So much has already been written about the Loch Ness Monster, and there is very little that I can add to the subject; still, it is hard to imagine this blog without at least briefly discussing the famous Scottish monster. After all, the Loch Ness Monster is standard that all other lake monsters are measured against. The only unknown creature to receive the level of attention of the Loch Ness Monster is the Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot.
Is there anyone who has not has heard of the Loch Ness Monster? Affectionately known as Nessie, it is the legendary cryptid of Loch Ness; the deep, cold, and mysterious lake nestled in the Scottish Highlands. Who hasn’t at one time or another viewed an internet video reportedly showing the beast, watched a special on a cable channel, or at least noticed a photo shopped picture on the cover of a supermarket tabloid?
Most who are familiar with the legends of the creature have an opinion; it is a hoax, an undiscovered species, a mirage caused by light reflections on the water, the misidentification of a known animal, inanimate floating objects, or any number of other theories. What seems clear though, whether the monster is real or a figment of the imagination; people are seeing something in the mysterious waters of Loch Ness.
An Ancient Account
Contrary to popular belief, reports of the Loch Ness Monster are not of recent origin—sightings of the stealthy beast have been going on for centuries. The first known documented encounter with the cryptid dates back to the sixth century. This report, a chronicled Nessie sighting, is logged in Adomnàn’s account of the life of Saint Columba, written in the late seventh century or early eighth century. According to the story, on August 22, 565, Saint Columba was traveling through the land of the Picts, which we know as present-day Scotland. Columba and his party happened upon some local villagers burying a man. The residents told him that while the man was swimming in the River Ness, he was attacked by a water beast which pulled him under. Horrified onlookers attempted to rescue the unfortunate victim in a boat, but were unable to save him. An interesting side note to the story is that this account occurs in the river Ness rather than the Loch where nearly all reported sightings take place.
As Adomnàn’s account continues, we learn that despite the fact that a man was killed by the monster, Columba was unafraid of the beast. He orders one of his followers, a man named Lugne Mocumin, to swim across the river and retrieve a boat. As Lugne Mocumin began swimming, the beast surfaced with its massive jaws open. The monster roared and began heading toward the helpless man—undoubtedly with the intention of claiming a second victim. Columba immediately sprang into action to assist his fellow traveler. He rebuked the monster saying, “You will go no further, and won’t touch the man; go back at once.” Amazingly, at the sound of the stern command, the creature instantly retreated.
This tale is fascinating to say the least—there are few, if any, reports of a monster being told to depart, in which the creature actually obeys the command! However, as evidence for the existence of a monster, the story is very problematic. The account was written over one hundred years after the death of Columba. The author was not present at the time of the sighting, and was reliant upon the memories and testimonies of others. Moreover, it is common for stories to grow over time, a little embellishment here or there can create a larger-than-life tale after many decades. It is also very well known that authors through the ages would engage in the exaggeration of the deeds of church saints. Surely, there is a little, if not a lot, of ‘stretching the truth’ with this story. Most troublesome when trying to use an ancient account for evidence, is the fact that there is just no way to corroborate the story.
What are we to make of Adomnàn’s tale of Columba rebuking the Loch Ness Monster? In the same way that myths and legends seem to always hold a kernel of truth, couldn’t this story be loosely based on actual events? We know that a man is said to have died at the hands of an unexplained water creature in the story. Is it so impossible to believe that this actually happened? Couldn’t a death and sightings of a ‘monster,’ much like sightings that are reported today, be the kernel of truth in an otherwise far-fetched, tall tale?
Regardless of the accuracy of Adomnàn’s written account, one thing is clear: people are seeing something on and around the Loch and they have been for centuries. My reason for mentioning this account is to show that long before television, movies, tabloids, and trick photography, a monster-like creature was known to local residents living around Loch Ness. This is important—skeptics are quick to dismiss sightings and laugh them off. But the fact of the matter is, these reports stretch back into the distant past.
The Loch Ness Monster’s rise to fame can be traced back to 1933. In July of that year, George Spicer claimed to have seen “a most extraordinary animal” about 25 feet long across the road in front of him. Not long after Spicer’s claims, eyewitness reports steadily increased. The Loch Ness Monster was well on its way to becoming a household name, not only in Scotland, but the entire world.
In December of 1933, Hugh Gray took the first alleged photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. Since the Spicer documented sighting and the Gray photo, countless other sightings have been reported along with controversial photographs and video. Eyewitness reports continue to this very day.
Opinions regarding Nessie vary as widely as the reports themselves. To the diehard skeptic, the only logical explanation is that the ‘sightings’ are hoaxes, lies on the part of the ‘witnesses,’ or misidentification of known species by people with overactive imaginations.
According to skeptics, even if witnesses are credible and are being honest about what they saw, there are many ways to explain these occurrences. The detractors often point to optical illusions. For instance, when light reflects on the water in just the right way, it can have a mirage-like effect. Light reflections on water have been known to trick many reliable people into believing that they saw something that did not exist. Another one of nature’s tricks, as unbelievable as it may sound, is using natural gas emissions to create an optical illusion on the water. When natural gas emissions are released into the atmosphere, they have been known to cause an illusion effect at times, which can probably explain at least a small percentage of sightings.
Ordinary, inanimate objects are something else that can trick people into believing that they have had a sighting. Objects such as logs and other debris floating on the water can at times fool onlookers into believing that they see a strange creature. Debris tends to take on an unusual appearance from time to time, especially when viewed from certain angles with moving water and strange lighting.
Misidentification of known species can account for a significant amount of other sightings. Common animals are often misidentified by eyewitness, especially in areas with a history of cryptid sightings—places such as Loch Ness. A group of otters or beavers swimming and splashing on the water, can resemble ‘sea serpent’ humps. It has been suggested that eels, deer, seals, and even elephants have been mistaken for the famous lake monster. In my mind though, it is much easier to believe in an unidentified species, a type of lake monster, than to believe elephants are behind sightings in Scotland. But with that being said, eels and beavers have tricked a number of people over the years.
As skeptics try and brush off eyewitness reports and decades of sightings, and dismiss the Loch Ness Monster as nothing more than a fanciful tale, I am reminded of a classic work, and one of my all-time favorites, The Great Sea-serpent. In the book, author A.C. Oudemans cautions his readers against the tactics of the skeptics:
“Some sea-serpent explainers are in the habit of explaining one single sea-serpent, say by reference to a row of porpoises, and then try to account for others by this suggestion, the upshot of which is that the explainer does no longer see his way clear of the difficulties which beset him, and driven to his wits end, cuts the Gordon knot, leaving a great many serpents unexplained.”
Loch Ness is a long and narrow freshwater body covering nearly 22 square miles. The Loch is over 22 miles long at its longest point, and its maximum width is about 1.7 miles. What is so fascinating about the Loch however, is its depth. The average depth is 433 feet—nearly one and a half American football fields! At its deepest point the Loch reaches a whopping depth of 754 feet! Another interesting feature of the Loch is that there are underwater caves. The cavernous system is thought by some to have access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Ask yourself: in an area composing 22 square miles, with depths reaching over 700 feet, and with a system of underwater caves, what could be lurking there? It may be more surprising if a cryptid did not make this place its home!
Think of this too: a rare aquatic creature with the type of habitat that we have discussed would be extremely hard to detect, and quite a rarity to see. As difficult as it would be so see, photograph, or video a cryptid with such a vast underwater lair—it would be even more difficult, nearly a herculean task, to obtain physical evidence of the creature.