Monday 13 March 2023

The Land Sighting of Alistair Dallas

Alleged land sightings of the Loch Ness Monster comes in varying degrees of credibility, some say they have no credibility at all - and I am including people who earnestly believe in the beast! One account which has lurked in the shadows of more famous accounts comes against the background of a mystery in its own right. I am referring to the Alastair Dallas account from 1936 and the sketch which he did and is shown above. Now the background mystery to this was the legendary MacRae film, an alleged film of the Loch Ness Monster taken in the early 1930s which is said to be indisputable evidence of a close up  creature.

You can read a fuller account of that controversy in one of my earlier articles. Today we mainly focus on Dallas' own alleged account. The first mention of this account is in F.W. Holiday's book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" published in 1968 and it refers to his meeting with Dallas in 1965. The prime reason for that meeting was to find out if Dallas really was one of the trustees of the film, but at the end of that story Holiday says:

Mr Dallas said that he had seen the Orm for himself, many years ago, during one of his painting trips to the Great Glen. However, due to the almost pathological scepticism the subject engendered, it was a topic he rarely discussed.

And that is all that was intimated as the account took a distant backseat to the MacRae film. Nothing more was said until monster researcher, Alan Wilkins, contacted Dallas in the early 1970s through an intermediary named Tom Skinner. Dallas told Wilkins that the alleged MacRae film of Nessie was actually his own sighting in the same decade. Years later, researcher Mike Dash contacted Wilkins to get more details and he was told that Dallas supplied to Wilkins a quick basic sketch and then a more detailed sketch said to have been done at the time in 1936. Both are shown below.

One would have to admit this is one of the best executed eyewitness sketches produced over the years and apparently done "live" right at the scene of the encounter. Alan Wilkins supplied Mike Dash with the text of Dallas' reply via Skinner back in October 1974:

Only one fly in the ointment. It is my personal knowledge that his [Holiday's] reporting of his conversation with me is almost diametrically opposed to the facts. I was there so I do know about that. There was no suggestion on my part of a second film. The first I heard of that was your information…

The second film he (Holiday) writes of is, I consider, my exposition about my sighting of the Beastie. Holiday was so worked up on the subject of film that he did not find it possible to drag his mind away from this aspect. On reading his book it became clear to me that he had not heard one word of what I had to say about the actual impression made on me by that sighting.

As to the actual sighting by Dallas, Wilkins had back then received some verbal details on the creature seen which he also passed onto Mike Dash:

  • Midday sighting - lasted long enough for Dallas to go and fetch his sketchbook
  • Extremely close quarters - 100 feet
  • Monster approx 32 feet in length, hauled out of the water, apparently sucking weed from stones
  • Round golf ball eyes, ears, distinct neck, distinctive narrow flipper seen
  • Three dorsal fins, like sharks’; thick, fleshy, flabby
  • Tail in water
  • Mangy appearance - tufts of hair or fibre
  • Sketched animal from above in 3/4 side view

The original sketch supplied also had the annotation "Drumnadrochit 1936 Sept." at the top. Finally, some time after Dallas' death in 1983, researcher Dick Raynor contacted the family regarding the film, but also on the land sighting which is detailed at his website. It is likely he was speaking to Alastair Dallas' son, who is also called Alastair. The background to how Dallas came to be at Loch Ness is mentioned:

Mr Dallas was a widely travelled landscape artist with a wide circle of friends. After the "new" road along the north-west shore of Loch Ness had been completed he contacted the main contractors, Carmichaels, with a view to a commission to record the works. Unfortunately, the commission had already been awarded, but due to the original artists preference for sweeping curves over straight lines, Mr Dallas was later invited to the contractors offices and given the commission by the proud builder of the straight roads. It was during this commissioned work that the sketch is believed to have been made. 

Dick displays the 1936 sketch of the beast by Dallas and discusses what he thinks Dallas may or may not have seen. It is not clear to me who first posted the sketch on the Internet, whether it was Mike Dash or Dick Raynor, but I guess it was first posted around the turn of the millennium. Mike Dash adds another detail from Dallas' son, Alastair, whom he spoke to in 1998:

My father was a great teller of tales, not that he was a deliberate liar… he very much liked attention. I never saw any film, nor did my father ever discuss it, which I feel he would have done if [Holiday’s account] was correct… I have no reason to cover up information… So far as I am aware my father never had any friends known as Dr MacRae.

... I honestly think you should end your search here and now. I have already said that my father was a great teller of tales. Need I say more?

Such a statement casts doubt upon his father's account, though the focus here seems to be more on the MacRae film rather than his 1936 sighting, so how do we assess all this? Well, I got an email recently from Thomas, who occasionally sends me items he has found on the Internet. In this case it was a recent interview with Alastair Dallas' son conducted by Hilary Alcock and Flora McDowall for the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project in July 2018. The original link also has a picture of Alastair Dallas Jr. shown below.

The focus of the interview was recollections of Kirkcudbright artists of whom Alastair Dallas Snr. was one. One part of the summary is interesting to Loch Ness researchers:

Alastair’s father was a keen photographer and took a photo, in 1936 while working for McAlpine, of the Loch Ness monster which proved very popular.

A photograph of the Loch Ness Monster, or even a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster on land? Surely not, as we would have heard of such a thing a long time ago? Fortunately, the website provides a transcript of the interview and we extract and reproduce the Nessie portion of it here. The "HA" and "FM" are the interviewers and "AD" is Alastair Dallas:

HA: And did he go and paint outside or did he - ?

AD: He was a great one for the camera but it was the early days of colour and black and white, there's one he did I've got I've yet to find the plate, but I know I've got it, of the Loch Ness Monster.

HA: Really!

AD: It was on Border Television I think about the year before he died, they paid twenty-five pounds for a print. I printed them off took me half an hour to do two hundred! [Laughter]

FM: Nice work if you can get it!

AD: I literally turned the handle.

FM: And what was his story about the Loch Ness Monster?

AD: It was 1936 he was doing a commission for McAlpine who were doing the new road along the north side of Loch Ness and the previous artist they'd commissioned simply would not paint what was there, he liked swirling curves on a road McAlpine has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds making dead straight! [Laughter]

AD: So McAlpine wanted a picture of what he had done, where these pictures ended up I have no idea, but the old man had a hut assigned to him by McAlpine where he stayed for weeks at a time - this was before he got married of course, this was before the war and the one of the Loch Ness Monster was in his sketchbook, he hadn't painted it or anything like that, and he found it one day and he got it made into a plate and he had me print it off for him 'cause he was too busy doing something else. As I say, Border bought a copy and they did a wee interview with him for twenty-five quid but that was quite a lot o' money in those days.

FM: And he was really convinced he saw the Loch Ness Monster?

AD: This drawing I don't think looks as if it was drawn invented, eh it's too detailed.

FM: It's amazing isn't it?

HA: Yes.

AD: And there was a guy up in Loch - beside - Loch Ness he used to take people around an' ah sent him a copy by email and he did a thing on his website about it, but this loch Ness Monster I think he genuinely saw what it was and he simply didn't take a photograph because he didn't have his camera with him, he'd gone down to the loch-side for somewhere quiet to have a cup o' tea an' a bun!

FM: Well lucky he could draw!

AD: Lucky he could draw. I have some of these prints still - they're not in really good condition because the last few they were running off the ink was beginning to catch where it shouldn't and when I said, will I clean it, an' he said, no two hundred that's enough.

There are two observations to make about this interview. The interview begins with Dallas talking as if it was a photograph that was taken by his father in 1936, but it is clear at the end of the interview that no camera was involved in the sighting and only the sketch was a by-product of this alleged encounter. It seems more likely perhaps that the original sketch was photographed years later for the Border Television interview as requests for copies of the sketch came in. The TV interview is said to have taken place a year before his father death, which would place it in 1982.

The clip may be held in the ITV archives or elsewhere such as here, but that is beyond the scope of this article. The usual issue with these old items is that they may lie in a film canister only to be digitised for a fee and with long lead times. But the second point concerns Alastair Dallas' assessment of his father's account when he says that he thought his father genuinely saw the monster. 

But we were told previously that he thought his father was a teller of tall tales. Is there a contradiction here? Did Dallas Jnr. say his father's story was a fabrication just to get rid of people or did he change his mind about it over the years? The second contradiction is where Holiday states that in 1965 Dallas rarely talked about his own sighting "due to the almost pathological scepticism the subject engendered" but his son related how in 1982 his father willingly talked to the TV station about it and printed off lots of copies of his sketches for public consumption. Some things do not add up here.

But let us at this point take it as a genuine statement that he thought his father's encounter was believable, what can we make of it? It is said to have happened about noon on a day in September 1936. The location is not stated, though his drawing is signed "Drumnadrochit 1936 Sept." which is a slight conundrum as Drumnadrochit is hundreds of metres away from the loch. 

It may suggest the location was a point on the shoreline near the town but that could extend from Temple Pier to the woodlands shore facing Urquhart Bay or closer south to the castle. I do not think it was the woodlands by the bay as he is stated as looking down on the creature and that area is pretty flat which points to the other areas, but there is not enough information to take that further.

My own initial impression of the account was sceptical purely based on the sketch. Quite simply, it does not line up well with the descriptions given in the general corpus of eyewitness reports. The two areas of contention are the triple dorsal fins and the two hanging lobes by the sides of the head. Looking through the sightings database, only two reports mention multiple dorsal fins but both put them apart at such a distance as to suggest more than one creature. 

The Dallas sketch shows two dorsal fins and not three as verbally described, but I assume that the third dorsal fin mentioned is the fin like structure at the end of the tail. However that would be called a caudal fin and not a dorsal fin, but I would put that down to mis-naming anatomical parts rather than mis-numbering.

The hanging side lobes appear nowhere else in the database and that with the triple dorsal fins is an important argument against this account. Now I could be wrong on this, after all most sightings occur at such a distance that such features may be undiscernible. The claimed distance for this was about 100 feet which affords a lot of detail and puts a genuine witness in an important position. However, other close encounters do not mention these unusual features and we have about three dozen claimed sightings within a distance of 50 metres. Some of those should have confirmed what was being described here.

Alternatively, one could say that Dallas misidentified a deer or seal as Dick Raynor suggests in his analysis. At a range of 100 feet that would seem a distant possibility, especially as he claimed to have watched if for quite a long time. One could only begin to consider this if the creature was heavily obscured by vegetation, but there is no suggestion of that situation in the account.

One may even suggest the passage of years had not been kind to his powers of recall, but he asserted that the sketch was done as things unfolded before him. And then there are those two "breasts" hanging down in front of the creature. What is this? The first evidence of a female Nessie? If so, they are in completely the wrong place for the likes of a pinniped or just about anything else. 

So I am putting this account down as dubious which consequently removes another conundrum as it would be unlikely in the extreme that a man who had a land sighting would also be a trustee to an even rarer film. The chances of that exceeds even the word "improbable" because on average there is one claimed land sighting about every three years and if the MacRae film did exist, the odds of crossing the paths of the owner of that film is also very small.

In other words, both cannot be true, but how does the position that this land sighting account is fake reframe the debate about the mysterious MacRae films? In other words, was there anything about the reality of these films that influenced Dallas to introduce a false story? Did Dallas' tale originate in 1965 when he met Holiday rather than 1936 or something else? 

This is where the road ahead forks at various possible junctions. The simple conclusion is that if he lied about that story, he likely lied about everything else - case closed. But wait, Dallas said that Holiday had fabricated what he told him about the films. Was that made up as well? Most would assume that anything that promoted the idea of a monster could only be taken as a lie. This is what we call confirmation bias.

But if that statement concerning Holiday was true, was his immediate statement that the Loch Duich film existed true as well? One thing I do not believe is that Ted Holiday mangled his account that badly. But then again, even if Holiday faithfully reproduced the account, he may have unwittingly reproduced a series of falsehoods. Maybe, perhaps, possibly, but was not Holiday alerted to the films by an independent source at Loch Ness? Do we have to add needless complexity by introducing another liar?

One reason I think Dallas told Holiday pretty much the same tale as he told Wilkins ten years later is because Holiday did not describe to readers what he told him. Why would he do that? Quite simply because Holiday was promoting the idea of a giant invertebrate in the same book and the conical head with eyes, the backbone supported dorsal fins, the tufted hair and dare we say the breasts would have been too much for Ted. I suspect he may not have believed him either.

Here is what I think happened. Back in September 1936, Dallas drew a sketch of the Loch Ness Monster. The reason it is annotated "Drumnadrochit" is because that is where it was drawn and not at the loch side hundreds of yards away. He was up there to draw scenes from Loch Ness, so why not sketch its most famous inhabitant while he was there? In the best tradition of that phrase, "An artist's impression ..." he allowed his artistic imagination to let rip, perhaps encouraged by others over a pint in the pub.

Who knows what the minor details may have been, but when Holiday knocked at his door in Kirkcudbrightshire twenty nine years later, he perhaps saw an opportunity to get some of his old artwork given a public airing. Unfortunately, he should have asked Holiday what his opinion of the Tullimonstrum Gregarium was before he took that step. Holiday did not take the bait, but Dallas got his chance with Border TV another seventeen years on.

But what about the MacRae films? What Holiday tells us of what Dallas described is quite detailed and one doubts that Dallas' artistic imagination could have produced that story from scratch for the visit of this unknown Holiday chap who just turned up at the doorstep. The only way out here is that Holiday fed him a lot of conversational monster information first or somehow the book has telescoped the account and is actually a compression of events such as follow up letters. 

One thing seems clear to me, if there really was a MacRae film and Dallas was a trustee, his joking about with Holiday and his imaginary sketch would surely disqualify him as one of these serious minded trustees. As for the anonymous person who tipped off Holiday at Loch Ness, is it possible that that person had met a young artist in 1936 in Drumnadrochit who boasted about seeing the monster close up and had even taken some photos or even film of it? When investigators began to swarm around the loch in the 1960s, the story came back to him and the rest is a ripping yarn.

But for me, the door on the mysterious MacRae films has closed a little bit more. The door is still slightly ajar regarding this other film taken at Loch Duich. It was always a stretch that one man could have bagged two sensational monster films at two separate lochs in the space of a few years, but perhaps one film can be accommodated, despite its whereabouts being as much a mystery as the creature it claims to have filmed.

Comments can be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can also be contacted at