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Issue 33 - Everything you need to know about... The Loch Ness monster

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007


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Everything you need to know about... The Loch Ness monster

The Loch Ness Monster, or ‘Nessie,’ as he, she or it is known locally, has become a popular Scottish icon inspiring poems, books and songs. Over the years, Nessie’s image has been transposed onto coffee cups, posters, board games and children’s toys, but despite hundreds of alleged sightings, photographs and scientific investigations, nobody can be entirely certain that such a creature exists.

Loch Ness is a freshwater loch which runs 23 miles (37 kilometres) south west from the River Ness, the gateway of the Caledonian Canal through the town of Inverness from the Moray Firth. It sits 52 feet (15.8 metres) above sea level, is the second deepest loch in the United Kingdom, and forms the largest expanse of water in the geological fault known as the Great Glen.

Because of the peaty nature of the surrounding soil and Loch Ness’s depth (754 feet/230 metres at its most extreme), underwater visibility is minimal. On the loch floor there is a layer of sediment more than 25 feet in depth, which makes it impenetrable to light. One hundred feet below the surface is a thermocline line which ensures that the water temperature remains constant at 44° Farenheit. As the surface water nears freezing point on winter days, it sinks and is replaced by the warmer water from below. This can cause the loch to steam on excessively cold days.

The Great Glen Fault, in which Loch Ness is situated, occurred approximately 400million years ago. The present day expanse of water dates from the last Ice Age of approximately 10,000 years ago. The surrounding area has in the past experienced earthquakes at Richter four level. Hundreds of caverns and underground tunnels are said to exist below water leading into other Highland lochs, but none have to date been discovered.

The earliest sighting of a large creature in the loch is recorded in the Life of St Columba written in the seventh century. While those around him were consumed with terror, it is on record that the Saint calmly raised his hand to shape the sign of a cross in the air and that the monster fled in terror.

Although the presence of something in the loch has been talked about over the centuries, the modern legend began in 1934 when Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London physician, succeeded in photographing what was claimed to be a plesiosaur-like beast with a long neck emerging out of the murky waters.

Wild speculation followed, and an official investigation was launched, financed by Sir Edward Mountain, owner of the Eagle Star Insurance Company. Nothing conclusive came of this, but, in 1966, David James MP and the naturalist Sir Peter Scott were among those who formed ‘The Bureau for Investigating the Loch Ness Phenomena Ltd.’ This operation ran for 10 years and at least succeeded in capturing an object seven feet long on film.

There were the inevitable sceptics who pointed out that strong winds regularly create wave patterns on the loch surface which, from a distance, make it look as if there is something moving on the water.

Loch Ness is believed to contain the largest eel population in the world, and since it is known that eels can grow to a length of six feet this too was promoted as a possible explanation. However, in 1970, Dr Robert Rines, president of the Academy of Applied Sciences of Boston, Massachusetts, employed sonar on Loch Ness which this time provided proof that large objects do indeed inhabit the Loch. In 1975, a set of underwater photographs were taken which showed the head and body of a large creature.

In 1987, Operation Deepscan, the largest sonar investigation of Loch Ness so far to take place made fleeting contact with a large unidentified underwater object of unusual size and strength. At the same time, it was established that between 17 and 24 tons of small fish live in Loch Ness, which although not a large amount for such a great expanse of water, is certainly enough to feed up to 10 creatures weighing up to 226 kg each.

The majority of Nessie sightings have been from the ruins of Castle Urquhart, two miles from Drumnadrochit where The Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre is located (Tel: +44 (0)1456 450 573 There is also a 3D Loch Ness Experience quartered in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh (Tel: +44 (0)131 225 2290 In 1996, Ted Danson, Joely Richardson and Ian Holm starred in the Hollywood film Loch Ness. The conclusion was that whatever does exist there is best left alone.