As soon as I landed in Glasgow this summer, I promised myself a travel itinerary that would be the envy of any adventure lover. Exploring the various tourist websites for the most exciting and adventurous things to do, I chanced upon a website of Loch Ness which came with an intriguing blurb ‘there is something in the water’. My curiosity was piqued as I read about ‘Nessie’, the legendary lake monster of Loch Ness. This was the start of my strange journey to Loch Ness to seek out Nessie.
On a bright summer morning, armed with maps and directions of some helpful locals, I started my journey with a sense of utmost anticipation. After travelling for about two hours, I reached Fort William from where I started down the A-82 road that leads to Inverness and hugs the northern shoreline of Loch Ness.
The best place to view Loch Ness, I was told, was the ancient Urquhart Castle. It is believed that St Columba, the great Christian missionary, stayed here in the 6th century on his way to visit King Brude. In fact, it is said that the lake monster was sighted for the first time by St Columba. The boat carrying St Columba and his men was attacked by the lake monster. St Columba pointed an admonishing finger at the monster telling her to ‘go back with all speed’. It is said that thenceforth, the marauding monster changed into a gentle beast and was affectionately nicknamed ‘Nessie’.
I made haste to reach Urquhart Castle in the hope that I might be lucky enough to spot Nessie. The extensively ruined castle is perched on a rocky promontory and offers a bird’s-eye view of the 23 miles long and one mile wide Loch. The castle, once a strong medieval fortress, was destroyed in 1692 by Williamite troops who had held the castle against Jacobite forces. The visitor centre offers an interesting road map to the history of the castle. Several shallow steps lead down to the castle tower and the pier where you can catch the Loch Ness cruise for all of 12 pounds.
On board the cruise ship, I scanned the turbulent waters with my binoculars, hoping to catch sight of the elusive long-necked aquatic reptile. Half-way across the loch, we were told that maximum ‘sightings’ of the monster were made in this area. But we caught no sight of the monster variously described as ‘a pale brown long-necked creature’, ‘a plesiosaur’ and a ‘cryptid’. The visibility of the water was almost zero on account of the high peat content in the soil and so we could not really see anything below the surface. There were several people in kayaks on the Loch but none had caught sight of Nessie. We alighted at Clansman Hotel that was conveniently situated about 100 yards from the Loch.
I was told that the staff of the hotel had seen Nessie one afternoon in 1996. I patrolled the shoreline and sat by the window of the hotel for several hours hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie but the lake monster it seems was too shy to show up. There were several huge models of Nessie along the shore but no Nessie.
Was Nessie for real? I decided to crack this cryptozoology mystery once and for all and strode purposefully to the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit, a tiny village near Loch Ness. Nessie, I learnt, was sighted 50 times in 1934 alone and there have been about 4000 sightings since then. Film recordings of the monster were first made by Irvine in 1933 and Dr McRae in 1935.But of late the ‘sightings’ have become rare. The most recent sighting and film recording was made by Gordon Holmes, a lab technician in June 2007. Some sightings were later discovered as hoaxes and the photographs of the monster, like the surgeon’s photograph, were proved to be tampered negatives.
Several sonar studies were undertaken by research bodies but have yielded no results. Scientists believe that marine reptiles like plesiosaurs lived 160 million years ago and have been extinct for 65 million years. So if Nessie actually existed, she would have to be a Methuselah among beasts. Also, it has been argued by sceptics that most of the sightings have taken place in the early morning mist or late at night. Therefore, an element of human error cannot be ruled out. Whatever the reality, Nessie has attained worldwide celebrity status, making Urquhart the third most visited historical site, largely because of the mystique of the lake monster.
The cruises, submarine rides, Nessie exhibition centers, and Nessie merchandise have given birth to a remunerative industry. At the last count, the Nessie tourist industry had generated as much as $ 67 million.
Crestfallen, I returned to my rented apartment. My landlord, who knew about my quest for Nessie, quizzed me on my day. Seeing my extreme disappointment, with a straight face and a twinkle in his eyes he informed me that there were two sightings of Nessie everyday. Before, I could jump up in excitement and renew my search, he continued: "One five minutes before you arrive and one five minutes after you leave." That’s Nessie for you.
Part of the Dream Weave Walk Network 1998-2010