Sunday 9 February 2020

The Monster Sightings of Winifred Cary

Source: National Geographic No.151 1977

We know all about the major players past and present of the Loch Ness scene. Tim Dinsdale, Alex Campbell, Robert Rines, Rupert Gould, Ted Holiday and right up to Adrian Shine today. There are others and it is not always proportional to the effort and time put in. Kenneth Wilson took his Surgeon's Photograph, quickly disappeared from the scene, but left a footprint all out of proportion to what he put in.

But then there are the others who have lurked in the historical background but have their own tales to tell. One such person was Winifred Cary who lived with her husband, Basil, for decades in a cottage perched above the castle overlooking Urquhart Bay. In my years of following the monster phenomena, she has occasionally popped up as she recounted her amazing roster of at least fifteen claimed sightings of the creature.

Where Winifred first fits into the Loch Ness chronology is a bit uncertain. But going by the contemporary literature, she and her husband began to be mentioned in the early 1960s. In Tim Dinsdale's book, "The Leviathans", he mentions his acquaintance with them in late 1964 and mentions how members of the Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigation Bureau ("Bureau" hereafter) camped on the grounds of their house at Strone above Urquhart Castle. Tim refers to Winifred by the more familiar term "Freddie", indicating a friendship of some degree and duration.

From this arrangement, a fruitful relationship with the members of the Bureau grew as we next encounter the Carys in Ted Holiday's book,  "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" where we learn of his friendship with the Carys and having a dram at their house in June 1965 as he prepared for another Bureau expedition. He seems to have also lunched with them on various occasions through the years. I note though that Ted does not directly reference Winifred in his book, let alone any of her sightings.

The friendships continued into the 1970s as we also hear of her acquaintance with Robert Rines as they both witnessed a hump sighting in the Bay in August 1971 which was examined through a telescope and judged to be 20 feet long. We shall return to Rines and Winifred later.

But it is to Bureau member David Cooke's 1969 book, "The Great Monster Hunt" that we learn the most about Winifred and her sightings. He had come over from New York to explore, interview and research for his book and made the acquaintance of the Carys. From his book we learn that Basil Cary was a Wing Commander who had directed attacks against the German Bismarck ship in the Second World War. They had both lived in India where Winifred was a keen sportswoman and hunter before retiring to Loch Ness, where Winifred had often gone on fishing holidays as a child with her Edinburgh family.

Winifred is photographed above on the left with David Cooke's wife. When the Cookes met the Carys, Ted Holiday was on one of his visits, but he took a back seat as David got out his tape recorder and recorded Winifred recounting her seven sightings up to that point in time from which I now quote:

After we had explained who we were and the purpose of our visit to Loch Ness, I asked Mrs. Cary if she would tell us about her various sightings of the monster. She agreed, and I set up my tape recorder. Her story was so fascinating that I feel it should be reported in detail, as follows: 


We first came to the glen in 1916. My family normally lived in Edinburgh, but we came up here every summer on holiday. We used to fish the loch every day, so we knew every inch of the water around here. We had heard stories about animals in the loch, and water kelpies, Gaelic water-spirits, but nobody really paid any attention to them. Then one day I was out with my brother - it must have been in 1918, and I was about twelve at the time. We were trawling for salmon, and we had gone east of the pier about a quarter of a mile. It was quite rough on the water that day. My brother was rowing and had his back to the loch, but I was facing forward. Suddenly, ahead of our little boat, a great black creature came up above the waves and then went down again. It was absolutely colossal.

It was as big as a whale and the hump must have been at least six or seven feet out of the water. But it just came up for a moment, and then went down again. I said to my brother, "Did you see that frightful thing that came up?" "What thing?" my brother replied. "I didn't see anything." As I said, he was turned the wrong way, which was why he hadn't seen it. But I was so frightened by what I'd seen that I insisted we return to shore straightaway. I told people what I'd seen, but nobody believed me and they said I must have been mistaken. After a while I gave up trying to convince anybody that I'd seen something and just sort of forgot about it.

I thought that perhaps they had been right after all and my eyes had been playing tricks on me. I didn't see the monster again for many years. Actually, I couldn't have seen it, for after I grew up and was married my husband was transferred to India and I went with him. But during these years I heard about the monster several times. My mother and some of the family were having a picnic next to the loch one summer when they saw something rise out of the water. I don't recall if they saw the head and neck or just a great big hump, but from what my mother said they saw at least two humps and perhaps more.


My husband retired from the Air Force at the end of 1950, and the following year we came up here and bought this cottage. I was out of the house many times every day, tending the garden and taking care of the poultry down the hill, but though I looked at the loch often, I did not see the creature again. Then, in July 1954, I had my second sighting. It was a calm day and the loch was very flat - just like a mill pond or a mirror - and we'd had a warm spell for some days. I was standing outside at about half past two in the afternoon, when I suddenly saw a colossal great thing at the far side of the loch. To begin with, I had the impression it was a boat, but then I thought it was too large for  the fourteen-foot boats we usually get in the loch, and it was going too fast.

Then it started coming across the loch toward me, and I couldn't see a mast or anything - just the great black hump racing across the top of the water. And I suddenly realized that it must be the monster because it couldn't be anything else. As it came nearer Urquhart Castle I saw salmon leaping out of its way, and I have an idea that the thing must have turned to follow the salmon. There was no sign of a head or neck, but just this great hump. I rushed into the house to call my husband, but by this time the creature was going down, and all we could see was the wash behind the castle.


Up until that time my husband had never seen the monster and I wanted him to see it this time, but there was nothing except this great big wash. I didn't see anything again until a fortnight later, when my son Bill came up for a visit. He is in the Army, and he was on leave from his outfit. Bill was with me on the hill about half past nine in the morning, and we were just standing there looking at the loch, which was flat calm. As we were watching, this huge black thing just rose up out of the water right below us off Urquhart Castle. It was at least fifty or sixty feet long. We could judge the size because we know the castle is fifty feet high.

In any case, we know the look of the fourteen-foot boats on the loch, and if you put three of them end to end it was still bigger than that. The thing must have been at least four or five feet out of the water. It was just like the bottom of a turned-up boat. Bill said afterwards he thought he'd seen a head and neck when it first came up, but I couldn't say that I really did. I just saw this great hump, and as it came up there was this terrific commotion in the water and it just lay there. We stopped an AA man named MacIntosh, who was passing on his motorbike, and he came up and stood beside us and watched it as well.

It also turned out that my eldest daughter, Daphne, was watching it from one of the top windows of the cottage, but we didn't know it at the time. The three of us stood there and watched it for ages [Mrs. Cary said later that she thought the actual time was about twenty minutes], and then it started to move. You have no idea of the commotion it made, as if there was something huge underneath the water and all we saw was just a small bit sticking out. Then it went off at a very fast pace toward the middle of the loch and turned toward the point. When it disappeared round the point it was still on top of the water. Unfortunately, none of us had a camera with us, and you know, when you see the thing you can't take your eyes off it for fear it will disappear. As it turned out, there would've been plenty of time to fetch a camera, but none of us realized it at the time.


I didn't see the monster again for six years - until a Sunday morning in August 1960. It was about half past nine in the morning, and again I had gone down the hill to feed the birds. It was very still and quiet on the loch, and suddenly I saw a great disturbance below me. I knew it had to be the monster. It came up only fifteen or twenty yards off our shoreline, and then went right down again - just like that. I don't suppose I saw more than perhaps twelve feet of it this time, but when it went down the water was flapping in a very peculiar way. I stood there looking, in hope it would come up again. I raised my eyes slightly, and about half a mile farther east I saw another black hump coming across the loch. It was flat calm between this thing and where I'd seen the other one, so obviously it had to have been a second monster. 


But I'm not the only one who's seen two of them at one time. In fact, my husband went out to empty ashes or something the Monday before last Christmas. It must have been about half past one in the morning, and he looked over on the loch and he. saw two great black creatures moving toward the river mouth. The moon was very bright that night and he could see clearly. He said one of them just stayed there, without moving, while the other one turned out toward the middle of the loch. He called me, but by the time I got out there they had gone down again. I stood and watched and listened very quietly, and abruptly there was a sound of waves breaking on the beach, although the water was flat calm.


I think that when the things went down it had taken a period of time for the waves built up by their commotion to reach the shore. During the years I've lived here I've seen lots of big disturbances on the loch when there was nothing visible to make them. These were probably made by the monster, but I couldn't swear that they were because I didn't actually see anything. The times I'm talking about I'm absolutely sure it couldn't have been anything else but the monsters. The next time I saw one of the creatures was in August 1962. My husband and I were out, standing next to the garage, and Heather, my youngest daughter, was down from us. She suddenly called to me and told me to come quick, and I rushed right over.

She was looking down at the loch, and I followed her gaze and saw the monster. It was close in to our shore, only some ten or fifteen yards out, where it's very deep. Castle Point is one of the deepest parts of the loch, you know, and they've never found the bottom there. They don't know how deep it is right there, although the main part of the loch is supposed to be about 750 feet deep. The thing must have heard Heather shout to me, for it just went down and we saw this great V-shaped wake rushing out toward the middle of the loch. The water was flat calm all around, and there wasn't a sign of a ripple or wave except this huge V-shaped wake. It had to have been a monster just under the surface. Of that I'm sure without doubt. Nothing else could have caused it.


I didn't see it again for several years. Then one day Heather called to me from upstairs, where she'd been looking out a window, and said to come quick, that the monster was on the far side of the loch below Tychat House. That was on July 28, 1966. I rushed upstairs and looked out, where there was a perfect view of the loch. There were quite a lot of waves that day, and I really couldn't see anything. Heather in the meantime had gone down for the telescope, and when she came up again she gave it to me. As I looked out through the telescope the thing came up again, and there was this great hump. But this time it didn't look black; it was sort of a silvery-grey color. But before it went down, we could see waves breaking against it, and there are no rocks in the water there. It was far away that time, and some people have suggested that perhaps I saw a shadow or something. But waves don't break on shadows, and I could see them distinctly.


The last time I saw it was on April 14, 1967. Heather had gone upstairs to change her clothes about eight in the evening. As she was dressing she looked out her bedroom window and called down to me, as she had before. But this time I didn't go up to her room. Instead, I rushed outside to the road which goes by our house. The sunlight was beginning to go, but still there was enough light to see the loch clearly. The monster was right off our shore. I saw this great big black thing up above the water. The surface was rather choppy and the monster was going away from me, and it's difficult to say how large it was.

But it was much bigger than a boat, much broader across. It was perhaps ten feet across and possibly fifteen or twenty feet in length. Just at that time one of the Loch Ness Bureau vans passed by and I called at them to stop and look at it. They stopped their van and rushed out and saw it, but by the time they got their cameras the thing had gone down again. The people from the Bureau were Mari Morgan and Michael Breaks. Minutes later it surfaced once more, and this time it was nearer and coming toward us, but not as much showing above the water. 

Thus ends Winifred's account to David Cooke and she had no doubt that she had seen the monster. She was honest enough to be uncertain about other times when water disturbances left room for doubt. But we have a second accounting by Winifred to Tim Dinsdale in a letter dated 28th November 1964 in which she went over some of these sightings four years before. These are quoted from page 194 of Tim's book "Monster Hunt" published in 1972 which is the American version of his "The Leviathans" from which I quote again:

FIRST SIGHTING (redated 1920)

The first time I saw the Loch Ness Monster must have been about 1920 when I was a child. I was out in a boat with my brother fishing, about a mile east of Temple Pier. The water was quite rough on that occasion, and my brother was rowing. Suddenly a huge black hump appeared out towards the middle of the loch. It was just like the bottom of an upturned boat and must have been over 20 feet long and about 4 feet above the water at the highest point of the hump. I am a pretty good judge of size because I know so well the look of a 14-foot fishing boat. I was very frightened, and asked my brother to go back into Urquhart Bay.


The next time I saw Nessie was in July 1954. By that time we were living in a cottage on the loch-side near Urquhart Castle. About two o'clock in the afternoon I was in the field beside the loch which was flat calm. I saw a huge black object crossing from the far side towards the Castle. It was travelling at great speed and making a terrific wash, and as it came nearer I saw a salmon leaping out of its way. It turned west and disappeared beyond the Castle.


A fortnight later, four of us had another marvellous view of the Monster. The loch was like a mirror. My son, Major W. H. Davidson, and I were in the field about 11 a.m., the great black hump suddenly appeared just off the Castle point right below us, it caused a great commotion in the water as it surfaced, and it stayed still for some minutes. We stopped an A.A. man on his motor-bicycle who was passing, and he watched with us. My married daughter Mrs. D. S. Lucas was also watching it from the window of her bedroom upstairs. After a time the creature moved off into Urquhart Bay. When it was about half-way across it turned and came back towards us, still on the surface, and making a great wash. It then turned east and went right up the loch towards Brachia, and after a time we lost sight of it. We must have been watching it for about twenty minutes.


The next time was August in 1960. I was in the field looking down at the loch. I suddenly saw a terrific commotion in the water quite close to me, which must have been made by some huge creature - then about a mile farther east I saw a great black hump crossing the loch from north to south . . . which suggests there must be more than one creature in the loch.


In August 1963 my youngest daughter saw Nessie only about 15 yards from shore. She called to me to come and see it. By the time I got there the black hump was disappearing, and then we both saw a great V-shaped wash in the calm water as it made off towards the middle of the loch. Every time I have seen Nessie, apart from the first occasion when it was rough, it has been very warm sunny weather, and Loch Ness has been flat calm.

Apart from my own sightings, almost all the sightings by other people that I have heard of have been under the same conditions. I think it is a complete waste of time to look for the Monster when it is cold, and the loch is rough, but if the expedition continues to watch during the summer - it can only be a matter of time before they get a decent picture of Nessie.

It is always interesting to compare and contrast the same sightings recounted by a witness. There are about four years between her letter to Dinsdale and her tape recording with Cooke and there are some differences in the details of the accounts.

Winifred was about 12 years old when she had her first sighting which was seen over ten years before the Nessie "era" began in 1933. Note the reference to relic local tales of strange creatures now ignored. There is some confusion over the date being 1918 or 1920, which is perhaps not surprising given she was a child back then. The one big difference in the two accounts is that she told Cooke the hump rose to about six or seven feet out of the water whereas she told Dinsdale it was about four feet. Moreover, one account says it was a quarter mile from Temple Pier, but the other says a mile.

I tend to go with the older written account and suggest Winifred, fifty years on from that day,  misremembered some details between Dinsdale and Cooke. Also and unlike letters, you can't go back and correct a tape recording if you get something wrong. I recall myself when giving live or recorded talks on the monster, that in the flow of discussion you do get some facts and figures wrong.

The two accounts of the second sighting harmonise well enough, though for the third sighting the times are stated as 0930 and 1100 respectively. Interestingly, it is a huge beast they saw coming in at 50-60 feet using the castle tower as a frame of reference. As I have conjectured elsewhere, I believe there once was a huge bull type creature in the loch up to and including the 1950s which perhaps died in the 1960s or 70s and is now lying buried in silt somewhere below. This is another confirmation of that genre of creature.

But you may ask why no one saw this huge beast which lay off the castle for upwards of twenty minutes? Surely the tourists at the loch saw something? Well, the castle was not such a hive of activity as it is now, but there was a reported sighting by over 100 people by the castle on the 13th August of some wakes and a hump plus a curious oil slick like phenomenon. This was reported in the Aberdeen Evening Express dated 14th August 1954. This would require the first Cary sighting of July 1954 to be right at the end of July to allow for the intervening fortnight period. But, ultimately, we cannot be certain if these two events are looking at the same thing.

The only quibble with the fifth sighting is one is stated as happening in August 1962 and the other states August 1963. One can understand the opportunity for sightings when the view from their house is shown below. This picture was taken from Cooke's book. As a consequence, it has to be seen that they were quite a distance from the bay - most of her sightings ranged from one quarter to three quarters of a mile away. However, it seems a telescope was on hand to zoom in on the creature (assuming one had time to go and fetch it).

Finally, in terms of Mrs. Cary's sightings we have this map annotated by her at a date no earlier than 1976, six years on from Cooke. I have had this since 2011 but it now escapes me where I actually got it from. If anyone recognises this map, let me know and I will update here. So this is a map marking the spots where she saw various events. The brief explanations of each sighting do not go into much detail, but we can see that since the Cooke interview of 1968, a further eight sightings are added bringing her total to fifteen. I reproduce the map and text below and assume the numbering is chronological.

1. A large hump moving down the loch at speed, against the wind. (1917)

2. Beast rushed across the loch from the far side before turning down the loch at Castle Point. A large salmon jumped out of its way. (July 1954)

3. A 20 minute sighting of a huge hump. With Bill, Daphne (upstairs) and AA man. (July 1954)

4. A big disturbance and hump in the centre of the bay and another, (August 1960)

5. hump seen crossing the loch. (August 1960)   (Ed. 4 and 5 the same event)

6. Heather called, Nessie seen to rush to the middle before going down. 

7. Morning. Heather called attention to a light grey hump.

8. Heather again called attention to a pale grey hump below Tychat.

9. Evening. Heather called. Nessie seen off Cow Drink from where it swam out before returning inshore.

10. A large hump below Tychat surrounded by dozens of leaping fish as it moved towards Temple Pier. (Reported independently to LNI).

11. A 7 minute sighting of a large hump in June 1970 from the road (with 9 people including the Tyrells). Seen to swim from the middle to the far side.

12. A 50-60ft long black shape seen in the moonlight with Basil as it moved along slowly and slowly and submerged.

13. With Bob and Carol Rines.

14. Basil called, and with Greta, saw two creatures moving across the Bay.

15. An "oil drum" shape which subsequently submerged.

16.12th September 1976 A three humped long black thing just off the far shore and a second one which moved from being onshore into the loch.

One must presume the event that happened in 1917 was the one from 1918 or 1920. However, whereas it is stated as rising and then submerging in the Cooke recording, this annotation states it moved down the loch at speed against the wind. The placement of the sighting is also further out than the other two. Clearly there is a contradiction here, but again we must remember this event is being recalled fifty to sixty years after it happened.

The rest largely line up with the Dinsdale and Cooke records, beyond that we have new sightings, some which are corroborated in contemporary literature, such as the aforementioned sight she saw with the Rines. Tony Harmsworth states in his book "Loch Ness Understood" that Winifred had said that the sighting with the Rines "could have been anything". However, the fact that she approves its inclusion on this map suggests she thought it was more than that.

Most interesting is the last one on the list which is another event to add to our list of land sightings. Two creatures were seen but one is said to have moved from being onshore into the loch! The sighting was placed about a quarter of a mile along the shore from Temple Pier to the east. Unfortunately, the event occurred nearly three quarters of a mile from Winifred's house, so we cannot really expect much detail - unless her trusty brass telescope was employed.

One curious thing about these fifteen reports is that not one of them describes seeing the classic long neck. This is a bit of a statistical curiosity as one could have expected perhaps two or three of them to be of such a nature. The one thing I would take away from that is that Winifred was no liar. If someone was going to make up a series of sightings, one would definitely expect them to include the classic long neck.


As it turns out, Winifred Cary was a believer in the psychic world. Like Dinsdale and Holiday, she may well have thought there was more to Loch Ness than its monster in terms of mysteries. In "Project Water Horse" (p.95) Tim recounts his unease at a stretch of shoreline that left him with a powerful sense of unease at night in his boat. So powerful that he had to force himself to overcome it. When he mentioned this to "Freddie", she agreed and had the same sense of unease and would avoid the place when fishing. Tim later associated that stretch with witches who were once claimed to have conducted their satanic rituals there.

Holiday's friendship with the Carys has already been mentioned and one wonders how much Winifred influenced Ted's growing thoughts on a paranormal aspect to the phenomenon? It is to be noted that Ted Holiday's encounter with a strange figure in 1973 occurred near the Carys' home and afterwards their house was the scene for the curious tornado episode which shook the house.

But it seems she also practiced dowsing as Tony Harmsworth tells us about the story where Winifred used this to help the 1972 Rines expedition locate the best spot to place their strobe camera equipment underwater. This is corroborated in Gareth Williams' "A Monstrous Commotion" which quotes Dick Raynor on the subject. It seems at that time she had swung her pendulum over a map of the loch and concluded there were sixteen monsters in the loch, including five off Dores and two in Urquhart Bay. It seems she was quite a character.


Gareth's book suggests Winifred saw the beast eighteen times. My research suggests fifteen, but then again, I stop at 1976. Going by my search of the genealogical records, Winifred was born Winifred Elizabeth Watt in 1906 and married Basil Malins Cary in 1946 in Edinburgh. She died at the grand old age of 97 in 2003. Basil predeceased her in 1981 at the age of 76. If she lived out her years at the loch, that meant another 27 years of watching the loch, so who knows how many sightings she claimed? I finish the article with her words to those who continue to berate the idea of a monster in Loch Ness:

I just don't understand why people have to be so skeptical. Something strange and unknown is living in Loch Ness - something that modern scientists know nothing about. That is an unquestionable fact.

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