Sunday, 25 January 2015

Boat Collision With Nessie?

I caught this article on two alleged collisions between boats and the Loch Ness Monster. The first I did not recall and wonder if anyone knows any more about it? Original article here but reproduced here before it is pulled.

In the second incident, retired truck driver Stanley Roberts has revealed that a holiday cruiser, he owned was immobilised in a tragic collision on the loch near Urqhuart Castle. An elderly man aboard the cruiser suffered a heart attack and died following the incident around 1978, says Mr Roberts, from Lancashire who had rented the boat to the man’s family. Four bolts were stripped from the propshaft  and the propeller was damaged after the boat was pulled from the water at Fort Augustus.

Boatyard workers who then examined the cruiser "found flesh and black skin an inch thick along the propshaft", said Roberts, of St Helens, Lancashire, telling what had happened when he got a phone call from the boatyard telling him there had been an accident. He said, “The workers chiseled the flesh away and threw it into the Caledonian Canal. I said you stupid b-----s. It would have proved that Nessie was here.”

Stan, now 85, is in no doubt that the monster was most likely involved in a drama involving his cruiser. A family renting it collided with an unknown object near Urquhart Castle. "The propeller stopped turning. The family were very alarmed", said Stan. "The old man had a heart attack and seemed to have died. There was no radio on board so they  let off distress flares to get a tow back to Fort Augustus. The grandfather was taken by ambulance to hospital where he was found to be dead."

The rental managers phoned Stan at his home in St Helens to tell him what had happened. "They simply told me there had been an accident. It was only later that I learned more - what had been found on the underside of the boat when they pulled it out of the water." 

Told of the boat drama, Adrian Shine, of the Loch Ness project, said it was “very frustrating". With modern DNA techniques we could have learned a lot about exactly  what had caused the damage." Stan kept the cruiser on the loch for two years. 

I, too, express frustration that none of this black flesh was recovered for further examination. Black skin suggests it was not seals or dolphins, but then again, I don't know whether blackness occurs during subsequent decomposition; but it cannot be discounted that the sceptics' oft required, but seldom seen seal could have been involved.

This seems a new story, but if anyone knows of this case, can they leave a comment. Mr. Roberts then tells of his own personal sighting.

His reason for being convinced that Nessie was involved was partly an  earlier encounter he had himself. "I had just bought the boat and my family were up at Fort Augustus for a two-week trial run. The water was rough but the boat handled really well. That night I couldn't sleep so around 5am I got up to stretch my legs.

"The water was dull silver, flat as a mirror. I looked down the loch towards Foyers and I saw a black dot which I thought might have been a local fisherman. The dot continued to grow taller as it came towards where we were moored. "Then I thought to myself, 'There's no outboard motor!" It was then I realised its head and neck were like polished black leather.

"It gently lowered its head - and not a splash. It was so beautiful, you wouldn't believe it. It was like a nuclear sub going down. The bow wave travelling across the loch, bounced my boat like a cork. My wife was awakened by the commotion. And she told me off for rocking the boat.

The second incident is known to Loch Ness researchers and involves Lt Commander Francis Russell Flint in 1943. With the help of Henry Bauer, these details were forthcoming.

Details only emerged in 1969 when Lt Commander Francis Russell Flint wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph. Flint said he was in charge of a Navy motor launch travelling from Leith to Swansea with about 20 men on board. Near Fort Augustus travelling at about 25 knots, “There was the most terrific jolt,” he said.  Everybody was knocked back. And then we looked for’ard. And there it was. A very large animal form disappeared in a flurry of water. It was definitely a living creature not debris or  anything like that."

Flint, who died in 1977, talked about the incident for years, said family members. He told author and broadcaster Nicholas Witchell that he signalled the Admiralty, “Regret to inform your Lordships, damage to starboard bow following collision with Loch Ness Monster. Proceeding at reduced speed to Fort Augustus.”

Flint said the Navy were not impressed with his signal. He got a “bit of a blast” when he returned to base. However Flint was an official war artist and painted a picture of the Loch Ness incident which went on display at a gallery in Leeds. It is not known where the picture is currently.
Sceptical cynics will suggest Flint made up the story to cover up his navigational inadequacies as he hit one of the local rocks. Funny how he kept talking about a monster into retirement ...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Upcoming Fortean Conference

Just a heads up on an upcoming conference in Edinburgh next month. Entitled "The Scholarly Research of the Anomalous Conference", it will be held at The Counting House, 36 West Nicholson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DD on Saturday, 21st February, 2015 from 1130 to 1830. Scheduled speakers and subjects are as follows:

Mike Dash –  Our Artist Pictures What the Witness Saw…

Roger Musson – The Enigmatic Bala Earthquake of 23 January 1974

Darren Naish – The Evolution of Sea Monsters in Terms of What people Report

Theo Paijmans – The Nazi Flying Saucer Mythos

Charles Paxton – Eyewitness Testimony and Bigfoot at the Botanics

At the end of the event there will be a panel session featuring all five speakers and the chairman will be Gordon Rutter.

Tickets cost £20 and include a buffet lunch and can be bought by submitting a Paypal payment to Charles Paxton at for £20.  No tickets will be issued so bring your Paypal receipt on the day, tickets are also available in person from the organisers, Charles Paxton and Gordon Rutter, and at meetings of the Edinburgh Fortean Society.

More details can be found here. I aim to be there myself and hope to meet up with long time email-acquaintance, Mike Dash. Though it is not an explicitly Nessie conference, there will be overlaps with the lake cryptids which should prove information to that genre.

Leave a comment below if you have any queries about the conference.

The author can be contacted at

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Photograph from Loch Ness

A strange looking picture has emerged from Loch Ness this week. Taken by author Geoffrey McSkimming from Australia, it appears to show something in the loch as he took a picture of his companion, Sue-Anne Webster.

The trouble is he was not aware of anything at the time which adds to the mystery. Assuming the picture is not a product of the proverbial photoshop, the object does appear to be part of the scene as vegetation obscure part of its form.

However, from a Loch Ness Monster point of view, what might be interpreted as the head is very elongated compared to classic eyewitness descriptions. In fact, it look more like one of the herons occasionally seen at the loch, though even that does not look entirely a perfect fit as the "beak" looks decidely blunt. I certainly do not think it is a defect in the image.

Comments are invited as to what this object might be and the author can be contacted at

If it is a photoshop job, Jens emailed me to suggest it is a PAPO Plesisosaur model. Okay, perhaps but needs a bit of stretching and editing! You can see the modern issue with coming up with a picture of the Loch Ness Monster that can evade the trap of digital image editing.

Original story:

Australian Adventurers Capture Loch Ness Monster

A pair of Australian adventurers have captured, in a photograph, this incredible image of the Loch Ness monster.

Geoffrey McSkimming, noted adventurer, world-traveller, raconteur and author, best known for the Cairo Jim and Phyllis Wong Mystery series of children’s adventure stories, and companion and fellow adventurer, Sue-Anne Webster, actress and freelance magician extraordinaire, were celebrating Sue-Anne’s birthday on the misty shores of Loch Ness, in Inverness, Scotland, when legendary lost dinosaur Nessie photo-bombed the happy snap.

Geoffrey reports that the pair had no idea the mysterious denizen of the deep was behind them, “Not until after we took the photo…oh my gosh! No! I swear when I took this photo there was nothing in the water.”

“No, there wasn’t when I looked either…she’s a teaser,” added Sue-Anne.

In the tradition of such pictures, the image of Nessie is indistinct, out of focus, blurry. Dour, unimaginative official types have described it as a smeared drop of water on the camera lens.

The creature, agreed by many investigators and scientists to be a prehistoric plesiosaur, a large aquatic dinosaur, probably became trapped in the deep mountain-edged lake in ancient times when it was still open to the ocean. The dinosaur has been given the tentative scientific name Plesiosaur McSkimming-Websterii. Possibly because the fabulous beastie skims through the water with large webbed flippers, and of course the Mc at the beginning merely indicates its Scottish origin. Why do scientists add two i‘s to the end of words to make them scientific? Nobody knows. It’s another mystery.

There are unconfirmed reports that this pair of mystery solving aces will now begin an expedition to the High Himalayas to discover the Abominable Snow Man.

Until then Geoffrey McSkimming’s children’s adventure stories are available in libraries, online and in all good bookstores, and the amazing Sue-Anne Webster is available for magical performances, including her world renowned I Dream Of Jeannie show.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Sewage, Phantoms and Ted Holiday

A recent post on the Zombie Plesiosaur page got me thinking about Ted Holiday's changing views on the Loch Ness Monster. He went from promoting the view that the creature was a large relation of an extinct invertebrate to something he classed as part of the Phantom Menagerie. What was not clear was how that transition panned out.

Holiday wrote three books which charted this change of mind. The Great Orm of Loch Ness from 1968 firmly puts him in the giant worm camp as he expounded on his mega-variation of the small but extinct creature called Tullimonstrum Gregarium. Its discoverer, Francis Tully, is shown below with a fossil to give you an idea of its size.

One or two interesting ideas came out of this theory, such as Holiday's idea that the Loch Ness Monster did not rely on fish as its staple food, but rather sifted through the sludge/mud/silt at the bottom as a source of nutrition. Whether this is a viable means of food for a number of large creatures is not known to me. Nutrient levels in lochs can be quite high, though whether they provide a balanced diet for a healthy monster is debatable.

Indeed, whilst there is talk of diminishing fish supplies in Loch Ness over the decades, a sludge processing monster may have seen an increase in food supply as human activity around the loch increased the amount of human and food waste nutrients being dumped into Loch Ness.

There are four main sewage treatments plants around Loch Ness and this is not the type of information you will tend to find in Loch Ness literature, so read on! Not surprisingly, they are centred on the four main population centres at Fort Augustus, Foyers, Drumnadrochit and Dores. So there is a sewage processing plant outside Fort Augustus, located on the opposite side of the River Tarff to the old Abbey building.

I can tell you from personal experience that you tend to smell it before you see it and it would not be the first place on your bucket list. I have occasionally gone between it and the river to get to Borlum Bay and I have yet to see anyone moving around the place.

There will be smaller processing plants such as the controversial one which was dumping semi processed human waste at the Visitor Centre at Urquhart Castle some years back. Loch Ness researcher, Tony Harmsworth, protested against it in years past. Overall, I would guess that at least 1000 cubic metres of processed effluent water is pumped into the loch every day.

Do these extra potential chemicals such as nitrogen and potassium do anything for a sludge sifting monster? Actually, though human activity has increased over the decades, with the attendant increase in waste, the efficiency of processing that waste has improved over the same time (though not in a smooth curve). So, whether extra nutrients have made it into the loch would require someone comparing water samples over the decades.

That prompted a side thought. Loch Ness is an oligotrophic lake being low in nutrients and high in oxygen content. If more effluence is pumped into the loch, then a process of eutrophication begins where the lowest forms of organism feed on this bonanza with the attendant knock on effects for further up the food chain and to more Loch Ness Monsters. One negative side effect is that the increase in the biomass can lead to oxygen levels depleting and some animals suffering asphyxiation.

Well, it was a mere gedankenexperiment, but Nessie has been reported for centuries, so it does not seem to matter how much of the smelly stuff ends up in Loch Ness.

But, Ted viewed sludge filtering as a viable proposition and cast doubt on any eyewitness accounts about feeding on fish. Now, if there is one thing that should be avoided, it is changing the data to fit the theory. Of course, individual cases can be disputed, but to consign a whole class of sightings to the bin because they don't fit your theory is more in keeping with the tactics of a sceptic.

But, on reflection, Ted did have a point as I cannot recall an eyewitness report where the Loch Ness Monster is seen eating a fish. We have reports, such as the recently posted article on John MacLean, where the creature is observed to be moving its head and neck in a way that suggests eating whilst in an area known for higher fish numbers.

But, then again, John MacLean does not mention seeing any fish in the act of being consumed. It is a matter of inference when fish are seen to jump about and the monster is seen to act in an energetic way about them. So, perhaps not so much a case of changing the data but re-examining that particular aspect of the sightings database.

Five years later, Ted Holiday was gravitating in the direction of the paranormal in his second book, The Dragon and the Disc. When he actually began to have second thoughts is not clear, but the odd, quirky things he thought were happening at Loch Ness were the catalyst.

So, where did his Tullimonstrum Gregarium fit into this new scheme? In his chapter, "What is a Dragon?", he reminds readers that he proposed a gigantic form of the Tullimonstrum in his previous book. He then says "my views on this have changed only in minor details". So, paranormal happenings come in but it remains a very biological creature.

Curiously, he likens the creature in the Lachlan Stuart photograph to a multi humped creature drawn on a prehistoric mound called the Knowth disc barrow in County Meath, Ireland. The disc barrow is said to be shaped in the same manner as the archetypal flying saucer and this gives you an idea of how Holiday attempted to synthesise these two "cults" into one recurring theme.

Whilst in the domain of dragons and discs, Holiday mentions a conversation with the paranormalist, John Keel. Holiday says that Keel had warned him to:

Proceed with great caution in your Loch Ness work. We are caught up in a series of games which must be played by 'their' rules. Anyone who tries to invent his own rules, or break the basic patterns, soon loses his mind or even his life.

Six years later, Ted Holiday was dead at the premature age of 59. The cause was natural enough being a heart attack but one can't help wondering if Holiday believed his days were numbered, having had a smaller heart attack the year before.

Do Loch Ness researchers live shorter lives or only those who are engaged in work too "close" to the truth? What about those like myself who seek biological explanations or those who simply seek to dismiss the whole thing as hysteria?

I would not have thought cryptozoologists live short lives. Roy Mackal lived to 84 years and I can think of others who are or were similarly aged (such as Loch Ness paranormalist, Winifred Cary). Indeed, John Keel himself lived for 79 years. Doubtless, there are those who died prematurely, but nothing to suggest anything beyond the norm. The conclusion is that Ted Holiday was just unlucky in the number of years allotted to him.

Did any lose their minds, as Keel suggested? That is a bit harder to determine and no doubt some will readily and cynically suggest anyone who is not a sceptic has lost some or all of their mind. But, I am not aware of any who became clinically and mentally ill (though statistically there must be some).

But moving on, by the time he wrote the manuscript in the late 70s for his third work, "The Goblin Universe", the change was complete. In Appendix A, he tells us that the question of whether these phantom creatures are biological or not is one of the big mysteries of our time. He then states he believes they are not biological. So there you have it, the transition is completed in the third and final book (which was published posthumously by Colin Wilson in 1986).

But was that the end of the transition? In Colin Wilson's introduction to "The Goblin Universe",  he tells us that Holiday sent the transcript to him in 1977. Wilson enthusiastically wrote to him and told him he would recommend it to his publisher. However, no reply was forthcoming for months.

Then Holiday unexpectedly wrote to Wilson saying he was dissatisfied with the book, was scrapping it and was writing a new one. Wilson obtained the transcript of the fourth book after Holiday's death and was disappointed to find it was a more generic book on lake monsters lacking the "daring range and sweep" of the Goblin book.

Having compared his own paranormal research to that of Holiday, Colin Wilson concluded that Holiday had not abandoned his belief in a paranormal Loch Ness Monster, but rather he had abandoned his objective to find and "present an unanswerable case for the Goblin Universe". For that reason, he gave up on the book. Sadly, both men are now dead and the whereabouts of Holiday's fourth and final book is unknown.

We all go through changes of opinion in our lives. Most since the 1980s have been to the sceptical side. Holiday's change was by no means unique in his day as there was a noticeable shift to a paranormal paradigm from the late 1960s into the early 1980s across various phenomena.

His was not a change, though, that was borne out of jumping on a bandwagon. He genuinely believed he had experienced things at Loch Ness that went beyond the mere biological or coincidental. Since his death, no one has seriously taken up that particular mantle and I think Loch Ness research is that little bit poorer for its absence and, come to think if it, his absence.

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A Victorian Account of Nessie

I recently found a little treasure trove of Highland folk tales at the Calum MacLean Project blog. To quote the blog headline:

The Calum Maclean Project is based at the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh and focuses upon the collected archive materials of the renowned folklorist and ethnologist Calum I. Maclean (1915-1960). For further details, please visit the project website.

The actual project website is at this link. There are a few gems of stories to be found as you look around and there was one on the Loch Ness Monster or Uile-bhèist Loch Nis that caught my attention. 

The story was told to Calum MacLean by William MacKenzie in 1952. MacKenzie was a retired gamekeeper, aged 80, residing in Cannich, Strathglass.

It’s true and I believe in it. I heard it from my father and mother, and they were very old, that the old folk saw it there. I heard from one old man who stayed near there. He was working at something or another. I think that he was digging or something on his croft in the red earth. And his feet were very dirty because of the earth. He went down to the lochside to clean his feet by the lochside. And this wild beast appeared, it came to land near to him. He scarpered and left his shoes behind by the lochside. A few folk mocked him but he was a good enough [i.e.honest] character.
There are folk who have seen it long ago and they would tell stories about it. There is absolutely no doubt that it [the monster] exists.

The rest of the blog article suggests this story happened no later than 1880. I was wondering if it was the 1871 hump sighting by a similarly named D. MacKenzie, but it does not appear to be the same account as we are told this one involved a head and neck rearing up twenty yards from him. This sound very like the previous article on John MacLean which also involved a head and neck report at about 20 yards distance.

The list of sightings I have perused suggests it is a new story which I now add to the roster of claimed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. However, I am open to suggestions as to possible known parallels.

One other tale that caught my attention was the legendary Beast of Barrisdale. You can read about it here and here This is (or was) a beast alleged to live around the hills of Loch Hourn, which was more heard than seen as its blood curdling roar echoed through the region.

It seems a few tales from the same period as our Nessie story concerned this curious animal. The beast was described as: 

About the size of a donkey but with a mane and a tale like a horse. The head was broad at the top like that of a wild boar but there was no snout. It was a heavy over-hanging jaw and terribly, terribly ugly.

As I read these tales, I was reminded of a story by Tim Dinsdale which was retold in an article here. It related how Tim further was in his boat at Loch Morar when he heard a blood curdling scream echo across the loch as he sought a safe haven during a storm at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Loch Morar is only a few miles south of this reputed region of the Barrisdale Beast. That made me wonder whether Dinsdale had heard this strange beast. Then again, the last report of the beast was seventy years before Tim's story. Then again, perhaps it was just a Banshee!

One final story which has always intrigued me from near Loch Ness was the so called miraculous footprints of Finlay Munro. This is a set of footprints just down the road from Invermoriston which reputedly appeared after a preacher by that name left them as a sign against some hecklers.

Apparently, the prints are still there, despite being stolen and returned. Perhaps I will yet get to visit these legendary footprints as I visit Loch Ness on my next trip.

The Author can be contacted by email at

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The John McLean Sighting

Perhaps it is long overdue, but I finally come to one of the classic sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. It occurred on the 28th June 1938 near the Alltsigh Burn where John MacLean witnessed what he called an "extraordinary sight" less than twenty yards from him.

Back in those days, fevered talk of a large monster in Loch Ness had largely calmed down. Whereas 1934 had produced over one hundred reports, the year of 1938 gave us a couple of dozen, with some of those not coming to light until years later. The following year would see reporting cut short by the war, so this story proved to be one of the best before Nessie reporting went into abeyance for years.


The story was picked up by several newspapers. For your reference, the account appeared in The Scotsman and the Aberdeen Press and Journal on the 30th June, the Inverness Courier on the 1st July and the Northern Chronicle on the 6th July. The clipping below is from the Press and Journal.




A Glenurquhart man, Mr John McLean, had a close view of the Loch Ness monster about a quarter-past nine o'clock on Tuesday night.

He was standing at the shore near the mouth of the Altsigh Burn watching whether any trout were rising, as he thought of going fishing, when he saw what he describes as "an extraordinary sight."

"It was the monster's head and neck less than twenty yards from me." he said, "and it was, without any doubt, in the act of swallowing food. It opened and closed its mouth several times quite quickly, and then kept tossing its head backwards in exactly the same manner as a cormorant does after it has devoured a fish."

What the monster had eaten, Mr McLean could not say, but he thought a trout of from one to two pounds in weight would be as much as it could manage at a time.

He also said that at that particular spot the water teems with excellent trout. 


No sooner had the creature finished its meal than it dived below, but before doing so two distinct humps and the entire length of the tail came to the surface.

The monster then vanished head first. but came up again a few yards further west, and there it lay for two or three minutes on the top of the water.

The tail was again quite clear at the surface, with the head, neck, and two humps showing. In a moment or two it began to dive very slowly and, in doing so, the head was submerged first, followed by the humps, but at this point the foremost hump became very much larger and rose in fact almost twice as high out of the water as it had been at any time during its appearance.


Summing up his description of the creature, Mr Maclean said: "1 was absolutely petrified with astonishment, and if I did have a camera with me I was so excited that I would probably have spoiled the chance of a lifetime.

"The monster, I am sure, is eighteen to twenty-two feet long, the tail fully six feet, and the largest hump was about three feet high. The head is small and pointed, the skin very dark brown on the back, and like that of a horse when wet and glistening. The neck is rather thin and several feet long, but I saw no flippers or fins."

This, it may be added, is the first time that anyone has seen the monster full length above water or out of it, and the entire tail, which was about a foot thick at the root and tapered to a fine point. 


I have read all these contemporary accounts which were published within days of the event and they are all almost in perfect agreement as to the details of the sighting. Clearly, it is important to record the witness' words before the memory of the event fades. Although, it has to be said that an event of this magnitude is more indelibly left in the mind of the observer.

The map below gives the location of the sighting at a place halfway between Invermoriston and Foyers. The Alltsigh Burn is visible and runs into Loch Ness. As you can see from the Google StreetView, the stream is visible from the road as it runs into the loch.

The Halfway House Tea Room was situated near the stream in those days, but later came into the ownership of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association which runs it today. A number of good sightings of the creature have been made from this establishment over the years. However, it is not clear what Mr MacLean's connection to the restaurant was, whether it be customer or staff. You can see it in this postcard produced in the mid-1930s.


Such was the interest in this story that the Scotsman ran a second article on the 1st July with sketches of the creature made under John MacLean's direction (or drawn by him).

This was not the end of John MacLean being interviewed as Nessie researcher, F.W. Holiday, tracked him down years later at his home in Inverness. The interview was recorded perhaps in the summer or autumn of 1963, so about 25 years after the event. The interview is reproduced here below.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me what you were doing at the time when you had your sighting?
JOHN MCLEAN: Well, I was just about to start fishing, you know, at the mouth of Altsigh Burn, when I saw this creature appear.

I.: What did you see first?
J. m.: The head and neck. It came right above the water. The neck would be over two feet long.

I.: How thick would the neck be?
J. m.: Oh, about that thickness. (Indicating with hands.)

I.: Six inches?
J. m.: More than that.

I.: Nine inches?
J. m.: Yes, about that ... and not a very big head, you know. The size of a sheep's head.

I.: Is that what it reminded you of?
J. m.: Yes . . . if the ears and that were taken off. At the time I saw him he was champing away at something.

I.: You saw his mouth opening and closing, did you?
J. m.: Yes . . . as if he was eating something, you know.

I.: Did you see any sign of teeth?
J. m.: No, I didn't notice. No.

I.: Any sign of a tongue?
J. m.: No, I didn't. I was alarmed, you know, at what it was. I thought at first it was an otter or a seal or something and then I knew perfectly well it wasn't that. So . . . he was like that for about two minutes and then he gradually put his head down and the hump came up — one hump — and then the tail . . . a long tail about six feet long . . . a longish tail, anyway.

I.: What did the skin look like?
J. m.: Well, I'll tell you. The second time I saw him, he rose in the bay further up, the whole length of him, and when he dived that time I saw the two humps. The skin was for all the world like a horse that's been well-groomed and polished, you know.

I.: Sleek?
J. M.: Yes, sleek — like that, you know. It was dark but the bottom part of the hump was more a straw colour.

I.: It's got a pale belly on it?
J. m.: Yes.

I.: You didn't see flippers?
J. M.: No.

I.: Did you see any sign of eyes?
J. m.: Oh, yes there was . . . two small eyes.

I.: Whereabouts were they? On the side of the head or on top of the head or . . . ?
J. M.: More or less on the front, really.

I.: Do you remember what shape they were? Round or . . . ?
J. m.: They weren't round. They were more longish. Oval-shaped.

I.: And how long did you have him in view would you say?
J. m.: The first time about three minutes or so. The second time about the same. But the second time, when he rose in the bay further up, the whole length of him was on the water.

I.: Now then — how long would you say he was?
J. m.: Oh, he was about thirty feet. Yes he was. I compared him with a boat, you see, at the time.

I.: You couldn't guess his weight, I suppose. Heavy?
J. m.: Oh, he must have been. That hump when he went down the second time . . . it was massive, you know. It was big. It would be three feet above the water. You could see that there was something pulling him . . . something pulling. . . .

I.: Where was this pulling action?
J. m.: His whole body seemed to go. The whole thing seemed to go. Just for all the world like a snake.

I.: Did you feel afraid of it?
J. M.: Well, to tell you the plain truth, I didn't know what I was. I thought it's neither a seal nor an otter. It never dawned on me at first about it being a monster or I'd have run up to the Half-way House and got a camera and took a snap.

I.: What year was this?
J. m.: Back in nineteen thirty-seven. I made a sketch of what I saw in the Daily Record of that time. You could see the three phases I saw of it — the head, then the diving and the tail, then the body.

It is interesting to note that the passage of time has seen some details added and altered, hence the reason one would give preference to the accounts given two days rather than two decades later. For example, Mr. MacLean tells Holiday he reckoned the length was thirty feet whereas twenty feet was the estimated length in 1938. Likewise, he incorrectly states the year as 1937.

However, the account is largely consistent with what had gone before. Some details are added such as the neck dimensions, which look consistent with the drawings made at the time. Also, Mr. MacLean adds that the creature had a paler underside, which is again consistent with the shadings made in the drawings.

There is also the matter of eyes. Again, not mentioned in the original accounts, but now described as long, small, oval and to the "front" (as opposed to the side or top). The drawing appears to give the impression of a lighter patch on the top of the head which suggests an eye, but  I am not sure I would say this was at the "front".


John MacLean was quite sure that if he did have a camera, he would have been so excited that he would probably have "spoiled the chance of a lifetime". Perhaps he would succumbed to a bit of that old "shock and awe" and made a hash of it. Then again, perhaps he wouldn't have, we'll never know.

But, as an experiment, I constructed an object of similar dimensions and placed it 18 metres from myself one hour before sunset (quarter past nine was about an hour before sunset on the 28th June 1938). To the naked eye, the object was easily discerned and I took two pictures below. The first with a digital SLR and the second with the ubiquitous mobile phone camera.

The approximate sun location was pretty much the same which may have put the object in the shade, though that created no problem for my view of the object. The solar azimuth calculation below puts the sun to the rear or right of the observer (depending on his position, sun at yellow line, sunset is red line).

So, a "monster" appears 18 metres from the observer and even at that distance, the mobile phone produces an image which sceptics will take delight in quibbling over and putting down. The SLR is obviously much better but it cannot make out the lettering on the top object, which suggests verifying features such as eyes would not be a simple task even at 20 yards.

Sightings of this kind from 50 yards down are exceedingly rare. We have the better known ones such Greta Finlay and Patricia Harvey but the total runs at about 35 accounts or about 2% of the total database or one every 2.3 years on average (with this being skewed towards the 1930s). At least three of these have produced photographs (about 9%), of which the most famous is the Cockrell picture. Evidently, producing pictures even at these close ranges is not a guarantee that a game changing picture will be obtained! The test pictures I took seem to bear this out.


But what was it that John MacLean saw on that summer day over 76 years ago? It is my opinion that MacLean saw the Loch Ness Monster. It was a clear, unambiguous, close up view of the beast from less than sixty feet away and indicated features not consistent with known creatures. 

Of course, it would be simple to dismiss MacLean's account as a hoax. Indeed, he had another sighting only months later which always raises a red flag with sceptics (they don't think people should see Nessie more than once). That account happened on the 22nd September and was printed the following day in the Scotsman (see below).

This was certainly a lower grade sighting compared to his experience in June as it was about a mile away and lower in the water. Although binoculars were employed, this kind of sighting gravitates more to the "inconclusive" category. I would take the view that if John MacLean was a hoaxer, then we would have expected him to have produced a better sequel than this to his first story!

Now, we are told that since this report is "anecdotal", it is not scientifically testable and therefore not suitable as data. However, that does not mean it is a false account (which some seem to infer from this). Rather, the correct position to take is that a scientific approach cannot tell us whether this is a true or a false account.

However, since some have come to the conclusion that the Loch Ness Monster as a novel species is an untenable theory, the "anecdote" must of necessity be false. The problem is that the creature described in the account bears little resemblance to anything in the locality.

How can a sceptic approach this type of account without any credence being given to unknown creatures in Loch Ness? Simple, you change the description of the creature seen by claiming the witness mis-saw or mis-remembered the object. Brilliant, simple and unscientific.

This device is widely used by sceptics to debunk close up sightings such as this one by John MacLean. It is brought in under the pretence of finding the "simpler explanation", yet it is disingenuous to apply this technique the way it is as it is untestable and unfalsifiable. If a technique is untestable and unfalsifiable, it is not a simpler explanation because there is no way of knowing whether it is in fact the correct explanation.

In this light, it is more than likely that some will claim that John MacLean simply mistook a seal for a monster. As a comparison, here are some seal shots.

There are some obstacles that have to be overcome when debunkers try to dilute the force of a witness' account. Here is the list of differences between the observed creature and a seal.

1. Seals are not twenty feet long.
2. Seals do not display the kind of head and neck described by the witness.
3. Seals do not display two humps.
4. Seals do not display their entire back contour from tail tip to head above water.
5. Seals cannot expand their back in the manner described.
6. Seals do not possess a tail of the length described.
7. No whiskers were described on the creature (unlike seals).

This doesn't include other "minor" problems such as whether a seal was actually in Loch Ness at the time. John MacLean is recorded as saying that he thought at first it was an otter or a seal or something but then knew perfectly well it wasn't either of them. Well, it seems the sceptics know better and will insist he is wrong for no other reason that witnesses are never right about these things. They must always have either mis-saw and/or mis-remembered what they claim. There is no Loch Ness Monster, therefore no exceptions, no concessions, no such thing as a reliable witness.

I won't go into the suggestions that MacLean failed to recognise a cormorant or an otter for what they were. Quite simply, there is a limit to this theory of misperception and it grinds to a halt long before it reaches this sighting.


No ground can be given, for if it is admitted that one sighting could be a genuine "monster", that casts doubt upon other sceptical interpretations. Researchers such as myself have no trouble admitting a percentage of reports are misperceptions or hoaxes, but it is rare to see a sceptic admit that even one of the thousand plus reports is inexplicable and could have been of an unknown creature.

So the problem is that the misperception theory is not a scientific theory. It is a theory, but not a scientific one. Why not? Because it cannot be properly tested. Normally, when a theory is proposed to explain something, an experiment is devised to test the validity of the theory. Attempts have been made to do this by setting up bobbing poles in the loch and gauging people's reactions.

The problem is the results are not that great and we have the problem of artificiality where people suspect they are guinea pigs and give a reaction that may or may not be similar to an unforced situation. Because of this, sceptics turn to general experiments on perception and try to force them into a Nessie shaped hole. Again, that is not a scientific approach. You have to devise experiments that are tailored to the subject in question to focus on its unique characteristics.

To repeat, a theory that cannot be properly tested is not a scientific theory.


Equally, if not more problematic is the unfalsifiability of this misperception theory. By that we mean, is there a situation which can arise which proves the theory false? If not, then the theory is scientifically useless as it will always predict the same outcome no matter what.

Let me show this by example. Suppose a 30 foot creature did really get into Loch Ness and showed itself at 50 metres to various witnesses. The witnesses give an accurate description of what they saw and the "experts" assess the testimonies. They then conclude the witnesses saw two seals swimming in line.

You see the problem? Even if a real event happened, it is easy for the misperception theory to produce an explanation. This is because the explanation comes at no cost and is unverifiable. That does not mean that the misperception theory cannot be employed, it can be if used in conjunction with corroborating evidence. The problem is it is overused to the point of simply going through the motions and glibly ticking off seal, log, duck, boat or otter from a checklist without any recourse to testing. The use of it has become lazy and unintellectual.

I think the point is that sceptics are employing a degree of trust or "faith" in this theory more than they are willing to admit. Having accused "believers" of being faith-like in their approach to the subject, it would hardly do to admit there is a degree of faith in their own theories!


But supposing one goes out on a limb and takes the outrageous position that John MacLean reliably described what he saw? Now there's a novel position, a reliable witness!

If so, the theme of a large, unknown creature in Loch Ness continues. John MacLean did see something "astounding" in the loch that day and people such as myself have speculated on what that might imply ever since. Quite simply, do not give in to these people who insist these accounts are somehow false and untrue.

As I looked at the past literature, it was a mixed selection. I have already mentioned Holiday and his visit to John MacLean. We also have the sighting mentioned in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story" and Peter Costello's "In Search Of Lake Monsters". The latter draws upon Holiday's interview as well as earlier accounts. Roy Mackal also uses it in his list of best sightings in "The Monsters Of Loch Ness".

However, other authors such as Whyte and Dinsdale do not mention the sighting. Those that did, do not really go into much interpretation or discussion. I find that a bit disappointing as sightings as close as this one are more likely to deliver key information on the creature than ones reported from ten times further away.

As an aside, sceptical books also do not really engage with the story. Only Steuart Campbell in his book, "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence", mentions it in any detail and he implies that John MacLean only saw an otter (despite MacLean saying he did not).

The first thing I noted was a degree of resemblance between the head drawn and the head visible in the Hugh Gray photograph taken five years earlier. The head shape also tallies with other reports but there is no agreement between all claimed head sightings. The discrepancy between these reports has been addressed before and boils down to certain factors:

1. Some "head" sightings are misidentifications and hence distort the database.
2. Some "head" sightings are hoaxes and hence distort the database.
3. Genuine head sightings are poorly described due to distance, time and obscuration factors.
4. Genuine head sightings are seen from different aspects (front,back,side) but assumed to be another aspect.
5. Genuine head sightings are accurate but are different aspects of the creature's gender, age, etc.

That may not completely harmonise matters as some subsets of LNM sightings are odd to say the least. There is the matter of the pole like structures sometimes reported, but I feel that is an article in its own right.


The most bizarre feature of this testimony is the hump expanding in some curious way before the creature finally submerged. We read that the foremost hump doubles in size as the object slowly submerged. Prior to this, the creature, in an almost equally bizarre manner, lay on the surface for several minutes.

Critics of reports like this try to deflect by stating this type of behaviour is at worst impossible or at best unheard of. They attempt to achieve this by framing the Loch Ness Monster as a simple creature with little in the way of novel behaviour. The actual lesson of Loch Ness Monster research is not to make the beast too simple, but neither make it too complex.

In my opinion, and that of monster researchers of times past, the creature possesses organs capable of quite notable positive buoyancy. This seems to be achieved via sacs or something similar that line its back and possibly sides. The action of these sacs is believed to be observed when the creature has been seen on multiple occasions changing its back contours.

Of course, we have various examples of creatures with inflatable air sacs. In fact, to see an example of positive buoyancy "in extremis", watch the YouTube clip below.

You could say our pufferfish puts the alleged extreme buoyancy of the Loch Ness Monster to shame! Clearly, the pufferfish employed its inflation ability as a defence mechanism. Why the Loch Ness Monster does this is not as clear. The creature starts off in this non-inflation mode as its neck juts out of the water. The depth at 18 metres out is less than 70 feet and one assumes the LNM is at near neutral buoyancy.

Once it moves further out, positive buoyancy kicks in while it appears to do nothing at all after its presumed meal. Then we have this extraordinary ballooning effect of the foremost hump. A strange thing to observe if this was only a seal, otter or cormorant!

I feel we have some kind of clue here but the final hump action is initially counter-intuitive. If the creature is submerging, it must go from positive to negative buoyancy and the description of the beast acting as if it is was being "pulled" into the water suggests a rapid change in buoyancy.

The natural assumption to make is that the hump would deflate to effect this transition as if air was being expelled. In fact, the opposite appears to happen! However, it may be that the swelling of the hump is not due to an intake of air but rather water from the loch. Certainly, the aforementioned pufferfish can take in water or air to inflate itself.

That would certainly make the creature heavier, but would it make it denser than if the hump was fully deflated? Perhaps a rapid water intake does aid a rapid dive, but since this behaviour is rarely (if ever) seen in other accounts of the creature sinking, it does not appear to be a necessity to normal submergence.


This blog accepts that John MacLean had one of the closest encounters with the Loch Ness Monster on record. Witnesses are more reliable and accurate than sceptics claim and no one who believes in a Loch Ness Monster should allow this to be so easily taken away. Certainly, at about sixty feet away, any debunking involving seals, otters or cormorants requires more than just saying so.

Of course, it is possible that John MacLean lied about his account. If anyone has evidence to that effect, let them bring it forward. Any suggestion that he lied because there is no Loch Ness Monster is circular reasoning.


As it turns out, Whyte and Dinsdale do mention the MacLean sighting favourably. This is an occasional problem is doing index based research, as your subject may not always appear in the index.

Constance Whyte mentions the sighting in her "Appendix A" of additional reports while Tim Dinsdale mentions it anonymously in his "Jigsaw Puzzle" chapter when tail sightings are analysed. It is clear from one of the descriptions that he is referring to J. MacLean.

One well known sceptical researcher took my initial statement on the Whyte/Dinsdale silence to be negative on MacLean (as if these authors "knew" something about him and quietly dropped it). Unfortunately (for him), he was wrong.

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