Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Interesting Sonar Image

Loch Ness researcher, Dick Raynor, posted this on his YouTube account a few days ago. He entitles it "Sonar Anomaly recorded on Castle Cruises tour boat at Urquhart Castle". The anomaly appears towards the end of the scan and the readings suggest it covers about 90 feet in the water but what it could be is open to interpretation. Dick offers no explanation for it on the YouTube page and I don't know if he rescanned the location to see if it was still there or if he has seen similar objects before.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Monday, 25 May 2015

Skye Water Horses, Sea Serpents and MacRae

I found this old tale of a Water Horse from the island of Skye in my notes. I don't think it made it into my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness", so I include it here. It is taken from the 1905 book, "Misty Isle of Skye" by J. A. MacCulloch.

Referring first to page 122.

An open road crosses the moorland from Sleat to Broadford. It runs along the windy seaboard till, at  Knock, it turns inland through the scented moors, by many a ferny den, past Loch nan Dubhrachan, haunted (says romantic superstition) by a water-horse or kelpie.

This is expanded upon in page 239.

We may see traces of them in the water-bulls, water-horses, and kelpies which are said to haunt so many lochs and streams. The two former have the ordinary animal appearance, but are of a vast size, and naturally are very terrifying to the scared beholder. They pursue him, and when they catch him, carry him beneath the waters to satisfy their hunger. Foals and calves of a highly spirited temper are known to owe their male parentage to these demoniac animals. But they could also change their shape, appearing even in human guise, and luring the unwary traveller to the loch-side, where they resumed their awful form when it was too late for him to flee.

The nearer of the two Storr lochs. Loch Fada, is known to be haunted by a water-bull; it was also the haunt of a water-horse, slaughtered with a knife after it had killed a man. Loch nan Dubhrachan, between Isle Ornsay and Knock, was also tenanted by a water-horse. As this latter loch is close to the high road, which here runs through a lonely part of the island, it is not to be wondered at that it is an object of local terror. The water-horse had a penchant for pretty girls, but they did not like his attentions. No young woman would venture near Loch Sgubaidh in Strath (where dwelt a water-horse), lest he should rush out and carry her off.

Rod Mackay in his "Glossary of Gaelic Magic" says that Loch Nan Dubhrachan was a transliteration of the old Gaelic meaning "loch of the black, stretched out one". Alisdair Alpin MacGregor in his 1935 book "Somewhere in Scotland", relates how the loch was actually dragged with a net in 1870 in an attempt to catch the creature behind so many local fears and stories:

Perhaps the most astonishing incident connected with a water-horse was the dragging of a loch in Skye with a view to capturing this evil monster. Between Knock and Isle Oronsay, in the Sleat of Skye, is a loch called Loch nan Dubhrachan. So persistent in the neighbourhood were stories of the manner in which “a beast” inhabiting this loch sought to waylay islanders who dared to pass by at night-time that eventually it was decided to drag the loch with a large net.

This was actually carried out in the year 1870; but the water-horse astutely evaded capture! During the dragging operations, however, the net became entangled with some obstacle under water. This so terrified both spectators and those engaged in dragging the net on opposite sides of the loch that they all fled to their homes, convinced that at long last they had proved the existence of the water-horse.

Some years ago I visited an old man named John MacRae, who lived in a cottage by the steading within earshot of the Old Manse of Glen Elg, and who, as a boy at Isle Oronsay witnessed the attempt to capture this water-horse. So noisy in spate was the burn at the end of John MacRae’s cottage that at times I used to find conversation with him quite an arduous undertaking, even when the door was shut. But I managed to take down from him, verbatim, the following account of the dragging of Loch nan Dubhrachan:

“I was there myself at the loch between Isle Oronsay and Knock,” said John MacRae, “when they trawled for the each-uisge - for the water-horse like - just in yon loch below the road. It’s called Loch nan Dubhrachan. A cattleman and his wife came to cut rashes to thatch the house. They sat down to take a rest and the man observed a small, black object on the shore of the loch. ‘Look!’ he said to the wife, ‘that will be one of the farmer of Knock’s cows washed ashore, and that was drowned in the loch, or maybe one of the sea-cows they would be seeing in olden times.’

”So he went down. As he neared, the beast swam out with his head below water, putting little waves ashore. You may be sure the people was terrified. They were certain it was the each-uisge. So Lord MacDonald said he would dredge the loch - trawl it like, for the monster. Well, he got all his gillies and gamekeepers out one day with a big net. And they started walking along opposite sides of the loch like, dragging the net after them.

“I saw the thing myself. I was a boy going to school. We got a holiday that day. Well, we were all watching carefully when the net got stuck, and all the gillies got the fear of death on them. So they just dropped the net, and ran back from the loch. I mind the day fine. A while after they commenced again; and after a while the net came away on a sudden. Well, then, they pulled it in like, afraid all the time what would be in the net.

“Is it pike you call them long things?” inquired MacRae, demonstrating an approximate length from the tip of the forefinger of his left hand by placing his right hand sideways on his left arm.

“Pike, I think you call them. Anyway,” he concluded, “there was nothing in the net at the finish but some mud and two small pikes.”

An interesting tale and made that little bit more interesting by the mention of local man, John MacRae. You may recall the near legendary tale of Dr. MacRae and his Loch Ness Monster film. Thanks to the research of Mike Dash, we can now be fairly certain that Dr. MacRae was a Farquhar MacRae who lived from 1855 to 1948, having retired to the small village of Ratagan by Loch Duich. Mike also mentioned that Farquhar had a brother called John.

From our account here, John was a schoolboy in 1870 and so was likely born around 1855-1860. Since Farquhar was born in 1855, that certainly make this John MacRae a contender to be a sibling. Moreover, the interview with Alisdair MacGregor was conducted in 1932 in Glen Elg, about six miles to the west of Ratagan. Unfortunately, 1932 probably predated the Loch Duich film by a few years, so one would presume MacGregor would be unaware of any such film.


However, it seems sea monsters stories ran in this family. Is this significant? Probably not, but the family name of MacRae and strange monsters is carried further by the well known account of a sea serpent sighting by the Reverend John MacRae in August 1872.

This John MacRae was church minister of Glenelg and had his sighting about 10 miles as the boat travels from Loch Duich. His testimony may suggest a multi wake aberration, though the behaviour of the object(s) suggests otherwise. Perhaps it was seven otters swimming in a line!

The account and sketch below are taken from A.C.Oudeman's "The Great Sea Serpent".

As we were getting the cutter along with oars we perceived a dark mass about two hundred yards astern of us, to the north. While we were looking at it with our glasses (we had three oil board) another similar black lump rose to the left of the first, leaving an interval between; then an other and an other followed, all in regular order. We did not doubt its being one living creature: it moved slowly across our wake, and disappeared. Presently the first mass, which was evidently the head, reappeared, and was followed by the rising of the other black lumps, as before.

Sometimes three appeared, sometimes four, five, or six, and then sank again. When they rose, the head appeared first, if it had been down, and the lumps rose after it in regular order, beginning always with that, next the head, and rising gently; but when they sank, they sank all together, rather abruptly, sometimes leaving the head visible. It gave the impression of a creature crooking up its back to sun itself. There was no appearance of undulation : when the lumps sank , other lumps did not rise in the intervals between them. The greatest number we counted was seven, making eight with the head, as shown in the sketch N°. 1.

The parts were separated from each other by intervals of about their own length , the head being rather smaller and flatter than the rest , and the nose being very slightly visible above the water; but we did not see the head raised above the surface either this or the next day, nor could we see the eye. We had no means of measuring the length with any accuracy, but taking the distance from the centre of one lump to the centre of the next to be six feet , and it could scarcely be less , the whole length of the portion visible, including the intervals submerged, would be forty-five feet.

Whether Farquhar MacRae knew of this story or was a relation of Rev. John MacRae is not known. What is known is that a small stretch of the East of Scotland had its fair share of monster lore.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Sonar Hit of Nessie?

A Loch Ness researcher recently put up a link on sonar equipment for Loch Ness. That was interesting enough in itself, but a further link to the story below was more interesting from a monster point of view. To quote:

Using the bottom of the range Bronze FLS, a customer spotted what appeared to be the Loch Ness Monster moving around the loch. Mr Duffin contacted us recently with photos he had taken of his FLS Bronze in deep water at Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle asking what we thought, has he found Nessie?. It looks like a real target or something large - so who knows.....

Approximately 50 ft in length, the object spotted was moving up and down and side to side on the screen of the FLS Bronze. The pictures have been scrutinized by several of our sonar experts and would appear to be that of a genuinely large aquatic beast.

The quality of the sonar is not up to the detail of the latest equipment that can be bought at affordable prices, but what was it that was registered on the sonar that day? A rogue side echo, one of these alleged submersible logs, an algae bloom or a large creature?

Monday, 18 May 2015

Forthcoming Talk on the Loch Ness Monster

I will be giving a talk on the F. C. Adams photograph at the Edinburgh Fortean Society on Tuesday 9th June at 7:30pm. Whatever you may think of this picture, my talk will reveal new information and analysis concerning it. I will also consider the investigative tools and techniques that encompass such a subject.

Comments should be limited to the talk rather than the nature of the photograph as I will publish the details of the talk after it has been given. The venue for the talk is Downstairs in the Crypt Bar at the Jekyll and Hyde Pub, 112 Hanover Street, EH2 1DR.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Couple of Clippings from 1933

Cryptid researcher, Paul Cropper, sent me a couple of PDFs from the Dundee Courier from the early days of the Loch Ness Monster in 1933.

The first is dated 23rd May 1933 and this one of the earliest clippings on the subject. As a comparison, the Aldie Mackay story which kick started the Loch Ness Monster story appeared three weeks earlier on the 2nd May in the Inverness Courier.

The text reads:

LOCH NESS MYSTERY "MONSTER" - Once again a sea monster is reported to have been seen on Loch Ness, near lnverfarigaig, where the water reaches a depth of 700 feet. Mr Shaw, of Whitefield, Inverfarigaig, who previously disbelieved that there was a monster, saw it a few days ago, and, calling his son and a friend. they watched it for about ten minutes through a telescope. Photo shows Mr Shaw and his friends, who are keeping a regular look-out in the hope of seeing it again.

The Mister Shaw in question was Alexander Shaw, who was interviewed by Rupert T. Gould for his 1934 book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others". The relevant testimony is on page 40 and is reproduced below (click on the images to enlarge).

I note that Mr. Shaw is stated to have lived in a house about 150 feet above the loch at Whitefield. I wonder if this is the same house that would later be occupied by Lachlan Stuart, who took his famous monster picture in 1951?

The second clipping is dated 27th December 1933 and concerns the discovery of a pile of bones which has been covered here before. The picture belows add some more facts, though the conclusion is still the same that these bones did not belong to a Loch Ness Monster.

LOCH NESS DISCOVERY - A quantity of bones and teeth of an animal long dead have been found near Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness-side, by Mr A. O. M'Laren. After consultation with Mr H. E. Peters, curator of Inverness Museum, who expressed the view that the bones do not resemble those of any domestic animal, the bones have been sent to South Kensington Museum for identification. Mr E. Fraser. the custodian of Urquhart Castle, is seen examining the heap of bones.

These bones would have been sent to South Kensington Museum around the same time as the infamous casts of tracks found by Marmaduke Wetherell. Unlike the tracks, nothing more is heard of these bones.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Those Otters Again

Somebody takes a picture of an otter in a Nessie like position and the media come out saying this is a "common cause of Nessie sightings". Dr. Jonathan Wills recently took the above picture of an otter swimming around the port of the town of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.

After a recent hoo-haa about pesky logs fooling people into seeing plesiosaurs and even the tired earthquake theory again producing a small rumble, it's the turn of the humble and unassuming otter to deceive those incredulous witnesses.

Now there is nothing new about otters and Nessie. Within months of a strange sea monster being reported in the Highland loch in 1933, otters were one of the first explanations to be trotted out in the defence of normality. It's a situation I thought was best summed up in the picture below.

Ever since then, they have occasionally been dragged out of their holts to explain various sightings. I covered one such case in 2012. It was the Harvey-MacDonald land sighting from 1934 in which it was suggested the witnesses mistook a three foot otter for a ten foot monster.

Now, don't get me wrong. People can mistake branches, otters and earthquakes for thirty foot monsters. As I have said before, if they saw the otter at 500 yards for 2 seconds in a fog, then I can entertain the idea that they got it wrong.

At the same time, such a sighting is hardly likely to make it into the Nessie Hall of Fame. In fact, it would be lucky to be recorded for future researchers. Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point. Each case is assessed on its own merits, but the principle still stands, the better the sighting the less talk of otters, please.

If we are going to approach this problem of eyewitness reports with a degree of quantifiability, I remind readers of my formula below and you can read more about it here. Sceptics tend to set W to 0.

I now await some journalist to exclusively reveal how "most Nessie sightings" can be accounted for by boat wakes.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

What is the Most Popular Cryptid?

In the last ten years, Google has scanned, digitised and put online more than 30 million books. These proved to be a valuable resource a few years back when I researched my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". 

However, with an estimate 130 million titles in print, the job is a quarter done. This means forgotten and perhaps valuable references to the Loch Ness Monster and its forerunner, the Water Horse, remain undiscovered.

In the meantime, I also put Google Ngrams to use in that book and apply it again here. This is a tool provided by Google for researchers interested in tracking trends of words and phrases in the scanned literature.

Below, I show the occurrences in the printed literature of the terms Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, Yeti and Sea Serpent. This is an interactive chart which allows you to highlight individual trends since 1933.

Since certain terms can represent the same cryptid, they are summed to give one representative trend. Here is the equivalent static image below (click on to enlarge) and you can go here for the source.

It is clear that the Bigfoot phenomenon is more than twice as far ahead as Nessie. Bigfoot overtook Nessie in the popularity stakes in the mid 1960s which coincides with the Patterson-Gimlin film. Given Bigfoot is very much more ensconced in the American psyche than the Loch Ness Monster, its superior popularity is more or less guaranteed unless a Nessie film of the same quality of Patterson-Gimlin turns up.

Why the Yeti is so high up is a bit of a mystery since photographs and eyewitness accounts are so thin on the ground. Note that like the Bigfoot, it was an image that triggered an uptrend when Eric Shipton's famous Yeti footprint hit the media in 1951.

Also note that the sea serpent has been a pretty consistent performer since the 1930s and even jousted with the Loch Ness Monster for literature hits throughout 1933 to the mid 1960s when Nessie began an upward trajectory. Apart from a slight dip after the Rines expeditions and the onset of scepticism, the trend for Nessie did not level off until the early 2000s.

Since then literature hits has stayed pretty constant as books and articles on the creature address it from the various levels of myth, legend and reality. One wonders what it will take to initiate a new trend in Loch Ness Monster literature?

However, with three possible books on the publishing horizon this year, the trend look set to at least maintain itself sideways. Try out Google Ngrams yourself to see what trends you can discover.