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The Loch Ness monster is to Scotland as the Yeti is to Tibet and Bigfoot to the US.

But is it a reality?  And, if not, why have so many sightings of something occurred around Loch Ness?

 
 
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Touring around the Loch Ness region and The Great Glen, Scotland

Part 2 :  The Lake and the Monster

For most people, if you say "Loch Ness', they immediately think 'monster' and this, the 'surgeon's photograph', the first and perhaps most famous of pictures of Nessie.

Nessie, the mysterious denizen of Loch Ness is of course a valid reason to visit the region.

Part of a multi-part series on the Loch Ness region, see links at bottom for other parts.

 

 

Loch Ness holds more water than all the other lakes in England and Wales combined, providing plenty of room for Nessie (the common name for the Loch Ness Monster) to hide from visitors and researchers.

This elusive creature may or may not exist; if you choose to believe it does, you're left with many difficult questions to answer, but similarly, if you believe it doesn't, you're still left with unsolved puzzles.

Why not visit and draw your own conclusions.  No promises though as to if you'll see Nessie.  But do go looking for her, just in case.


TRAVEL INSIDER SCOTLAND TOUR IN 2012 - Come see Loch Ness on our tour

PLEASE VISIT OUR
 2012 SCOTLAND ISLANDS TOUR PAGE
 

 

 

About Loch Ness

Framed by the gentle rolling green hills that come down almost without pause all the way to water's edge on both sides, Loch Ness is the largest of the lochs along the Great Glen, and the second largest loch overall, as measured by surface area.

If one were to measure by volume, it would be the largest, due to its great depth (at its deepest point it is 755 ft deep).

Loch Lomond is the largest loch by surface area and Loch Morac is the deepest loch.

All in all, Loch Ness contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

The lake is long (about 23 miles long) and narrow (1.7 miles across at its widest point, and most of the time only one mile or less wide).

It is part of the Caledonian Canal, and to the north, drains into Loch Dochfour, and from the south, is fed from Loch Oich.  It is 52 ft above sea level.

Although the Caledonian Canal now links Loch Ness to the sea, there are not thought to be any natural subterranean channels between the loch and the sea, although this has been postulated as a way for the Loch Ness monster to get into the loch in the first place.

The water in the loch has very low visibility due to the large amount of peat in the water.  When you stand at the shore and look down into a few inches of water you can clearly see the brown coloration.

The lack of visibility, and the great depth of the lake, makes it very difficult to accurately and completely scan the lake to see what is living inside it.

Cruises on Loch Ness

There are several different choices for taking a cruise on the loch.

One cruise companies is based at the south end of the loch, in Fort Augustus - Cruise Loch Ness.  They operate one hour cruises in a traditional motor boat, departing every hour on the hour, during the summer, and do a couple of cruises a day during the winter months.  They also have small fast RIBs that operate 1.5 hour cruises at speeds of up to 30 knots (35 mph).  You'd certainly see a lot of the loch at that speed.

A second company, Jacobite Cruises, operates from locations north of Drumnadrochit, and will pick people up from Inverness to connect with their cruises.  They offer combined cruises and tours, including time at Urquhart Castle and even a visit to the Corrimony Cairns on one of their tours.  They operate traditional motor launches.

Cruises also depart from Drumnadrochit, halfway up the lack (on the western side).  Both Deepscan Passenger Cruises and Loch Ness Cruises offer similar types of experiences to those offered departing from Fort Augustus.

There are also cruises departing from Urquhart Castle, but you'd have to have purchased an admission to the Castle and grounds to be able to access these cruises.  On the other hand, you're almost sure to do so.

We've noticed that these cruises can sometimes fill up well in advance so you'd probably be well advised to book in advance when you know the date and time you'll be there.

Nessie :  The Loch Ness Monster


An underwater flash picture, perhaps of the Loch Ness monster

 

Rather like UFOs, the story of Nessie, as the Loch Ness monster is popularly referred to by the locals, has both a modern and an ancient chapter, and has passionate groups of people either advocating the reality of the creature or claiming it to be a total hoax and nonsense from start to finish.

Early references to the Loch Ness Monster

The recorded prehistory of the monster stretches back to an account of the life of St Columba.  The account was written in the seventh century, and describes a story of St Columba encountering a 'beast' in River Ness almost 100 years earlier.

Other references to the monster have sporadically appeared over the years.

The start of the modern period of Nessie sightings

The modern chapter opened in 1933, probably as a result of the opening of a new road that went along the side of the loch.  First one then additional somewhat credible reported sightings of a monstrous being sighted in and around the lake.  These appeared in the local paper, and prompted other people to recount folk lore stories of monsters sighted around the lake in the past.

These sightings were bolstered first in December with the first ever picture, and then the next year when a London gynecologist, Dr Robert Wilson, took a picture of the monster in the lake, this being a very clear image of something unusual (and pictured above).

This picture is often referred to as 'the surgeon's photograph', because to start with, Wilson did not want his name associated with the photo.

The picture has since become controversial.  Some people say it is a picture of an elephant - these people have no explanation about how an elephant is to be found in Loch Ness.  Others claim it to be a diving bird or an otter.  And one expert says it is a toy submarine with a monster head stuck to the top of it.

With advancing technology, not only did photographs continue to appear, but so too did film (from 1938) and subsequently video too (notably in 2007).

As is the case with other 'cryptids' - semi mythical beasts for which there is no conclusive proof, such as Bigfoot/Sasquatch in the US and Canada, for every person who cites a photo or other item as proof of the existence of the beast, someone else claims it to be a fraud or hoax.  And, sadly, it is true there have been some definite hoaxes over the years.

In 1938 the Chief Constable of the region wrote a letter to the Under Secretary of State in the Scotland Office, claiming the existence of Nessie had been established beyond reasonable doubt.

The monster had already become a creature of the movie-world, starring first in the 1934 movie, The Secret of the Loch, and appearing in many movies subsequently, even cartoons such as Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster (which features very realistic scenery around the area).

A number of semi-scientific expeditions have been mounted over the years in an attempt to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster (it being, of course, impossible to prove its non-existence), and none of these have succeeded in their efforts.

But many of them have detected, recorded, and photographed unexplained anomalous events.  The nature of the monster is such that it would be close to impossible to prove its existence other than by catching one and bringing it ashore.

Sonar images

Due to the depth of the lake, its size, and its poor visibility, it is not really practical to attempt to completely explore the lake by some sort of submersible vessel.

However, modern sonar has been used to scan the lake, but even that is a difficult challenge, because the lake has some temperature 'barriers' that makes it hard for sonar to accurately travel all the way down and around and back to its source again.

These sonar scans have however regularly resulted in apparent sonar 'sightings' of unexplained things in the water.

Loch Ness viewed from the A82 road, just above ruined Urquhart Castle

Other Explanations for the Sightings

Just like UFOs have been 'explained' as being just about anything else you could imagine other than a UFO, so too has Nessie been said to be all manner of different things, ranging from an elephant to an otter, from waves on the water to logs floating on the water.

We set out some of these explanations neutrally.  Some people might think that some of the attempts at explaining away Nessie are actually more fanciful and require a greater leap of imagination than is required to accept Nessie as a real creature.

Sightings 'Explained'

Maybe the things that people have seen are some other sort of animal, or even an inanimate object.

Some people, keen to find an ordinary explanation for Nessie, have said that when a person is looking at a far away location through binoculars or a telescope, the sense of size and proportion becomes skewed.  It has been suggested that therefore a small creature might be mistaken to be a larger creature, with possible animals being mistaken for Nessie including seals, otters, and even deer.

Some people suggest that Nessie might be a giant eel of some type.

In addition to other animals and birds being mistaken for Nessie, there have been detailed explanations showing how dead trees could also be mistaken for a strange creature.  The explanation postulates that dead pine trees sink to the bottom of the lake, complete with their stump.  Over time, the wood decays, creating gas, which is trapped inside the log until the pressure forces an outlet for the gas.  The emission of the gas would propel the log through the water, and possibly to the surface, where it would be seen as a strange object, with a hump (stump) and moving.  When the gas had escaped, the log would stop moving and sink again.

Wake Effects

There have been some interesting studies done to analyze and explain one of the common indicators of an alleged mysterious creature - wakes in the water with no visible sign of anything above the water creating it.

Closed bodies of water (ie a lake) can have special wave patterns due to the effect when a wave bounces off the shore and goes back into the center.  These effects are magnified in a lake such as Loch Ness which is long and narrow, and in a valley.

A boat sends out a V shaped wake, and as the two sides spread out they bounce off the respective shores then come back in again and recombine into new forms and standing wave patterns.  This can create the appearance of a new wake, and possible a significantly sized wake, separate from the original wake caused by a boat which has now moved on past the point where the new wake seems to be.

The winds that blow along the lake also set up an oscillatory motion such that they blow some of the water from one end to the other.  The water then surges back to the other end, then reverses and goes to the first end, and so on and so on.  This effect is called a 'seiche' and it takes 31.5 minutes for the seiche wave to go from one end of the lake to the other (remarkably fast when you consider the lake is 23 miles long).  These seiche waves can interact with other things to create apparently mysterious wakes as well.  (These seiches occur in many lakes - for example, they can cause a rise/fall of up to eight feet, sometimes more, on the Great Lakes between the US and Canada.)

On a calm day a very small object can create quite a large wake - even a bird swimming in the water might create a visible wake, while the bird itself might be invisible.

You See What You Want to See

Many of us see unidentified things all around us, all the time; indeed, we do so without even giving them any thought.  'What's that over there?'  'Oh, I don't know.'  End of conversation.

Clearly in the case of Loch Ness, many people go actively looking for anything strange or unusual, and if they see anything at all which they don't immediately understand and can't immediately identify, they may claim it triumphantly as being the Loch Ness monster.

There is of course also a fair amount of local vested interest in the existence of the Loch Ness monster.  How many other lochs in Scotland can you name and associate with anything special?  The monster has definitely been a boon for regional tourism, and so perhaps in some circles there is a bias in favor of promoting any possible monster sightings as real.

Where Did Nessie Come From

If there is indeed a Loch Ness monster, that begs the question - where did it come from - and, wherever it came from, why aren't there more of them in its place of origin, or indeed, in other parts of the world too?

This is perhaps the biggest challenge of accepting the presence of an unexplained creature in Loch Ness.  There is no easy way to explain where it came from, and for sure, it didn't just appear out of nothing or nowhere.

It has been speculated that the creature may be a plesiosaur.  But these creatures are believed to have lived from 50 to 200 million years ago.

Only One Monster?

There have been some sightings of possibly two or more monsters, which is what one would sort of expect.

On the other hand, there are clearly very few of these monsters.  It is the natural way for populations of creatures to either grow until reaching a sustainable concentration; or decline, based on whether their environment is favorable or unfavorable, and it would seem reasonable that a huge loch such as Loch Ness could support some multiple number of creatures, possibly to make sightings more common.

If there was/is only one monster, it would surely have a finite lifespan and can not be reasonably expected to have been alive back in the mid 500s to greet St Columba and still be alive 1400 and more years later.

We don't really know the lifespan of prehistoric dinosaurs.  Whales live up to about 100 years, and Bowhead whales have been confirmed to live up to 211 years.  Koi fish are also long lived, with one having lived 226 years.  Mollusks have been known to live up to 410 years.  No-one really knows how long dinosaurs may have lived; indeed, there is debate as to whether they were warm blooded or cold blooded (cold blooded creatures tend to live longer).

The Death of Nessie?

The last decade or so has seen a steady increase in the ability of people to photograph and videotape any Nessie sightings they might experience.  Almost everyone has a camera/camcorder built in to their phone, and many of those who don't travel with a stand-alone camera or camcorder.

Associated with this is a general rise in regional tourism and traffic along the A82 road that runs along the side of the loch.

But there was been a definite drop in sightings rather than a rise.  In 2001 a Nessie expedition found what it believed might be the remains of a dead creature on the lake bed, and in 2008 the same group theorized that possibly the monster may have died, a victim of (what else but) global warming.

On the other hand, some suggest that maybe the increased activity on and around the lake has merely caused the reclusive creature to spend more time below the water and less time on/above the water.  More details here.

There's one interesting thought that comes from this.  It could be argued that the significant drop in monster sightings is proof, of a sort, that there formerly was indeed some sort of creature in the loch, and the cessation of sightings now shows that the earlier sightings weren't hoaxes.

Loch Ness Monster Exhibitions

If you're going all the way to Loch Ness and don't actually see the monster, the least you can do is to visit one of the two Loch Ness Monster Exhibitions.

Both of these are in Drumnadrochit, and within 100 yards or so of each other.  The first to open was known as 'The Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Center', whereas the newer one styled itself as 'The Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Center'.

After the threat of a 1.3 million lawsuit brought by the Official against the Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Center, in mid 2010 the Original center renamed itself to the even more gauchely styled 'Nessieland Castle Monster Center' while the 'Official' center grabbed a broader middle ground by renaming itself the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition.

Based on the names, you'd probably choose to go to the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition.  But my favorite remains the Nessieland Castle Monster Center.  The former is a much more slickly put together 'edutainment' experience, but the latter feels more genuine and authentic, while not being quite so 'Disneylike' in its presentation - a simple 15 - 20 minute movie and a series of photos and artifacts on display.

You can decide which to go to, or if you have the time, walk between them and visit both.  Here are the websites for the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition and the Nessieland Castle Monster Center.

Summary

Trying to determine the truth of the Loch Ness monster is somewhere between difficult and impossible.  If one categorically rules out the presence of an unexplained creature, then one is left with a slew of mysterious sightings and experiences that have no clear explanation.

But if one accepts the presence of a creature as a way of explaining the mysterious sightings, that raises as many problems as it solves.  What sort of creature is it?  Where did it come from?

Sadly, the drop in sightings over the last 5 - 10 years also tends to suggest that while there may have been an unexplained creature living in Loch Ness for at least the 70 or so years prior to the turn of the century, it (or they) may have possibly now died out.  Or - one can hope - perhaps they are just naturally shy creatures and have become more reclusive with the more intrusive presence of people on, in, and around the loch.

Part of a series on the Loch Ness and Great Glen region, please also see

1.  How to get to Loch Ness and the Great Glen and Where to Stay

2.  Loch Ness and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster

3.  Other things to see and do in and around Loch Ness and the Great Glen (coming soon)

 

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Originally published 11 Mar 2011, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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