Scottish Folklore - The Loch Ness Monster
Throughout October we will be looking at some of the various creatures from Scottish folklore on the run up to Halloween. You may have heard stories and myths about Scotland, almost every castle is haunted and nearly every loch has some kind of spirit or monster story associated with it. Although not a particularly scary or feared creature, the most commonly known example from Scottish folklore is of course the Loch Ness Monster.
What is the Loch Ness Monster?
The Loch Ness Monster (fondly known as "Nessie") is a very famous cryptid which is a creature whose existence is quesionable as there has never been any concrete evidence to prove it is real. The Himalayas have the Yeti, North America has Bigfoot, Mexico and South America have the Chupacabra and we have the Loch Ness Monster.
The sightings of Nessie usually describe the creature as being large and green with a pointed head and long elongated neck that sticks out of the water, suggesting that it is a serpent-like creature. A common belief is that it is a surviving dinosaur-era species such as a plesiosaur which lived in the Jurassic & Cretaceous Periods (65 - 200 million years ago) As you can see from the photo below - it fits the description.
In 2003 a plesiosaur vertebra was found on the shores of Loch Ness but as the rocks around it are not fossil bearing, it was considered as just another hoax. As plesiosaurs were cold blooded it makes this theory even more unlikely as they probably wouldn't be able to survive in the waters of Loch Ness unless it and its ancestors evolved to survive in cold waters.
The first documented sighting of the creature was in 565 when the Irish monk St Columba came across Pict locals burying a man next to the River Ness. Upon enquiry, St Columba was told that the deceased man had been attacked by an aquatic creature that attacked him and dragged him underneath the water. So St Columba being the nice guy that he was, sent one of his followers into the river for a swim but when he was approached by the monster, St Columba reportedly made the sign of the cross and exclaimed "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once." The monster then retreated back into the depths of the river. However this tale comes from "Life of St Columba" by Adomnán which was written about 100 years after the events are claimed to have taken place.
Sightings of the monster increased massively in the 1930's which is believed to be due to the upgrades to the road which encouraged more visits. In 1933 George Spicer and his wife saw a creature cross the road in front of them which was supposedly 25 feet (8m) long and about 10 foot (3m) wide. It had a long wavy neck and no limbs and as you can imagine they were quite shocked to see it moving across the road near their car.
Other sightings and photographs followed that year with many being disregarded as other animals such as otters but in 1934 the image known as the "Surgeons Photograph" showed what is supposedly the first image of the neck and head of the monster. London based surgeon Robert Kenneth Wilson took 4 photos upon spotting the monster, with one being substantially less blurry than the others. Again, it was often dismissed as being driftwood or an animal like an otter. Throughout the years it subject to a lot of analysis and criticism. I was believed that the photo was cropped to make it seem like the ripples on the water are waves, making the "creature" in the photo look larger. Further analysis of the photo also revealed that the creature/object had been dragged through the water, indicating its size to be about 3 foot long. It was later revealed to be a hoax and it turned out that the most famous and earliest image of the Loch Ness Monster was in fact a toy submarine with a head and neck attached to it made out of wood putty.
Surgeons Photo (1934)
There have been many expeditions throughout the years such as in 1987 £1m was spent on Operation Deepscan which involved 24 boats with sonar capabilities searching throughout the loch for an entire week yet found nothing. In 2003 the BBC funded a search of the loch wusing 600 sonar beams and even used satellite tracking, yet they also found nothing. So if efforts such as as these could not yield results, it makes you wonder what will it take to find Nessie?
Myth or Reality?
At this point most people just see it as a myth and dismiss any "evidence" brought forth however in 2017 there were 8 reported sightings (the most in a single year this century) suggesting that although it may not be a plesiosaur there might actually be something down there. If you'd like to try your luck at spotting the legendary creature from Scottish folklore then you could visit Loch Ness with us on our Loch Ness, Glencoe & The Highlands Tour which departs from Edinburgh and Glasgow and take a cruise to get the best views.
Perhaps in the future we'll get a definitive answer to the tale. A group of researchers are planning to use environmental DNA to determine whether or not the creature exists. The use of environmental DNA is often used for monitoring sharks and other marine animals and could be applied to Loch Ness by looking for and analysing DNA left behind such as scales, faeces or skin.
Unlike many other myths about Scottish lochs, the creature that supposedly lives beneath the water in this instance has not been linked to any attacks aside from the original documented encounter with St Columba. Next week, we'll discuss some aquatic creatures from Scottish folklore and our ancestor's nightmares that are a bit less docile than Nessie...