Monday, 6 January 2020

Nessie Hunting in 1971

On the 16th January 1972, the New York Times published an article by their correspondent, Martin Kasindorf, on his trip to capture the Loch Ness Monster on film. Did he succeed? You may well know the answer but his visit to see the established monster hunters constitutes the bulk of the article and makes for a good read. I will leave my comments and observations to the end of this article.

INVERNESS, Scotland—“You're not like most Americans with all their cameras and fancy lenses,” one of my wife's cousins told me approvingly last fall during three days of hand shaking in Glasgow.
I felt complimented. But during the rainy drive northward past Loch Lomond to Loch Ness, I regretted mustering only an Instamatic and my Japanese binoculars for the search. Considering that sonar, mini‐submarines, a gyrocopter and pebbles coated with sex hormones had failed to establish conclusively the presence of the so‐called Loch Ness Monster, I would certainly need luck.

Still, I thought, my equipment worries would affect only the spare hours in which I would not be standing official watch for the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. This well‐organized and well‐equipped body of zoological amateurs was established in 1962 to “identify the species” reported in fearful sightings since St. Columba saw whatever it is in A.D. 550.

The Big Question

Did I see the monster? Well … but before we go into that, let me say that my New Year's resolution is to make use - later this year on a repeat visit - of the tips I picked up at Loch Ness last year. Now, to return to my recently completed first safari, I should explain that before we travelled to Scotland my wife wrote the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau's office in London (Room 209, Artillery Mansions, Victoria Street, SW1) and requested a one‐year's membership in the organization to give me as a present. It cost her $12.

“Can you send me something I can put in a box?” she stipulated. Back came a yellow membership card imprinted with a black, plesiosaur‐like figure rearing a long neck and a small conical head above two of the characteristic humps that are usually the only features of the species sighted. Neatly wrapped in a box was a narrow blue tie with the same Nessie creature in white. A copy of the bureau's annual bulletin mentioned something about members being able to help “take the watch” for a week. I soon lost the bulletin. I was going to Inverness‐shire, anyway, and decided to show up as a volunteer.

If the 24‐mile‐long, mile‐wide loch were near my home in California, Nessieburger stands would choke the shores. In the still remote Highlands I found little commercialism. Aside from a post card showing a swimming green dragon jauntily wearing a plaid Tam o' Shanter, the locals allude to their tourist attraction only in a restrained picture book and in the bookshop presence of a scholarly paperback, “The Great Orm of Loch Ness” by F. W. Holiday, who opts for the giant worm or slug theory.

“Loch Ness Investigation Research Headquarters. Visitors Welcome,” read the sign on Route A82, a two‐lane road which tracks the northerly shore from Fort Augustus to Inverness. Under a sunless gray sky I pulled into the bee infested parking yard of the modest camp. Its long wooden shack, two trailers, three cars and two camper trucks were all painted a dark forest green and arranged in a C, like the hastily formed defense perimeter of a wagon train. The camp's position 200 feet above the peaty, 700‐foot‐deep lake commands a 17‐mile view for a tripod‐mounted 35‐millimeter movie camera (with 36‐ inch telephoto lens) mounted outside the shack next to a spinning wind meter. The camera was shrouded.

I hung my binoculars around my neck and flashed my membership card at a robust, sweatered man of about 60 in the shack‐museum. “You will have to pay the 10‐pence [26 cents] admission charge, anyway,” he said frostily. Shaken, I paid and wandered around the wind‐buffeted cabin, looking at the exhibits; maps color‐coded for the locations of sightings and photographs; British military intelligence's analysis of some 1960 films concluding that a meandering hump “probably is an animate object”; an Identikit rendering of, “the creature,” which is often said to possess two horns and a horse-like mane, and reminders that similar mysterious wildlife has been seen in other Scottish lochs as well as in Ireland, Iceland, Sweden and Canada. There must be at least 20 Nessies in Loch Ness for the being to have survived, a biologist's text said in display.

Request to the Public

“Any members of the general public who genuinely believe they have seen an unusual creature or object in or on the shores of Loch Ness,” a placard pleaded, “are requested to report the occurrence to our expedition headquarters at Achnahannet, two miles south of Urquhart Castle. Should anyone in the vicinity either catch or find a mauled fish, we would appreciate having a sight of the fish.”

I circled back to the desk and asked about the watch. “Oh, the season ended last weekend,” said the staffer, Jeff Hepple, a retired English baker who had been signed up in the bureau by his son Rip, 36, a forester. The fluctuating crew of up to 19 who take the four camera vans around the lake from April to September was now down to four. By October, only one man would be left.

“Except for resident staff, who get their food, it costs the volunteers £5 [$13] each a week to keep watch,” the Hepples explained. “It is all arranged through the London office; we get teachers, doctors, college students and as many women as men - usually in their late teens and early 20's."

“We give two days of training in the use of the long‐lens cameras. A volunteer lives in the camp and does a day's cooking and washing every week. In decent weather he alternates in watching at five different sites. The first watch starts at photographic light, about 5 A.M. You watch until noontime. Then the second‐line crews take over till 9:30 P.M. Off watch, you do odd jobs and oversee the shack. We get up to 200 visitors a day and the admission money at the museum helps pay off our overdraft at the bank. We have two boats, and a volunteer might put the bait down. After the evening meal we go to the Drumnadrochit Lodge for a drink and a singsong.”

Said bachelor Rip Hepple, who has been on the scene for two years, “I didn't find the monster - but I found the bureau.” It had been a terrible summer for monster‐seeking, in fact. Over the years, 90 per cent of the sightings have occurred in conditions of warm sun, dead calm and a mirror surface. Except for one 82‐degree day, the summer of 1971 was cloudy and windy. There were 15 “sightings” but not one by a bureau member. Reports came from two truck drivers, a milkman, a telephone engineer, hydroelectric workers and tourists staying at The Clansman, a handsome cedar inn up the shore.

“We got some film but it was inconclusive - the distance, the sun,” said Dick Raynor, who filmed a believed seven‐foot creature (reports say they range up to 40 feet) in the form of a white wake in 1967. “The tourist cameras are usually inadequate - Brownies,” he sighed. I asked Raynor about the mauled fish. “The theory is that you are how you eat,” he said. Nessie is thought to be particularly fond of the salmon and sea trout which make their way into the loch through the Caledonian Canal.

“There is little we can do for you, unfortunately,” said the younger Hepple amiably. “It is a case of being in the right spot at the right time.” He told me that the chill southwest wind was Force 5, the temperature was 60 and the whitecaps marching evenly on the loch up to Inverness were four feet high. “Another poor viewing day.”

I began driving up the brooding loch, whose slate waters reflect the thickly wooded hills of the surrounding region. Hating to watch the road lest I miss a sight of the greatest wildlife mystery of all time, I wobbled past a stone monument to Sir John Cobb, killed on Loch Ness during a 1952 attempt at the world's water‐speed record. (The locals say Cobb's speedboat collided with “one arm of a V‐shaped wake which had appeared without any apparent cause.”)

Photographic Vigil

At Inverness, I bid farewell to Route A82 and circled down the south shore on the narrower Route B852. While halted at various turnouts to let cars and trucks pass, I snapped useless pictures and once walked through the bracken to a rocky beach, stirred to the marrow by the possibilities so hopelessly underwater.

On this road one day in 1933, when Route A82 was being blasted into the opposite shore and vibrations were spreading through the lake, a vacationing London corporation director named George Spicer was motoring with his wife near the aluminum‐factory town of Foyers. Mrs. Spicer shouted in terror and her husband later reported, “I observed the most extraordinary form of an animal crossing the road. It was horrible - an abomination. First we saw an undulating sort of neck, a little thicker than an elephant's trunk. It did not move in the usual reptilian fashion, but, with three arches in its neck, it shot across the road until a ponderous body about four feet high came into view. When we reached the part of the road it had crossed, we stopped, but there was no sign of it. … It was terrible. Its color … could be called a dark elephant gray. It looked like huge snail with a long neck.”

It is a matter of being in the right spot at the right time. Judging from many reports and the few good pictures the Loch Ness creatures, possibly mollusks or incredible marine worms, are shy, warty and slimy. They can be black, red‐brown or yellow. They exist. One day soon a resident expert from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau may succeed in crossbowing a biopsy dart into the animal's side to take a piece of flesh for classification. Then the bureau will disband. Meanwhile, Its volunteers help keep the watch. Next summer my timing will be better.


Forty eight years on from the penning of that article, it may seem easy to be sanguine, cynical, nostalgic or motivated. Make your choice according to your outlook on the matter. I was still in Primary School at the time and was oblivious to all that was going on up north, though every Scottish kid knew about the Loch Ness Monster. Meantime, there are some today, now drawing their state pensions, who participated in those events and will have mixed views on what it all meant.

The title of of his article makes me wonder if he had picked up a copy of Holiday's "Orm" book which he saw in  a shop and then goes into the slimy details of worm like monsters. You would be hard pressed to find any tourist outlet putting Holiday or any other such author on their shelves today.

Holiday makes much of the Spicer land sighting and so I presume our journalist, like many, saw it as a Nessie sighting par excellence worthy of inclusion to sum up the grotesqueness of what these amateur hunters were in pursuit of. Did he meet Holiday? It doesn't sound like it, but he did meet Rip Hepple, publisher of the well respected Nessletter, and his father, Jeff. To that list we can also add Dick Raynor, now an arch-sceptic, who regards it all as a great zoological waste of time.

No one else is named and that is probably due to it being October. Martin had been a bit disorganised in enthusiastically turning up to volunteer to man a watch station, only to be told the hunting season had just finished (and it had not been a good one weather wise). After some interviews, he conducted his own watch from the south shore and that was that. And, as you may guess, Nessie did not pop up for his camera. As the man told him, you have to be in the right place at the right time. A truism that continues to hold to this day.

Martin concludes by stating the Bureau would disband when conclusive evidence was obtained. As it turns out, they disbanded the very same year his article was published and it was down to the more mundane matter of the lease on the Achnahannet HQ site. The story of the Bureau was soon to be supplanted by an organisation led by Robert Rines not mentioned by Kasindorf and they were to obtain a photo in August 1972 which would set the cryptozoological world abuzz. But that's another story.

The author can be contacted at


  1. Back then there's no doubt in my mind I'd have volunteered. I'm too cynical now to do so or even mount a sustained vigil myself. It's not that I don't think it's possible that something still lurks there... I just think that it requires more that continuous surface watch. I do believe that you're as likely to get a sighting with an occasional visit as you are after watching for years. Dinsdale is the ultimate yard stick in my thinking. Sees it in the first week but then only once more in 20 years. Mind boggling really.

    1. Ted Holiday gives the only real "on the ground" acocunt of those surface watches in his Great Orm book. Tim Dinsdale does give the bigger picture when he took over the running of the HQ in 1970. But Holiday did his bit manning the cameras, I am not sure Tim did much of that being more focussed on his own boat operations.

  2. As a student way back in the summer of 1970 or 1971, I visited Loch Ness. I had been obsessed with the subject of unknown creatures in the loch ever since seeing Dinsdale's film on Panorama when I was a schoolboy. I was lucky enough to meet members of the LNIB including Dindsdale himself. I cannot stress strongly enough how friendly and helpful Dinsdale was. He took time to answer at length all the questions from this long haired scruffy hippy student he'd never seem before!To this day, I am convinced of his honesty and sincerity.I also chatted to another LNIB member who I think may well have been Dick Raynor who was also very helpful and friendly. On reading the above article I feel a great deal of nostalgia for that time when there was still a widespread belief amongst watchers that a fabulous beast would one day be discovered.

  3. Yes, it's always been sad that the LNIB days were damned by lack of luck or fortune in garnering decent images or footage.

    1970/71 would be the fag end of maybe the Golden
    Age [ 1933-72] of amateur Nessie hunting.
    After that it was the more scientific, technical
    age with Rines, Mackal and others.

    I visited the LNIB as an ankle-biter 10 years
    before I acquired an interest via Holiday's book,
    I remember the green huts and the dormobile vans
    with the big camera rig atop.
    I saw Dinsdale many times around the loch
    in the late 1970s but sadly never plucked
    up the courage to speak to him, a big regret.

  4. Kyle, Dinsdale had two sightings after the 1960 filming episode. Both were head/neck sightings, one in 1970 another in '71.

  5. I watch Extinct or Alive, recently it featured a rare Vietnamese soft shell turtle they had a lot of trouble sighting. The turtle can weigh up to 500lbs and can be as long as 8 feet (longest recorded size).

    They eventually did get a sighting of the turtle, though it was very brief as it came up into the warm sunshine, then submerged again and it was captured on camera. It struck me as very similar to some of the sightings recorded for Nessie. Head and a big hump...

    Is it possible what we have visiting LN is a species of giant turtle (cue ninja turtle jokes :-) )?

    This is a video of a sighting of this animal:

    The species is Rafetus swinhoei

    Just my random thoughts on a Thursday..

    1. 8 ft is hardly 40, 60 or 80 ft really ( typical
      sightings claims) there is the breathing thing...just don't see it really.

    2. Yes, indeed, turtles can feed on almost anything, can hide very effectively when they don't want to be found, and can breath by sticking just the tip of their snout out of the water while not moving. Say a 10 foot shell with a long neck and tail and big flippers and anybody seeing this in the water would think it a monster...

    3. Ok...maybe I was a bit hasty! :-)

    4. I always thought the John Gillies footage from 2002 was very similar to a turtle type head and neck. It's a pity it's so shaky .
      One things for sure,it's not a dog or a boat.

    5. Dickie Raynor says its a boat Phoenix man.

  6. These big turtles do resemble what people see in loch ness and some turtles can stay underwater for hours without needing to come up for air.

  7. But last year's eDNA study found no reptilian results, which I think turtles would have provided...

    1. As they pointed out, the eDNA is temporal in nature. So, if there hasn’t been a particular animal in that area over a period of time (think they said 2 weeks) then they wouldn’t find any dna. It’s becoming more likely that whatever Nessie is, she’s migrant.

  8. It didnt find any otters either but they are there.

  9. Yes I've seen otters on the cabin park Fort augustus! I think as with mr Felthams catfish( not that I think nessie is a catfish) if there is only a small number of nessies.. Wateva they are it wud be hard to pick them up with only a couple of hundred of water dna samples so yes I believe things cud have evaded the dna.. But a larger pod wud most probably get picked up.. Maybe the otters are not in the high numbers they used to be at the Loch.. Cheers