home, Loch Ness, is as well known as she is. Its surface is
second in size among Scottish lochs to Loch Lomond. In volume,
though, it is the largest freshwater lake in Britain. Loch Ness
lies in the Great Glen, a fault believed to have been formed
by a rift some 300 to 400 million (or as much as 700 million)
years ago. The fault cuts across northern Scotland from the
north-east (the North Sea) to the south-west (the Atlantic).
As much as 25,000 years ago, glaciers created the three land-locked
lakes--Ness, Oich, and Lochy--which extend across the highlands
within the Great Glen.
surroundings are spectacular. Loch Ness is a moody lake, subject
to quick change. One moment it is placid, the next it is abruptly
beset by wind and wave. Mountains separated by deep glens rise
from the shore-lines along much of the loch. A ribbon of a road,
the A82, winds its way along the north-western shore, going
north, passing Urquhart Castle after detouring at Drumnadrochit.
history goes back a long way; at least to the mid-6th century
AD when St. Columba , founder of the first Christian monastery
in Scotland, supposedly made the first sighting. It is said
that on his way to visit the king of the northern Picts near
Inverness he encountered the loch's water monster, a fact attested
to by his biographer, a later abbot of Iona named Adamnan.
were no verified reports of sightings until 1933, although in
the intervening centuries sporadic stories circulated of a gigantic
creature lurking in the depths of the loch. A gentlemen I met
in Inverness told me the underwater creature was called a 'kelpie'
(water horse) in Gaelic and that sighting it was considered
a bad omen. It is little wonder that no sightings were reported.
If a farmer in the Highlands chanced to see a kelpie, he was
unlikely to call attention to the fact. Also, until recently,
the Highlands was a remote, barely accessible area and news
did not travel quickly.
this changed in 1933 when a new road was constructed along the
north-western shore of Loch Ness. Nessie-sighting developed
into a favourite pastime for travellers to the Highlands, as
did the perpetration of hoaxes by celebrity seekers. But in
the years since Nessie leapt suddenly into prominence, many
sightings have been substantiated by reputable individuals:
monks, lawyers, scientists, even Dr. Richard Synge, a Nobel
were few serious attempts to locate and identify Loch Ness's
'monster' in the 1930s. The photographs and films that were
purportedly shot of Nessie were, at best, inconclusive. There
is, however, one famous photograph, taken in 1934 by a London
surgeon, Robert K. Wilson, showing a creature with a long neck
and a small head placidly skimming the surface of the loch.
While many scientists agree that it is an animal, at least one
investigator has identified it as a bird.
of Nessie's existence--or non-existence--began in earnest in
the 1960s and has continued ever since. A photograph taken in
1951 by Lachlan Stuart, a Forestry Commission employee, shows
three humps appearing on the surface of the turbulent loch.
This was hailed as 'positive evidence' by one researcher and
a hoax by another. A photograph taken in 1955 by P.A. McNab
, a bank manager, reveals a long object or objects travelling
near the ruins of Urquhart Castle's tower. The height of the
tower--46 feet--conveys an idea of the length of the creature
swimming nearby. Many researchers now believe that this photo
was, in fact, a fake.
1960, Tim Dinsdale, an aeronautical engineer, filmed what appeared
to be a creature swimming across the loch. The film was sent
to the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre of the Royal
Air Force, which concluded that Dinsdale's creature was probably
animate and travelling at 10 miles per hour.
years, later, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNIB) was
created with the two-fold purpose of researching the possibility
of a large unidentified animate creature in Loch Ness and of
collecting and substantiating other people's sightings. Over
the course of its 10 years of existence, the LNIB amassed a
quantity of evidence indicating Nessie's presence in the loch.
One of its most famous photographs--taken during a joint project
with the Boston Academy of Applied Science, using both sonar
and film--revealed what appears to be the hind quarter, flipper
and portion of a tail, of a large aquatic animal.
1975, several years after the publication of the 'flipper photo',
200 scientists, journalists and Members of Parliament gathered
to consider the evidence. Representatives of the Smithsonian
Institution, Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology,
Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum--in fact almost all scientists
present--concurred that a large aquatic animal dwelt in loch
Ness. The notable exception was the British Museum (Museum of
Natural History) which, though it accepted the authenticity
of the photographs presented as evidence, felt that they were
insufficient to prove the existence of an aquatic animal.
recently, in October of 1987, a sonar sweep of the loch was
undertaken. Dubbed 'Operation Deepscan', it involved 19 cabin
cruisers, which travelled abreast across the loch, setting up
a sonar curtain. Any target caught in the sound net was tracked.
Although Nessie did not surface during Operation Deepscan, several
large targets were recorded, which could not be explained. In
fact, one of the contacts tracked was larger than anything recorded
before at a similar depth.
would be difficult to deny that there is something unusual in
Loch Ness. There have been too many verifiable sightings, photographs
and sonar scans, which support the existence of some sort of
animate object. Still, the nagging questions arise: If there
is something in loch Ness, what sort of creature is it? How
did it get there?
verifiable sightings, as well as reliable photographs, seem
to agree more or less that Nessie has a long neck, small head,
large diamond-shaped flippers, and a powerful tail. Most estimates
of her length range from 15 to 50 feet. The most frequently
espoused hypothesis is that Nessie is a large marine reptile,
possibly a plesiosaur, which supposedly became extinct 70 million
years ago. The theory is not as fantastic as it may first appear.
A coelacanth, a species of fish once thought to have become
extinct 70 million years ago, was caught near Madagascar in
explanation for the presence of an unusual creature in Loch
Ness is that Nessie--or perhaps several Nessies--might have
strayed into the loch at the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000
to 12,000 years ago. Loch Ness was not then land-locked, but
was an arm of the North Sea. When the ice melted, the land rose,
creating an enclosed lake, and possibly cutting off the large
aquatic creatures from the open sea.
underwater photos of the loch are nearly impossible due to the
presence of peat that is carried into the loch from the rivers
and mountain burns. the peat remains suspended in the water,
making it murky beyond the top 50 feet. This is why the 'flipper
photos' are so significant. It also explains the necessity for
using sonar. Another obstacle to positively confirming, or refuting,
the monster's existence is the loch's immense size--about 20
to 25 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and at least 700 feet
deep (some say 970 feet). Even Operation Deepscan with its cruisers
and backup boats covered only 60 per cent of the loch.
I believe in Nessie? Well, being a person who loves Scotland
- I have to believe in Nessie.
you would like to visit Loch Ness as part of a highly personalized
small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:
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