History of the Search for the Loch Ness Monster Part 1

About the search for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland, history and clues about the creature in the Scottish lake.



In the last 1,400 years, there have been over 10,000 reported sightings of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, yet it is so elusive that until quite recently it was thought to be a figment of the popular imagination. The story began in 565 A.D., when St. Columba, converting Scots to Christianity, met a "water beast" at Loch Ness and granted it "perpetual freedom of the loch." In 1810 Sir Walter Scott wrote that "almost every Scotch loch" had a tradition of huge aquatic animals. Outside Scotland legends of water monsters abound, principally in lakes located between latitudes 50 deg. and 60 deg. N in Canada, Ireland, Scandinavia, and the Soviet Union.

At latitude 57 deg. N, Loch Ness is one of a chain of lakes in the Great Glen, a geological fault slashing diagonally across Scotland from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest fresh-water mass in the British Isles. Although it averages less than a mile in width, for more than half its 24-mi. length its depth ranges from 400 to more than 900 ft. It was formed during the period of glacial action 25,000 to 10,000 years ago and, like other lakes that breed monster legends, is connected to the sea, allowing migratory fish to provide a dependable food supply for carnivorous loch dwellers.

Many factors contribute to the Loch Ness mystery. Its shores are thickly wooded and, except in summer, sparsely inhabited; winter snows frequently bury the surrounding area; and light and visibility are often poor. All year mists and storms drive in from the sea along the Great Glen, sometimes with 60-mph winds churning 8-ft. waves. The water itself is nearly opaque with peat particles washed from surrounding mountains. Unusual visual effects mislead observers. The water temperature, ranging from 42 deg. F in winter to near 60 deg. F in summer, produces thermal contrasts with the often cooler air, creating startling mirages; on calm days flying birds, invisible against the wooded shores, reflect in the water, giving illusions of fast-moving humps; the narrow, elongated shape of the loch creates standing waves long after the original cause of the waves has disappeared.

Clues for the Hunt

In 1933, monster sightings increased dramatically as a road was constructed along the northern shore of Loch Ness, with attendant blasting and clearing. Local people reported "an enormous animal rolling and plunging" or a hump resembling an "upturned boat" basking at the surface. In July, 1933, a London businessman, George Spicer, gave an account of a rare land sighting: "I observed the most extraordinary form of an animal crossing the road. It was horrible--an abomination. First we saw an undulating sort of neck, a little thicker than an elephant's trunk. It did not move in the usual reptilian fashion, but, with three arches in its neck, it shot across the road until a ponderous body about 4 ft. high came into view.... Its color ... a dark elephant gray. It looked like a snail with a long neck...."

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