Tuesday 17 October 2017

Searching for the Spicers

Having written on the land sighting experience of the Spicers some weeks before, I made one of my usual trips to the loch with some ideas in my mind, but one was certainly at the forefront and that was to find the location of the creature the couple saw over 84 years ago.

But first I wish to mention a sub-story to this event that was omitted in my main article but offers corroboration to the claims of the Spicers. In George Spicer's interview with the Daily Sketch newspaper dated 7th December 1933, he said this on driving between the location of the sighting and reaching the village of Foyers:

We continued on our way. We met a roadman. When I told him I had just seen the monster, he was astounded - not frightened, just incredulous. 

Who that "roadman" might have been remained a mystery for forty years until Nicholas Witchell published his book, "The Loch Ness Story" in 1974. On page 134, Witchell brings to us new information in the form of a William McCulloch who appears to be that man the Spicers met. To quote the book:

The Spicers continued on their way and met a cyclist. This man's name was William McCulloch, a native of Foyers who when he heard their story was, according to Mr. Spicer, "astounded - not frightened, just incredulous. He added that he was glad we had seen it because people were laughing at a bus driver friend of his in the village who had reported seeing it."

After the Spicers had driven on, Mr. McCulloch cycled to the spot where they had told him the animal had crossed and added his previously unpublished confirmation that the undergrowth was flattened, both above the road and below it down to the lochside. "It was as if a steamroller had been through", he said.

Presumably, this information came to light in the 1960s when the LNIB and other monster hunters descended on the loch and began to question locals about events past and present. This provides corroboration for the Spicers testimony. Cynical diehard sceptics will merely sneer that William McCulloch was lying.

I asked one lifelong resident of Foyers on my visit whether he had heard of William McCulloch and he confirmed he knew him as an older man when he was a lad and that he worked at the Aluminium Works which is now long closed and whose buildings are used by the energy company, SSE.

So much for that, but it is a pity that Mr. McCulloch's interviewer did not ask to be directed to the exact spot as it remains a bit of a mystery to this day. The map below shows two proposed locations. The first location is the one marked on a map of sightings found in Rupert T. Gould's 1934 book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others".

Since Gould interviewed the Spicers only a matter of months after the event, you may conclude that he was best placed to ascertain the location. Unfortunately, he admits himself that even with the help of local knowledge, he could not find the location with any degree of precision.

This is probably no surprise since the Spicers would have been completely unfamiliar with that road, and having driven up and down it myself many a time, there are long stretches of the road which are devoid of landmarks or any other signs which would allow provide a frame of reference. Nevertheless, Gould places the location where he does without much of an explanation why.

Most other accounts (such as Witchell's aforementioned book) simply follow what Spicer said in his own testimony which states the event happened about midway between the villages of Foyers and Dores. That is marked as the second location on the above map. However, one feels that this is a generalisation as Gould decided to place it a bit further north for reasons unknown.

With these in mind, I decided to take a fresh approach and use three markers mentioned in the various accounts by George Spicer. The first was that the creature was seen crossing the road about 200 yards ahead of them. So, the first marker would be a stretch of road which has a clear view ahead for about 200 metres.

The second was the statement from Gould's book that "the car was climbing a slight rise" when the creature appeared. This one is a bit more difficult to interpret as it it does not imply that the overall stretch of road was rising. So there is a bit of latitude in how one interprets the overall topology of the 200 metre stretch.

The third parameter is drawn from George Spicer's letter to a young Ted Holiday in 1936 in which he says the loch "was only twenty foot down on the right". The challenge was to find a stretch of road which fulfilled all three of these requirements.

So starting from Gould's location, I walked for three miles, stopping when a stretch of 200 yards or more opened up. If the stretch of road generally descended, I ignored it and walked on. Since the road tended to be a series of undulations, you would encounter a rising road after a descending road, though many had bends in them which turned before the 200 yard condition was fulfilled.

When one of the rising sections of road qualified, I would identify where the crest of the road was and walk to that point. At that point, the third parameter kicked in and I would estimate how far the loch was from the roadside. 

After walking to the halfway point between Dores and Foyers (location 2), it became apparent that the first two parameters had enough on the ground solutions, but the loch was always too far from the road. So I then got in the car and proceeded towards Foyers, stopping at any point of interest.

The distance between the loch and the road does narrow significantly until you reach a low built wall just outside Inverfarigaig which is only a few feet from the loch's breaking waves. It became apparent that if one held to the "twenty foot to the loch" rule, then this area had to be where it all happened.

There were one or two spots that fitted the bill and one I favoured was a partly rising stretch of road just beyond the aforementioned wall. This would be beyond the halfway point between Dores and Foyers and closer to Foyers, perhaps about four miles and is marked as location 3 on the final map below. It has the loch close beside and it has some kind of forest to the left, unlike some areas which are a rising wall of stone.

The problem for me was interpreting the phrase "the car was climbing a slight rise" as 200 yards and "slight" do not equate for me, suggesting the "rise" could have been all but driven over as the creature came into view further away and that to me means that the remaining road ahead could be actually descending and open up further potential sites.

Furthermore, the road has changed since the 1930s when it was relaid and that may have some effect on the topology one is trying to examine. However, I am pretty sure that the creature the Spicers encountered that day was on this general stretch which I would initially estimate to take in a mile of road.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com