Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Beast of Loch Achtriochtan

It is now over five years since I published my book on the folkloric aspects of the Loch Ness Monster and other Scottish beasts. Not surprisingly, new material continues to come to light on the matter and I have continually added to the blog's section on Water Horses and pre-1933 Nessie reports here. Recently, I found this small piece that was published on the 18th July 1868 in the Oban Times. I have provided text below since the scan is rather difficult to read.


FISHING. - The Leven and the Cona are swarming with fish. The former river has not been ??? fished of late years, but the latter has, and with all the exterminating engines, as if extermination was the object. For this reason, "pot sport" has been added to the common appelatives by the natives. Proprietors stand often in their own light in not making a proper distinction among those to whom they let their ground, for there were no conditions which can be written that are able to prevent mischief being done by bad sportsmen. A boat has been put on Loch-trichadain, Glencoe, and it is found to be swarming with trout. No less than 12 doz ave been taken by Major Shirley, Invercoe House, in one day. The loch is 8 fathoms deep, and on that account has vast room for concealing its permanent occupiers. James Cameron, who has put the boat on the loch, has better pluck than the parties who had been severally chased away by the water horse.

Given the imperfections of transliterating Gaelic place names, I would suggest that Loch Trichadain is Loch Achtriochtan or Trychardan located about five miles east of Ballachulish on the main A82 road between Glasgow and Inverness. The Google map below shows it in the bottom right corner and the loch is pictured at the top of this article.

To add some context to the 1868 account, here is the same area drawn up in map from 1877 (courtesy of the National Library of Scotland). The River Coe runs from the loch into Loch Leven and hence a route into the sea via Loch Linnhe.

 But going back to the article, the part of interest to us is the last sentence:

James Cameron, who has put the boat on the loch, has better pluck than the parties who had been severally chased away by the water horse.

Curiously, this water horse reference came up just three months before the well known account of a strange fish in Loch Ness (see link). Whether they are linked in any way would be pure speculation, but one wonders as to the what and the why of this reference. Having protested about unsporting sportsmen and the abundance of trout, our columnist surprises with a reference to a water horse chasing various bands of boat users. 

Clearly, something was doing the rounds amongst the conversation of locals in 1868 Glencoe to encourage the columnist to put this sceptical comment in the Oban Times. However, a wider search of the Oban Times turned up nothing regarding reports of strange, aquatic beasts in the area. This comes as no surprise as the general attitude of the Highland Press to loch monster stories was disdain and any rare reference to them would be couched in humour or hostility.

After all, science and industry were now sweeping their way up the previously mystical glens and so the local newspapers had to be seen to be "with it" and not publish ridiculous old stories about Water Horses and Water Bulls.

So, we are left to try and piece together what our columnist was on about. Did a "Water Horse" discomfit anglers on Loch Achtriochtan to the point where they felt they had to get back to shore? One can assume that the columnist has indulged in exaggeration for the purposes of deflection and debunking. However, the impression here is that several parties reported that they had seen something in the loch which was akin to the old tales of loch monsters and provoked a degree of fear. 

Having read this, it rang a bell and I consulted my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness" and found a quote from Mackinlay's "Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs", published in 1893: 

The lochs of Llundavra and Achtriachtan, in Glencoe, were at one time famous for their water-bulls; and Loch Treig for its water-horses, believed to be the fiercest specimens of that breed in the world. If anyone suggested to a Lochaber or Rannoch Highlander that the cleverest horse-tamer could clap a saddle on one of the demon-steeds of Loch Treig, as he issues in the grey dawn, snorting, from his crystal-paved sub-lacustral stalls, he would answer, with a look of mingled horror and awe, "Impossible!" The water-horse would tear him into a thousand pieces with his teeth and trample and pound him into pulp with his jet-black, ironhard, though unshod hoofs ! 

I wouldn't get too dogmatic about one source talking about water bulls and the other about water horses as authors and researchers often mixed and confused the two. But it seems Loch Achtriochtan had a reputation for water monsters. Given that the columnist states the loch is only 8 fathoms deep (64 feet), one may look to the river which empties into the sea for clues as to whether something large and intimidating was chasing the "abundance" of migratory trout up to the loch? 

One may proceed along those lines and then speculate further as to the identity of this mysterious creature. Seal, whale, or something more sinister? Given the several miles of river between sea loch and inland loch, a whale seems an unlikely option and one struggles to see how a seal could put the fear into the locals. However, something invovled in a one-off stranding may have more merit - whatever that "something" may be.

Readers are left to form their own opinion, but these days, trout and salmon numbers are way down on the 19th century and one wonders if there is any reason now for the Water Horse of Loch Achtriochtan to again trouble its waters?

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 21 October 2016

A Review of "History's Greatest Hoaxes" Documentary

This Thursday saw the latest instalment of the series "History's Greatest Hoaxes" broadcast on the UK "Yesterday" channel. This time the focus was on the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster, so it's time for another review and discussion about this program's particular take on the centuries old mystery.

Given the title of the series, it was perhaps no surprise that the cast was heavily weighted on the sceptical side as people such as Darren Naish, Dick Raynor, Adrian Shine and Joe Nickell were brought in to give their opinions on the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster. To add grist to the sceptical mill, we had a journalist, psychologist and comedian telling us why the Loch Ness Monster is not to be taken seriously.

On the opposite side was Steve Feltham and myself, making it seven to two against.

Firstly, however, the problem is defining the problem, which in turn drives the perception of those who believe Loch Ness hosts a large creature, yet to be discovered. Whenever the "monster" was conceptualised for viewers, it invariably presented some form of plesiosaur throwback. On this single shot scenario, those who believe in a large creature in Loch Ness were largely portrayed. 

No mention of giant eels, amphibians, exotic fish or other variants. Many theories about how sceptics explain the phenomenon were put forward. However, it seems there is only one "theory" on the other side. I did explain this to the film crew, but it did not survive the proverbial cutting floor.


On a personal aside, it was an interesting day at the loch with Bruce Burgess and his film crew.  Bruce was easy to get along with and had plenty of questions about the whole monster thing, and indeed has a general love for mysteries himself. I had brought one of my more sophisticated trap cameras along to demonstrate how monster hunting technology has progressed and automated.

He filmed me talking about the device and setting it up at a location near Inchnacardoch Bay. Actually, it was more a demo than real installation since the area was too exposed to tourists. In fact, finding a real location would have proved too risky for people carrying expensive filming equipment! Some sequences were refilmed and a conversation on the Loch Ness Monster was conducted in the car using an attached GoPro camera. Again, none of that conversation made it into the final edition.

The drive eventually made it to Temple Pier where I met up with Dick Raynor to go out on a cruise boat to discuss the loch and the creature. The conversation was certainly less heated than the ones we have on Internet forums. In fact, it could have done with being a bit more confrontational for TV!


Fortunately, the documentary did not dwell too much on the Surgeon's Photograph. It has had a good run in the panoply of TV documentaries and needs a rest. Most people in the Loch Ness arena accept it is a fake, including myself. 

Paleontologist Darren Naish led the way in attempting to explain away the various Loch Ness Monster photographs and eyewitness reports. He pretty much covered what he said in his recent book, "Hunting Monsters" which I reviewed here. Not wishing to repeat what I said in that article, his explanation of what various famous Nessie photos may or may not represent are opinions which cannot be proven and rather rely on the perceived advantage of being seen to be less incredible than the alternative of a "monster".

Aided by Dick Raynor, one example of this thinking was the 1951 Lachlan Stuart photograph of three humps. Dick commented that though the picture was claimed to have been taken about six in the morning, he said the sun was seen to the west over Urquhart Bay. If it was a morning shot, the sun would be behind Lachlan Stuart. The Stuart photo is the first one below, my test photo is the next one below.

The bright patch to the right of my photo may be the sun, but it is in fact just clouds reflecting the sun, which is out of sight to the left of my position. In other words, the "sun in the west" interpretation is at best, ambiguous. I speak more on that canard here. Whatever you think of this photograph, it should not hang on this. This is a typical example of how sceptics objectify subjective interpretations.

I can add here that I was also filmed going through various photographs and giving my own counter-opinions on them. Sadly, again, that portion did not make the final cut. If it had, viewers would have seen this strange looking head in the Hugh Gray photograph of 1933:

Steve Feltham attempted to cut through the scepticism with his view that one or more giant catfish were in the loch. Catfish are monsters of a sort, though they do not explain everything. I am not even sure they explain Steve's own sighting, since he says it was travelling at over twenty miles per hour!

Curiously, the program made no attempt to record anyone recounting their tale of seeing the creature. I think practically every documentary I have seen has spoken to some eyewitness; indeed, not even Steve's account was broadcast. Instead, we were told how such accounts were just waves, logs or birds seen through the "lens" of expectation.

Oddly, this theory is applied even to witnesses who claim to have seen the creature from a distance of twenty yards! Surely witnesses cannot be that stupid or blind? I covered this strained theory in this article in regard to the view that angler John McLean mistook his claimed 20 foot creature for a 3 foot cormorant at sixty feet! Really?

Perhaps most irritating was the psychologist who pontificated about how the monster believers were desperate for some form of monster wish fulfilment and attention seeking. It's a pity that she seemed to predicate her opinion on a form of monster that many Nessie advocates do not believe in themselves! It doesn't seem to occur to these shrinks that people may actually think there is something to these eyewitness accounts and images that sceptical explanations are found wanting in.

The journalist who went on about commercial interests and priming up for the tourist season was naive and cynical while the comedian offered ... comic relief.

Was I disappointed in the documentary? Not really as it was a program designed to form part of a series dedicated to hoaxes and so would take on a sceptical approach. However, anyone wishing to get a balanced view of the debate would be sadly disappointed.

Perhaps one day, someone will be bold enough to produce a documentary which is neutral or even dares to flip the bias in favour of the other side. Perhaps I should do that myself with the help of others as producers are too much in the thrall of the sceptics!

I believe you may be able to watch the episode online here. Registration required and may no be available worldwide.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Loch Ness Monster Documentary on UK TV Tonight

Just a heads up that a new documentary on Nessie is being broadcast tonight at 7PM GMT by the UK "Yesterday" channel as part of their "History's Greatest Hoaxes" series. More details can be had here.

It looks like the Surgeon's Photograph will again feature in this latest line of Loch Ness Monster documentaries!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

So many Books, So little Time ...

Three books on the Loch Ness Monster published in the space of two months. I don't know if that is a record, but that is close on one thousand pages to get through. No need to rush through them, I like to savour a good Nessie book.

You will have noticed the odd one out at the right. It is an oldie but a goodie entitled "Loch Ness and its Monster" by J. A. Carruth. It went through various reprints, of which I have most of them. The edition I had just purchased was the third one of 1950. The first edition came out in 1938, making it the sixth book to be published on the monster. By 1971, it had gone through nine editions.

Carruth was a priest and monk at Fort Augustus Abbey and, like various brothers at the abbey, took a keen interest in the monster that had turned up on their shoreline. His photograph is shown below. The output of his particular interest was this booklet that sold at the Abbey bookshop and no doubt elsewhere.

The booklet itself is not remarkable by the standards of the literature as its aim was to be an introductory text aimed at the tourist market. In fact, the Abbey monks had previously attempted this with the publication of a similar booklet, "The Mysterious Monster of Loch Ness" in 1934. Being a booklet of about 23 pages, it covers the facts about the loch and argues that the creature is a native of the loch, quoting the well known story of St. Columba and goes through some eye witness accounts.

We learn a bit more about Fr. Carruth when David Cooke interviewed him for his 1969 book, "The Great Monster Hunt". At the time, Carruth was the Abbey tour guide, but took time out to speak to Cooke. He spoke of his thirty plus years by the loch studying the phenomenon and talking to many people who claimed to have seen it.

Actually, when you read Cooke's conversation with Carruth, it is almost verbatim lifted from Carruth's booklet; which makes me think Cooke just quoted it or Carruth knew his booklet very well indeed! 

However, Carruth expanded on his own sighting in 1962. It was an early morning sighting from the Abbey and was the classic upturned boat shape moving away from him. It was black and bigger than any boat he had seen in the loch. He said his sighting "really wasn't very much" but I am sure plenty of us would settle for such an experience! (note that Carruth's brother, Edmund, was also a monk at the Abbey and had a couple of sightings to his name)

Carruth was also a good friend of Tim Dinsdale, who met him at the Abbey on his very first visit to Loch Ness in 1960. In fact, arch-sceptic, Ronald Binns, plunges deep into Loch Speculation, by suggesting that Dinsdale meeting such "hierophants" as Carruth only heightened his expectation of seeing "monsters".

Carruth was one of the enduring characters of the Loch Ness Monster who is present from its beginnings in 1933 right through to its peak decades in the 1960s and 70s. The Abbey is closed now and its monks dispersed. Monster hunters and sceptics come and go, but the Monster itself will outlast them all.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 14 October 2016

Is the Loch Ness Monster a USO?

A few weeks ago, I was watching the latest episode of "In Search of Aliens" broadcast on the History Channel. Given the title of the series, I was somewhat surprised to see the Loch Ness Monster as the latest subject. As a result, I concentrated a bit more closely and took notes for this article.

The series is presented by Giorgio Tsoukalos, who may be familiar to some readers, though his connection with lake cryptids seemed somewhat tenuous as he looked more at home with extraterrestrials and flying saucers (indeed, his speciality is the Ancient Astronaut theory).

The episode started off on some well worn territory with the Surgeon's Photograph. Well respected doctor, famous picture, 1990s investigation, toy submarine, model neck, "deathbed" confession; you get the idea. This story is a staple of Loch Ness Monster documentaries (do they just copy each other or is someone always recommending it?).

After that, it was off to see Steve Feltham, who by then had been at the loch for 21 years. He told Giorgio about his only sighting of the creature early on his hunting years. For those who are not familiar with Steve's encounter, he saw something just below the surface ripping through the water as water sprayed up. 

Steve added one detail I was not aware of. He said the object covered the length of a soccer pitch in about ten seconds. Since a football pitch is about 100 metres long, a quick calculation gives a speed of about 22 miles per hour. I suppose my question to Steve would be, can a catfish move at this speed?

After this, we moved on to meet Marcus Atkinson, who recorded an unusual sonar contact back in 2012. I discussed that event in this article. Marcus took us through that day again and showed the photograph of the sonar hit. An epic fail then occurred as the producer added a comparison shot of a long plesiosaur, not knowing that the long sonar streak is a time aggregate of multiple echoes.

But getting onto that USO theory. We were asked if the Loch Ness Monster is an Unidentified Submersible Object (USO)? Did he mean an underwater version of a UFO? I think he did. That implies the creature is actually an artificial construct. I did cover Nessie as an extraterrestrial beast in this article, but this is a different matter.

After that, the matter of quartz deposits and the generation of piezoelectricity was raised. What is the connection between this and USOs? I was not sure, to be honest. I was aware of Paul Devereux's work which is not really related to nuts and bolts spacecraft. Was Giorgio saying that this potential electrical charge generated by seismic movements along the Great Glen fault was linked to the idea that Nessie is in fact a spaceship!?

Steve Feltham, not surprisingly, would not be seen given credence to this theory, though he did intimate that a guy "at the other end of the loch" believed the loch contained a portal to a hollow Earth and that there was a spaceship at the bottom of the loch. I would have liked to have heard that chap!

Things moved to the almost obligatory visit to Adrian Shine, presumably as the sceptical representative. Adrian talked about the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau and the 1000 people who were involved over its ten years. To that end, Adrian showed us he was a bit of a tease by pulling out a box containing over 300 sighting reports from that period.

I say a "tease" because Henry Bauer claims that Adrian refused to let him see these reports. However, I know he did allow another researcher to examine them, so I am sure if I asked nicely, I may get to see them too. However, why travel to Loch Ness when we have digital scanners and the Internet? I assume the documents (for backup reasons) have already been scanned onto computer. 

It's a simple matter to add them to the Loch Ness Project website. If there are concerns about witness names and addresses being divulged, well, those can be easily be redacted. But then again, if you believe the witnesses are only describing birds, logs and boats, where is the motivation to do such a thing?

Adrian finished off by telling us that anecdotes can be treated as scientific data and described his experiment with a wooden pole in the vicinity of witnesses and their subsequent descriptions. Adrian told Giorgio how some witnesses described something rather more monster like and used this as proof that this can explain most sightings.

The trouble with critiquing that theory is that Adrian's words are also anecdotal. I have yet to see a scientific paper or article detailing this experiment, the controls used, the interview techniques, the dataset, assessment and logic behind any conclusion. Without that, it is like assessing a monster report.

After some words on St Columba, the Water Horse, and the odd beast of Pictish Symbol Stone fame, it was goodbye to Loch Ness and off to Lake Champlain where Giorgio met up with the charming Katy Elizabeth. She is a researcher of Champ, the monster of that lake, but she having none of this USO stuff as she recounted her sighting of that particular beast. However, any talk of a link between Loch Ness and Lake Champlain must be discounted as plate tectonics would not allow such a thing to be preserved.

Towards the end, there was an attempt to link this with Ancient Astronauts as Don Stevens, of the Abenaki tribe, talked about the mystery of cosmic, flying turtles. It was all beginning to sound like Ted Holiday's "The Dragon and the Disc", which was probably no surprise.

Finally, Giorgio chatted with a Steve Kluid and Will Amidon on the matter of granite, quartz and energy again. That led to a Dr. John Brandenburg and his talk about the Casimir Effect and traversible wormholes created by EM fields around quartz crystals seemingly accentuated by the trench topology of such cryptid lakes.

Is your head spinning yet? Well, I would have thought you needed dilithium crystals and not quartz crystals to warp spacetime, but I will leave that to any Trekkies reading. I will stick to the biological Nessie!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A Cool Book Cover

Now here is a Nessie book cover I haven't seen before. It's the paperback version of the more familiar hardback book cover from Ted Holiday's "The Dragon and the Disc". It's a nice bit of artwork, though the creature on the cover could not be described as a "Nessie" but more like the titled "Dragon" (Holiday referred to the Loch Ness Monster as a Dragon or Orm).

It has to be said that the 1970s were the zenith of cool Loch Ness Monster book covers. Some serious effort went into producing imaginative covers of prehistoric or mythical monsters to capture the eye of the public as they browsed the well stocked "Mysteries" section of their local book shop.

This particular paperback was published by Futura in 1974. Now, I don't know about other readers' collections, but a scan of my shelves showed a few titles from Futura, Sphere and Target books. These publishers were not averse to putting out various titles on the likes of UFOs, monsters and so on. That was on top of the titles from more well known publishers such as Penguin and Corgi.

Looking at these covers reminds me of how my own collecting of Nessie books has progressed. First you buy the titles, for example, Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster". That will give you just about everything you need. But that is only the first edition.

Subsequent to that, authors will republish their titles as revisions in which they alter some of the book's contents according to their changing experience or thinking plus they may add new photographs, sighting reports and so on. So, Dinsdale's book underwent three revisions in 1972 and 1976 and 1982, but Holiday's book was never revised.

Then we have the reprints in which none of the content is revised but the general format of the book changes. We see that in our two Holiday books as it went from hardback to paperback and the cover art was also changed. Dinsdale's book also underwent one reprint in 1966 (I do not own a copy). One could argue every revision is a reprint, but not every reprint is a revision.

For me personally, I have practically all the titles. I think I have most of the revisions, but I probably do not have most of the reprints as that requires a bit more motivation since you are not getting much more for your money. You can browse the various artistic covers on my booklist. You can also have a look at my current bookcase below (with some titles not in the picture)!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Henry Bauer Reviews A Monstrous Commotion

Long time Loch Ness researcher, Henry Bauer, got in touch with me recently to pass on his review of Gareth William's book to me. Henry has been involved in Loch Ness Monster research for over fifty years since he first picked up Tim Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster" in 1961. Quite possibly, apart from perhaps Rip Hepple, he is the longest involved researcher of Nessie alive today.

Henry is the author of the well known book, "The Enigma of Loch Ness" and believes the creatures are a large, formerly (before last Ice Age) marine species, related either to plesiosaurs or to leatherback turtles. In his review, Henry is not so favourably disposed to Gareth's book as others have been and detects the overt influence of sceptical advisers. So, feel free to download his PDF review at this link and offer your comments below.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com