Sunday, 8 April 2018

Monster Hunting Raw and Undefiled

I reached Fort Augustus, after a two-day drive from my home in West Wales, with the bare minimum of equipment and no fixed plan of action. Unlike Dinsdale, I intended to sleep on the shores of the loch. This was partly to avoid hotel routine, which interferes with field work, and partly because I believed that most forms of wildlife are active early in the morning and late in the evening. If anything happened I wanted to be on the spot, not in an hotel bedroom. 

My hunting-cabin was a light van and the accommodation was pretty spartan. Two Army mattresses covered the floor and were covered by a tartan blanket. A box held provisions and cooking-gear. By the rear doors was a cylinder of cooking-gas. Two fly-rods and some fishing tackle were tucked into a net strung below the roof. A terylene sleeping-bag, blankets and spare clothing along with a few books made up the balance of the living-quarters equipment. The rest of the outfit was equally down to the bone - a pair of 10 x binoculars, a Rolleiflex camera, a few filters and a light-meter. It was a sort of do-it-yourself expedition kit.

F. W. Holiday, 1968

As I stood at six in the morning on the beach besides the River Foyers this Saturday past, I was reminded of two men of renown in the pursuit of Loch Ness' most famous inhabitant. These were Ted Holiday and Tim Dinsdale. The two came to my mind for different but similar reasons as I was in the middle of one of my trips to the loch.

In what has become something of a habit now, I am minded to read some of Ted Holiday when I sojourn here. Certainly, one chapter entitled "Foyers at Sunrise" from his work, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" has become required reading for me as it connects me with what gone before. Here we find the memoirs of a true solo monster hunter and Dinsdale's first book is not far behind in this regard.

I quote above from that chapter to relate the rawness of the search going back to August 22nd 1962 when he drove up from Wales. I was not even born then and Holiday would have been aged about 41 years. A light van, spartan accommodation, two Army mattresses and various other basics. Unlike Dinsdale, who had stayed in a hotel when he filmed his 1960 film, Holiday's austerity stretched to sleeping by the shore in his modest vehicle.

No defilement of the comfortable hotel bed for Ted as he explained that wildlife tended to be busiest around dawn or dusk, and he intended to sacrifice comfort for proximity if any action happened his way on the shore. Whatever you may make of such strictures, days later at almost the same spot as Dinsdale's film, Holiday found himself staring at the "Great Orm" of Loch Ness.

The time he saw it was about the same time I arrived near the inlet where his monster had appeared. I had not slept in a van, but as usual, had pitched my tent at the local campsite. Like Holiday, I resorted to a gas stove, unlike him, I bought my food rather than catch it from the loch. I wondered how much my approach to monster hunting was as raw and undefiled as his.

Loch Ness was not a far flung lake akin to a Lost World, but compared to today, it was very much underdeveloped when Dinsdale and Holiday scanned the waters between 1960 and 1962. The Clansman Hotel had just been built, but the choice of accommodation was far less than today. Tourists shops were less in number and Urquhart Castle was a ruin you could just walk into.

Those in pursuit of a profit have probably always outnumbered those in pursuit of monsters. There is nothing wrong with that per se,  but I sense the whole thing has gone beyond saturation point. I note that one campsite by Fort Augustus is building chalets for the monied tourists to rent. After all, why charge pennies for tent pitches when you can charge pounds for chalets?

That is a trend I have seen elsewhere. Perhaps one day I will end up parking my vehicle along the lochside like Holiday as tents and caravans are swept aside in the name of bigger profits? I assume the local authorities will note this in the various planning applications. Then again, perhaps all they are interested in is the tourist pound as well?  Time will tell.

The tourist shops likewise are shrines to tat and piffle. I would expect no less, but any kind of informed hat tipping towards the reason everyone comes is evident by its absence. There is next to nothing in the way of pro-cryptid literature and even the sceptical literature is barely visible. I guess they don't sell as well as Nessie shortbread or tartan monsters.

Going back 55 years to that raw and undefiled monster hunting, when Loch Ness seemed like a wilderness compared to the tourist mania of today, Britain was not long out of post-war austerity. Perhaps that was reflected in those monster hunters habits as I found myself standing at 6am on Dinsdale Island, scanning the loch before me.

Well, that is not actually its name. It is the small triangular island that bestrides the bifurcation of the River Foyers. We are told that Cherry Island is the only island of Loch Ness, but perhaps this is one as well? I suppose that depends, as it is not always separate from the mainland.

As it turned out, the water levels at the mouth of the river were at the lowest levels I could recall in years of coming here. The sandbar had been exposed and that meant I could walk over it unhindered to the island. Meantime, the River Foyers was almost becoming Loch Foyers as it was nigh cut off from Loch Ness (below).

A fellow enthusiast, by the name of Doug (pm me btw) reminded me that this used to be a haunt of Tim Dinsdale's back in the early days. He would be ferried over from the world of the Highland inhabitants to the raw and undefiled aloneness of the hunt. Once again raw, as Dinsdale lived off the basics he could bring over and the undefiledness of solitude. Not loneliness, but an apartness from the world around him. Just him and the Monster.

I believe Tim built a kind of hide to watch out for the creature. Whether Nessie would be fooled by such a contraption I cannot say. What I can say is that my almost unrelenting watch of the loch relented. Holiday alluded to this in his aforementioned book, the distractibility of water watching. It is not easy to stare at the waters of the loch once the initial enthusiasm ebbs away. 

I am no good at it, but had a remedy when I was there later in the day, I plugged a portable radio into my ears and listened to the commentary on the Scottish football. Monster hunting suddenly became a lot easier, especially when your team was winning. By coincidence, Holiday's book mentioned the temptation to flick on the radio!

So I explored the island, and when the waters began to rise again after some rain, I crossed in my wellington boots for my own bit of raw solitude. This time, however, I also brought a very un-1960s quadcopter; more on that in another piece. Doug had suggested I indulge in some crypto-archaeology if I ever got to the island. You mean, dig up a plesiosaur perhaps?

No, not at all. I was told that Dinsdale, in his book, had said he had buried an old pair of boots there. That was interesting. What should I do if I found them? Keep them as a souvenir of the great man or just leave them to moulder in their grave? I think the lie of the land answered those questions for me. Although small, the islet was still up to 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. 

A reconnaissance of the area was performed in the hope that an old boot lace may be seen to emerge from the ground like the proverbial morning worm. Alas, I think Dinsdale did a good job of burying his boots as nothing obvious was seen. I did find a shed antler to add to the deer skull I found last year, so all was not in vain, However, I think Tim's boots, of which I would suggest none of us are fit to fill, will nevertheless remain filled with soil.

Walking back to mainland about 7am, I had a Holiday moment as I met an angler about to push his boat out into the loch. Ted Holiday wrote about a similar episode when he chanced on an angler about to do the same early morning thing.

I had a brief chat with the man who was from Inverness and had a boat moored there. He was off to catch some salmon, but he had never seen the "Orm" as Holiday called Nessie and did not believe in it. In contrast, Holiday's angler matter of factly stated he had seen the creature twice and just accepted it was part of the loch.

In conclusion, Holiday and Dinsdale died in 1979 and 1987 respectively. Less worthy men stepped into the void and began to dismantle all that these two giants had worked for since those early 1960s. If both were alive today, they would be aged about 97 years old. I am glad they are not here to see the anodyne mess the whole thing has become.

Monster hunting, raw and undefiled. Old vans, gas stoves, grubby old boots and demob mattresses. Dinsdale and Holiday arrived with old style cameras and binoculars. I arrived with drone technology, digital SLRs, laptop, thermal imagers and image intensification hardware. In a fast changing world, I would like to think some of the old traditions are maintained by those who have not turned their back on the monster hunt, but continue the search to this day.

The author can be contacted at


  1. I would have loved to spend a day with Mr. Holiday. He was one of the few researchers to get beyond the notion that Nessy is just a sociological phenom or merely some kind of unclassified animal. His attitude evolved with each book he wrote, and he finally embraced advanced ideas with connections to historical accounts of Dragons, UFO's and USO's. He also suggested that these creatures can leave the Loch whenever they want, which if possible, would explain a lot.

    1. He was certainly a lateral thinker. We need more of these people ...

    2. I have a science degree, but I'm starting to move towards the notions that Holiday put forward. In my eyes this whole mystery has too many angles to be just one type of unknown animal.

  2. Great post Roland, captures something of the feeling of "the watch" very well, dovetailed with the romanticism of the old pioneers who began it all.

    Holiday was, for my money, the most enjoyable read of these. Always alluding to something more than mere matter....and who knows, he may have been right.

    Oh, and I am in full agreement regarding the "tat and piffle". Starting to doubt that that will ever change.

    1. Yes, I delved more into his book this weekend to mine some gold nuggets.

      For example, when sceptics dismissed the 2009 land sighting by Ian Monckton as an otter despite him describing a large splash, Holiday come to the fore as if still alive on page 76 of the 1st edition: "After living for weeks on Frasers Field, I can only say that the possibility of a water fowl or otter causing a disturbance which could be heard as a terrific splash high on the hill must be discounted". Thanks Ted.

  3. Holiday's book was my required reading in the 1970s, it was my portal into Nessie lore.

    Not sure if Loch Ness was any less busy in the early 196os, less private cars maybe, GB falling into the same trap as Dinsdale in imagining that the Great Glen was some sort of Yosemite wilderness inhabited by grizzled men in beaver hats and buckskin.
    In the mid 1960s I remember 4 hour queues at Ballachulish ferry and traffic at Fort Augustus at a standstill with buses full of blue-rinsed ladies from Halifax and Shipley on Highland tours.

    I know it's a logistical nightmare but I wonder if anyone has camped for any length of time on the remote and lonely SE shore where no road exists, I wonder if such efforts would be rewarded with a sighting or two.

    1. Going by the dip in sightings in the 40s and 50s, I would say it was the quietest period by a bit before the post rationing economic boom of the mid 60s on brought more people back.

  4. Yes but the local population stays the same in the 40s 50s as it did in the 20s 30s.

    Maybe long term residents do not see the monster as much as visitors and holidaymakers do, which is a whole other metal recepticle of soft-bodied invertebrates.

  5. As ive said before..te...d is my all time fav monster hunter!! His book is my favourite and his tullimunstrem prooved that there are long necked things from the past we dont know about! if there is a monster or was a monster in loch ness i think it wud be a new creature to science or an evolved one. Ted had a sighting too so great for his work at loch ness .Loved the start of this story ' ted was in fort augustus after travelling from wales because another lad will be in fort augustus next week after travelling from !! lol...boat trips..drams..tennents and one eye on the loch lol roll on.....cheers..Roy

  6. Great reading Roland, That is the way monster hunting is done. It's when local population is asleep or has yet to begin to stir that you will catch a glimpse of something large and alive in those waters.
    Staying in a hotel is not the same as sleeping beside the loch and waiting readily for action. You are keeping the hunt alive! Best of luck to you and may you capture on clear video what Father Gregory, Greta Finlay, Bob Rines, Alastair Boyd, and so on have witnessed.

  7. Agreed! Im very friendly with the cabin park family and they have all seen things they cant explain over thr years! They tell me its always in the late evening and night time. Im always up early in morning so spend time lookin over the loch right next to my cabin and spend the evenings with a nice fire and bbq so again watching loch at the right time! My camera and video always at the ready on the table :-)......Roy

  8. Very nice writing GB. I'm in agreement with John Rutherford - Loch Ness has been relatively very busy for at least 150 years. Tim thought it was a literal lost world in the backwater of the Empire. It ain't - it's part of a major canal system. It's busy as hell sometimes! RIP though Tim is a legend, nomatter your opinion of him.

    Looking early in the morning is very smart as it's always quietest. And visibility will be almost nil in the evening. Did Alex Campbell not claim most of his sightings in the morning?

    Best of luck with your searching. Be cool if u saw something...

    1. GB has done a bit of digging on Alex and his sightings; good reading if you have not done so already (though I do not agree with all his points). Sunlight is plentiful at Loch Ness on summer evenings is far later than you might be used to where you live. In July sunrise is before 5am while sunset is at 10pm...

    2. I have read GB's articles thanks. They're a great even though I think Campbell at the very least exaggerated a bit. Ah what the hell I'll re-read them now it's been a while and I canny sleep...

  9. I love the early mornings outside the cabin..few coffees and fags before anyone else peaceful i love it. Done a bit of investigating over the years and mornings and evenings to nights best time to spot sumthing unusual listening to reliable witnesses!! In fact the best average time for unusual sightings from people ive spoke to is 8pm ish. Intrestin...Roy

    1. Ha ha aye - smoking on the banks of the Loch in the morning or during a quiet evening is truly one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures there is.

  10. I have never found the light any different to what it is at home to be honest. I have had many a night watching the Loch until about 10pm in the summer.

  11. Same here ! Its roughly the same just maybe a bit dimmer but visibilty ok really...ive read there has bin a few sightings late evdnings over the years and didnt Bob Rines get his famous sighting about ten o clock at night which was also seen by four other people?....not long now and ill be back up there :-) if the weather is ok ill have a roaring campfire overlooking the loch at these times we are talking bout!! Lol Roll on.....Roy

  12. Thoroughly enjoyed reading of your short hunt Roland - it's sometime since I was up at the Loch & hadn't realised the campsite had been built behind, what looks like the old Foyers Cemetry ? I spent a number of hours dug in behind the Cemetery, up fairly high, giving a great view of the Loch, both East and West of Foyers...happy memories and I dearly hope to get back up to the Loch later this year. Thanks again & good luck. Perhaps the array of new fangled technology you have assembled, might finally break the Loch Ness hoodoo !