The Loch Ness Monster-Fact or Fiction?

The Great Glen in the Scottish highlands is a rift valley 60 miles long and contains three famous lochs, Lochy, Oich and Ness. The most famous of these is Loch Ness because of the monster said to lurk in its deep waters. It is deeper than the North Sea and is very long and very, very narrow and has never been known to freeze.

The world famous Loch Ness monster, known affectionately as "Nessie" by most people and by the scientific believers as Nessiteras rhombopteryx goes back a long, long way, the first recorded sighting being by no less a person than a holy saint. The saint was St. Columba and the year 565 AD.

Although the largely undocumented St. Ninian is credited with bringing Christianity to the area 100 years before Columba, Saint Columba himself is credited with bringing Christianity to the Scottish nation. When Columba was travelling in the Loch Ness area converting the heathen Picts (who had probably lapsed somewhat since Ninian), his biographer, St. Adamnan, tells the story of the driving away of the monster by the power of prayer. Whilst on the banks of Loch Ness, St. Columba came upon some Picts burying a man who had been ravaged by, according to them, a 'monster of the water'. St. Columba miraculously restored the man to life by laying his staff across the man's chest.

Another version of the story says that one of the Picts, uninterested in the sermon of the saint, swam off across the loch. On sensing the disturbance of the water, the monster arose from the depths rushing towards the unfortunate swimmer with a great roar and wide open mouth. Seeing this, St. Columba raised his hand, gave the sign of the cross and invoked the name of the Lord and commanded the monster saying: "Thou shalt go no further nor touch the man - return with all speed." At this, the beast was afraid and fled faster than had it been pulled back with ropes.

The story, passed on by St. Adamnan, was written more than a century later, so there may be some room for doubt about these events on the lochside, but there was much more to come, though not for some considerable time.

The next time that any reference to the monster surfaced, was in a letter to 'The Scotsman' newspaper in 1933 from a Mr. D Murray Rose. He tells of a story in an old book that spoke of the slaying of dragons and: "It goes on to say that Fraser (of Glenvackie) killed the last known dragon in Scotland, but no-one has yet managed to slay the monster of Loch Ness lately seen."

The story referred to is dated around 1520, but the letter to the newspaper in 1933 started a spate of references to 'leviathans in the loch' and a host of sightings of the fabled monster. This was encouraged by the new road - now the A82 - that was being blasted along the north side of Loch Ness and afforded an unimpaired view of the whole of the loch. It was also in 1933, a time of depression and general misery that Mr. and Mrs. Mackay, owners of the Drumnadrochit hotel were travelling along the new road. According to their account they saw in the centre of the loch "an enormous animal rolling and plunging." Cynics may say that being the owners of the Drumnadrochit hotel, this couple may well have wanted to see a monster but apparently they did not tell this story widely, although they did tell it to a young water bailiff in Fort Augustus who happened to be a correspondent for the 'Inverness Courier' newspaper.

The report in the "Courier" started the ball rolling. Next it was published in the Scottish national newspapers and experts in photography and other such skills came to the loch to find the monster. Later the 'Daily Mail' announced that it was to engage a famous 'big game' hunter to track down Nessie. Even the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald planned a trip to the loch in the hope of catching a glimpse of the monster.

Foreign newspapers in France and beyond took up the story. Even the Austrian government 'exposed' it as a British plot to steal tourists from Austria. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail's big game hunter arrived in Inverness and duly carried out his stalking of the beast. On the 21st December 1933, the Daily Mail carried the headline: "Monster of Loch Ness is not a Legend but a Fact." The hunter, M A Wetherall, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the London Zoological Society said: "It is a four fingered beast and it has feet or pads of eight inches across. I judge it to be a powerful soft footed animal about 20 feet in length....... I am convinced that it can breathe like a hippopotamus or crocodile with just one nostril out of the water." Other newspapers smelled a rat, so to speak, and not to be outdone, launched into the fray not only to pooh-pooh the story, but to ridicule it also. In fact it turned out to be a hoax, the first of many, when the so-called hunter had helped his 'story' by creating footprints with a the stuffed and mounted foot of a hippopotamus he had borrowed from the Royal Zoological Society.

Since then to the present day there have been many accounts of sightings. Such 'evidence' as film footage of Nessie's humps travelling across the loch and the famous 'Surgeon's' photograph taken by R. K. Wilson in 1934 have all since turned out to be fakes.

Sonar surveys of the loch using the latest equipment have failed to find any conclusive evidence of Nessie's existence, but neither have they proved that she doesn't exist. Some accounts may well have been sighted through the bottom of a whisky glass, but there are still a remarkable number of eye witness accounts that ring true.

Also, the 'monster in the loch' phenomena seems to be spreading. A lake as far away as Japan now claims it has its own monster and the latest to join the 'monster in a lake' set is Lake Van, a salt water lake in South Eastern Turkey.

Loch Ness has many moods from the sultry to the serene. Strange currents move across and below the surface and even sturgeon have been known to swim across the loch and I have even heard of dolphins being sighted, so who knows what people have seen or not seen. You have to make up your own mind whether Nessie swims freely through those dark waters or not. There are very few of us however, who do not occasionally stare out across the loch - just in case something strange might break the surface.

The Searchers of Loch Ness

A strange ripple appears off the shores of Urquhart Castle
(Photograph taken in 1955 by P.A. MacNab)

Numerous enthusiasts have come to the Loch Ness area trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creature.

One local newspaper hired a big-game hunter to search the Loch for conclusive evidence of a creature. He concentrated his search along the shores.

There was much excitement when he found large footprints in the sand. Upon their discovery, the paper printed headlines, "Monster of Loch Ness is not Legend but a Fact."

Casts of the print were made and examined by the British Museum of Natural History which identified them for what they were, the hind foot from a hippopotamus.

It seems the search was too great an opportunity for fun. Some of the locals had gone out with a mounted hippopotamus foot and made some impression in the sand for the hunter to find.

In 1962 The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau was formed to act as a research organization and clearing house for information about the creature. In the beginning it only conducted research for a few week in the year, but by 1964 they established a more permanent presence around the Loch. Eventually the Bureau established camera stations with both still and cinema cameras with telephoto lenses. They had vans which served as mobile camera stations, and underwater listening devises. Searches were conducted using hot-air-balloons and infrared night time cameras, sonar scanners and submarines.

A great deal of information was discovered about the Loch, but they have yet to produce any concrete evidence of a monster.

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