Friday, 11 August 2017

Nessie Tourist Season Drawing to a Close

As I drive the streets of Edinburgh, you will see them almost every day. Buses of various shapes and sizes zooming towards the Forth Road Bridge to deliver their cargo of tourists to Highland destinations. But there is one destination that is always on the itinerary and that is the famous Loch Ness. Or should that be rephrased as the one destination of the Loch Ness Monster?

Having disgorged their contents at Fort Augustus and Urqhuart Castle, the buses wait as the tourists take in the splendid views, stretch their legs and perhaps indulge in some local cuisine. Of course, you can do these things at Loch Lomond, but it doesn't have a monster. The creature is plastered everywhere in forms which draw in the eye and the wallet, but has little to do with what the actual creature looks like.

Meantime, businesses around the loch invite the tourist into their shops to inspect the tat and garish items that fill their shelves. If a green, fluffy Nessie is not to your liking, then perhaps a Nessie adorned mug or a Nessie T-shirt or a Nessie figurine or ... well, you get the picture.

Having lightened your wallet and purchased a memorial of your visit, you may want to risk going onto the loch and see the monster face to face for yourself. There are plenty of boats moored up at the castle bobbing and waiting to take your cash and give you their version of what lies beneath. Some of these crew may believe, don't believe or pretend to believe in a monster, but either way, the monster means big bucks to them and so they're happy to be part of the great mystery. 

For me, going to Loch Ness in early August is chalk and cheese to an April visit. In April, the cruise boats are still in hibernation, the roads are quiet and car parking is easy. If you turn up four months later, you are met with bedlam. Fort Augustus car park is likely full, walking along certain roads is like dodgem cars as a phalanx of tourists marches towards you and queues form for various events.

Well, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way, because vast hordes of tourists means there is still an ongoing interest in the Loch Ness Monster amongst the peoples of the world (whatever their view of it may be). And, of course, millions of eyes are trained on the loch armed with cameras ready to snap Nessie breaking to the surface from the deep depths.

I say that somewhat tongue in cheek as the reality is a bit different for various reasons. Firstly, you may have noted the recent story concerning the overgrown nature of the trees along the loch side. Gary Campbell lamented that this was leading to a drop in sightings and even Adrian Shine was in agreement (as far as bare bone eyewitness accounts go). The old postcard below shows the fabulously unhindered view of the loch afforded to tourists and monster hunters many moons ago.

Today, those days are gone as you can drive for miles and only see a loch almost or totally obscured. Laybys are being increasingly added and so the situation will improve, but the days of drive-by Nessie sightings are largely gone. The situation for the monster hunter is different to that of the tourist. The cryptozoologist seeks places for surveillance and is generally unconcerned about tree cover as he or she will find the open views they need.

The tourist is in rather more of a hurry. Tour buses have schedules and so times at the loch are of short duration and generally at fixed locations such as the Castle, Fort Augustus Pier and one or two other places. Those in cars will have more freedom, but very few of them are going to sit down by the shore and scan the loch for extended periods of time. 

The point is that even if the average "eyes on loch" time of a tourist is only 15 minutes, multiply that by half a million per year and that adds up to a rough and ready estimate of over 5000 man days per year. Of course, that is not unique "eyes on loch" time as several hundred pairs of eyes looking at the same spot, such as Urquhart Bay, is a lot of wasteful duplication and may be no more effective than 50 pairs of eyes doing the same thing.

Moreover, if Nessie decides the quiet stretch between Foyers and Inverfarigaig is her favourite spot, far less eyes will be on those few miles than the Castle area. Nevertheless, the tourist is an important part of evidence gathering, even if those mobile phone cameras are not up to the job.

As for me, I think I will be far from the maddening crowd this Summer as I plan to be at the loch in late September rather than late August. All the schools will be back to work, the weather will be chilling a bit but it will be peace, perfect peace.

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  1. Agree that the north shore roadside needs a good clearing of trees.

    Perversely the south side is much more open along longer stretches than ever before. The forest clearings on the high points above Fort Augustus give some great views where previously all you saw were trees.

    That's increasing traffic on the south shore, where sadly there isn't really the infrastructure to support it.

  2. I agree, the loch is hard to see for miles because of the trees and will reduce sightings without doubt. Im off up to the loch this week for a few days and as always im looking forward to it.

  3. It's not a new problem, every since we visited the loch in the 1960s as kids the inability to see the loch from a moving car was as frustrating as it was inevitable.

    The HAI Council have more pressing things to spend tax payers money on than foliage clearing.
    One can maybe hope, as happened in the 1932-33 period, that a major road building scheme will clear miles of roadside greenery and a with a new alignment the loch can be seen.

    On recent visit I noticed the southbound steep drop into Fort Augustus from the south road has been cleared and a majestic view of Borlum Bay is visible for the first time in many years.

  4. Interesting point you make about lochside trees. Considering the majestic loch is the region's star attraction, it may disappoint tourists to have their roadside view obscured. But I think a clear view at every point might encourage unfocused driving. Are the trees between road and loch commercially grown would you know?

    1. Most of the forestry on the north shore is Forestry Commission land, however those are on the far side of the road and therefore not the foliage obscuring views. That's mainly wild growth between the A82 and the water. It would be Council responsibility to keep it cleared rather than commercial forestry.

      You are right in saying people watching the water too much is a traffic hazard. There have been many accidents on the A82 where I think that has played a part. Bit of a double-edged sword though as I think the lack of clear views makes passing drivers strain harder for a glimpse of the water, taking their concentration away from where it should be.

    2. I hadn't considered that, it's a good point you make. I don't have a lot of experience driving there, but I find it a little awkward. In many places the road seems just that little bit too narrow for comfort on the A82 on the north side, especially with coaches and minivans aplenty during the summer months. If distraction is also factored in it's no wonder there are accidents.

  5. The road was adequate in 1933, where most cars were 5ft wide and had a max speed of 55mph.
    The A82 has been unfit for purpose for many years. Sections have been straightened and upgraded but the A9 as primary highland route has always got Govt. funding while the A82 gets the crumbs.

  6. Nice to see Nessie showing up on the new baby box scheme in Scotland - start that interest young!

  7. Mixed feelings for me! Whilst the trees would reduce potential sightings they do add to the beauty and naturalness of Loch Ness!! I'm back up in September and luckily there is uninterrupted views from the cabin we stay in lol a few nights on the whisky and tennents and one eye on the loch in the daytime ! I always try and take in a couple of spots from the history of the mystery and last year went to the hugh gray photo area with help from a well known skeptic who also took me to the Lachlan Stuart area the year before( very grateful). On this note I wonder if Sumone cud help me .. I've read that frank searle built a jetty whilst he was at the Loch, does anyone know if this is still there on is there any remains of it and whereabouts is it? Thanks I'd like to add this to my collection. Nice to see the tourists still flock to Loch Ness and it will always be a mysterious place and so beautiful. Cheers!!

    1. Frank used to live in a caravan by a pier by the road that leads to the Hydro. You drive down to Lower Foyers and take a right to go through the old aluminium works.

      The pier wasn't built by him and is still there. I posted some photos of the area here:

  8. Rumours says Searle had a harem of younger female friends to warm up those cold lochside nights.

    Quite where he found these women of easy virtue among the god fearing folk of Foyers is more of a mystery than Nessie.

    1. My understanding is that he had the occasional lady friend who would stay for a while then move on. Of course that has since been exaggerated to the point where Frank had "a harem". People love a salacious rumour.

  9. Sunny, calm days are traditionally when Nessie makes an appearance. Alas that season again is drawing to a close. Certainly it has not been a vintage year for sighting reports. I can't help thinking that the humiliation people suffer when reporting sightings is to blame. In the age of the internet and social media, the condemnation and ridicule are immediate and widespread. I would even suggest that this 'information highway' could itself lead to valuable information occasionally being withheld, when we might once have been given the details via magazine or newspaper. Strange times.