Monday, 3 April 2023

Bus Trip to Loch Ness

It was off to Loch Ness again for a quick one day trip to pick up the trap cameras and carry out any other investigations that were appropriate. This time things were done differently in that I took the bus up to Loch Ness rather than jump in the car as is my usual plan. The reasons for that were a bit experimental being a matter of time and money. Perhaps this was a "cost of living crisis" experiment as people come to terms with prices which exceed any increase in their wages or any other income.

The advantage of the car is that you get there quicker and can go any time you wish and go anywhere within reason. The disadvantage is the cost, depending on where you are starting your journey. In my case, I calculate the cost for the 330 mile round trip at over £100. There is also the fact that when driving, you have less options to do other things. On a bus, you can do more things and it is cheaper. In fact, in my case it cost nothing. The downside is you are bound to their timetables and it takes longer to get there. In my case it took an hour and a half longer to get there than by car.

So with those things in mind, the trip to Inverfarigaig on the south side of the loch on Saturday involved getting the 8:00am M80 Citylink bus from Edinburgh to Inverness and then the 302 bus at 12:30pm from Inverness to Inverfarigaig. On the way back, it was the 14D bus at 6:17pm from Dores and the 7:25pm M90 bus back to Edinburgh, getting home about midnight. The thing here was that miss any of these buses and you were either not getting to Inverfarigaig or may be stranded in Inverness. There were no alternatives bus times that made the trip viable.

The other thing was that once you were at Inverfarigaig at 1pm, you had to walk from there to Dores to get the bus back and that was a nine mile walk. The local bus service was far too infrequent to allow anything else. However, that was the itinerary, walk back to the top of the loch, doing what had been planned beforehand. I had five hours to cover that distance which was more than achievable.

The bus trip from Edinburgh to Inverness was comfortable enough. The bus left the city half full but was near enough full by the time extra people had been picked up in Dunfermline and Perth. But I had two seats to myself to stretch out for about 90% of the trip. The facilities on the Citylink bus at both ends was something less than desirable. The toilet was out of order on one trip, neither of the USB power ports worked on both trips and the facility to put your cup of coffee somewhere stable required some lateral thinking.

Well, at zero pence a trip, who was I to complain? The one big unknown was what the weather was going to be like as a nine mile walk in the rain would be a miserable experience. Fortunately, it was a dry day and the sun popped out towards the end of the hike. So onto the Nessie specifics as cameras were collected as the walk progressed across that nine mile stretch and I can confidently say this was the worst year for cameras stolen over the ten years of doing this. Quite simply, some were not there when I got to their particular spot and it was not down to them falling off. They had been knicked.

Such risks go with the territory, they are relatively cheap to replace but it is the missing potential pictures that may have been snapped that irritates more. Moreover, those who stole them and try to profit from any publishable pictures would fail as I could prove they came from my cameras. Why this year was the worst left me speculating. Perhaps that cost of living crisis brought more people to the loch as staycations came back into fashion again or perhaps this "crisis" makes people think they are more entitled to other people's property?

Anyway, if these people want to right their wrong, drop them off at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit please. As for the images on the cameras I retrieved, I haven't looked at them yet but will post anything of interest later. The other matter as I walked along the shoreline was the George Spicer land sighting of 1933. A discussion had appeared on Facebook about where it could have occurred and the matter of deer tracks.

On the first point of location, the issue was raised in a sceptical manner as if to imply there was little opportunity for such a point of entry to the loch and therefore is dubious. Now I have been up and down the road between Dores and Foyers countless times and seen various locations but on this day when I was hiking from Inverfarigaig to Dores, there was an opportunity to scrutinize various points more carefully.

The two factors here are distance from road to loch and height from road down to loch. The distance is of some importance as the time from when the Spicers saw the beast to the time they reached the location where the creature entered the undergrowth has to allow sufficient time for the creature to cover that distance and disappear under the waters. That required distance from road to loch is unknown as we do not know how long it took for the Spicers to reach the location or how fast the creature was moving.

Educated guesses can be made, but a definitive conclusion cannot be reached. However, when I performed a range of calculations for various scenarios in my main article on the Spicer sighting, it was eminently possible for the creature to reach the loch and submerge. It depends on your tolerance of value ranges and that tolerance may depend not on science, but your own personal tolerance for accepting land sightings.

George Spicer had told a young Ted Holiday that the shoreline was "only twenty foot down on the right". One presumes this does not mean a twenty foot drop, but a distance of twenty feet with an unknown gradient descending towards it. A survey of various points of the shoreline ensued as I walked along the nine mile stretch. I was pretty confident there was no such point further south between Foyers and Inverfarigaig. The road is a long distance from the shore along that stretch.

A lot of the road was clearly unsuitable, the drop was too precipitous for the kind of creature I had in mind and indeed even for nimbler creatures such as deer. The photograph above is close to the shore, but there is a sharp drop of perhaps seven feet before it. On other parts of the road, such as below, there was quite a long distance between road and loch which also presented a bit of an obstacle course for large, lumbering creatures. Undergrowth is one thing, but thick solid trees are another proposition altogether.

The two prime spots for me was the stretch of road about half a mile north of Inverfarigaig which runs very close to the loch but begins to rise thereafter. Perhaps more of a candidate is further up in the area near Whitefield which is where the Lachlan Stuart photo of 1951 was taken. The road ran close to the loch at these points and the gradient did not look difficult at various points such as in the picture below.

But picking the actual spot would not be possible. Indeed, we are talking about an event that happened nearly ninety years ago and the road and vegetation alongside it today are not the same as they were back then. However, one would expect the rising and falling contours of the loch side to be roughly the same. All that being said, Rupert Gould reckoned the event happened halfway between Dores and Foyers, which puts us in the Whitefield area.

Moving on, but related to this account is the matter of deer and their habits. It has been suggested that the gap in the undergrowth witnessed by the Spicers and later by one of the locals, was nothing more than a well worn deer trail and therefore what he saw was no more than a group of deer crossing the road. With that theory in mind, I continued walking and looking for anything that looked like a trail not made by humans. A couple of photos of what may be trails are below.

Having said this and looking at photographs of deer trails from across the world, I saw very little at the loch as pronounced as others where the vegetation underfoot is almost stamped away. Perhaps the middle picture was the best one. The bottom picture actually stops just before the tree ahead of it and it was interesting to note that the loch side part of the road was dotted with various of these little depressions. I was wondering if they were the remnants of rain overflow which comes down from the hillside finding paths of least resistance or were some man made? 

I think the point though from what I observed is that there is no need for deer to waste energy by continuously pushing out and maintaining gaps in bushes and trees. Though the middle picture above was taken in April and not in late summer when growth will be at its greatest, it did not look like it was going to get much denser and such a more sparse trail would make more sense to deer. I may well be back in late summer to do the same hike again and see how things have changed.

Of course, throughout all of this walking trip, an eye was kept on the loch over to my left just in case the Monster of Loch Ness put in an appearance for yours truly. That did not happen, but as I reached the beach just south of Dores (above), I met one of the many anglers who frequent the loch and got into a conversation with him. I asked him how it was going and he had caught some brown trout. Inevitably, I asked him if he had seen anything a lot bigger than the trout in the water. 

He confessed he had not, but he did say that when he was a youngster years back, he was watching a flat calm surface of the loch as his family drove over on the other side of the loch. It was the kind of surface where the hills were perfectly mirrored on the water. Suddenly, he saw a large V-wake appear out of nowhere and progress up the loch. Nothing was visible and to this day he wondered if it was something like a seal or even bigger? 

I didn't offer an explanation for what he saw, but I do like to engage anglers in these conversations when possible. As you can see from the above picture, the sun was now setting on another day at the loch and it was time to catch the bus back to Inverness. At the bus station for the bus to Edinburgh, I had a pleasant chat with the lady behind the cafe counter, recklessly fed a flying rat some of my chips and met a farmer who regularly arrives from Aviemore sober as a judge in the morning and arrives back there at night legless.

You meet all types on a bus trip to Loch Ness. I hope to do it again some time.

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