Loch Ness

Scotland is a country of strange myths and legends, and none has proven more enduring than that told about sightings of mysterious cash payments made by the Highlands and Islands Tourist Board to anyone able to capture on celluloid, a grainy image of semi-submerged car tyres, floating in formation on Loch Ness.

Eco-tourism has experienced something of a global boom in recent decades as people flock from all over the world to see rare creatures in the wild. The Scots might have taken this a step further though in managing to persuade folk to visit a place where one doesn’t exist! (or does it?). Sadly the evidence against a Plesiosaur is becoming quite compelling, but there is still a mystery as to what it is that is frequently seen in the Loch?

For years the strongest evidence rested with the so-called surgeons photograph. This became the iconic face of ‘Nessie’. The surgeon in question was Kenneth Wilson, a respected man of impeccable standing. Sadly he was also a friend of ‘big-game hunter’ Marmaduke Wetherell, who had been engaged by a British newspaper at the height of Nessie hysteria in 1934 to hunt down the illusive monster. After five fruitless days Wetherell produced an animal track. The excitable newspaper duly made a cast and sent it off to the British museum who wasted little time in identifying ‘exhibit A’ as belonging to a Hippopotamus. Not exactly native to the Highlands of Scotland. The newspaper sensing they’d ‘been had’ set about Wetherell, who protested that all he was doing was giving them the story that they and their readers craved, regardless of facts (something that might ring an ironic bell, given that the newspaper concerned was the Daily Mail). In order to extract a revenge of sorts, Wetherell persuaded the altogether more plausible Wilson to stage the now infamous photograph using a small mock head and neck submerged on a minor floatation device. It was only from beyond the grave that Wilson owned up to his deception. Indeed, the original monster’s head and neck were recovered from their concealed place of hiding. The surgeon had left a confession to be made public upon his demise.

Loch Ness

The myths and legends of Loch Ness have endured for centuries

© photo by Simple / GoodFreePhotos / licensed under CC BY-SA 0.0 public domain. Photo via Good Free Photos

More recently another hoax briefly gave hope to the legend. This one was apparently endorsed by the US military, although quite how they know what a Loch Ness monster looks like is anyone’s guess. Even our good selves, who have no training in imagery intelligence noted that Castle Urquhart was neatly positioned on the edge of the frame, and that no wake or bow wave seemed to be present. In other words, this was a ‘floating’ monster. It took just 12 months this time for the culprit to come forward and produce the fibre glass monsters back. George Edwards, a local boat tour operator was the architect of this particular stunt.

Loch Ness

The surgeon’s photograph

The Edwards Photo

We aren’t entirely sure ourselves if the local tourist industry shouldn’t commission the building of a computer mini-submarine to patrol the Loch and surface each day for 90 secs at pre-programmed times? A sighting would still be a rare thing, even under these conditions, and to no small extent this is the biggest part of the Nessie game. OK, there might be an issue to do with this thing surfacing into the path of a tourist boat, but that was a risk they were happy to run with a dinosaur, which would ultimately cause their craft much greater damage, and you could always build a censor into it.

The Loch can still provide a good return for you provided you aren’t seduced into setting siege to it from a lay-by on the A82 with a pair of binoculars, thermos flask, and supply of inadequate sandwiches. The answer is to get out on the water. There are two options. The first involves a sedate cruise on a custom built observation boat that comes equipped with all the latest sonar and even a heated saloon. The second involves the fastest boat on the Loch; the RIB. With its low draft and top-speed of about 40 knots, this is the most exhilarating way to see the Loch as you skim over its dark water at speed.

The fastest boat on the Loch

Sites that a three-hour trip visits include, Boleskine House which used to be owned by Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) who claimed it was haunted by a severed head (there’s easy line here somewhere!). Cory’s Cave, an extremely well-hidden cave named after a local man who became a fugitive after he shot at the Duke of Cumberland’s Redcoats during the ’45 rebellion. The site where John Cobb tried to break the world water speed record in his jet speedboat Crusader in 1952. He died during the attempt whilst travelling at a speed in excess of 200mph.

Towards the northern end of the Loch is Urquhart Castle. The present ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, albeit there is evidence of a wooden fort dating to the 6th century. Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century and was subsequently held as a royal castle. It was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross. The castle was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, though conflict with the MacDonalds continued. Despite a series of further raids the castle was strengthened, only to be largely abandoned by the middle of the 17th century. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed.

Urquhart Castle overlooks the Loch. Perhaps it lends something to the atmosphere on this stretch, as it does generate more than its fair share of sightings. View northeast over the ruins of Urquhart Castle, looking up Loch Ness. The view is from the ruins of the keep.

© photo by Nilfanion / Wikimedia Commons / licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
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In truth, we tend to think there is something unusual in Loch Ness, even if it stops short of being prehistoric. The most recent theory that seems to have gained traction concerns over-sized sturgeon. This does seem plausible, for although this ‘big fish’ is a bottom-feeder, it is known to surface occasionally and would resemble a lot of reported sightings as its back broke the water. Neither would we completely discount formations of birds inter-acting with waves as being capable of creating an optical illusion

A Loch Ness trip is easily accomplished on the Highlands itinerary for golfers and non-golfers alike. Proximity to Inverness ensures that the boat options or evening cruise should all be viable within the timeframe. Outside of the Highlands, a truncated version is only really viable from Gleneagles on a full day.