Sunday 10 September 2023

The Quest for Nessie


The weekend of August 26th began what nationally was called "The Quest", the latest mass organised attempt to search for the famous Loch Ness Monster. This was a joint venture between the Loch Ness Exploration (LNE) group founded by Alan McKenna and the staff of the new Loch Ness Exhibition owned by Continuum Attractions. As a seasoned "monster hunter" myself, I had some input into the matter, though the whole matter was run by the LNE and Loch Ness Centre.

It was a convenient coincidence for me as I normally go up to the loch around late August for my own purposes but was happy to join in the search as things moved towards that weekend. So, in giving my own perspective on that weekend, I will mainly describe it in a travelogue manner, going through it chronologically. It was certainly the busiest time I had encountered at Loch Ness!


Friday 25th was mainly a day off packing and travelling the 160 odd miles from Edinburgh to Foyers. I had previously posted on Facebook a selection of items that I was bringing with me. There was a thermal video camera, night vision binoculars, trap cameras, maps and an assortment of other items including some obligatory liquid refreshments. To that could be added camping equipment, books, etc. Thus packed, I headed up the M90 and then A9 where I encountered heavy rain.

Rain and the Highlands go hand in hand, so one just has to put up with it as I arrived at the campsite late afternoon. This was the kind of weather ducks love as you can see below as they paraded across the pitches. After sorting out some issues with camping I jumped back in the car and headed south to Fort Augustus to meet up with Alan McKenna and a filming team who had invited me to participate in the making of a documentary which followed The Quest and included some of their own work. On the way, I stopped off for a quick look at the Falls of Foyers as the heavy downpour would make for a more spectacular fall and I was not disappointed.

It was there that I finally met up with fellow Nessie fan Andy McGrath who was part of the documentary team and who I had only communicated with beforehand via social media. I was also pleasantly surprised to meet cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard who was also part of the team and whom I had also communicated with remotely when he was writing his book, "The Essential Guide to the Loch Ness Monster". Good to meet both of you and everyone else!

It was a good evening of banter about mysterious monsters and how we hoped the weekend would pan out. I has brought my Flir thermal video camera with me to scan over the waters of the loch afterwards so Alan and I took advantage of the drop in rainfall to scan the dark waters of the loch from the distant north shore towards Inchnacardoch and over to Borlum Bay on our right. We were standing at the jetty where the old monks of Fort Augustus Abbey used to launch out their boats to fish going back to the late 19th century.

We were fishing around for something larger as we scanned a loch surface that was cloaked in darkness to the naked eye but was lit up in the infra-red eyepiece. It wasn't long before we noticed something on the loch which moved from our left over to the distant edges of Borlum Bay. It was a string of bright dots and it didn't take long to figure out it was those damned ducks again. Well, not the same bunch, but another six or so of them. One would have thought they would have gone back to base by nightfall, but they just love that rain I guess.

Well, it shows you how useful such a device is at night time if the creature is indeed more active at night. I took some thermal pictures of our feathered friends and we called it a night as things would start up early the following day. It was my intention to bring the thermal camera to the work the team hoped to do with the thermal drone later on. On the way back to bed, I stopped off at the River Tarff which flows past the Abbey. It was loudly flowing into the loch as the rains filled the surrounding rivers and took a look at the dark torrents through the thermal camera and then onto slumber.


Saturday was the beginning of the hunt as I drove over to the Loch Ness Centre at Drumnadrochit for the morning briefing at 0830 given by Alan. It was when I got there that I realised how much media interest there was in this event. The Loch Ness Monster never fails to attract attention across the world. There was representatives from the UK, America, Germany, Japan and so on there with their cameras and microphones thrust in the direction of our man from the LNE. I soon found out I would be involved and asked to give some words on the subject. 

It was a bit of a miserable day as the rain continued to descend upon us, no doubt damping some of the occasion. The volunteer monster hunters had turned up, though some had decided to just go straight to their watch stations from their accommodation, while others would not turn up at the loch until later that day and the following day. I also discovered we had various impromptu hunters who knew about the hunt but were participating incognito.

I also met Dick Raynor who has long associations with the monster, but is now on the sceptical side. He wasn't there for the media circus but to offer his help to Alan as they went out on the Loch Ness Centre boat Deepscan, to use hydrophone equipment to revive the old science of picking up any audio signals from the loch below which may or may not be associated with the creatures. Hydrophones have been used at the loch ever since the days of the first hunts in 1933-34. They were used again around 1970 and some interesting sounds were picked up, but nothing more happened and I was glad to see their use  again after fifty years.

At that point, I did not actually have an exact plan for the day. I hoped to first go out on the boat with Alan and Dick to merely watch and learn as the hydrophone was employed, but that would not be until about noon. So I went into the café beside the Loch Ness Centre for a coffee where I first made the acquaintance of a journalist working for the Daily Telegraph. We had a fifteen minute chat about the loch, the monster and my own hunt for it. When I saw the final article the following week, the only part that got into the paper was my own possible sighting a few years back when I heard a large splash and turned to see a large vertical column of water dropping back into the loch!

I say "sighting" but no visual contact was made with whatever physical object threw up the water. It is one of those events where you think it was the monster on a Monday but something else on Tuesday. Next up was a camera crew from the German RTL TV channel. Having chatted with one of them, they invited me to do a segment with them beside the loch answering a few basic questions about the weekend hunt.

This was filmed at a layby a mile or so beyond Temple Pier which commands a good view of the loch. Time was a bit tight as I did not want to miss the hydrophone boat trip, but it finished quick enough and I had time to chat with one of the volunteer watches called Craig who was there keeping an eye on the waters. After that, I dashed back to Drumnadrochit to join Alan and Dick on their second trip out on the boat. We were joined by various paying customers to whom Alan would demonstrate the hydrophone.

As we motored out to the centre of the loch beyond the castle, the engines were turned off and a speaker was attached to the now underwater hydrophone and we listened for any noises. Now the use of this equipment is in its early days and Alan with his LNE team will be using it in the months ahead as he attempts to gather recordings of the noises around the loch and catalogue them. To recognise that which is unknown, you first have to gather the known noises and there is no shortage of them. Daytime during the tourist season is not the best time, but this is all part of the wider experiment.

So the speaker would play out the noise of passing boats as well as the water lapping against the sides of the boat. There are other audio sources which will be explored going forward such as the Foyers power station, the water flowing into the loch from the many streams and so on. The loch is a noisy place, all such sources of noise need to be recognised and recorded. Ideally, you gather these and then change context to the night when all these distractions are gone and perhaps new sounds will emerge. As the loch gently rocked the boat, I kept an occasional eye on the loch for something, somewhere to agitate the waters beyond the expected. After all, I was there to watch the loch as well.

Once the boat docked back at Temple Pier, I watched some of the passengers being interviewed by the waiting media and then got back in the car and headed up the A82 towards Inverness. The intent was to ultimately get back to Foyers but also look for other volunteers and watch the loch myself. So I kind of stopped at various laybys, trying to look like a recognisable volunteer (i.e. holding a pair of binoculars) and looking for anyone else who looked recognisable (i.e. also holding a pair of binoculars).

Pretty soon, I spotted a chap wielding his binoculars and went up to have a chat. He was actually an unofficial volunteer as he wanted to participate in the hunt, but keep a distance from the scrum down at Drumnadrochit. He told me he had a sighting back in 2021 and I soon realised I was speaking to fellow Nessie Facebooker, Colin Veacock. We had spoken many a time on various cryptozoological groups on social media, but it is always best to meet and talk face to face. As we chatted a young lady approached us and asked if we were volunteers as she was a journalist from the Independent and wanted to chat with one of us on how things were going. Colin deferred to me and I again answered what was pretty much a similar set of questions about the loch, the creatures and its hunters.

After that I did some more watching of the loch, specifically at the spot where Aldie Mackay had her famous 1933 sighting and visualised in my mind the changing appearance of the animal as it traced its route near Tor Point before submerging. After Foyers, I drove back for Alan's second debriefing of the weekend around 1745. Some observers reported some unusual sights and a couple had taken a video clip of something of definite interest from the beach at Dores which looked like a double humped object and can be viewed on this YouTube link.

There is also the suggestion of something smaller to the right of the two hump-like objects. You will also notice in the video what appears to be a floating island in the farthest distance. This is actually a mirage which can happen given the right conditions for a temperature inversion to occur. One may then ask whether the two humps are part of the mirage effect? I don't think it is, but I would like to see the entire video rather than the truncated ten second clip available.

There was also another observer who thought he might have seen something akin to a double hump and long neck. He was speaking to a couple of media representatives who were interested in running his story. Looking at his sketch and hearing his account, the main issue was that the object was described as moving backwards, that is, humps then neck moving right to left. I suggested then and there that it was either the Loch Ness Monster or the Log Ness Monster and the backdrop to that statement was the fact that the heavy rains of the last two days had led to an increased influx of tree debris from the connecting rivers and streams. In fact, the volunteer's position was near the mouth of the River Moriston.


The other reason for being in Drumnadrochit was an invitation by the Loch Ness Centre to take part in a Q&A session at 1900 with Steve Feltham and Alan McKenna in front of twenty-five guests in the "underwater" room. What format this might take varied a bit until it was agreed that the emphasis should be on the audience asking questions and so we were each given an initial question by way of introduction asking something specific about our own research into the mystery. The question assigned to me was:

What was it about the legend of the Loch Ness monster that inspired you to research more about other myths and legends in the area? Do you think these could help us in solving the mystery of the monster? 

The background to this question was my book "The Water Horses of Loch Ness" and the relation of the past mythical creatures to the present day ones. I told the audience that the main motivation was the fact that in the 1930s, many were saying this was a new phenomenon and an example of mass hysteria. For me, demonstrating there was a viable and noteworthy tradition before this disproved this "new" form of hysteria to some extent. The second point was to demonstrate that each age carried its own cultural version of the creature with the storytellers of that time layering literary devices over the real phenomenon according to the prevailing beliefs of the relevant communities. 

The storytellers of the 18th century created the Each Uisge based on the horse like appearance of the creature they sometimes beheld and turned it into a devilish opponent to good Christian people everywhere. Today's storytellers are the media and some influential authors who imported the plesiosaur, appropriately changed to accommodate what people said they saw. 

In fact, I called this current ninety year old phenomenon, the newest cycle of man trying to frame this mystery to the context of their age. In fact, this is the third cycle if we include the indigenous Picts prior to the arrival of Christianity whose animistic culture would have framed those distant humps and long necks into yet another context which is only preserved for us today in the symbol stones variously scattered across the North of Scotland.

So we have the Animist, Christian and Secular cycles of the Loch Ness Animal. I wonder when this current secular cycle will end and what will replace it? Thereafter, the audience asked various questions and a lad asked us if we would ever give up. The answer was a collective no and I speculated my son would probably place a fluffy green Nessie toy in my coffin! I hope not, there is more to life than the Loch Ness Monster.

But that was not the anticipated highlight of the day for me as it was planned for us to go out with the documentary team to watch the thermal drone in action. But bad news came as we were told this was being moved to the following evening. That was too bad as I would be back in Edinburgh by then. So with some disappointment, I drove back to Foyers and decided to do my own thermal imaging work with the Flir camera around 2200.

A quick scout around the pitch dark loch revealed more of what Alan and I had seen at Fort Augustus as the ducks were out on the loch. I snapped the image below showing a similar sized group of ducks swimming past me towards Dinsdale Island. Once again, looking out onto the loch with the naked eye showed only darkness. I did various sweeps of the loch looking for anything unusual out there. Clearly, if a hump several feet high and twice as long had surface near the ducks, it would stand out a mile on the thermal imager if it exuded any body heat.

But therein lies the question, what kind of body heat would it emit? One wonders what an ectothermic pike or salmon breaching the surface would have looked like compared to the endothermic ducks? Whether the Loch Ness Monster is endothermic or ectothermic is a matter of opinion. My own view is that it is mainly ectothermic but has limited endothermic capabilities as most animals do metabolize their own degree of heat emission amongst a variety of strategies to keep their core temperature within a certain range.

Above is a video of the Flir camera scanning the loch at Foyers Beach and you can see the ducks on the go but this time colour coded for temperature (red hottest) and that concluded another night. The documentary did their filming the following night and captured something of interest which has received some publicity. I will cover that in a later blog posting.


The final day was more devoted to specific projects and the first was meeting up with the Dragonfly filming team at the Clansman Hotel about 1000. After a general chat about the past couple of days, it was decided to film me being interviewed by Ken Gerhard at the locations of the Arthur Grant land sighting and the Aldie Mackay sighting further up the loch.

By a happy coincidence, there was already a Nessie on land very close to the spot where Arthur Grant had his close encounter of the Nessie kind ninety years before on a moonlit night when there was no Nessie model and no Clansman Hotel. The lady in white below was not part of the filming just in case you wondered. By this time the other monsters known as midges were out in force. This was the only good thing about the heavy rain, midges do not go out in it for the same reason we would not go out if the raindrops were the size of cars.

I explained how I interpreted the event and defended Mr. Grant against all comers. I suggested the creature may have disembarked from the shore seventy yards further along before lumbering to the point where we were standing near a stream and then Grant turned up to send it bounding back over the road into the loch.

It was then back up to Tor Point where I had been the day before to likewise describe the sighting Aldie Mackay had seen about nine months before Arthur Grant. The traffic was quite heavy along the A82 and was actually quite busy over all that day around the loch, as if tourists were making up for the wet Saturday. If I was Nessie, I wouldn't be crossing this road in 2023. Maybe in 1934, but not today! She may be big, but a car moving at 60mph packs a lot of punch even for a thirty foot creature.

After saying my farewell to the filming team around lunchtime, it was time to conclude the business of the day, and that meant installing various game cameras around the loch. I scouted out a few new spots as I had extra cameras. These were loaded with 4, 8 or 12 AA batteries and generally 16Gb micro-SD cards. Some will last longer than others, but it depends on the location and settings. While walking various beaches, it became evident how much debris had been washed into the loch as seen in the photo below.

Now back in April, I had collected the previous run of cameras but a couple had gone missing. I actually went back to that site and found them, which was a mixed blessing. One was still attached to the tree, so it beats me how I missed it first time around, but it was still there. The second I found lying on the grass near its tree but there was no sign of the strapping that had held it to the tree. I opened it up and found it was beyond use having succumbed to months of rain and rusted somewhat, though it is more likely the water ingress into the electronics had done the damage.

But the memory card was missing and I realised what had happened. This camera had not been pointing at the loch but along the shoreline to see what wildlife approached the loch by night or day. Well, you can guess what happened. Somebody had come off the road to visit the shore and while walking around saw this camera pointing at them. They concluded it must have snapped them and they did not want their picture to be recorded. The result was a game camera taken off the tree, opened up, card removed and then dumped on the ground. Why didn't they just tie it back to the tree? 

Anyway, the lesson was learnt and I will have to position that kind of camera more sensitively in the future. One of the other cameras did record some wildlife near the shore at about three in the morning last year as you can see below with the deer with its back to the camera looking intently at the dark loch. Ignore the dark hump like object in the water near the centre. It is a rock sitting in less that a foot of water.

So my time at the loch was coming to an end. I spent a final hour or so watching the waters from the quieter south side of the loch. The beast made no special appearances for me and so about 1700 it was time to hit the road south - via Burger King. Yes, Loch Ness trips do have their benefits. Various people have posted their thoughts and reports regarding that weekend. The Loch Ness Centre has its own report at this link and Alan McKenna has posted here

But what about the "whirlpool of evil" that was foretold in the media if we tried to find a supernatural Nessie? Well, I did see a whirlpool, though it was not particularly evil. When I arose on the Sunday morning at Foyers, I looked out to the area where the River Foyers met the loch. The heightened flow of the river was rushing down to meet the loch and there was a lot of disturbance where the two collided. The general flow of the vaster body of the loch water was from the south west up the loch. However, the river water was hitting it at almost a right angle. 

The result was a wall of resistance as the river water tried to merge with the main waters. The dynamics of this interaction led to the river water rotating in the direction of the loch water but also turning back towards the river giving us a sort of whirlpool. I have seen this phenomenon before at this location some years before. It is not very dangerous as the waters are quite shallow there. I imagined our ducks having some fun with this, jumping onto it like a fairground carousel. But in the main, I was not aware of anyone being seriously injured during this weekend of observation.

But now is the time to assess and reflect. What can be done to improve the process if it is done next year? What could be tweaked, dropped or something new added? That is a matter for discussion and is best done now while the memories are fresh of the past weekend. I have a few thoughts and hope to pass them onto to Alan and the Loch Ness Centre at some point. In the meantime, it was a great but busy weekend for me. Most trips are just me and the loch, but it was good to experience the camaraderie of the hunt and a shared belief.

Those thermal drones look interesting, though I wonder what the cost of such an item would be. The documentary team had also mentioned underwater ROVs which are accessible to a lot of people like me today. The issue was where to maximize their utility as a lot of shoreline is shallow and consumes a lot of cable before you hit the deeps. So certainly food for thought as the Winter approaches and most activity winds down at the loch.

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