout and salmon numbers are way down on the 19th century and one wonders if there is any reason now for the Water Horse of Loch Achtriochtan to again trouble its waters?

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com