Touring around the
Loch Ness region and The Great Glen, Scotland
Part 2 : The Lake and the Monster
For most people, if you say
"Loch Ness', they immediately think 'monster' and this, the
'surgeon's photograph', the first and perhaps most famous of
pictures of Nessie.
Nessie, the mysterious
denizen of Loch Ness is of course a valid reason to visit
Part of a multi-part series
on the Loch Ness region, see links at bottom for other
Loch Ness holds more water than
all the other lakes in England and Wales combined, providing
plenty of room for Nessie (the common name for the Loch Ness
Monster) to hide from visitors and researchers.
This elusive creature may or
may not exist; if you choose to believe it does, you're left
with many difficult questions to answer, but similarly, if you
believe it doesn't, you're still left with unsolved puzzles.
Why not visit and draw your own
conclusions. No promises though as to if
you'll see Nessie. But do go looking for her, just in
About Loch Ness
Framed by the gentle rolling green hills that come down almost
without pause all the way to water's edge on both sides, Loch
Ness is the largest of the lochs along the Great Glen, and the
second largest loch overall, as measured by surface area.
If one were to measure by volume, it would be the largest, due
to its great depth (at its deepest point it is 755 ft deep).
Loch Lomond is the largest loch by surface area and Loch Morac
is the deepest loch.
All in all, Loch Ness contains more fresh water than all the
lakes in England and Wales combined.
The lake is long (about 23 miles long) and narrow (1.7 miles
across at its widest point, and most of the time only one mile
or less wide).
It is part of the Caledonian Canal, and to the north, drains
into Loch Dochfour, and from the south, is fed from Loch Oich.
It is 52 ft above sea level.
Although the Caledonian Canal now links Loch Ness to the sea,
there are not thought to be any natural subterranean channels
between the loch and the sea, although this has been postulated
as a way for the Loch Ness monster to get into the loch in the
The water in the loch has very low visibility due to the large
amount of peat in the water. When you stand at the shore
and look down into a few inches of water you can clearly see the
The lack of visibility, and the great depth of the lake, makes
it very difficult to accurately and completely scan the lake to
see what is living inside it.
Cruises on Loch Ness
There are several different choices for taking a cruise on the
One cruise companies is based at the south end of the loch, in
Fort Augustus -
Cruise Loch Ness. They operate one hour cruises in a
traditional motor boat, departing every hour on the hour, during
the summer, and do a couple of cruises a day during the winter
months. They also have small fast RIBs that operate 1.5
hour cruises at speeds of up to 30 knots (35 mph). You'd
certainly see a lot of the loch at that speed.
A second company,
Cruises, operates from locations north of Drumnadrochit, and
will pick people up from Inverness to connect with their
cruises. They offer combined cruises and tours, including
time at Urquhart Castle and even a visit to the Corrimony Cairns
on one of their tours. They operate traditional motor
Cruises also depart from Drumnadrochit, halfway up the lack (on
the western side). Both
Deepscan Passenger Cruises and
Loch Ness Cruises offer similar types of experiences to
those offered departing from Fort Augustus.
There are also cruises departing from Urquhart Castle, but you'd
have to have purchased an admission to the Castle and grounds to
be able to access these cruises. On the other hand, you're
almost sure to do so.
We've noticed that these cruises can sometimes fill up well in
advance so you'd probably be well advised to book in advance
when you know the date and time you'll be there.
Nessie : The Loch Ness Monster
An underwater flash picture, perhaps of the
Loch Ness monster
Rather like UFOs, the story of Nessie, as the Loch Ness monster
is popularly referred to by the locals, has both a modern and an
ancient chapter, and has passionate groups of people either
advocating the reality of the creature or claiming it to be a
total hoax and nonsense from start to finish.
Early references to the Loch Ness Monster
The recorded prehistory of the monster stretches back to an
account of the life of St Columba. The account was written
in the seventh century, and describes a story of St Columba
encountering a 'beast' in River Ness almost 100 years earlier.
Other references to the monster have sporadically appeared over
The start of the modern period of Nessie sightings
The modern chapter opened in 1933, probably as a result of the
opening of a new road that went along the side of the loch.
First one then additional somewhat credible reported sightings
of a monstrous being sighted in and around the lake. These
appeared in the local paper, and prompted other people to
recount folk lore stories of monsters sighted around the lake in
These sightings were bolstered first in December with the first
ever picture, and then the next year when a London gynecologist,
Dr Robert Wilson, took a picture of the monster in the lake,
this being a very clear image of something unusual (and pictured
This picture is often referred to as 'the surgeon's photograph',
because to start with, Wilson did not want his name associated
with the photo.
The picture has since become controversial. Some people
say it is a picture of an elephant - these people have no
explanation about how an elephant is to be found in Loch Ness.
Others claim it to be a diving bird or an otter. And one
expert says it is a toy submarine with a monster head stuck to
the top of it.
With advancing technology, not only did photographs continue to
appear, but so too did film (from 1938) and subsequently video
too (notably in 2007).
As is the case with other 'cryptids' - semi mythical beasts for
which there is no conclusive proof, such as
Bigfoot/Sasquatch in the US and Canada, for every person who
cites a photo or other item as proof of the existence of the
beast, someone else claims it to be a fraud or hoax. And,
sadly, it is true there have been some definite hoaxes over the
In 1938 the Chief Constable of the region
wrote a letter to the Under Secretary of State in the
Scotland Office, claiming the existence of Nessie had been
established beyond reasonable doubt.
The monster had already become a creature of the movie-world,
starring first in the 1934 movie, The Secret of the Loch, and
appearing in many movies subsequently, even cartoons such as
Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster (which features very
realistic scenery around the area).
A number of semi-scientific expeditions have been mounted over
the years in an attempt to prove the existence of the Loch Ness
monster (it being, of course, impossible to prove its
non-existence), and none of these have succeeded in their
But many of them have detected, recorded, and photographed
unexplained anomalous events. The nature of the monster is
such that it would be close to impossible to prove its existence
other than by catching one and bringing it ashore.
Due to the depth of the lake, its size, and its poor visibility,
it is not really practical to attempt to completely explore the
lake by some sort of submersible vessel.
However, modern sonar has been used to scan the lake, but even
that is a difficult challenge, because the lake has some
temperature 'barriers' that makes it hard for sonar to
accurately travel all the way down and around and back to its
These sonar scans have however regularly resulted in apparent
sonar 'sightings' of unexplained things in the water.
Loch Ness viewed from the A82 road, just above ruined Urquhart
Other Explanations for the Sightings
Just like UFOs have been 'explained' as being just about
anything else you could imagine other than a UFO, so too has
Nessie been said to be all manner of different things, ranging
from an elephant to an otter, from waves on the water to logs
floating on the water.
We set out some of these explanations neutrally. Some
people might think that some of the attempts at explaining away
Nessie are actually more fanciful and require a greater leap of
imagination than is required to accept Nessie as a real
Maybe the things that people have seen are some other sort of
animal, or even an inanimate object.
Some people, keen to find an ordinary explanation for Nessie,
have said that when a person is looking at a far away location
through binoculars or a telescope, the sense of size and
proportion becomes skewed. It has been suggested that
therefore a small creature might be mistaken to be a larger
creature, with possible animals being mistaken for Nessie
including seals, otters, and even deer.
Some people suggest that Nessie might be a giant eel of some
In addition to other animals and birds being mistaken for Nessie,
there have been detailed explanations showing how dead trees
could also be mistaken for a strange creature. The
explanation postulates that dead pine trees sink to the bottom
of the lake, complete with their stump. Over time, the
wood decays, creating gas, which is trapped inside the log until
the pressure forces an outlet for the gas. The emission of
the gas would propel the log through the water, and possibly to
the surface, where it would be seen as a strange object, with a
hump (stump) and moving. When the gas had escaped, the log
would stop moving and sink again.
There have been some interesting studies done to analyze and
explain one of the common indicators of an alleged mysterious
creature - wakes in the water with no visible sign of anything
above the water creating it.
Closed bodies of water (ie a lake) can have special wave
patterns due to the effect when a wave bounces off the shore and
goes back into the center. These effects are magnified in
a lake such as Loch Ness which is long and narrow, and in a
A boat sends out a V shaped wake, and as the two sides spread
out they bounce off the respective shores then come back in
again and recombine into new forms and standing wave patterns.
This can create the appearance of a new wake, and possible a
significantly sized wake, separate from the original wake caused
by a boat which has now moved on past the point where the new
wake seems to be.
The winds that blow along the lake also set up an oscillatory
motion such that they blow some of the water from one end to the
other. The water then surges back to the other end, then
reverses and goes to the first end, and so on and so on.
This effect is called a 'seiche' and it takes 31.5 minutes for
the seiche wave to go from one end of the lake to the other
(remarkably fast when you consider the lake is 23 miles long).
These seiche waves can interact with other things to create
apparently mysterious wakes as well. (These seiches occur
in many lakes - for example, they can cause a rise/fall of up to
eight feet, sometimes more, on the Great Lakes between the US
On a calm day a very small object can create quite a large wake
- even a bird swimming in the water might create a visible wake,
while the bird itself might be invisible.
You See What You Want to See
Many of us see unidentified things all around us, all the time;
indeed, we do so without even giving them any thought.
'What's that over there?' 'Oh, I don't know.' End of
Clearly in the case of Loch Ness, many people go actively
looking for anything strange or unusual, and if they see
anything at all which they don't immediately understand and
can't immediately identify, they may claim it triumphantly as
being the Loch Ness monster.
There is of course also a fair amount of local vested interest
in the existence of the Loch Ness monster. How many other
lochs in Scotland can you name and associate with anything
special? The monster has definitely been a boon for
regional tourism, and so perhaps in some circles there is a bias
in favor of promoting any possible monster sightings as real.
Where Did Nessie Come From
If there is indeed a Loch Ness monster, that begs the question -
where did it come from - and, wherever it came from, why aren't
there more of them in its place of origin, or indeed, in other
parts of the world too?
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of accepting the presence
of an unexplained creature in Loch Ness. There is no easy
way to explain where it came from, and for sure, it didn't just
appear out of nothing or nowhere.
It has been speculated that the creature may be a
plesiosaur. But these creatures are believed to have
lived from 50 to 200 million years ago.
Only One Monster?
There have been some sightings of possibly two or more monsters,
which is what one would sort of expect.
On the other hand, there are clearly very few of these monsters.
It is the natural way for populations of creatures to either
grow until reaching a sustainable concentration; or decline,
based on whether their environment is favorable or unfavorable,
and it would seem reasonable that a huge loch such as Loch Ness
could support some multiple number of creatures, possibly to
make sightings more common.
If there was/is only one monster, it would surely have a finite
lifespan and can not be reasonably expected to have been alive
back in the mid 500s to greet St Columba and still be alive 1400
and more years later.
We don't really know the lifespan of prehistoric dinosaurs.
Whales live up to about 100 years, and Bowhead whales have been
confirmed to live up to 211 years. Koi fish are also long
lived, with one having lived 226 years. Mollusks have been
known to live up to 410 years. No-one really knows how
long dinosaurs may have lived; indeed, there is debate as to
whether they were warm blooded or cold blooded (cold blooded
creatures tend to live longer).
The Death of Nessie?
The last decade or so has seen a steady increase in the ability of
people to photograph and videotape any Nessie sightings they
might experience. Almost everyone has a camera/camcorder built
in to their phone, and many of those who don't travel with a
stand-alone camera or camcorder.
Associated with this is a general rise in regional tourism and
traffic along the A82 road that runs along the side of the loch.
But there was been a definite drop in sightings rather than a rise.
In 2001 a Nessie expedition found what it believed might be the
remains of a dead creature on the lake bed, and in 2008 the same
group theorized that possibly the monster may have died, a
victim of (what else but) global warming.
On the other hand, some suggest that maybe the increased
activity on and around the lake has merely caused the reclusive
creature to spend more time below the water and less time
on/above the water. More details
There's one interesting thought that comes from this. It
could be argued that the significant drop in monster sightings
is proof, of a sort, that there formerly was indeed some
sort of creature in the loch, and the cessation of sightings now
shows that the earlier sightings weren't hoaxes.
Loch Ness Monster Exhibitions
If you're going all the way to Loch Ness and don't actually see
the monster, the least you can do is to visit one of the two
Loch Ness Monster Exhibitions.
Both of these are in Drumnadrochit, and within 100 yards or so
of each other. The first to open was known as 'The
Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Center', whereas the newer
one styled itself as 'The Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition
After the threat of a £1.3 million lawsuit brought by the
Official against the Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition
Center, in mid 2010 the Original center renamed itself to the
even more gauchely styled 'Nessieland Castle Monster Center'
while the 'Official' center grabbed a broader middle ground by
renaming itself the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition.
Based on the names, you'd probably choose to go to the Loch Ness
Center and Exhibition. But my favorite remains the
Nessieland Castle Monster Center. The former is a much
more slickly put together 'edutainment' experience, but the
latter feels more genuine and authentic, while not being quite
so 'Disneylike' in its presentation - a simple 15 - 20 minute
movie and a series of photos and artifacts on display.
You can decide which to go to, or if you have the time, walk
between them and visit both. Here are the websites for the
Center and Exhibition and the
Nessieland Castle Monster Center.
Trying to determine the
truth of the Loch Ness monster is somewhere between difficult
and impossible. If one categorically rules out the
presence of an unexplained creature, then one is left with a
slew of mysterious sightings and experiences that have no clear
But if one accepts the
presence of a creature as a way of explaining the mysterious
sightings, that raises as many problems as it solves. What
sort of creature is it? Where did it come from?
Sadly, the drop in sightings
over the last 5 - 10 years also tends to suggest that while
there may have been an unexplained creature living in Loch Ness
for at least the 70 or so years prior to the turn of the
century, it (or they) may have possibly now died out. Or -
one can hope - perhaps they are just naturally shy creatures and
have become more reclusive with the more intrusive presence of
people on, in, and around the loch.
Part of a series on the
Loch Ness and Great Glen region, please also see
1. How to get to Loch
Ness and the Great Glen and Where to Stay
2. Loch Ness and Nessie,
the Loch Ness Monster
3. Other things to see
and do in and around Loch Ness and the Great Glen (coming soon)
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11 Mar 2011, last update
30 May 2021
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