Sunday, 1 March 2015

Finding Bigfoot goes to Loch Ness

The popular "squatching" series, "Finding Bigfoot", headed to the shores of Britain on a recent airing on Animal Planet. I, for one, was curious to know how they got on with the hairless cryptid that inhabits Loch Ness as well as their take on cryptid humanoids in Britain.

The first stop was London and that meant things like Buckingham Palace and, in the case of leader Matt Moneymaker, managing to bump into another car on London's busy streets. Well, perhaps he just mounted a pavement. Like some Nessie or Bigfoot sightings, the details were a bit vague.

Meeting primatologist, Dr. Anna Nekaris, at the appropriately named "Green Man" pub, she discussed the most likely habitats for large primates and the forms of ancient man that once inhabited these isles (namely, Homo Erectus and Neanderthalensis).

One such prime spot appeared to be Harwood Forest in the north of England where our team met Neil Young and an alleged photograph of a hairy hominid he took some years back. It is definitely a blobsquatch and not a lot could be deduced from it. Certainly, it made some Nessie photos as clear as day by comparison. It became evident that Bigfoot hunters have the same issues with getting close to their quarry as we do at Loch Ness.

Nevertheless, the staple night hunt ensued as the team acquired cricket bats instead of baseball bats to do their wood knocking and the thermal cameras scanned the opaque woodlands. Nothing was seen and it was onto their "Town Hall" meeting where they heard some people recount their "squatchy" experiences.

I noted a familiar name in the crowd and that was Adam Bird who, back in 2011, sent me some pics he had grabbed from the Nessie Webcam, you can detour to that article here. Also at that meeting, was a Hamish MacDonald  who invited the team to come further north and investigate the Grey Man of Ben MacDhui and therein lay an excuse to take a detour to Loch Ness.

Matt Moneymaker and Ranae Holland accompanied Adam and his father Paul to Sherwood Forest where they had an experience of knocking and thumping noises in an area alleged to have hosted Bigfoot type sightings. It seems Adam has had a subsequent Bigfoot experience where a footprint and figure were photographed.

Prior to this, the team had visited a 900 year old church with some greenman or wildman carvings inside. Are these carvings a latent memory of ancient encounters between Homo Sapiens and some of his more distant relations? 

Meanwhile, James "Bobo" Fay and Cliff Barackman had arrived in the Cairngorms to check out the Grey Man who reputedly haunts the mountain, Ben MacDhui. Now that may be a better word than "inhabits" since that particular phenomenon seems to have a more ethereal quality to it. Nevertheless, our duo met with the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team and their tale of two men they had rescued from a shredded tent with the connotation that something had attacked it (though some have questioned this story).

Now, to my surprise, I noticed a William Cameron amongst the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. Actually he is a marketing man for the Loch Ness area based at the Clansman Hotel by Loch Ness. Methinks he was a plant to draw our dynamic Bigfoot duo closer to Loch Ness. Indeed, it clicked that the aforementioned Hamish MacDonald who mysteriously appeared in England was likely another link in the chain.

What Willie Cameron thought of  the Finding Bigfoot editorial team subtitling some of his Scottish accent, I may never know.  It's not surprising, though, when I was in California some years back, I had a hard time making myself understood to a fast food waitress. My wife eventually had to translate for me.

So, finally, Bobo and Cliff got to Loch Ness and a familiar face was there to greet them - Adrian Shine. They went out on his Deepscan boat and discussed the Loch Ness Monster in the middle of the loch. Cliff thought there was something to the mystery but Bobo was non-committal. Adrian took them through a brief, potted history and the things that can fool observers of the loch such as standing waves, etc.

Though Adrian thought anything unusual he had seen had a natural explanation, there were still some sonar readings that had no ready explanation. Cliff drew the parallel that a proportion of Bigfoot sightings were also explicable in their own way (but clearly this had not affected his belief in the creatures).

Now, I was hoping that the team would go out on the loch and do a Bigfoot-type search with those FLIR thermal cameras that I so covet. But, alas, I was to be disappointed as the hunt for Nessie amounted to no more that Bobo improvising one of his Sasquatch hollers with a kind of heavy breathing outburst!

In fact, Cliff and Bobo did do a night search at Loch Ness with Hamish, but it was up in the hills of nearby Abriachan. The first mistake they made was presuming there was a hairy hominid to look for in that part of the world, I am aware of no such stories from that area south west of Inverness. The second mistake was putting on kilts and going into a forest full of midges. Epic mistake, but we live and learn.

But I was indeed curious to see how their thermal cameras would have performed on the surface of Loch Ness. In fact, I am interested in acquiring such a device for my own research at the loch. The gadget I had in mind can't be that different from the Bigfoot team and is the Flir TS24 Pro (below).

It runs at 240x180 resolution with a 19mm or 65mm lens and can record up to 16Gb on an SD card (after all, I'll need to prove what I saw). It's a mere snip at around £3,500 and if anyone wants to lend me one or even buy one for me, just drop me an email!

The whole team finished with a night search amongst the old caledonian pine forests along the Moray Firth coast a few miles north east of Loch Ness. Deemed the most "squatchy" territory by our team, the most they got out of the hunt was a sound that may well have been an owl.

Finishing off their special trip to the United Kingdom, it was felt that there may have once been a hominid in Britain which inspired the old folk tales of wild men and green men, but even Bobo concluded that there may have been nothing in Britain for maybe centuries.

I, myself, am neutral on whether such bipedal creatures have appeared recently in Britain. I shall leave those arguments to such people as Adam Bird. For me, it's back to the Loch Ness Monster - with the odd glance at the next episode of Finding Bigfoot.

The author can be contacted at


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Nessletter No.162 now published

Rip Hepple, veteran Loch Ness Monster expert, has published the latest issue of his long running Loch Ness newsletter, "Nessletter" (dated February 2015). The main focus of his newsletter this issue is his time at the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, with a particularly interesting feature on "night drifting".
If you wish to find out more, the subscription rates are: £5 (UK) or $10 (USA) for 12 issues which are published intermittently, not monthly. Send your payment and address details to:
7 Huntshieldford
St John's Chapel
Co Durham
DL13 1RQ
United Kingdom
I would point out that an archive of Rip's older newsletters can be found here on Google Drive. Rip's newsletter has been running now for over forty years and has been a valuable source of information and analysis throughout those years. I continue to look forward to his wisdom and analysis.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Frank Searle Items

There are a few items on Frank Searle that have built up, so I would like to put them under this one article. As ever, anything about the most infamous of monster hunters always generates more than average interest.

Firstly, I got back to Paul Harrison, author of The Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster, asking about his book on Frank Searle. Some readers may recall a previous article in which it was stated that Paul had tracked down Frank to his home in Fleetwood before he died and conducted a series of interviews. Frank Searle died on the 26th March 2005, having previously spent fifteen years camped at Loch Ness in pursuit of the Monster.

Paul now tells me that the book will be published in August or September this year. It should prove to be a stimulating read! As I have said before, I don't regard any person as 100% evil, nor any other as 100% good. Most of the stuff we read demonises Frank Searle, and some of it will be deserved, but as they say, the victors get to write the history.

On my second point today, Frank Searle certainly gets that kind of treatment in a book called "50 People Who Screwed Up Scotland" by Allan Brown. This is a recent publication, having come out last May.

Amongst these fifty personalities, I found that Frank Searle was entry number 48 after Alex Salmond. If you go to the Amazon entry and click on the book image to "Look Inside", you can find that entry and read what Allan Brown has to say about Frank Searle. I don't think one would learn anything new as a Loch Ness researcher, but you'll get the point about the vilification of Frank Searle.

Finally, and I suppose by way of balance, I have placed one of Frank's books on my Google Drive. It is his 1977 booklet, "The Story of Loch Ness" and you can access it as a PDF document at this link. It will prompt you to enter a password which is "nb2vsm6p". I reviewed that book in a previous article, but you can read it for yourselves now. I see no reason to withhold its distribution as I see no copyright claim on it and I am sure it would be Frank's wish to see it receive a wider readership.

After all, having by then spent eight years at Loch Ness, you would expect some degree of knowledge from the man. Judge for yourself, but I am leaving the main judgement until Paul's book comes out.

The author can be contacted at

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Piece of Loch Ness History

I note a piece of Loch Ness history is on sale for the mere price of around £450,000. It is the Foyers Lodge just outside of the village of Foyers on the south side of the loch. Holding twelve bedrooms, it has been a hunting lodge, a hotel and a house to let.

But, as I recall, and others may correct me, this was where Tim Dinsdale lodged during the week he captured his famous film footage and I do believe Peter O' Connor was there when he took his controversial photograph down the hill. It was the then proprietor of the lodge, Hugh Rowland, who motored his boat out onto the loch for Tim to film his comparison footage and Hugh claimed his own triangular hump sighting back then.

One previous owner, Buddy MacDougall, also claimed her own sighting of the creature when she said:

We were constantly being asked about the Loch Ness monster and one afternoon, along with two guests, we did see an upturned cabin cruiser sized object out in the bay which sank and then reappeared then sank for good.

Apparently, it even has a ghost and Buddy MacDougall again relates:

The hotel had a very friendly ambiance but quite often we did see a little white dog disappearing under the kitchen table. Also, after pooh poohing Lorna and Mhairi for reports of eerie goings on in their bedroom, I also had a frightening experience when I rushed upstairs one dark night to get something from their room when they were away from home. On opening the door, I was utterly shocked to feel a presence right in front of me. There was nothing there when I switched on the light.

Quite how many have thought they have seen the Monster from the lodge's high vantage point is difficult to tell, but for less than half a million, you can get your own piece of Loch Ness real estate.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 22 February 2015

At the Scholarly Research of the Anomalous

The Counting House in Edinburgh hosted a series of speakers this weekend for the Scholarly Research of the Anomalous Conference. Since I live in Edinburgh, I made my way along to take part in proceedings. The event was organised by Gordon Rutter and Charles Paxton, who had previously done the successful "Nessie at 80" event at the same venue in 2013. Gordon organises the regular, monthly meetings of the Edinburgh Fortean Society which I often attend.


First up was Darren Naish, well known author at the popular Tetrapod Zoology blog. He spoke on "The Evolution of Sea Monsters in Terms of What people Report". Darren spoke of the four phases of Sea Serpent cryptozoology, starting with the classic exploratory stage in Victorian time when biologists such as Huxley and Owen would debate living plesiosaurs.

From there is was onto Oudemans and his pinnepedial Megophias and then onto Bernard Heuvalmans' more complex classification system of up to ten variants. Finally, the revised taxonomies of Coleman, Huyghe and Champagne.

But Naish sees us in a post-cryptid cryptozoological period and perhaps in a last phase as these reports are re-analysed. I could see the parallels with the Loch Ness Monster and would disagree with the post-cryptid scenario. But it was an interesting talk nonetheless. 

At the end, I asked Darren if the presumed absence of serpentine megafauna in the seas suggested there was evolutionary pressure against such a morphology. He thought this was the case for mammals and the way endothermic energy is dissipated in such a shape, but not so much for exothermic. Which suggests a gigantic and slender reptile or fish is not impossible, yet nature (from a sceptical point of view) has not seen fit to produce such a beast. Then again, perhaps not.


Charles came up next with a familiar theme, the statistical analysis of cryptid sightings. This has been a long running pursuit of Charles' in the sea serpent context and now for the Loch Ness Monster. The problem for analysts such as him is to measure the precision and accuracy of such anecdotal evidence. One can make some estimate of this by comparing the same single eyewitness accounts over different time periods or comparing multiple eyewitness accounts of the same event.

The other is to attempt to set up a controlled environment with known parameters and measure how eyewitnesses make their own estimates of distance, length, height, etc. It turns out Charles had some Edinburgh Forteans go past some witnesses in a Bigfoot-like suit in order to measure their responses!

In terms of the Loch Ness Monster, I later suggested to Charles that he should try and track down the transcripts of the 2005 Channel 5 documentary "Loch Ness Monster: The Ultimate Experiment" where an animatronic plesiosaur was put into Loch Ness for unwitting boat passengers to see. It would be interesting to see if it contained any witness estimates of the object's attributes.


After lunch, it was Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh. He spoke on the 1974 Berwyn Mountain UFO case which is dubbed by some as the "British Roswell" as it allegedly involved a crashed flying saucer. Even though this was the only non-cryptid talk, I had an interest in it as a documentary on this case had recently appeared on British TV.

As it turns out, Roger's explanation that the crash noise was actually a magnitude 3.5 earthquake made sense. The interpretation that the lights seen in the area were poachers' car lights and/or meteors was more open to debate. I asked him at the end whether such an earthquake instead could have produced light energy as well as sound energy. I offered that theory with Paul Devereux's Earth Lights theory in mind. Roger did not think so in this case, but was open to it happening in other cases (such as one in Lincoln in 2008).  


Dr. Bildhauer from St. Andrews University next spoke on "Monsters in Medieval Manuscripts". That world was a world of all manner of strange beasts including unicorns, dragons, basilisks, mermaids, sea serpents, crane headed people and single footed humans. 

We also had an insight into medieval medicine as the four humours of black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm were explained and their relation to the Evil Eye of the basilisks and witches. Things got even stranger as this was linked to menstrual cycles. Changed days.


I have enjoyed and been informed by Mike's fortean writings over the years, so it was a pleasure to at last meet him and hear his talk on "Our Artist Pictures What the Witness Saw". Mike's talk focused on the various artistic renderings of Fortean phenomena that have been less than accurate in the representation of what the witness saw. Such pictures are almost too numerous to mention and range from the sea serpent drawings of the HMS Daedalus in 1848 to Mike's dealings with artistic depictions for the Fortean Times.

It is an issue I have seen myself in the Loch Ness literature, though original witness testimony and sketches can obviate some of the more dramatic touches of periodical artists. I pointed out to Mike later that embellishment is a two way street and pointed out the case of Maurice Burton and his sceptical 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster".

In that book, Burton, shall we say, reinterpreted one or two photographs as drawings to fit his theories. Moreover, his drawing of a deer which, by coincidence, looks amazingly like the Greta Finlay creature is "interesting".


The day ended with an informative and entertaining Q&A session involving all the speakers. Just to show these people were not all crusty sceptics, they were asked which Fortean phenomena they gave credence to. Darren Naish said out of place cats, Mike Dash had a penchant for poltergeists, Charles Paxton was still open on large, undiscovered creatures in the oceans and I am not sure what Bettina and Roger said.

My only question to the panel was for Roger the seismologist. I recalled reading a book on an earthquake in Inverness at the start of the 20th century and how the author described seeing the waters of Loch Ness boiling like a cauldron. 

Roger said this was in 1901 and was one of the largest recorded earthquakes in Britain. The effect on Loch Ness was perfectly explicable as a giant standing wave shaking the loch as opposed to my expectation of a tidal surge. That must have been a sight to behold.

All in all, it was a good day, and I look forward to the next conference.

The author can be contacted at

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Whales in Scottish Lochs

In my previous article, I referred to a letter which appeared in the Inverness Advertiser on the 3rd January 1854. The writer of the letter, an M. Bankes, asked for opinions on the existence of whales in Scottish lochs. 

The context to that letter turns out to be the famous story of the Loch Na Beiste creature which gained national coverage as the locals attempted to capture the mysterious denizen of this rather small loch in Ross and Cromarty.  Mr. Bankes was the proprietor of the estate in which the loch lay and you can read the story of the hunt here.

A reader requested I reproduce the second letter and I do so here. The first letter is shown first and the second from the same paper dated 14th March 1854. The text is too much for the OCR I use, so hopefully you can read it from the original!

Some were, of course, sceptical of whales and the matter of seals comes up. Mr. Bankes assures them he knows what a seal look likes but in the end he seems favourable to another candidate that sometimes appears in cryptozoology, 160 years on, the Wels Catfish (Silurus Glanis).

Now I am not sure if this creature has ever been observed or captured in Scottish waters, be it rivers or lochs. Perhaps someone can enlighten me, but it appears that Mr. Bankes never caught his presumed catfish.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Loch Ness Monster Sighting from 1909

You never know where things can end up. One things leads to another and an obscure item comes to light after decades.

I was doing some research for an article defending Alex Campbell. That is for another day, but in the course of research, I read an article by Alex Campbell from 1962, which tackled the leading sceptic of the day, Maurice Burton.

The article was published in the May 1962 edition of the Scots Magazine and was Campbell's reply to various objections Burton had brought against the idea of a monster in Loch Ness, such as his favoured vegetable mat theory. That article is interesting enough in its own right, but further research turned up something else.

One aspect of Loch Ness Monster research is to look for follow up. So, when an article such as this is published, I always look at subsequent publications to see if any feedback came out of it. The Scots Magazine has a section for readers' letters, so I looked out a few months to see if anything was published. As it turned out, the August issue carried a letter from a Mr. W. Fletcher Stiell who lived in Lincoln. I reproduce that letter below.

I was most interested in the article, "No, Dr Burton!" by Mr A. M. Campbell in your May issue. I can hardly think that Mr Campbell is the Loch Ness water bailiff whom I met in 1909. The bailiff I knew lived in a lochside cottage on the south side of the loch about midway between Inverfarigaig and Dores. He caught me in my student days cross-line fishing with "an otter" on a beautiful  moonlight night. All he did in a gentlemanly tone was to explain the iniquity of my conduct, to confiscate four big peacock flies, which I had dressed myself, and two nice sea-trout. We parted the best of friends.

I fished the loch daily, except Sundays. for two months every summer for twelve years - twenty-four months in all. During this time I only saw the monster once, and that was in August 1909. This was twenty-four years before Mr Campbell first "wrote up" the creature, and I was ignorant of its existence.

Unfortunately I was alone in the boat and had no camera, but for about three minutes I was parallel and only about twenty-five yards from the animal. It was swimming at about ten miles an hour against about a ten-knot wind. This was, of course, faster than I could row, and I was therefore outpaced and I lost sight. However, I cannot picture any weed-mat moving against a breeze at all.

I knew all the gillies at Drumnadrochit personally at that time. They are now all dead, but when I spoke of my experience they failed to comment in any way, so I have since done likewise. I do know that Sandy Ross, the late piermaster at Temple Pier, saw a similar beast on several occasions.

If the creature is a plesiosaurus, and its appearance was not unlike the pictures I have seen, then there must be some means of reproduction and at least two monsters. Not even a prehistoric beast could live for many centuries, but it could be reproduced unknown under the favourable conditions of Loch Ness.

As an aside, the bailiff at that time was not Alex Campbell, but John Grant. I would point out that the terms "Nessie" and "Loch Ness Monster" were completely unknown back in 1909. In fact, it was another 24 years before such phrases began to feature alongside reports of a strange creature inhabiting this northern lake.

As I have stated before, it is one of the pillars of modern scepticism that the Loch Ness Monster was a media created and media sustained phenomenon beginning in 1933. Before that year, there was nothing but an echoing void. This man's account suggests that theory can be thrown on the garbage heap.

Not that this account is unique. Only last month, we published the account of folklorist and ethnologist, Calum MacLean, who recorded the account of William MacKenzie and his Victorian Loch Ness Monster. Anyone who does not think people were seeing strange things in Loch Ness before 1933 are simply in denial.


Keen to find out more about Fletcher Stiell's experience, I searched online. Having an uncommon name made this somewhat easier and I soon found out that he had written a book entitled "Spare Moments in an Easy Chair" published ten years previously in 1952. 

Further searching showed there was only one copy of this book available for sale. It seems his book is rarer than the Loch Ness Monster! Fortunately, the prestigious National Library of Scotland had a copy and I made the short trip to examine it. It turned out Mr. Stiell was a qualified doctor, Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In that regard, he recounts his tales of being a surgeon to World War One soldiers.

It is a small book in which Stiell reminisces on his times, observations and hobbies. To that end, we read him holding forth on a varied range of subjects such as medicine, angling, football, cars, philately, fish, hillwalking, cats, dogs ... and the Loch Ness Monster. A small three page chapter was devoted to Fletcher's experience, which is reproduced below.


THIS poor beast has for long been a subject of much controversy and scepticism, which has been sustained and rekindled by considerable journalism, much of which has been of a wild and flamboyant character. I have frequently felt inclined to give my own observations on this animal, but have each time avoided the temptation, as I realized that the subject had already become the butt of ridicule. To appreciate fully the presence of this animal in the loch, it is essential to possess some knowledge of the geography and topography of Loch Ness. It is a beautiful loch, in my opinion the most noble expanse of fresh water in Great Britain. It has not, of course, the delicate refinements and variety of such island-studded gems as Loch Morar or Loch Maree, but for sheer size and nobility it is unrivalled. It is twenty-six miles long with an average breadth of well over a mile. It is connected to the sea at a point where the seven-mile long River Ness empties into the Moray Firth. It is this river that furnishes the true explanation of the existence of the Loch Ness monster. 

I am not quite certain of the actual year, but I believe it was during the Summer of 1915, that I first saw a Loch Ness monster. In spite of the fact that, previous to this, I had already spent many happy hours fishing on the loch, I had never witnessed anything abnormal. In this particular Summer there were three continuous days and nights of phenomenal rain, as a result of which the loch rose as least eight feet and of course the River Ness likewise. Immediately following the cessation of the  downpour, I was on the loch in my small rowing-boat, fishing and observing the aftermath of the flood. I saw dead sheep, cows, fowls, etc., which had been brought down the hill streams, and I noticed what I at first thought was a horse in the water, and probably in difficulties.

When I had approached to within about twenty yards of the animal, I observed that it was in no difficulty at all, and that it was swimming easily against a head-wind with its head well clear of the water. It was dark in colour and roughly about fifteen feet in length. Immediately I came to the conclusion that it was what is known as a pilot whale or blackfish, which by accident had become separated from its herd and had found its way up the flooded river into the loch. As soon as the Loch returned to anything approaching normal level the animal would be unable to return to the river, as there is an artificial shallow weir at the junction of loch and river. Moreover, it would appear that it would have difficulty in finding again the one river of exit, when once it had entered an expanse of water the size of Loch Ness.

The pilot whale is quite common in the Northern Atlantic. They are frequently hunted in the Faroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands and I have seen them as far south as Loch Fyne on the west coast of Argyll. It is a timid and harmless creature to man, but of course is naturally destructive to fish-life on which it feeds. It has always been admitted that the Monster has been afraid, and difficult of approach. I much regret that I am unable to recall at what date the daily press began to journalise the creature, but I seem to think that it was quite ten years after my own experience. It is also difficult to estimate the longevity of a whale, but it is known that large animals, e.g. elephants, do enjoy a long span of life and therefore, I think, it is quite probable that this could explain the joyful findings of the journalists in 1925 or thereabouts. 

I am, however, quite satisfied that I have myself seen a large animal, probably a Pilot Whale, in Loch Ness, following a phenomenal flood probably in the year 1915. I saw it on one occasion only, but I have not had the pleasure of seeing much of Loch Ness since 1915. I am satisfied myself that what I saw was not a prehistoric monster and I am strongly inclined to think that the much discussed monster was probably the pilot whale I had seen ten years previously or, at the most, a similar whale, which had entered the loch under similar conditions.


It is instructive now to compare the two accounts, separated by about nine years. The book was published in 1952, but given his preface was written in 1951, I think his Loch Ness Monster chapter was also typed out in 1951. Back in those days, talk about the monster was pretty muted. The war was over, but austerity and rationing were still in force and the nation was concentrating on rebuilding the economy and infrastructure.

This is demonstrated by Mr. Stiell's better grasp of Nessie information in his 1962 letter compared to his 1951 book. By then, at least three books had been published on the subject for him to consult. The date of the sighting is also the subject of some uncertainty. The 1962 letter confidently says August 1909 while the 1951 book expresses uncertainty about the summer of 1915. I would tend to the 1909 date as Mr. Stiell appears to have put much more thought into figuring out when this happened.

The author had some skill in interpreting the moods of Loch Ness as he says he fished the loch daily for two months a year for twelve years except Sundays. That adds up to over 600 days on the surface of the loch. I am sure that gave him a considerable degree of experience in interpreting what he was seeing on the surface of the loch.

But that the author expresses uncertainty about the date over forty years on is probably no surprise. The matter of eyewitness recall is matter of debate. What is the level of detail that can be relied upon? Gross features such as size and shape give way to smaller items such as skin colour and texture which in turn focus in on minutiae such as eye colour and mouth shape.

There is no hard and fast rule here, especially when memory recall of significant events "burn" into the memory more readily than mundane, everyday events. I will leave the readers to form their own opinion. Having said that, his description turns out to be lacking in the finer details. Extracting the actual descriptions from the two texts:

I noticed what I at first thought was a horse in the water, and probably in difficulties. When I had approached to within about twenty yards of the animal, I observed that it was in no difficulty at all, and that it was swimming easily against a head-wind with its head well clear of the water. It was dark in colour and roughly about fifteen feet in length. Immediately I came to the conclusion that it was what is known as a pilot whale ...

And from the later letter:

Unfortunately I was alone in the boat and had no camera, but for about three minutes I was parallel and only about twenty-five yards from the animal. It was swimming at about ten miles an hour against about a ten-knot wind. This was, of course, faster than I could row, and I was therefore outpaced and I lost sight. However, I cannot picture any weed-mat moving against a breeze at all. ... If the creature is a plesiosaurus, and its appearance was not unlike the pictures I have seen ... 

In terms of accuracy, there is not much between them, mainly because there is not much said. One account says the creature was about 20 yards away, while the other says 25 yards. This is actually very close for a monster encounter, ranking with the closest of the post-1933 era.

Both accounts have the creature swimming against a head wind, which one states as being ten knots, while it swam "easily" at ten miles per hour. It is also is described as looking horse like in appearance with the head well out of the water. At fifteen feet in length and dark, we doubt this length refers to only the head, and rather the back of the creature must have also been visible.


The creature swam out of sight as it sped past our witness and he was left wondering what he had witnessed on the surface of Loch Ness. His impression at the time was that of a pilot whale which persisted into the 1950s. However, once monster fever began to rise after the 1960 Dinsdale film, we read he was now more inclined to consider that the creature was "not unlike" the plesiosaur theory being touted around.

Considering he stated "its head was well clear of the water" yet he managed to see up to fifteen feet of back, one wonder how his proposed pilot whale managed to achieve this contortion (picture below). It is also not clear how this animal could give the initial impression of being a horse in water. Perhaps, Mr. Stiell reconsidered these issues and finally rejected the whale explanation.

This brings us back to the problem of whether a whale could get into Loch Ness. Even the most hardened sceptic would have a hard time accepting that. This is especially reinforced by the fact that no one else seems to have reported the presence of a whale in Loch Ness. The frequent surfacings of this air breather would have easily made the local and even national news.

This was certainly true of the alleged school of porpoises seen in Loch Ness in 1914. However, correspondence of the time was in disagreement about their identity and was incredulous that up to nine porpoise could get into Loch Ness. I agree with that assessment, but do not agree with the view of one modern sceptic that they merely saw bow waves since there was none of that so-called "Nessie expectation" to fool an observer in 1914. For me, this was a sighting of one or more Nessies.


But this brought me to thinking how pre-Nessie witnesses would describe strange creatures in Loch Ness. We have this man plumping for a pilot whale, another goes for a number of porpoise. We can also add to this the story of a "huge fish" seen in Loch Ness at the time of an article in 1868. It seems that it wasn't kelpies, sea serpents or even inanimate objects that were candidates for possible explanations, but rather other animals in the region of comparable size.

To that end, a search of the archives produced this letter from the Inverness Advertiser dated 3rd January 1854. The letter of two from an M. Bankes does not refer to Loch Ness but two smaller lochs further north and what our writer calls "the existence of large whales in our Highland lochs". Now whether one accepts the fact of whales in small lochs is secondary here. The main point here is that whatever was being seen was likened to a whale.


Whatever Mr. Stiell saw in 1909 (my preferred date), I doubt it was a pilot whale. Unlike our day and age, where the idea of a persistent and unknown monster has joined the ranks of candidates, here the idea of a transient but known sea creature was preferred. The problems with that have been explored above, but future research into this period of time may yield results if one looks for stories of out of place animals in Loch Ness rather than the more enigmatic kelpies and sea serpents.

The author can be contacted at