Sunday, 17 March 2019

Hugh Gray, his Brother and Jaws

To start with, I recently limbered up for a chat with fellow cryptozoologist, Andy McGrath, by watching the classic but not so cryptozoological monster film "Jaws". It was then that a bit of synchronicity turned up while I considered the content of this latest article. First up was a scene with a labrador dog swimming with a stick in its mouth, which I immediately snapped with my mobile phone and show above. To tell you the truth, it looks nothing like the supposed dog in the Hugh Gray photo.

But then again, someone else has decided it is no longer a dog, but a swan whilst another has recently gone for a rowing boat. The clarity and consensus is less than impressive. On the very same subject of this picture, I recently reviewed an old article from the Aberdeen Press and Journal dated the 7th December 1933, which I show in the large below. Hugh Gray's photo was the centre of attention and controversy as experts of all shades chipped in with their opinions. The lesser rorqual whale came in for some discussion as the general morphology of this strange creature was compared and contrasted against the whale.

But it was a particular excerpt that caught my attention and which I zoom into below. The text talks about what appears to be a strange, whale-like mouth which is clearly visible.There is no doubt in my mind that they are talking about the fish like head that is visible to the right and which I reproduce further below.

Now when you mention this image to critics of this picture, their confirmation bias just refuses to acknowledge it. They can quite happily tell you how they can see a dog, swan, otter, boat or other in the picture, but this one is forbidden territory because it challenges them. It is much better to ignore it and hope it goes away. But it won't and those who had access to better photographic prints back in 1933 bear witness against their obstinacy.

A final word on this photograph concerns the Wikipedia entry for it which I quote below.

Hugh Gray's photograph taken near Foyers on 12 November 1933 was the first photograph alleged to depict the monster. It was slightly blurred, and it has been noted that if one looks closely the head of a dog can be seen. Gray had taken his Labrador for a walk that day, and it is suspected that the photograph depicts his dog fetching a stick from the loch. Others have suggested the photograph depicts an otter or a swan. The original negative was lost. However, in 1963 Maurice Burton came into "possession of two lantern slides, contact positives from th[e] original negative" and when projected on screen it revealed an "otter rolling at the surface in characteristic fashion."

As you can see, there is a bit of emphasis on the dog explanation, but whoever composed this text has decided to add an untruth. Namely, that Hugh Gray took his labrador for a walk that day. There is no record anywhere of Hugh Gray owning a labrador dog, let alone walking it that day. I stand to be corrected if anyone cares to provide the original source for this, but until then, it is a fabrication. 

Sadly, Wikipedia is a hotbed for this wrong type of scepticism. In fact, the page seems to have undergone a re-edit and a certain sceptic's number of mentions comes out on top ahead of all others. At the same time, somebody had removed a mention of the fish like head in the picture. Shameful but unsurprising.


It was some years back that I was in conversation with a local Foyers man as I made enquiries about Hugh Gray. I was told that he had a brother called Sandy who had drowned in the loch. I noted that in the back of my mind and moved onto other things. But that little fact came back to me when I reread an old piece from the Inverness Courier dated 30th May 1933 shown below.

Here we read of an A. Gray of Foyers who attempted to lure the monster with a floating hook and bait setup. It was not successful, though it had merit and the bait technique was repeated in various forms in the years to come. Since Sandy is a nickname for Alexander, we can be pretty sure this A. Gray was Alexander Gray, brother of Hugh. Quite unaware of this fraternal connection, sceptic Ronald Binns in his book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", tries to make out that this A. Gray was in fact H. Gray.

Binns then makes out that this bait and hook experiment was not a serious endeavour but a staged joke. The "logic" is clear enough. You try to implicate Hugh Gray in a joke and therefore anything else he does as regards monsters is also a joke. Nice try, but no cigar. It was also interesting that the aforementioned "Jaws" used the very same scene when two men try to capture the shark with a hook and meat joint attached to a floating tyre (below). It seems to be a tried and true method for capturing big fish. In their case, half the pier went from under them as the fish took the bait.

But it seems that like his brother Hugh, Sandy also had multiple sightings of the monster. The first reference is in the early weeks and months of the Nessie phenomenon in 1933. It comes from the Australian Sunday Times dated 3rd December 1933, though I suspect it occurred closer to June 1933.

When I find the primary Scottish newspaper source for this story, I will add it, but I suspect this is the same bus driver mentioned by a William McCulloch in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story":

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."

However, his best sighting appears to have been in 1935 as this report from The Scotsman dated 21st June 1935 details.


Angler has a Close-up View


It was learned in Inverness yesterday that Mr A. J. Gray, chauffeur, Foyers, while out fishing on Loch Ness at Foyers on Wednesday night, had an excellent view of the monster. Mr Gray, in an interview, said he saw the monster moving about the loch for more than 25 minutes. Other three people whom he summoned also had a view for a good part of that time. These were Mrs Cameron, Post Office, Foyers; Mr J. Batchen, gardener, Boleskine, and a friend. "I was about 20 yards out in the loch." said Mr Gray, "when I suddenly saw a big black object rise in the water, about 100 yards farther out, In the deeper part of the loch.

It was the back of the monster. Shortly after the head and neck appeared, rising from eighteen inches to two feet out of the water. Behind I saw quite plainly a series of what appeared to be small ridges, seven in number, apparently belonging to the tail of the creature, which now and again caused much commotion in the water. The head was like a horse's, but not as large as that of a horse. It was rather small in relation to the huge body, which was of a slatey black colour. From the way the creature moved in the water I have not the slightest doubt that it was extremely heavy. In moving it gave a sort of lurch forward, which seemed to carry it about four yards at a time.


"As I watched it the monster started to go across the loch. I got out of the water with all the haste I could in heavy waders, and then walked along to the Post Office, about 900 yards distant and informed Mrs Cameron. who, along with the gardener and a friend hurried to the lochside. We all saw the monster further out in the loch, but its head and tail were no longer visible. The monster, which had gone out to near the middle of the loch, then turned and came towards the shore again. It came within two hundred yards of where we were standing before it set off in the direction of Invermoriston, where it passed out of sight." Mr Gray added that he had seen the monster on four previous occasions. He had never obtained such a clear view of the monster as on this occasion. 

This has the hallmarks of a triple A Nessie sighting. It involves a close up sighting at 100 yards, it lasted 25 minutes in the view of an experienced witness along with other multiple witnesses. What's not to like (apart from no one having a camera)? If you're a dyed in the wool pseudo-sceptic, you'll be looking around trying to conjure up the mythical seal which infallibly turns up on these occasions. That sounds like a great explanation apart from the minor problem that this looks nothing like a seal.

Or just press the emergency "imperfect witness" button and all is well again as we are told these people couldn't possibly have described what they saw properly. After all, there is no Loch Ness Monster, right? What blows that already dying theory out of the water is the fact that Alexander Gray is a top class witness. As I looked around for references to Mr. Gray, I found out that he was quite an avid Loch Ness angler as you will note from the various stories posted here. Like other angling witnesses such as John McLean, Roland O'Brien, Tim Richardson, Ala MacGruer, J. Harper Smith and, of course, monster author, Ted Holiday, these people should not be so easily dismissed by critics, they are the best class of witnesses around and it is arrogance to discard them without serious enquiry.

As this regular Scotsman angling column from the 15th February 1938 shows, Alexander Gray was an angler who would sometimes make it into their column with a notable catch of fish from the loch. The clipping below tells us of his catching of a 19lb salmon from what appears to be his favourite angling spot off Foyers.  As an aside, eagled eyed readers may note the mention of a Mr. J. MacLean who landed a 12 pounder. There is little doubt in my mind that this is the aforementioned John McLean who would four months later go onto have one of the clearest views of the monster - another experienced angler whose experience of loch conditions and wildlife should not be so easily dismissed.

A further newspaper item from the Scotsman 29th December 1933 reveals some information about two curious events at Loch Ness prior to the 1933 "reveal" of Nessie. 

The 1914 account refers to a classic single hump which forms the most common type of sighting. Does the Loch Ness Monster weigh 15 tons as he estimated from six feet of back showing on the surface? I myself would think this is an over estimate going for something below 4 tonnes, though it does depend on what overall length one assumes from six feet of back. The final account from 1893 involves no sight of any creature but is indicative of something powerful. If we speculate that a seal was in the loch (unlikely from a statistical point of view), could it have forced a salmon net from the grasp of at least three men? Probably not, but without a visual confirmation of the object, we can only speculate on this one.

But time catches up with all of us and Alex Gray passed away on the 23rd February 1949 as related below by the Dundee Courier the following day. His untimely death appears to have been caused by his boat capsizing in a storm and I am surprised he was caught out by these conditions after decades of fishing experience. Since I would expect a body to sink into the deep upon death, I would surmise his boat capsized in shallower waters as he tried to row back to shore.

For those of a sleuth like nature, a reporter from one of these clippings has made an error that does not harmonise with another clipping. But I will leave it as an exercise for others to find his mistake. It doesn't change the fact that Sandy Gray claimed several sightings of the Loch Ness Monster and as an angler with experience of the loch, its waves, its wildlife, its weather and its occasionally deceptive features, you have two choices. He is either lying or he is telling the truth. You decide.

The author can be contacted at

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Midnight in the Desert talk now available

As stated yesterday, I did my Internet Radio chat with Midnight In The Desert, though my host for the night turned out to be cryptid lover, Shannon LeGro. It was a good chat covering a wide range of questions. Now the talk took place at 6am my time - before sun up. This would normally be a time of day I would say "no" to interviews, but I roused myself and was quite okay.

 You can listen to the talk at this link.

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Nessie Talk on Midnight in the Desert

I will be joining Dave Schrader for some Nessie talk late tonight on his show. The details are below but anyone in the UK will have to be up at 6am on Wednesday!

Join me tonight LIVE on Midnight in the Desert with Dave Schrader
9pm – 12am Pacific Time (12am – 3am EST)
I would love to hear from you…
Lines will be Open: 480-571-3540
To listen click here:

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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

First Nessie Picture of 2019?

The Nessie season appears to have kicked off with a new photo (above) purportedly of the Loch Ness Monster taken eleven days ago. The story from the Scottish Sun runs thusly:

THE Loch Ness monster appears to have become active once again with two apparent sightings in just five days after the beast had not been for a whole month. A woman from Manchester claims to have spotted and photographed the creature on February 23.

Lisa Brennan, 30, and her partner, Danny, 37, were driving near to Urquhart Castle when they made the first February sighting. Lisa's snap shows a L-shaped black object on the water which could be taken as the head and neck of Nessie.

She said the object disappeared shortly after she took the image. Lisa said today: “We were driving around the loch and as we got to Urquhart Bay, just before the castle, I spotted a dark object around 3ft tall above the water surface. “I shouted, ‘Oh my god I've just seen something.’ He slowed down the car, didn't believe me but each to their own. "By the time I had got the camera ready on my phone the object had lowered into the water so I only managed to get as much as I did on the photo as it then disappeared into the water.

“I made him turn around at the castle and go back to see if we saw anything else but unfortunately we didn't. Danny didn't see anything as he was driving, but said my reaction to what I saw was very convincing.”

On examination of the picture, it was my assumption that the two white dots further up may be seagulls or swans which implies the object of interest is not that big, even allowing for its closer proximity. The sandbank near the two swans/seagulls forms part of the Coiltie-Enrick estuary. Having said that, Lisa's estimate of three feet would back up that "small" feeling. The object submerged, which is normally a useful feature, but they then briefly departed from the scene to turn around which allows time for any bird or other water animal to fly off or swim out of view.

So, nothing to see here, move on. The first of the blobby nessies has arrived to continue the line of, at best, inconclusive pictures over recent years such as those taken by Natalie Hodgson, Isla Ross, Charlotte Robinson, the Locke family and so on. Poor mobile phone cameras, too far away objects and so on. The trouble is when something interesting surfaces close by (such as that by Ricky Phillips), a dose of toogoodtobetrueitis sets in plus close up shots lose the context of where they are, thus obscuring the overall picture. The happy medium between close proximity and background is something surprised witnesses are unlikely to control.

As an update, I could be more cynical and invoke the tree debris that was photographed in that area in 2017 when the Hayley Johnson picture was being discussed. It does have a curious resemblance to the object above, but is it still there? Of course, if it was a log, then our witnesses are not being  truthful about it disappearing. Hmmm.


Meantime, the Mirror newspaper consulted two resident Loch Ness experts, Adrian Shine and Steve Feltham, in the light of this latest report. It starts somewhat ambiguously in saying:

But both men say they have reached the disappointing conclusion that Nessie there never was a prehistoric monster living in the loch. And they claimed that the recent sighting, like the more than a thousand other Nessie sightings down the years, have a much less fantastic explanation.

Had Steve Feltham stopped believing in a monster in Loch Ness? The statement was actually a bit more nuanced as it referred only to a "prehistoric monster" which I presume is meant to encompass such long extinct creatures as plesiosaurs, basilosaurs and so on.  Yes, well I must admit I don't hold to those either. Steve was quoted on his giant catfish theory again and Adrian mentioned his old theory of sturgeons. 

As for this week's picture, let's hope things improve from hereon in and something akin to the picture below will turn up. Just make sure y'all get your vaccine shots for toogoodtobetrueitis first.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Pseudo-scepticism and the Loch Ness Monster

In my new book on photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, I take a different tack to the traditional works by pro-Nessie authors. In the past, photos were published, eyewitness tales were recounted and evidence for the monster was sought within the images. Today is the age of scepticism and various arguments brought against not some but all photographs arise and must be examined and challenged. You may say that is a good thing which encourages debate.

However, I would like to make a point that has led me to change my wording when it comes to addressing the arguments of sceptics against the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. To wit, I have now decided to label such people and their arguments as pseudo-sceptics and pseudo-scepticism. I do this in deference to real scepticism which one should seek to employ where possible at all times.

What is the difference you may well ask? In the context of the subject of this blog, pseudo-scepticism takes the position that there cannot be such a thing as the Loch Ness Monster (i.e. an exotic, large unidentified creature seen in the loch) and therefore any eyewitness report, photograph, film or sonar image must of necessity be deconstructed into an explanation based on known explicable events and objects, there is no room for monsters.

Note this is not the same as a person who disbelieves in the monster but still goes about their investigations in a true sceptical manner. This, I put to you, is not true scepticism which would attempt to maintain an open mind and assess such reports in a critical but unbiased and unprejudiced manner. Now pseudo-sceptics may claim to have an open mind on the subject, but their actions betray such words. This is demonstrated in several ways.

Firstly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism to maintain that none of the 2000+ known witnesses over 100+ years have accurately described what they claim as a large creature (unless it looks like a sturgeon). Apart from being a statistical improbability, it betrays a prejudice which proposes such a thing when other disciplines (e.g. history and jurisprudence) do accept eyewitness testimonies at face value but apply due and proper sceptical enquiry on an individual case by case basis.

Secondly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when counter-intuitive explanations are offered for what eyewitness have seen or recorded. One classic example of this was the 1938 John McLean sighting of a 20 foot creature seen at 20 yards. One leading critic suggested he had seen a group of cormorants, despite the witness being an angler at Loch Ness whom we assume was familiar with such things. A second example was from another "expert" in these matters who used ad hominem tactics to suggest one group of eyewitnesses (the monks at Fort Augustus Abbey) were well known for imbibing too much and therefore should not be trusted.

Thirdly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when illogical techniques (as opposed to explanations) are applied in the deconstructing of eyewitness reports. Refer to my article on "tricks of the sceptics" to see how it is more of the politician and the lawyer that prevails in an analysis than the logician and scientist.

Fourthly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when they stick to the same repetitive arguments even when sufficient doubt has been cast upon them. This is because the primary purpose of a pseudo-sceptical argument is not scientific enquiry but to cast doubt and dismiss. So long as it achieves this, then it is useful and therefore is to be retained. Some examples are the long discredited vegetable mats and the "dog" explanation for the Hugh Gray photograph.

Fifthly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when no recognition at all is made of studies made by cryptozoologists. The tactic is obvious in its deployment as no credence must be made to such people lest it is seen as a concession to cryptozoology. In fact, efforts will be made to portray cryptozoology as a danger to scientific enquiry.

Finally, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when an explanation is infallibly fashioned for every event and no room is made for the inconclusive. Indeed, it is a vanishingly rare thing for a pseudo-sceptic to say "I can't explain that". By making such an admission, they are not admitting to the existence of a large creature, but the confirmation bias that is deeply ingrained blocks even statements of such neutrality from coming out.

You may ask whether there is any sign of true scepticism in the field of Loch Ness Monster research? The answer is, of course, yes. People can follow the correct lines of enquiry and come to the best natural conclusions. Possessing a pseudo-sceptical attitude does not preclude viable explanations being made at points over time. However, it does not follow that instances of successful investigations is an exoneration of pseudo-sceptical attitudes and does not condone their tactics.

One final point is whether a person is a pseudo-sceptic or merely displaying the traits of pseudo-scepticism? It is a subtle point which may largely be in the eye of the beholder. But I would say that those who persist in indulging in pseudo-sceptical tactics may be justly called pseudo-sceptics.

Not surprisingly, when I put forward such a view elsewhere, the usual attempts at deflection ensued as the term "pseudo-cryptozoologist" cropped up. It's an odd term since cryptozoology is labelled as a pseudo-science, so does that make pseudo-cryptozoology a pseudo-pseudo-science?

Anyway, I was already aware of this antithesis of the pseudo-sceptic which is a cryptozoologist or "believer" who accepts everything as evidence and fits his arguments to make them so.  However, such a charge is lacking the force which is applied to the pseudo-sceptic.  I say this, because although the pseudo-sceptic rejects all reports as false, the cryptozoologist patently does not accept all reports as true.

I certainly do not accept all testimonies, films, photographs and sonar readings as proof of the Loch Ness Monster and I suspect every cryptozoologist to a man and woman does not accept them all either; be it Nessie, Champ, Ogopogo or Caddy. The other point is that, unlike pseudo-sceptics who rate all reports as 100% false, not all sightings, photos, films or sonar are created equal in the eyes of the cryptozoologist.

Cryptozoologists (such as myself) will rate recordings or reports in different manners. One may believe a photo to be genuine, but only just at 51% whereas another may go up to 80%. Cryptozoologists will disagree over whether something if genuine, fake or misidentified. That is called healthy debate, whereas the one size fits all rejection of the pseudo-sceptics has a stale unanimity - you know well in advance what their "conclusions" are going to be.

But one may retort that a pseudo-sceptic could not accept even one report as genuine as that would put them in danger of becoming a "believer". That point is conceded, but they can still mark the better attested reports as "inconclusive" or "I can't explain that" rather than being compelled to offer strange explanations about cormorants at 20 yards.

But to be truthful, charges of prejudice in assessing reports is a problem across this divide. I admit I will have a degree of bias in my investigations. It is my job to minimise this universal human failing in me to the best of my ability. What I cannot stomach is these vocal critics of the phenomenon not stepping up to admit they have it too. They are not Vulcans after all, but that is a problem they have to face and deal with. As an example, it was a joke to see one state his bias as being logical analysis. Can you see the contradiction in that phrase?

Are there any real Loch Ness Monster sceptics out there? Given human nature's foibles, I doubt the ideal sceptic exists, so I personally will remain neutral on the question of who comes closest. But the next time one of these people turns up on an Internet forum, in a magazine or book, just ask yourself what the underlying motive might be behind those criticisms they launch against reports of the Loch Ness Monster.

The author can be contacted at

Monday, 18 February 2019

Preview of the book "Photographs of the Loch Ness Monster"

My third book on the Loch Ness Monster is now published and can be purchased at these links for Amazon USA and UK. From the first photograph taken by Hugh Gray in November 1933 to the most recent by Ricky Phillips in December 2018, dozens of pictures are recounted and analyzed and pseudo-scepticism is confronted on the written page. Having said that, not all photographs have made it into the book and those may yet await a future and final publication. Indeed, there are pictures that may as yet be unknown or lost to sight, especially those from the 80s and 90s.

The subtitle, "The good, the bad and the ugly" denotes three types of photographs of the Loch Ness Monster. The good ones which genuinely portray the large creature of Loch Ness. There are the bad ones which are natural objects misinterpreted and then there are the ugly ones which are the products of hoaxers and fakers. I may not necessarily state what I believe to be good, bad or ugly and note that the dismantling of so called sceptical arguments is an analysis of them on their own merits or demerits.

Now by way of preview, I include an excerpt from the book concerning the Roy Johnston sequence of pictures taken in August 2002. Let me just say that these photos were, in my opinion, subjected to a masterclass in pseudo-sceptical debunking and as a consequence rejected by many in the cryptozoological community. It is now time to take a fresh look at them and those who sought to destroy their credibility. Let me quote from pages 299 and 306 of the book.

EXPERTS say an amateur could never have taken the remarkable pictures. Independent snapper John McLellan claims the pictures were almost certainly taken using a tripod. He added: "The background is the same in each of the eight frames."

The third objection I will now address concerns the statement that the sequence of images suggests the use of a tripod rather than the situation Mr. Johnston describes.  This is not a cogent argument which becomes apparent if you watched the animation sequence I produced from the thumbnails. If you watch how the hillside changes throughout the sequence, it is obvious that this is not the product of a tripod solidly taking the same background throughout as the opposite hillside judders by 13% horizontally and 3% vertically. 

Roy Johnston said he took the pictures from the camera hanging around his neck. Now take a look at the animation below produced from the eight images Roy Johnston took in total. Since the animation cannot be printed in a book, it is appropriate to reproduce it here. If this is the product of a stable tripod, then I marvel at the strange logic of these critics. More to the point, did they lie or were they just lazy in their assessment? You can make your own minds up on that one. Either way, these so called experts do not come out smelling of roses.

You will also notice the splash at the end of the sequence which many took as the creature re-entering the waters. That is actually not the case and does not seem to have been picked up by the various critics at the time. The splash is in fact some metres ahead of the last visible position of the creature. Compare the various positions of the creature and splashes against the hill in the background. This would suggest the animal merely slipped into the water and the splash is in fact tossed up from some subsequent and invisible underwater motion.

You may also note that the progression of the creature as it submerges in comparison to the hill takes it on a course to where the splash eventually appears. That would appear to be a strange thing to do if it was an alleged CGI overlay sequence.

I will say more about this sequence in my book, but this was an argument confidently put forward by Dick Raynor when he allegedly assessed these pictures. He dogmatically stated other arguments against these pictures which made me wonder how equally fragile those arguments were? You will find out more about these and the hatchet job employed by the gutter press in my book.

So, if you feel you have benefited from this blog over the years, then show your appreciation by buying this book. Have an enjoyable read!

The author can be contacted at

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Podcast Talk on the Loch Ness Monster

I had a two hour chat with Scott Mardis for his Monster X Channel a few days ago and we covered a wide range of subjects on the Loch Ness Monster. Scott is a knowledgeable person when it comes to Nessie and particularly on the creature he witnessed himself, Champ of Lake Champlain. He is also the creator of the popular Facebook group, The Zombie Plesiosaur Society.

Follow this link to hear us discourse on things aquatic, Scottish and cryptozoological.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Loch Ness eDNA results delayed

A few people have asked me about the results of last year's eDNA sampling at Loch Ness. It was presumed the results of the analysis would be imminent. However, an update from Andreas Muller states this from Professor Neil Gemmell: 

After sample collection was completed in June, a global team of scientists has been busy extracting DNA, sequencing genes, and sifting through international DNA databases to identify forms of life present in the famous loch. It was previously hoped the results would be available early this year, however, the analysis has taken longer than anticipated. Project lead, Professor Neil Gemmell, of the University of Otago now anticipates the work to potentially take another four months to complete.

So it looks like we're looking at perhaps May 2019 for publication of the results now. I still think there is a History Channel type documentary involved here, but I am speculating. 

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

New Book on the Loch Ness Monster

It was last week that I finally went over to the National Library of Scotland and donated copies of my two books on the Loch Ness Monster. The donation form was filled in, the books dropped off and the emails arrived yesterday confirming they were now part of the library's panoply of Loch Ness Monster authors. The books are now accessible to the general public for years to come and further information on the books can be had here and here.

Which brings me to my upcoming third book on the creature. The first book was on the folklore of the beast, the second was on land sightings of the beast and now the subject is photographs of the beast. Not surprisingly, it is entitled "Photographs of the Loch Ness Monster" with the subtitle of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". That subtitle basically tells you that some of these pictures are genuine, some are misidentifications and some are fake. Of course, the debunkers will say they are all bad and ugly, that is their opinion and the aim of the 400 pages is to take a thorough look at the arguments for and against.

You can guess from the cover what some of the subject matter will be, I hope there will be something for everyone as over forty alleged pictures of the monster are covered. So, I hope to tie up the loose ends and get this book out some time in February. After that, it will be another visit to the National Library with another book.

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Ricky Phillips Replies

(I had been in contact with Ricky regarding his picture and after a discussion, he offered to post a reply to the reaction and so on. So here it is and I will leave my comments to the comments section --- Ed.)

Why nothing prepares you for the Loch Ness Monsters…

(Ricky D Phillips)

Did I say “Monsters”? – I did – and not the long-necked variety either, but the bipedal kind with a phone in their hand or a laptop and a ready wit. Don’t get me wrong, since “that photo” some of the comments I have seen from people have been hilarious, complete with Gifs and memes, and I have even joined in on the joke with quite a few people, but there have been two or three really, really nasty comments too. Now, I’m no stranger to the press and to the odd moron chiming in, but as a historian, I have to prove every word I write, and I can back them all up: not so with “Nessie”.

If many comments be believed, of course, I am supposed to have a full film crew on standby and a concrete and referencable back-story to the whole thing, and that’s just not how it works. It isn’t like I actually tried to take a picture of it! However, a lot of these comments have been driven by the press and have been misunderstood from there, so I thought I’d set the record straight on “that photo” in my own words, and Roland has been kind enough to let me guest-blog on his site, since he seems to actually be the most decent, well-informed and impartial person I have met in this whole curious event.

What I have done is to write down the common questions or points so that I can answer them bit by bit. I’ll try to keep it humorous, because what else is the whole Nessie myth but fun? It strikes me that a lot of commenters on news sites must be lousy parents… every Christmas they must be debunking Santa to their bewildered children! So here are the answers in my own words, which if nothing else, will teach you not to believe what the press write about you!

So what actually happened? – I was in Fort Augustus, most of my tour group had gone on a boat cruise around the Loch and I went to grab a chippy then strolled along the Oich to take a look at the old wooden bridge there. Fort Augustus is a tiny place but pretty and it was one of few things I hadn’t seen up close. I went to take a shot across the river, heard a noise (the “Darth Vader noise” I will explain below) looked over and saw something with a long neck and head dive back under the water. I got my phone ready to take a picture, but I didn’t see it again. Then I realised I had snapped it by chance. That’s pretty much it…

Do I think it was Nessie? – Despite words such as ‘claimed’ and the Daily Mail’s addition of ‘insists’ I NEVER actually said the words “Loch Ness Monster”. In fact, when a journalist asked, I said that all I would say was “I saw this, it was on my phone, this is what it looked like” – which was as much as I could actually say. “But do you think it was Nessie?” was the reply and again, I answered that I simply couldn’t say what it was. I might as well have said “Absolutely guvnor, no doubt about it at all!” - because that’s effectively what they wrote anyway!

Is it a fake photo? – No, and of course there are so many ways to fake a photo, but I’m certainly no photographer (a few may have pointed that out in comments!) and no I don’t own Photoshop either. That is the original, as I saw it and as my camera phone captured it.

Is it a sock puppet? – I had to put this one down! Let me ask you something: could you please put a sock on your arm, wade into a freezing river in December and lay there whilst I take a photo of it? – If someone asked you that, you’d probably say no, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not even conceivable. Ah, say some, but could it be my arm instead? – So bear in mind I’m driving and guiding and won’t reach Edinburgh until about 8pm – about five hours later – and everyone in the group could see me dripping wet, I’m going to climb into a river, magically dry myself, change my clothes in front of loads of people and appear to my tour group 15 minutes after the incident, looking dry as a bone… and quite who this mystery accomplice is supposed to be, I have no idea. So, no… it isn’t a sock puppet!

Is it a log? – You know, it’s a funny thing about logs… they tend to look like logs! Forty years on this earth and I know what a log looks like, and a branch too, come to think of it! No it wasn’t… a wee bit of credit here for knowing the difference!

Why is the photo so grey and grainy? – An obvious question, this… it’s grey because it’s always grey! The Oich is grey, the Loch is grey, the sky is grey, the creature is grey and temperature fluctuations in the Loch and with the river meeting it, mean there’s usually a grey haze there. It’s grey, not black and white, it’s literally grey there. It’s grainy because that’s a zoom about three times in. It’s a phone camera, not a sniper scope.

What did you take the picture on? – A potato. There, I said it. Everybody else did! No, it was my Huawei mobile, and yes, it is old! I’ve got so many photos stored on it – I write military history and so I screenshot quotes from veterans or save photos for a few upcoming projects and I have THOUSANDS of pictures on it (not to mention thousands more of my dogs!) and last time I had an upgrade, I lost all of them, so I have deliberately ignored the upgrade… but it’s not that old!! Oh and apparently, tour guides are supposed to have great cameras? I’m not sure why. When you see the same stuff every few days, you don’t take pictures. Plus, you take your eye off the tour group for half a minute and someone will wander or do something usually suicidal, like try to take a selfie in the middle of the road.

Where’s the original photo? – Here’s your “Hmmm…” moment, doubters. That phone is so full of stuff that it doesn’t store any more photos. Occasionally, one gets through, for no reason that I can understand. So when I take a photo, if I like it, I have to immediately share to my social media in real time or send it to myself. I’m only lucky I remembered after I had zoomed in and screenshotted it, otherwise there’s a 99% chance it would have vanished. I can hear you all going “Hmmm…” from here… you’re lucky it’s all I got! But seriously, that’s it. If I had forgotten, we wouldn’t even be this far along!

But you run a tourism / guiding business, right? – No! I’m not sure where this comes from. I’m a military historian and author and yes, I also do guiding. When Mrs Ricky got made redundant, right as we were moving house, we needed more income. I’m a trained battlefield guide, I love history and I can make it relevant and interesting, so what else was I going to do? I genuinely love the Highlands, ever since I got to swing a sword around in the film Mary Queen of Scots, so it’s a pleasure to do something I love, in a place I love. It isn’t quite what I planned, but hey, we’ve all had to step up to earn the money. But Nessie or no Nessie, nobody gets paid more or gets more tours, so there was no advantage to the photo, it was just what was there.

Did you get paid for this? – Absolutely not. I didn’t ask, and nobody offered. It didn’t even occur to me. Despite the Sun advertising that they pay for stories, I was actually contacted by a freelance journalist, who obviously did get paid. It was what it was.

Some people have suggested you have a book to sell? – On the Loch Ness Monster? Multi-time #1 Best Selling Military Historian, famed for his work on the Falklands War… can you fit Nessie into that? Maybe it went down with the task force or popped up at Goose Green? No, I have no book on Nessie nor any plans to write one. A military historian actually doesn’t need Nessie in his life! Again, what can I say? It was what it was.

So why did you send the picture in? – I actually thought about not doing it. I joked with a mate about “career suicide” before I did, and I think it took five or six days to decide it couldn’t do any harm. I sent it in to Gary at the Nessie sightings register and asked if it was anything he’d seen before. He contacted the journalists and I was happy to help. I actually didn’t think many people would be so interested. That bit, I got wrong! That said, it was there, I have nothing to gain, nothing to hide, but there are also big Nessie fans out there, and small towns like Fort Augustus need Nessie. Without it, they might as well pack up and move away. So somewhere along the chain, it feeds families and I’m nobody to take that away. I thought about it and my conscience said yes, do it. That conscience is clear and the only gain I have is that my nieces and nephews think it’s just a bit cool to have an uncle who did it.

And the Darth Vader bit? – Let’s get it straight, I said it sounded like something blowing air, like a whale or dolphin does, but it sounded metallic, a bit like Darth Vader sneezing (not breathing!) and I made it clear. My guess is that some papers decided the distinctive Darth Vader breathing noise would sound more sinister, so put it in, but it wasn’t my doing. Like ‘claims’, ‘insists’ or other terms, it’s nothing to do with me…. But then I’ve been in a lot of newspapers and have even read “Exclusive Interviews” I have supposedly given to newspapers, who have absolutely never spoken to me! I’m used to it.

What do I think of the press reaction? – I went to bed on December 18th with it in the Scottish Sun and the Daily Record, and I was quite surprised at that. The first thing I had the next morning was a mate messaging me from Australia to say it had made the papers over there and I thought… “Oh God, they haven’t made this a huge deal, have they?” – They had. The Sun, Express, Mirror and then the Daily Mail. If you want anything to go viral online, it’s the DM. They have more online reach than anyone. The second I saw that, I knew we’d gone from snowball to avalanche. I’ve now read it in German too, in French, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese and even in India where (apparently) I am “a world-famous scientist”! I got a C for science at school, by the way! Famous historian? – Yes. Famous scientist? – Erm…….

And the public’s reaction? – It’s funny. In the history world, they always say never to read your reviews. Bernard Cornwell always says “A good review goes to your head and a bad review straight to your heart” but I always do. I always made it a thing to go back and answer people when discussing my history books, so I did it with this. The reaction is good, and I’m not asking anyone to “believe” but I’m joining in with the joke, because as I said, it is ultimately fun. One guy got verbally abusive, and there’s no reason for that. Another threatened to come over from Motherwell and give me a flying kick in the face! I just said I’d like to see him try and he didn’t answer back. It’s always painful when you read something about yourself which you know isn’t true. I should be used to it by now, but I’m just another normal person who does a job, and there’s no reason to abuse people or make stuff up about them or their families. On balance though, people have been great, but you’ll always find idiots. They get very brave online but the difference between me and other historians is that I’ll always answer you back. We’re all accountable for our words, just as I am for “that photo”.

Am I glad I took the picture? – I suppose yes, on balance. Nessie isn’t something a military historian needs in his life, and I do a lot of controversial stuff, so it could have impacted me adversely. Literally only one person has used it as a vague dig at me and my professional work, and it really wasn’t a big deal. On the whole, professional damage was minimal and I must say this: we military historians are nerds… everyone has an inner nerd and mine is history. But for those whose inner nerd is Nessie, it’s a great thing. Yes, I guess I’m glad I did it and took the plunge to send in the photo. It could have been anyone taking that photo, it just happened to be me. Before I sent it in, I did have a few words with myself about whether or not I really needed this in my life, but the argument which won, was “What right have I to censor this?” – Whatever it is, it’s there and that’s what it looks like. To some people, this is like Christmas day. I just happened to take the photo, and I considered that I really didn’t have a right to sit on it and just keep it for myself. Nessie belongs to everybody.

Do I believe in Nessie? – An obvious one for me to finish on. Nessie has been a story since St Columba. Now and then, we hear of a species believed extinct for thousands of years suddenly found alive and well, so I guess anything is possible. The sea is more unexplored than space for us humans, and Loch Ness goes down at its deepest over 800 metres. That’s beyond crush depth for some submarines still to this day. Certainly, a lot of money is being pumped into it, the Scottish government has a Nessie action plan should it be found, and you can find on the net pictures or videos of unknown creatures partially decomposed on beaches and things. Ultimately, I’d say you’ve got to have an open mind. As a historian, I’ve found things which the history books called “myths” and then I go looking and one day, I’m stood there looking at it right in front of me, so I’ve had to change my perceptions. If you ask me, “Is there a Loch Ness Monster?” I’m going to tell you yes, but it would be a fool to think there’s been only one for all of these years. A small colony of something we don’t know about, seems feasible. The Coelacanth survived sixty-six million years after it was supposed to have been extinct, so can we honestly say we know everything?

And Finally - In closing, I’d just like to add that this simply is whatever it is: a creature of some sorts, and that’s what it looks like. I’ve got nothing to gain, no reason to lie and actually it isn’t the best thing for a historian of all people to find: if anything, it’s probably the worst thing. There are a few times I wish I hadn’t, for all of the hassle involved, but then I don’t want other people to be put off doing it if they genuinely see something either… all I’d say is don’t fake it. People hunt for Nessie like I hunt for lost artefacts or battlefields or whatever… and a fake is not what people need. It just makes the whole thing ridiculous. In fact, if you take out all of the hundreds of fakes which have been debunked, Nessie as a concept looks plausible, so don’t become a fraud. There is something there and I’ve seen it. I’m not going to say what it is, because I don’t know, but there’s something there and I’m glad and perhaps even a bit privileged to have been a part of it. The only monsters I have found along the way, have been the human kind, and I have a clear enough conscience to bear them anyway. So don’t fake a Nessie sighting, but if one day, you should see her, you let people know, and don’t ever be ashamed… Nessie is more than a happy legend or a fun hobby, it is families and livelihoods in the Highlands and you’re never doing the wrong thing if you know you’re telling the truth.