Saturday, 16 September 2017

A New Nessie Book for 2018

Okay, so having taken all things into consideration, I will author a book on the subject of the Loch Ness Monster for publication next year. The book will basically be an anthology of this website with appropriate edits, updates and hopefully new material.

An email from a Nessie enthusiast asked whether it was worth publishing hard copy in these days of easy access to information on the Internet? My answer was "yes" as one cannot guarantee that such digitised, online information will be there the next day. We have copies of books going back centuries, if not millenia if you count scrolls and cuneiform tablets. I have books myself dating back 200 years.

Now tell me what you think the Nessie Internet content will be like in 200 years? You can answer that in two ways - in terms of whether the mystery was finally solved or whether there is anything at all to view. If someone from 2217 found a hard drive with terabytes of Internet content from 2017, could they even access it? After all, the drive is basically a recurring series of 0 and 1 bits. Without knowledge of how to decode this via boot sector, file system, word processing and network protocols, it is unreadable without a digital Rosetta Stone.

But aside from the issue of how future generation access today's electronic information, I am just looking a few decades ahead. All the cryptozoological websites you access and enjoy today, whether they be pro- or anti- Nessie will one day be gone. Owners and administrators will lose interest, get ill and eventually die with no successors to maintain them. Their domain names will expire or be dropped by the website hosts if the fees are not paid or they have a cull of long inactive websites.

The testimony to that is the number of now defunct Nessie websites versus those still active. My links sections lists eleven websites linked to the mystery. This does not include Facebook groups, which tend in the main to recycle information. However, the link to the list of defunct websites stands at seven and that was when I checked them over five years ago.

Fortunately, some websites will be archived under such projects as the Internet Wayback Machine. In fact, this blog website is archived there too, albeit the last update was in July. However, if someone googles for Nessie related items in the future when this blog is gone, they may not find anything unless Google links into archived websites. Perhaps it does now, but don't expect the hits to be anywhere near the top of the rankings.

Anyone with a knowledge of computer use knows the need for backing up important files. In this context, the backup is a traditional paper book. Today, I can still find copies of the seminal Loch Ness Monster works by Tim Dinsdale, Ted Holiday, Rupert Gould, Constance Whyte and so on. This is despite 30, 40 or more years since they were last published. Could I say the same about a website?

Admittedly, the pool of these books shrinks as they become tattered and torn and end up in the bin, but I see no shortage of such books if the price of them is anything to go by. Moreover, we are seeing classic Fortean books being reprinted to which I refer you to the admirable work of Anomalist Books and their reprints.

So, the bulk of the work has been done in the near 600 blog posts put here since 2010. It is now a matter of condensing them into one handy sized book. I will keep you updated as and when progress is made.

What can be discussed now is how the book cover will look. Comments are welcome.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Sunday, 10 September 2017

More on the eDNA testing Project




I had written previously on how Professor Neil Gemmill of the University of Otago in New Zealand planned to take water samples at Loch Ness in an attempt to discover what species of animal may be resident in the loch. That was back in April and things then went quiet.

The last update I read was from the Inverness Courier on August 17th which told us how Neil had visited Loch Ness to size up what was required and enlist local help. The proof of his visit was this selfie with the curator of the Loch Ness Centre, Adrian Shine. He had also paid a visit to sceptic, Darren Naish, since he had picked up on the idea of an eDNA hunt from Darren's book, "Hunting Monsters", published in 2016.




Actually, Darren's idea is not new as I had suggested it back in May 2014 in this article. Whether he got it from me, I cannot tell. Of course, such ideas are only going to carry more weight if they come from a sceptical scientist.

Adrian offered the centre's help with boats and people but then the bombshell was dropped. Neil reckons he needs £100,000 to fund the entire project. I'll say that again - one hundred thousand pounds. He plans to raise this money through crowdfunding and as of today, I cannot see any reference yet to this on his twitter account.

I had assumed some kindly scientific department had offered their facilities to process the water samples, but I guess not. There will obviously be costs, such as the transport of the large amount of water samples and running the DNA tests, but I was surprised by the £100K price tag.

Which makes me wonder if this project will ever get off the ground? On reading various comments on newspapers, you had people deriding this as a waste of money and it would be better spent on hospitals, nurses, etc. If that was true, you could probably close down most science research.

Interest has been expressed by film companies who wish to track his ventures for a documentary. They may put up some of the cash, grants may even be available if it could be argued that this experiment provides great publicity and awareness for the science of environmental DNA and ecology (a bit like using Nessie to promote food chain studies in schools). However, when the phrase "Loch Ness Monster" is mentioned in polite, scientific circles, they usually run a mile.

One thing I am quite certain of and that is the business people who are raking it in every year from tourists at Loch Ness will not be putting their hands in their pockets. As one Nessie man told me once of a local entrepreneur, he doubted he could even point you to the loch, as he was too busy with his nose in the till.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com








Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Lake Bala Monster




Having seen Nick Redfern's recent interesting article on the Lake Bala Monster, it brought to my mind an article I had on the creature from years back plus some recent thoughts I had on the phenomenon. The article is from issue 82 of the Fortean Times dated August 1995 and is shown below with the relevant text. There is also a big cat article which may be of interest to some.





Early last March, brothers Andrew and Paul Delaney from London were fishing on Lake Bala in Gwynedd, North Wales. "It was very calm and we were about to finish when we noticed something coming up to the surface about 80 yards from the boat. At first we thought it was a tree trunk. Then it straightened up and towered 10 feet in the air. It had a small head and a long neck, like'pictures of the Loch Ness Monster."

The first recorded sighting of Lake Bala's monster - nicknamed "Teggie" after Llyn Tegid, the local name for the lake - was made 20 years ago by the former lake warden, Dafydd Bowen. Others have since claimed to have seen a strange shape lurking in the depths of the lake, which is 4 four miles long and 150 feet deep. "I looked out of my office 1 window and saw this thing moving through the water 200 yards away," said Mr Bowen, now 72, a teetotaller who worked on the lake for 25 years.

"It was grey, about eight feet long and looked like a crocodile with a small hump in the middle. Many others have seen it, but most of them are too shy to report their sightings in case they are made fun of." Dr Rick Leah, a zoologist at Liverpool University, said last April that the environmental and evolutionary biology department was keen to use its latest £10,000 digital echo sounder equipment on the lake to look for Teggie, but would need financial backing for the tests.

This report prompted a letter to the Fortean Times two issues later:






Nick's article about a possible 10 foot pike does in fact make some sense looking at the sketch at the top done by Craig Boscombe. After all, a crocodile head is not too dissimilar to that of a pike. Having said that, the Delaney brothers' account is distinctly more in line with the traditional long neck ascribed to lake cryptids.

Now, I was actually in North Wales for a holiday back in July but time forbade me paying a visit to Llyn Tegid. However, I had taken a look at the map at the time and was struck by something that may or may not be a coincidence. Take a look at the map below.




Lake Bala is seen to the top right and to the left you will see Barmouth Bay. Seasoned lake monster fans will know that Barmouth also has the reputation for sightings of sea serpents. This article gives various dates for some possible cryptid encounters in that area. Could the two mysterious creatures be connected in some way? Certainly, at four miles long, the lake does not seem a sustainable place for one or more large creatures and so perhaps the Lake Bala Monster was once the Barmouth Bay Monster?

There is probably some river route amongst the complex of rivers and streams that gets you from the sea to the lake, but it looks like a fifteen mile swim, so it is hardly a trip that would be undertaken regularly. Nevertheless, perhaps some food for thought.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Loch Ness and the Mysterious Airships of 1909





I will be giving a talk to the Edinburgh Fortean Society on Tuesday 12th September entitled "The Mysterious Airships of 1909". Back in those pre-war days, unknown airships were buzzing the skies of Britain at various widespread locations. Indeed, it was a report of one being seen near Loch Ness that piqued my interest in this subject and led to further research.

Were they advance spies for the German Kaiser in preparation for the feared invasion? Was it mass hysteria or something completely different to these explanations? Damned if I know, but I'll give it a go! The sketch above from Punch Magazine dated 26th May 1909 sums up the Fortean mystique of the subject as it was likened to its contemporary, the cryptozoological sea serpent.

More details can be found here.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Monday, 21 August 2017

Nessie On Land: The Spicers Story




Back in July 1933, stories of strange sights in Loch Ness began to percolate through the local Highland newspapers. Such tales had been doing the rounds for three months and were mainly confined to descriptions of a large humped object in the water in various states of motion. However, one incident that was to help propel the newly named "Loch Ness Monster" to a wider audience unfurled on a leisurely sunny afternoon on the 22nd July.

It started quietly enough on the 4th of August 1933 when the Inverness Courier published a short letter from a Mr. G. Spicer of 10 Temple Gardens, London. However, such was the magnitude of the contents of the letter than the editor of the Courier felt he had to prepare readers for it with a counter-balance explaining it away as a large otter carrying its pup in its mouth. The text of Mr. Spicer's letter is below as well as the original newspaper article.

10 Temple Gardens, 
Golden Green, N.W.11, 
31st July, 1933. 

Dear Sir,

I have just returned from a motoring holiday in Scotland. and am writing to inform you that on Saturday afternoon, 22nd July last, whilst travelling along the east side of Loch Ness between Dores and Foyers Hotel, about half way, in fact, I saw the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life. It crossed my road about fifty yards ahead, and appeared to be carrying a small lamb or animal of some kind.

It seemed to have a long neck, which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway, and the body was fairly big, with a high back: but If there were any feet they must have been of the web kind, and as for a tail I cannot say, as it moved so rapidly, and when we got to the spot it had probably disappeared into the loch. Length from six feet to eight feet and very ugly.

I am wondering if you can give me any information about it, and am enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, anticipating your kind reply.

Whatever it is, and it may be a land and water animal, I think it should be destroyed, as I am not sure whether had I been quite close to it I should have cared to have tackled it. It is difficult to give a better description, as it moved so swiftly, and the whole thing was so sudden. There is no doubt that it exists.--Yours etc,

G. SPICER.



When the Loch Ness Monster story took off nationally and internationally, it was to be expected that the most sensational aspects of the creature's adventures would be prime journalistic material. So, for example, we have an extract from the Daily Sketch which interviewed George Spicer for its 7th December 1933 edition. This article also provides us with a photograph of George Spicer which is also reproduced below.

IT HAUNTS ME STILL

The only man who can claim to have seen this monster on land is Mr. G. Spicer, a director of Messrs. Todhouse Reynard and Co., of Davies-street, London, W.

"It was on July 22," Mr. Spicer told the Daily Sketch last night. "About 4 o'clock in the afternoon I was motoring with my wife about midway between Dores and Foyers, on the loch side, when my wife exclaimed, 'What on earth is that?'

I was looking ahead, and as my wife spoke I observed the most extraordinary form of an animal move across the road." I am willing to take any oath, I am willing to make any affidavit, and so is my wife, that we saw this Loch Ness beast. It seems futile to describe it because it is nothing like anything I have read about or seen. It was terrible. Its colour, so far as the body is concerned, could only be called a dark elephant grey. Its movement must have been rapid, although to us it seemed cumbrous because of its bulk. It had come out of the bracken on the hill side. I saw no tail, nor did I notice any mouth on what I took to be the head of the creature.

On the other hand, my wife drew my attention to something on the back of the monster that looked like a deer, but if that were so it would suggest that the creature's mouth was somewhere about the bulk of its body.

I was travelling at about 20 miles an hour and, in my excitement, accelerated; but although the creature could not have been more than some 200 yards ahead it had vanished before we reached the spot. It may seem strange that I heard no splash as the animal took to the water. It must have done so, for when I reached the part of the road it had crossed I stopped, but there was no sign of it.

My wife and I looked at each other in amazement. It had been a loathsome sight. To see that arched neck of the creature - each arch as high as its body - straggle across was something which still haunts us. We continued on our way. We met a roadman. When I told him I had just seen the monster, he was astounded - not frightened, just incredulous. When we reached Foyers I again told of what we had seen, only to be laughed at. I also reported the affair to certain scientific bodies, all of whom seem to have been incredulous, but I believe one expert is sufficiently interested to be still keeping a watch on Loch Ness."




And so would run the story which even appeared in the prestigious London Times on the 18th December 1933 with a rather more anodyne version. That particular article brings us to Lt. Cmd. Rupert Gould who had returned from Loch Ness having researched the subject and who recounted some eyewitness accounts for the Times.

As it turned out, Gould visited the Spicers in London around that time to interview them separately on the matter. This would be about five months after their experience. His study of the account was published seven months later in his seminal book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others". I reproduce it below and would regard it as the most accurate account.

They had passed through Dores, and were on their way towards Foyers [he is not certain whether they had passed Whitefield] when, as the car was climbing a slight rise, an extraordinary-looking creature crossed the road ahead of them, from left to right, in a series of jerks. When on the road, it took up practically the whole width of it.

He saw no definite head, but this was across the road before he had time to take the whole thing in properly - it was only in sight for a few seconds. The creature was of a loathsome-looking greyish colour, "like a dirty elephant or a rhinoceros." It had a very long and thin neck, which undulated up and down, and was contorted into a series of half-hoops. The body was much thicker, and moved across the road, as already stated, in a series of jerks.

He saw no indications of any legs, or of a tail - but in front of the body, where this sloped down to the neck, he saw something "flopping up and down" which, on reflection, he thought might have been the end of a long tail swung round to the far side of the body. The latter stood some 4-5 feet above the road. The whole looked like " a huge snail with a long neck." 

It is from this book that we get the first sketch of  the creature and which has gone on to become an iconic image in the Loch Ness Monster portfolio. Gould added further details which we will go into as this analysis progresses, but at this point, it is sufficient to say that Gould eventually rejected the Spicers' story.



As the 1930s progressed, the Spicer story would be recounted many times in the media and it even turned out that a young enthusiast by the name of Ted Holiday wrote to George Spicer in 1936 who replied with a personal retelling of the tale. Ted Holiday would go on to become a renowned monster hunter with four sightings of the monster and author of three books on it.

To complete the chronology, Constance Whyte discussed the story twenty four years later in her book, "More Than A Legend". Mrs. Spicer had written to Whyte in May 1955 confirming the details of the story, but this is not reproduced verbatim in her book. However, Whyte includes a sketch of what the Spicers saw titled "Impression of the Loch Ness Monster as seen by Mr. and Mrs. Spicer".




This is unlikely to be a sketch supplied by Mrs. Spicer as it is not stated as such like other sketches in the book and is rather an attempt to represent the creature from the other side showing the proposed tail that was alleged to have been seen at its "tip" from the eyewitnesses' side. Hence the word "impression" rather than an eyewitness sketch. In that light, I would still continue to use the Gould sketch as the most accurate representation of what they saw.

You may note the illustration at the top of this article is taken from the Whyte sketch and was executed by an Alan Jones, being reproduced in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story". Unfortunately, Constance Whyte seems to indulge in the conflation that she performed on the Cameron-MacGruer land sighting case.

I say that because she recounts the story and footnotes "this account is, as far as possible, in Mr. and Mrs. Spicer's own words as recorded soon after the event". The words look likes Gould's book but they are sufficiently different to suggest Whyte has conflated various accounts together and may have included some words from the letter she got from Mrs. Spicer.

By the way, if you are into extreme interpretations of the Spicer event, you can't do much better than this rendition from "Mysterious Monsters" by Daniel Farson. A beautifully executed painting by Gino D'Achille, but a far cry from the original account!





THE REACTION

In my opinion, this is the most famous account of the Loch Ness Monster that does not involve a photograph, film or video. As a consequence, it has also attracted the particular interest of sceptics who tactically like to "take out" the most famous sightings as that will produce a greater psychological effect on those who accept such accounts.

As noted from the start, the very first mention of this story was also accompanied by the theory that they merely saw a large otter carrying its cub. George Spicer himself robustly replied a week later in another letter to the Courier, rejecting this explanation and stating what he saw was far larger than any otter.

Moving on, the otter theory continued to be embraced by sceptic, Maurice Burton, in his 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster".  Curiously, Burton seemed to take a semi-cryptozoological view in suggesting an otter over seven feet long may have been lurking around Loch Ness to account for some reports. He improvised further by suggesting the body was the adult otter while the undulating neck was a line of cubs.

The problem here is that cubs as a rule follow their mother, not the other way around. The otter theory was also advocated by Steuart Campbell in his 1986 book, "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence" and continues in another form today as espoused by researcher, Aleksandar Lovcanski, which I will return to further down.

The idea that the Spicers saw a group of deer is also popular amongst sceptics and I cover that next. That leaves the theory that the Spicers made the entire thing up and was a hoax. This is promoted by Ronald Binns in his sceptical book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", who indulges in his usual character assassination of witnesses by branding George Spicer as a liar and publicity seeker based on inconsistencies he thinks he see and which I again cover below.


THE DEER THEORY

Did the Spicers merely see some deer crossing the road? Since it is the natural conclusion that people who see deer will almost certainly recognise them as deer, it was required to add a layer of complexity to the theory by adding a heat haze on the road to purportedly confuse the eyewitnesses.

The deer theory is actually quite a bit older than recent Internet chatter and goes back to the aforementioned Rupert T. Gould who personally interviewed the Spicers. His book asserted his confidence in the accuracy of what they claimed, but Gould later concluded that they had merely seen a "huddle of deer". I discussed this recantation in an article in which Gould's biographer, Jonathan Betts had discovered an annotation from November 1941, in the margin of Gould's personal copy of his Loch Ness Monster book which said:

"Were I rewriting the book, I should have omitted this case. I think the Spicers saw a huddle of deer crossing the road. RTG".

Why Gould came to this conclusion is nowhere explained and whether he thought it fit to employ a heat haze in his argumentation, we will never know.  As to what exactly constitutes a "huddle of deer" is not clear, but I will work on the assumption that it refers to at least three deer and maybe more.

So, we have a theory that three or more deer darted across the road from hillside to loch in front of the Spicers. The trouble with this (and other sceptical theories) is that they are half baked. In science, you propose a theory and then you test its validity by experimentation in the real world. Sceptics too often propose a theory but never test it - seemingly expecting us all just to accept it.

The tactical advantage they have in handing out untested theories is that they rely on no one being able or willing to make the effort to go to Loch Ness and put their opinions to the test. But in the case of the belief that the Spicers merely saw a "huddle of deer", somebody has gone out and put this to the test.

As it happens, this author makes regular trips to the loch and is suitably equipped to tackle this by going on dawn runs between Foyers and Dores with a dashcam to record deer events. Those two years of footage have now been analysed and this real world data can be compared against this particular sceptical opinion.

Dawn is a good time to see deer as it is one of their peak times of activity. The task was simple enough in terms of definition, record a huddle of deer dashing across the road to the loch. As it turned out, I did four runs up and back down the loch with ten deer events recorded. Two main statistics were recorded, how many deer per event and what direction were they heading. The three directions were to the loch, away from the loch and neutral (e.g. standing still or in another direction).

The result was that each of the ten events involved only one deer. Multiple deer were never seen crossing the road in any direction. The only instance I could call multiple deer was in the video clip below. You can see the fawn in the headlights of my car looking confused as to what to do next. To the right of the camera on the non-loch side was what I presumed to be the mother standing and watching. She is not visible to the dashcam, but was visible to the naked eye.






A more typical single deer event would be the clip below where a single deer is seen to dart out from the loch back to the hillside as the noise of the car increases. You can see the deer near the end of the video clip. In fact, in my general driving around that area, the only other multiple deer event I recall was also a mother and fawn pair near the Foyers Hotel. Otherwise, deer seem to be loners when they come down from the hills to the loch. A huddle of deer? Not on the evidence I have recorded.





The second result was also interesting in that of those ten events, five recorded deer crossing the road from the loch to the hillside, four were what I would call neutral and only one was towards the loch. That single lochward event was the fawn and was not what I call a typical event (the mother stayed firmly on the other side).

The four I would call neutral involved one deer standing still on the non-loch side, one was of a deer coming out from the non-loch side but then turning back that way on seeing my car (video below). Two did actually involve a deer heading in the direction of the loch, but these occurred in the stretch of road between Foyers and Boleskine where the loch is actually a long way off and a long way down (over 200m away) and so I would not class them as loch bound.





In other words, not only did I not see any huddles of deer, but I did not see any deer dashing from the hillside to the lochside. The conclusion is, based on this evidence and analysis, that there is no compelling reason to believe this deer theory, but rather that it should be rejected. One wonders how many other sceptical theories would be found wanting if they were subjected to real life testing?

However, on reflection, what I observed seemed eminently reasonable. If a deer hears the approaching noise of a car, where would it rather be? The restricted shoreline with a daunting and vast body of water before it or the more familiar surroundings of the trees and hills where it spends most of its life? It makes less sense to me that a deer would bolt towards the loch on a car approaching rather than stay in the hillside where it has more options for escape routes.

Why deer would go it alone when heading to the loch for a drink is less certain to me. Comments from aspiring animal behaviourists are welcome. The deer theory is now theoretical roadkill, let me move onto another theory attempting to debunk the Spicers.


THE OTTER THEORY

The problem with the otter theory should be apparent on a cursory inspection. The problem being that otters are small and Loch Ness monsters are large. I highlighted this issue when the otter explanation was examined in the Harvey-MacDonald land sighting from January 1934. That particular creature was claimed to be up to six feet high and ten foot long and I reproduce the relative sizes of a typical otter and this creature from that article below.



One would not expect somebody to mistake one for the other. However, the sceptical analyst will usually regard the witness as honest but would then interpret their "extraordinary object" as an "ordinary object" seen in "extraordinary circumstances". The extraordinary circumstance suggested in this case would be a heat haze.

The most current proponent of this theory is Aleksandar Lovcanski who wrote an article entitled "Monster or Mirage?" on this subject back in 2010, which you can find here. Aleksandar raises some general objections to the Spicer account which I address in another section of this article, here we focus on mirages.

The idea of illusion brought about by light refraction due to a temperature inversion over a surface is not a new theory in the realms of cryptid scepticism.  It goes back to 1979 and beyond when W. H. Lehn tried to use it to explain the H. L.Cockrell photograph. Lovcanski re-applies it to the Spicer sighting and uses the otter as the "ordinary object" while the "extraordinary circumstance" is the extremely rare observation of an otter in a heat haze.

Now I say an otter is an "ordinary object", but it is no mean feat to actually see one as they stick close to the water and are more active at dawn and dusk. For the Spicers to actually see one in a heat haze is an improbable event in itself as I discussed in a previous article. It would seem strange to replace one improbable event with another one.

Leaving that aside, Lovcanksi begins to set up his parameters in a way that is not acceptable. Firstly, he dismisses George Spicer's revised estimate of at least 25ft and sticks to the original 6-8ft. However, for some reason, Lovcanksi prefers to go with the revised distance of up to 200 yards rather than the original 50 yards.

Aleksandar suggests an average otter length of 1.1m but hints at the need for something bigger by quoting Burton on one unverified specimen of 2.4m. Why say that if his theory purportedly works with an average otter? More importantly, since the main direction for mirages here is in the vertical, this 1.1m length would only translate to a height of 0.2m.

Let me tell you, no mirage is going to magnify a 1.1x0.2m otter into an 6x1.4m monster, hence the need here to shrink the monster as much as possible as demonstrated in Aleksandar's "revised" drawing below and compared with the original Gould sketch. His reason for this is that he claims the Spicers only said the monster filled the road but not the grass verges.




Was Gould that dumb? I don't think so and I explain that in the next section. The reason why Lovcanksi needs the monster to only fill the road is readily apparent to me and is a classic case of changing the data to fit the theory. Quite simply, if the creature was indeed straddling the grass verges, the mirage effect would cease above the cool grass and the theory falls apart.

It is apparent that Gould's sketch is not playing ball with Lovcanski's mirage theory as he states further on regarding the air turbulence causing the undulating neck effect:

The otter’s tail was positioned lower than the rest of the body where such turbulence would be at its strongest, and this is why it appeared to undulate, albeit not as much as it is shown in Gould’s exaggerated drawing. 

Tell you what, guys. Why don't you sceptics tell Gould and Spicer how the drawing should have been done, draw a new one and we'll all get in line? Changing the data to fit the theory is a mug's game, you can do whatever you want to guarantee your desired outcome. Avoid it all costs, Loch Ness researchers.

Moreover, Lovcanski suggests that the magnifying lens effect of the inversion could make the otter look at least 0.4m tall. That is still a long way off Spicer's estimated height of up to 1.4m and a bit unconvincing.

But ultimately this theory suffers from the same problems as the deer huddle theory. It is a theory that is untested and consequently may have no validity at all. No scientist would embrace such a theory until it has gone through this testing phase, no matter how good the maths or physics sounds.

Now I understand Aleksandar lives in Serbia, so one cannot expect him to come over to Scotland and test his theory. But how you test this theory is unclear. Presumably one would have to identify the location of the Spicer event, wait for a hot day and pull an otter model across the road which was being filmed by an approaching car.

Perhaps this does not even need to be done at Loch Ness, if one reproduces the conditions from July 1933 adequately enough. Now I have actually seen a heat haze on the Dores-Foyers road as I was heading north out of Inverfarigaig downhill towards what is called "The Wall". There is a stretch of shaded road first which would not be ideal for heat hazes, but as that came to an end, I saw the heat haze ahead.

In my case, I can tell you it was not very impressive and since I had been looking out for one to try and gauge its mirage worthiness, it was simply not hot enough to show no more than a slight shimmering of the road. Of course, I was going downhill and not up like the Spicers, so it was not like for like although the weather conditions would be similar to that July 1933 day.

The other problem is that I saw the heat haze on a nice, modern tarmacadam road. The bitumen in the tarmac is the item that heats up under the sun and re radiates the heat. However, it is unclear what the composition of the road was back in 1933 as the road underwent an upgrade in the 1960s. It may well have been the case that it was no more than a dirt track as suggested in this picture of the road at Foyers in pre-Nessie times. If it was a non-bituminous road, I suggest Aleksandar's mirage theory at best needs a major revision, at worst should be ditched.





MORE OBJECTIONS

Moving on, various critics of the Spicers have raised objections to what they claimed to have seen over the years. I will go over some of them here, beginning with the estimated length of the creature. Darren Naish, in his "Hunting Monsters" (reviewed here) says this:

Over the years, the description became increasingly sensational. It started out as 2– 2.5 m in length but gradually increased to 9m.

The aforementioned Lovcanksi also raises this as an objection and regards it as an "important discrepancy". I regard it as important too, but only insofar as it exposes what passes as "research" in crypto-sceptic circles. Darren Naish's use of the word "gradually" implies a process rather than an event in the manner of the proverbial "fish that got away" that gets bigger with the retelling.

Let us take a look at the chronological retelling of the tale of the length of the Spicers' monster:

1. Inverness Courier August 1933: six to eight feet
2. Daily Sketch December 1933: no height given but about four feet high
3. London Times December 1933: no height given but four to five feet high
4. Gould book June 1934: at least twenty five feet long
5. Letter to Ted Holiday 1936: twenty five to thirty feet long
6. Whyte book 1957: body as wide as road excluding grass verge - ten to twelve feet

Now I am struggling to see how there is growth in this retelling. There is no sign of Naish's "gradually" growing length here "over the years". In fact, I see rather a leap from 6-8 to 25-30 feet in a matter of months and that is it.  In fact, what I find most disappointing is that despite their claimed research, these critics deliberately hide from their readers the reason why the estimated length tripled. George Spicer wrote to Gould before his book publication and said: 

After having ascertained the width of the road, and giving the matter mature thought in every way, I afterwards came to the conclusion that the creature I saw must have been at least 25 feet in length.

George Spicer had an advantage many eyewitnesses do not have, his monster was lumbering over a ruler - the road. When he discovered the true length of this ruler, the length of the monster changed accordingly. But because the sceptics omit this important fact, they give the impression to readers that Spicer was just making it up as he went along.

Deliberate deception or wilful ignorance? You decide, reader. Needless to say, in the subsequent lengths given, there is no logical inconsistency between "at least twenty five feet" and "twenty five to thirty feet".

Now what about Lovcanski's rewriting of the original data which squeezes the entire creature onto the road and not the surrounding verges? We have already said he had to do that to keep the creature in the mirage "zone" else his theory disintegrates. However, a look at the original accounts proves there is no need for such revisionism.

Lovcanksi's revision hangs on Spicer's sentence: "When on the road, it took up practically the whole width of it." which Aleksandar literally takes to mean the entire visible creature. But how is this reconciled across the page where the road is said to be twelve feet wide but George Spicer estimates the length to be at least twenty five feet? What happened to the other thirteen feet? Are we to presume that George Spicer thought a tail at least thirteen feet long was wrapped behind the creature?

A look at the Gould sketch shows a body roughly equal in length to the neck. It is reasonable to assume George Spicer estimated a tail roughly of the same length, giving us a tail, body and neck each about 8 feet long. That means the neck extends beyond the road by about 4 feet and that is what we see in the sketch. Gould and Spicer made no mistakes when carefully executing the sketch.

The matter is resolved in Spicer's letter to Holiday which states: 

The body then came into view and this was roughly four of five feet in height. We did not see any feet  and I think its tail was curved round the other side from our view for convenience of going along the ground. There is no doubt it came down from the hillside. When it was broadside on it took up all the road. This I have measured and it is twelve feet wide.

And, again from the Whyte account: 

The tail was evidently curled round on the further side, its tip having the appearance of something being carried on the animal’s back at the junction of the neck with the body. The creature stood about 4 feet high and the body was about the same length as the road is wide, that is 10 to 12 feet (excluding the grass verge).

Clearly, it was the body that took up the width of the road, not the entire length of the creature, Again, examining the Gould sketch, the body on its own is about the width of the road. Finally, if Lovcanksi was correct in his opinion, the height of the creature would only be about 2 feet high in his revised sketch, whereas George Spicer put it at 4 to 5 feet.


DISTANCE, WEIGHT AND SPEED

There is also an attempt to make some mileage out of the change in the estimated distance to the creature. In the original account, the distance is given as fifty yards. However, thereafter it becomes about two hundred to two hundred and fifty yards. Where this change comes from is not clear as it is not mentioned by George Spicer when he gives his reason for revising the length of the creature.

However, my money is on Mrs. Spicer as she told Gould when interviewed that she thought the creature was about 200 yards ahead. It looks like her estimate on that matter trumped her husband's in Gould's final analysis and it has stuck ever since.

Now, Aleksandar also tells us in his article that he calculated the weight of the claimed creature via water displacement of a model and came up with a weight of 10 tonnes.  He then asks how such a huge creature, weighing twice as much as two adult elephants could possibly get around terrestrially?

Now, I must admit I would like to see the model he made to come up with this figure. It also transpires this weight is not unsurprisingly based on the largest possible estimate of thirty feet. Be that as it may, I performed my own calculations minus the kitchen sink. The main body of the creature is roughly proportioned on an ellipsoid. The volume of an ellipsoid is derived from the formula below


where a, b and c are the three elliptic radii. Using the estimated height of 4-5 feet and body length of 12 feet based on the road width, we plug in radii numbers of 1.82m, 0.68m and 0.68m to get a volume of 3.52 cubic meters. Using Aleksandar's vertebrate flesh density of 1000kg per cubic meters gives us a weight of 3.52 tonnes for the main body.

What about the neck and tail? No dimensions are given for the neck and so we estimate it from the sketch based on a body height of 4.5 feet to give a neck thickness of 0.27m. The neck length is estimated from the road width on the sketch to be 4m which compared to the usual monster metrics is quite long in proportion to the main body. However, applying the following formula for the volume of a cylinder


gives an estimated neck weight of 0.23 tonnes. Now we have next to no information on a tail. I assume the creature had one, and all we have is the speculation that the tip of the tail is visible, but it could be something else. So, based on other reports, I can only hazard a guess and say it would be roughly the same mass as the neck which would give us a total body mass, not of ten tonnes, but of about four tonnes.

Comparing this number to known aquatic animals puts us in the upper range limit for the weight of male adult elephants seals and these are well known for the ability to move about on land despite their huge weight. So I am unconvinced by the over ponderous weight argument.


THE DASH TO THE LOCH

Allied to the weight argument is the speed argument. Lovcanski takes the view with others that the reason there was no monster in sight when the Spicers' car reached the crossing point was because there was no monster, but rather an otter (or deer) would have simply vanished into the undergrowth.

This is said despite the claimed presence of depressed undergrowth consistent with a large weight ploughing through it. It is counter claimed this was simply a deer track, but apart from the weakness of the deer argument stated above, I am dubious of deer tracks running to dead ends at loch sides.

I suspect no actual calculations have been down to see if this dash to the loch was possible. The monster's mission, should it accept it, is to get from the hillside to at least six foot of water before the Spicers' car reached the exit point through the undergrowth.

Some numbers are required here. The creature first has to cross a distance from the hillside to a point where it again is out of sight to the observer. Assuming a road plus grass verge width of about sixteen feet and assuming the body plus neck fills this, then the creature has to travel thirty two feet to fulfil the observation window of the witnesses.

How long was it in view? The Spicers merely state seconds and so a range of 5-10 seconds will be used. Using these numbers gives a speed range of about 3 to 6 feet per second or 4 to 2 miles per hour, which is a speed well consistent with the full grown elephant seals previously mentioned.

How far did it have to travel to be out of sight underwater? Spicer told Holiday in 1936 that the loch "was only twenty foot down on the right". How further out to get into at least six foot of water? Rupert Gould places the Spicer sighting near Whitefield and the 1904 bathymetric survey map of this region is shown below.



As you can see there is a considerable degree of depth variance. I would note that very near to where Gould places his Spicer sighting is a near cliff edge descent to a depth of 140 feet. Using the scale on the survey map shows that depth was sounded 68 feet from the shore. If the loch depth increases proportionally to that point, then the creature is in six feet of water within three feet of going in.

On the other hand, there is also other soundings which give a depth of 68 feet at a distance of 170 feet from the shoreline. A proportional descent to six feet there would require wading out to fifteen feet from the shoreline. One can also progress to even shallower waters where one has to go out 408 feet to achieve a depth of 97 feet or 25 feet to get to six feet deep.

So road width plus distance to loch plus distance to minimum depth would vary from 39 to 64 feet. At our minimum creature speed of 3 feet per second, that gives an "escape" time of 13 to 21 seconds. At our maximum creature speed of 6 feet per second, these reduce to a range of 7 to 11 seconds.

Finally, how long did it take the Spicers' car to get to the exit point? The car was stated as travelling at 20mph initially, slowing down to a stop or virtual stop at the exit point 200 yards on. Assuming it was a gradual deceleration, that gives an average speed of 10mph or 14.7 feet per second and so it would have taken them 40 seconds to reach the exit point. Even if we assume a hard brake after a speed of 20mph, that still gives the creature up to 20 seconds to cover the complete distance.

Clearly, there is plenty of scope for the creature to make its sensational appearance and be back safely under the water by the time George Spicer got there to see the loch.


ACCUSATIONS

Now going back to Ronald Binns' so called analysis, he takes issue with George Spicer on a few things. The first is the usual Binns technique of obliquely accusing witnesses of being less than honest. In this case, Binns implies from Spicer's original letter that he was totally ignorant about the monster, whereas he clearly gained some information on it when he told Gould he discussed the matter as soon as he got into the nearest village of Foyers.

In fact, Binns goes wild in claiming that Spicer had not just heard of the monster prior to the letter being written but "knew all about the monster legend" as if he was some expert. Where he gets that from is totally unclear. Indeed, to claim Spicer's letter indicates total ignorance of the subject cannot be defended at all as George Spicer merely asks for "any information about it".

Then there is the matter of the unfortunate lamb. Binns quotes Whyte who says the Spicers were  "annoyed" about reports of a lamb being carried in the monster's mouth. Binns finds it "hard to say" why they should be annoyed because he claims they were the ones who said it.

Unfortunately, Binns seems unable to comprehend the difference between the statements "appeared to be carrying a small lamb or animal of some kind" (original letter) and "was carrying a small lamb" (what the press were saying). Binns has a new book out, will it be the old "analysis" though?


A CRUMB OF COMFORT

Okay, so are we done here? No, there is one thing the sceptics can hang onto in their attempt to debunk this event and that concerns the car that the Spicers were driving in. Rupert Gould states that the car did not stop during this extraordinary event, but George Spicer states in his letter to the young Ted Holiday that he got out of the car to see where the creature had gone. The exact quotes are:

Gould (1934;p.46): "They did not stop, but slowed down as they came to the spot ..."
Holiday (1968;p.30): "I got out of the car and could see the traces of where it had gone ..."

Now given there is not much left for them to hang onto, a few Binns hyperboles may be employed to hype up the importance of this discrepancy. Perhaps "damning contradiction" or "a game changer" could be used in a manner reminiscent of politician-speak.

For me, I could make a weak attempt to resolve the contradiction by suggesting that George Spicer got out the car while it was at a crawl to briefly inspect the loch before jumping back on. But I would rather not fight scepticism with sceptical tactics.

Quite simply, somebody made a mistake in transmitting this minor piece of information. Was it Holiday or Gould? Since Holiday is actually quoting a letter from George Spicer while Gould is discussing the matter in his own words, I would tend to prefer the primary source over the secondary source and go with Holiday.


OR PERHAPS IT WAS THE MONSTER

If you thought seeing the Loch Ness Monster in the water of the loch was difficult, try getting a glimpse of it on land. The chances of being witness to such an event is vanishingly small, but when they happen they are worth multiple water sightings put together.

When I took to the dawn road with the dashcam, I obviously would have loved to have caught our favourite cryptid crossing my path a la the Spicers, but I am certainly not betting the house on that happening, even for a pro-Nessie person.

Not unexpectedly, certain sceptics latched onto this night run stuff with ad hominems about trying to find a water horse bounding about with deer parts in its mouth. Actually, as seen above, it was to rend their own deer theories into body parts.

Moving onto the acceptance that this was a bona fide account of the creature, what observations can be made from a cryptid point of view? The first is the controversy over what may or may not have been a deer, lamb or something else. Critics have latched onto Mrs. Spicer's use of the word "deer" to claim it was a deer. They don't seem as to keen to latch onto the word "lamb". I guess huddles of lambs are a stretch even for them.

What George Spicer actually described was an object "flopping up and down" where the body meets the neck. The flopping was presumably a consequence of the stop-start jerking movement of the creature as it headed for water. Spicer speculated it was no small, furry animal, but the tip of the tail obscured on the other side.

That seems plausible, though the idea the creature wraps its tail close to its body as it moves on land is a curious propostion as one would naturally expect the tail to be dragged along like any other creature. Since the creature's underparts were obscured by the brow of the small road rise, I would take the view that if the limbs of the creature were not visible, then the tail would likely not be visible either.

Holiday saw this flapping appendage as relevant to his super-invertebrate theory as indicative of parapodia. In my overview of land sightings, I could not see any real parallel to this feature, until I came across an old case rediscovered from 1925 which made the following observation:

There was something on its large, rounded, humped back which looked like wings.

In that article, I interpreted this as perhaps something akin to a dorsal fin. The idea that this is something superfluous like a skin flap does not comport with efficient design for swimming, hence my speculation concerning such an appendage. But the vagueness of the description is not too surprising as the Spicers only had seconds to take in what they were seeing and they would be forgiven for not giving us clarity on the finer details.

The jerky movement is all too reminiscent of a creature that is more acquainted with water than land and again reminds me of the motion of an elephant seal:



However, the most surprising feature is the long neck. This is quite a long neck, as long as the body itself, but not too surprising as a rule of thumb concerning the creature's morphology is that the tail, body and neck are of roughly equal length. What catches my attention is the undulating nature of the neck.

Gould says they "undulated up and down and was contorted into a series of half loops" while Holiday says they saw "a very long neck which moved rapidly up and down in curves". How does one actually visualise this motion? I first thought of the lateral undulations of a snake as shown below. Imagine the neck is like looking down on a snake.



I don't think this can be reconciled with a traditional verterbrate head-neck morphology and I have stated in the past that I do not think there is a real head at the end of this long appendage usually called the neck. The fact that witnesses find it hard to distinguish any head at the end of the "neck" is supportive of this.

The extreme flexibilty of the Spicer "neck" is more suggestive to me of a powerful, boneless, musculature which has some predatory function with whiplash speed and flexibility and a grabbing orifice at the end. Controversial even to Nessie fans, but I welcome comments on this aspect of Loch Ness Monster morphology.

Note this does not imply I am thinking Nessie is an invertebrate, only from the "neck" up. You may ask where that places other organs such as the eyes, nostrils and brain. Who knows, but I have to admit this is a train of thought I have had for some time and still have come to no firm conclusion purely down to the lack of detailed eyewitness data. The creature is often seen afar off, so such details can be sketchy.

I will leave the last words to the Spicers in what may have been their last media interview in 1938 (from "The Encyclopedia of the Loch Ness Monster"):

It isn’t something we are proud to be associated with, it’s very embarrassing and the bad publicity we have received has made it into something of a mockery. I wish we had never encountered the thing. When we reported it to the newspaper we believed we were doing something right, and hoped that others would come forward to explain what it was or most likely was.

The only way I could describe it was prehistoric in its form, it looked malformed, ugly and quite appalling really. I don’t care what people say about us imagining it or being tired and it not being what we thought. We know what we saw, we did see that thing and it wasn’t anything small or that one would expect to see crossing the road in front of your motor car. It covered the width of the road, it was a frightening experience for us both, one we shall never forget or be allowed to forget.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Friday, 11 August 2017

Nessie Tourist Season Drawing to a Close




As I drive the streets of Edinburgh, you will see them almost every day. Buses of various shapes and sizes zooming towards the Forth Road Bridge to deliver their cargo of tourists to Highland destinations. But there is one destination that is always on the itinerary and that is the famous Loch Ness. Or should that be rephrased as the one destination of the Loch Ness Monster?

Having disgorged their contents at Fort Augustus and Urqhuart Castle, the buses wait as the tourists take in the splendid views, stretch their legs and perhaps indulge in some local cuisine. Of course, you can do these things at Loch Lomond, but it doesn't have a monster. The creature is plastered everywhere in forms which draw in the eye and the wallet, but has little to do with what the actual creature looks like.

Meantime, businesses around the loch invite the tourist into their shops to inspect the tat and garish items that fill their shelves. If a green, fluffy Nessie is not to your liking, then perhaps a Nessie adorned mug or a Nessie T-shirt or a Nessie figurine or ... well, you get the picture.

Having lightened your wallet and purchased a memorial of your visit, you may want to risk going onto the loch and see the monster face to face for yourself. There are plenty of boats moored up at the castle bobbing and waiting to take your cash and give you their version of what lies beneath. Some of these crew may believe, don't believe or pretend to believe in a monster, but either way, the monster means big bucks to them and so they're happy to be part of the great mystery. 

For me, going to Loch Ness in early August is chalk and cheese to an April visit. In April, the cruise boats are still in hibernation, the roads are quiet and car parking is easy. If you turn up four months later, you are met with bedlam. Fort Augustus car park is likely full, walking along certain roads is like dodgem cars as a phalanx of tourists marches towards you and queues form for various events.

Well, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way, because vast hordes of tourists means there is still an ongoing interest in the Loch Ness Monster amongst the peoples of the world (whatever their view of it may be). And, of course, millions of eyes are trained on the loch armed with cameras ready to snap Nessie breaking to the surface from the deep depths.

I say that somewhat tongue in cheek as the reality is a bit different for various reasons. Firstly, you may have noted the recent story concerning the overgrown nature of the trees along the loch side. Gary Campbell lamented that this was leading to a drop in sightings and even Adrian Shine was in agreement (as far as bare bone eyewitness accounts go). The old postcard below shows the fabulously unhindered view of the loch afforded to tourists and monster hunters many moons ago.




Today, those days are gone as you can drive for miles and only see a loch almost or totally obscured. Laybys are being increasingly added and so the situation will improve, but the days of drive-by Nessie sightings are largely gone. The situation for the monster hunter is different to that of the tourist. The cryptozoologist seeks places for surveillance and is generally unconcerned about tree cover as he or she will find the open views they need.

The tourist is in rather more of a hurry. Tour buses have schedules and so times at the loch are of short duration and generally at fixed locations such as the Castle, Fort Augustus Pier and one or two other places. Those in cars will have more freedom, but very few of them are going to sit down by the shore and scan the loch for extended periods of time. 

The point is that even if the average "eyes on loch" time of a tourist is only 15 minutes, multiply that by half a million per year and that adds up to a rough and ready estimate of over 5000 man days per year. Of course, that is not unique "eyes on loch" time as several hundred pairs of eyes looking at the same spot, such as Urquhart Bay, is a lot of wasteful duplication and may be no more effective than 50 pairs of eyes doing the same thing.

Moreover, if Nessie decides the quiet stretch between Foyers and Inverfarigaig is her favourite spot, far less eyes will be on those few miles than the Castle area. Nevertheless, the tourist is an important part of evidence gathering, even if those mobile phone cameras are not up to the job.

As for me, I think I will be far from the maddening crowd this Summer as I plan to be at the loch in late September rather than late August. All the schools will be back to work, the weather will be chilling a bit but it will be peace, perfect peace.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Monday, 7 August 2017

The Mythology of the Hambro Tragedy




It is a story woven into the tapestry of the Loch Ness saga, but whether it has anything to do with the monster of said loch has been a matter of debate and speculation. In its own right it is a story worthy of publication - famous sporting wife of rich banking husband dies in a boat explosion on Loch Ness. Four people survive and one does not. Searches were made for the body and divers were sent down into the inky depths of the loch to find and recover the body, but no body was ever found.



Winifred Hambro is shown above and the basic story can be read from a contemporary account in the Yorkshire Post of the 31st August 1932. Mr. Hambro's final act was to erect a memorial to his wife which stands above Glendoe to this day.




Other contemporary sources of the time tell us that the Hambros were likely regular visitors to Loch Ness as an older report from the Inverness Courier (12th August 1930) describes the first trials of a 60mph speedboat by Mr. Hambro. As to the actual search for the body a few days later, we are told of how the Scott II was involved but the search was postponed for a week as stormy weather threw water into the boat's wheelhouse. Ultimately, the search was given up when soundings showed that the depth of the loch 12 feet from the shore was a remarkable 342 feet.

However, after this, more sinister stories began to weave themselves around the tragedy. We're talking about tales of divers being confronted by great cavernous underwater caves and ashen faced divers racing to the surface after being terrified by giant eels. Moreover, there was the question of why Mrs Hambro, an accomplished swimmer, simply disappeared from view? Was she taken by the monster and dragged down to a grisly death?

Heady stuff, but what is fact and what is fiction?



BANKER'S WIFE DROWNED 

Speedboat Tragedy on Loch Ness 

MRS. R. O. HAMBRO

Lost After Leap from Burning Craft

The body of Mrs. Hambro, wife of Mr. R. O. Hambro, the banker, who lost her life after a speedboat burst into flames on Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, on Sunday, had not been recovered last evening.

Mrs. Hambro and her husband, their two sons and a governess set out for a trip down the Loch in beautiful weather, with Mr. Hambro at the wheel of the speedboat, which was of the most modern type. When they were six miles down the Loch, where it is over 100 feet deep, and when the speedboat was over 40 yards away from shore, there was a loud explosion and the boat burst into flames.

Mr. and Mrs. Hambro, both excellent swimmers and their two sons jumped into the water. The nurse, although a swimmer, decided to stay in the burning boat, which began to drift slowly towards the shore. Mr. Hambro, looked after the two boys and kept them afloat, and he soon swam the 40 yards to the shore.

Mrs Hambro was swimming strongly behind, but before reaching the shore she disappeared. The governess was still in the burning vessel, but when it went near the shore she leaped into the water and ultimately reached the edge. The tragedy was seen from the Inverness-shire side of the Loch, over a mile distant, and Mr. J. M. Kydd. son of Mr. Kydd, of the Invermoriston Hotel, set out in a fast motor-boat to the scene. When he arrived Mr. Hambro, his sons and the governess had reached the shore, but no trace of Mrs. Hambro could be found.

Mr Hambro has been Chairman of Hambros Bank since March 31 last, and is also Managing Director. Mrs. Hambro, was formerly Miss Winifred Martin Smith, a prominent woman golfer. In 1919 she won the Ladies' Parliamentary Handicap, and, with Miss Wethered the "Eve" foursome in 1923. The same year she represented England in the international matches against Scotland. In 1929 she won the Sussex Women's Championship at Cooden Reach. Mrs. Hambro was a member of several well known golf clubs, including Ashdown Forest Ladies' Club, of which she had been captain.





To this we may also attach the report from the Scotsman for August 30th 1932 (the Colonel Lane mentioned just happened to become the author of the first book on the monster):

Details of a speedboat accident which occurred on Loch Ness on Sunday afternoon reached Inverness yesterday. Mrs Hambro, wife of Mr R. O. Hambro, of Glendoe, a shooting lodge above Fort Augustus, was drowned, and her husband, two young sons, and a governess, had a miraculous escape with their lives. 

As the afternoon was sunny, the party left for a run down Loch Ness, which was as placid as a lake. Mr Hambro steered the boat, and when it was speeding along about three miles down the loch, just opposite Invermoriston, there was a loud explosion, and the boat became enveloped in flames. 

Mr Hambro and Mrs Hambro, who were both good swimmers, decided to abandon the boat and swim ashore, a distance of over 100 yards, and at a very deep part of the loch they tied a life belt round the two boys, who were aged 6 and 13 years. Miss Calvert, the governess, decided to remain on the burning vessel. Mr and Mrs Hambro leapt into the water with the two boys, and Mr Hambro, pushing the boys in front of him, was successful in reaching the shore. Mrs Hambro, who was swimming strongly behind, before reaching safety suddenly collapsed and disappeared. 

The boys' governess was still in the boat, which after a bit drifted towards the shore. When the hull got near the rocks she left it, and was able to get to the land. 

The accident was observed on the opposite side of the loch by Lt.-Colonel Lane, Invermoriston, who raised the alarm. Another eye-witness, Mr Ian Kydd, son of the hotel-keeper at Invermoriston, set out in his father's motor boat, but by the time he reached the scene of the tragedy the occupants had reached the shore, all but Mrs Hambro. A search was made, but no trace of her could be found. 

The survivors were later taken aboard Mr Kydd's motor boat, and it recrossed the loch to the Invermoriston side, where the party were quickly conveyed to the hotel. Other boats arrived on the scene. Up till last night a search was being made for Mrs Hambro's body, but without success. The depth of the water where the accident took place is from 150 to 200 feet.

The tragedy has created much pain in the Fort Augustus district, where Mrs Hambro was very popular, and had, when North at the shooting season, taken a keen interest in local activities. She was at a flower show held in Fort Augustus on Saturday.


SPECULATIONS

In his book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others", Rupert Gould picks up on the story two years later addressing the issue of underwater caverns. It seems the Press had publicised comments from divers claiming they had seen such structures, but Gould pooh-poohs the story suspecting the story "emanated from persons who knew very little about diving". One such media story came from a letter by Harold Frere to the Inverness Courier (20th October 1933) in which he states "the divers who looked for Mrs Hambro's body reported that they discovered an overhanging shelf deep down under the loch surface." and it seems this soon became rather more cavernous.

However, the matter is not too difficult to resolve as Paul Harrison tells us in his "The Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster" that the diver employed by Hambro went down to a depth of 150 feet in pursuit of the body. Since visibility at that depth is virtually nil, it is highly unlikely anything of a cavernous nature would be visible. Of course, one could say that the diver may have inferred the presence of such a gaping maw by feeling his way around. However, tracing out a huge cavern by foot and hand sounds a major task. Nevertheless, the door is left slightly ajar.

Subsequent sonar investigations have not found such caverns, though it is possible the diver did indeed encounter rocky outcrops or overhangs and decided (without going further in) that there was a void beyond. Note that Gould makes no mention of rumours of giant eels, since in 1932 such stories were still in the womb of the yet to be born Nessie story.

Such was the story and rumours in 1934 and the Hambro episode disappeared from view for thirty years as other stories dominated the lore of the loch. By 1969, the story took a new twist when David Cooke in his "The Great Monster Hunt", took up the tale of the Hambros once again.

Cooke had done the rounds of the loch in preparation for his book, picking up stories and collating them for publication. He recounts the tragedy (getting some things wrong such as stating Mrs. Hambro was the only swimmer) and tells us that divers had been sent down by an insurance company to recover not only the body but also valuable pearls Mr. Hambro said his wife was wearing and wished to put a claim against.

Cooke then tells us of divers going down once but coming up with whitened hair refusing to dive again and babbling of giant eels and treacherous currents. Cooke, having tantalised, dismisses the talk about whitened divers and giant eels by again referring to the blackened depths as well as the disorienting effects of not knowing which way is up. He also refers to long ribbons of "clinging slime" at such depths, as if to suggest this could simulate the effect of giant eels brushing past you.

The source of these stories seems clear enough as Cooke says "some people tell that" which suggests he had picked up these from either locals or LNIB people. Nicholas Witchell is his 1974 work, "The Loch Ness Story", says pretty much the same thing but excludes references to giant eels.

A year later, Tim Dinsdale wrote of the Hambro story in his book, "Project Water Horse" and acknowledged the wild swings in this story, citing a dozen variations he was aware of. Tim had got in contact with an elderly Highlander who had a relative that was in service at the Glendoe Lodge  when the Hambros were living there and recounted a story similar to the one quoted from the Yorkshire Post above. He added that Mrs. Hambro "just disappeared, suddenly and without sound or splashing".

However (unlike Tim's musings about the death of speed boater John Cobb), he ascribes no cryptozoological suspicions to this, citing the icy cold water as that which dragged her down. The story of the unnerved divers is again ascribed to the blackness of the darkness that surprised them.

Now quite where the story of giant eels came from is not seen in any primary source and I will assume for now it was more likely the speculations of 1960s monster hunters rather than any direct report from divers.

CONCLUSION

But what about the idea that Mrs. Hambro herself was the victim of a large, unknown animal? I don't see that quoted or discussed in the list of books I consulted (though that does not preclude it lying in the corner of some book somewhere) and wonder if it is more the product of the Internet age, finding its origin in some article or discussion forum?

Be that as it may, is there any merit to this idea? Clearly, there is no direct evidence of such a thing but, on examining the original reports for the first time, several questions were raised in my mind. Firstly, Mrs. Hambro was evidently an athletic woman and a capable swimmer. How did she not manage to swim the forty yards to shore? Indeed it seems she was only a few yards from shore when she sank.

Tim Dinsdale above talks of her succumbing to the cold waters and I accept that finding yourself in the loch is a life threatening situation if you do not get yourself out within 30 minutes (as attested to in this modern report of a rescue). But in that case how did her six and thirteen year old sons and Mr. Hambro escape this predicament?

Also, if she did get into trouble, she was near her family swimming as a group towards shore, how did they not manage to come to her aid? After all, people do not simply sink like a stone.

Moreover, what was it the governess, Miss Calvert, saw that made her decide the better option was to stay on a burning boat rather than swim to shore (she is also described as a swimmer)? Surely an odd choice given the circumstances. If only one could talk to Miss Calvert today and clear up this matter as I regard her as the main witness to these unfortunate events (perhaps a coroner's report exists somewhere).

Of course, none of this proves a large creature was involved and we may rather speculate that Mrs. Hambro suffered a heart attack due to a cold shock which would seal her fate. That seems unlikely given her youth and athleticism, but again, one would say that this is less unlikely than being dragged underwater to your death by a thirty foot predator.


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