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

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?


Speedboat Tragedy on Loch Ness 


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.


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.


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.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Investigation of a rediscovered Land Sighting

I love it when old sightings which have lain dormant and hidden for years if not decades come to light. This is a theme that has recurred on this blog for years as old archives in paper, microfilm and digital form are searched for these little gems. However, this time the credit goes to another researcher for finding this one from 1925.

That goes to Rob Cornes who found the information whilst researching his forthcoming book on the long necked pinniped theory of aquatic cryptids. That book will be co-authored with Gary Cunningham and will be published by CFZ and you can find out more about their findings here.

The Loch Ness Monster story was found in the Linlithgowshire Gazette dated 2nd February 1934 and goes as follows with the original clipping after it:

One Bo’ness man, Robert Henderson, claims to have seen the Loch Ness Monster nine years ago. He was motoring with Mr James Paterson, printer, Bank Street, Inverness, from Inverness to Drumnadrochit. About two miles from the village the car’s headlights showed the monster crossing the road. According to Mr Henderson, it resembled a seal in general appearance, but much larger.

There was something on its large, rounded, humped back which looked like wings. Suddenly it raised its head, gave a throaty cry, and bounded on its flippers off the road and into the loch. Mr Henderson then noticed that it was about twenty feet long, with a tail like a crocodile. He was amazed at its agility. Thinking that people would only laugh at them, Mr Henderson and his friend did not tell anybody at the time that they had seen monster. But then, these were not the days of monsters! To-day, they are as common as peas, and difficult to catch.

Digging deeper into the newspaper archives revealed no further information on this story in any other publication. This is probably a consequence of being printed in a local, low circulation newspaper. However, further searches showed that Robert Henderson was likely the same Robert Henderson who owned a garage which hired out motor vehicles and ran a bus service. It is possible he was driving Mr. Paterson in that capacity on that day, but that is just speculation.

In regards to James Paterson, there was a printing business in Inverness run by an Alexander Paterson who died in 1924. Reading his obituary, I would say James Paterson was his son who took over the business. So, these men are real enough, though obviously that doesn't prove they saw a twenty foot creature crossing a road by Loch Ness the following year. Such is the primary source material that we have, how do we assess it?


Rob Cornes wondered if this was just a hoax story and one could speculate that since this story came out a month after the similar sounding Arthur Grant land sighting gained worldwide publicity, someone just decided to join the bandwagon.

It is easy to take the view that it is more probable that such a story is fabricated rather than truthful. After all, what is more probable? That somebody saw a 20 foot creature cross a road by Loch Ness or that such a story was made up? However, this simplistic use of Occam's Razor would mean that every claim would be dismissed as a hoax.

That won't stand up to scrutiny and even sceptics take the less improbable (but still improbable) view that all eyewitnesses who ever claimed to have seen a large creature at Loch Ness have misidentified rather than lied. But there are four checks that can be attempted which can apply in general to claimed sightings which I will list here and apply to this case.


The first thing to check is the story itself for internal inconsistencies. That is, are there statements made in the article which are contradictory to other statements made in the article? The more that the story clashes with itself, the less reliance one can place on it. That does not per se mean the story is untrue.

For example, some facts can be misremembered and inaccuracies can creep in during the copying process. These do not constitute a reason to doubt the authenticity or sincerity of the witnesses. Each instance has to be judged on its own merits. However, this is a short article and from that point of view, it is not surprising that I found no internal consistencies (though others may wish to chip in). 


Moving onto what I would class as inconsistencies external to the source material, is there anything we can find about the witnesses which casts doubt upon their integrity as testifiers? In the context of this account, one can only look for circumstantial evidence such as searching said newspaper archives for anything that suggest Henderson was someone not to be trusted (e.g. a publicised court case for criminality). As stated at the top, some facts about the two witnesses were gleaned, but nothing was found that suggested they were people not to be trusted. Again, this would not prove they never saw what they claimed, but it reduces the weight of the report. 


The next avenue is to look for external consistencies as regards the incident itself. By that I mean statements made which appear to contradict what we know as objective or deductible "facts" concerning the location and environment of the alleged event. Again, it is acknowledged that there are not many statements made in the report, and so there is less opportunity to check them against external facts.

To check one aspect of external consistency within the story, the map below shows the rough location of the alleged sighting. Two miles out from Drumnadrochit, assuming there is some degree of rounding up, that would place us perhaps as close as Temple Pier or further north where the slope to the loch gets higher, but not insurmountable, depending where such a creature would be located.

Using Google Street View gives us a modern view of the road. However, 1925 was some years before the major improvements made to the A82 road and so what we see in 2017 is not an accurate representation of what these men saw ahead of them 92 years before. Be that as it may, the location is consistent with a creature having access back to loch. What such a creature may have being doing on the other side of the road is again a matter of speculation. But, again, I would say I see no inconsistencies between the report and what we know of the location.

One can also pull up an ordnance survey map from that period for a more accurate representation of that time. For that, I reproduce a portion of the OS One Inch "Popular" edition from 1921-1930 courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. I would note the area of the road which becomes more forested (at the "s" of "Ninians"). I would speculate that if a creature was involved, this less open area would be more ideal. This roadside area is less forested on the satellite images on Google Earth, thus showing the advantage of consulting contemporary maps.


Finally, the creature described is considered in relation to the external database of Loch Ness Monster reports accrued over the decades and centuries. This is a more subjective approach as the database of eyewitness reports will contain a degree of misidentifications and (to a lesser degree) hoaxes which muddy the waters and warp a clear composite of what the real sightings point to. However, it should still be used to determine how any given single account diverges from the most popular sets of morphologies. Therein may lie a clue as to the report's authenticity.

This is obviously not a check conducted by all researchers as some will not believe there is such a cryptid in Loch Ness. Clearly, this particular researcher does adhere to this practise. So, in that respect, is what is described consistent with what has been described before? I would note three levels of correlation, being High, Medium and Low. Those I would class in this account as High would be the features pertaining to twenty foot long, a humped back, seal-like in morphology and flippers. So there is nothing controversial there in terms of what is already recorded.

The Medium class is more disputable in the sense that they are not so commonly reported such as the description of agility and a crocodile-like tail. Such a disputation may be due in part to the fact that this is a land sighting where more of the creature is seen and its behaviour will be different to that in water. Agility on land is attested to before (Cruickshank and Grant) but are few and far between as befits the subset of land sighting accounts.

The crocodile-like tail would suggest the witness is attempting to describe structures akin to the tail of this much better known creature. This leads us to one problem with witness descriptions when they employ another animal to describe the Loch Ness Monster. What exactly was it about the tail of this creature that merited the crocodile comparison?

The problem is we do not know what characteristics of a crocodilian tail the witness was thinking of when he said this. Was it the scales, the ridges, the colour, the shape or the length? I would guess it would be something appertaining to scales or ridges, noting that a spinal ridge is often reported on the creature's back and this could be a continuation.

I would note in general that since the report says "the car’s headlights showed the monster crossing the road", then it was surely (like most land sightings) a night time occurrence and so the finer details of a creature's appearance may always be questioned in such a circumstance.

Finally, there are the Low correlations which rarely, if at all, are noted in the record. These would be the "throaty cry" and "something on its large, rounded, humped back which looked like wings". I looked through the database on the matter of audible sounds accompanying eyewitness reports and they are indeed thin on the ground.

But what we have ranges from snorting, gargling, barking, breathing like a horse to sounding like a walrus. Where does a "throaty cry" fit into that spectrum? The problem (as with the tail) is what did Mr. Henderson intend us to think by this phrase? If you gathered a group of people together in one room and asked them to make a throaty cry, you may get a different sound from each person!

However, the feature that caught my eye most was this strange description of something looking like "wings" on the back. What on earth did he mean by that? I wish we had a sketch of what was seen! I don't think for a second that Mr. Henderson thought he saw a dragon crossing that road over ninety years ago. What he appears to be talking about are flap like appendages on the back.

One may think when "wings" is mentioned, we may have a unique feature which calls the account into question if it has no precedence in the testimony database. But, I think one other land sighting describe a similar thing. That is the George Spicer account and the sketch below show what could be interpreted as similar flap like structure. In other words, I would interpret such an appendage as something akin to a dorsal fin.


Having analysed this rediscovered report, I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of Robert Henderson. What he actually saw on the dark, car-lit night is another matter. One may doubt it purely on the fantastical nature of the account, but that goes with the territory in the domain of cryptids. Some may wish to to focus on the words "resembled a seal" in the primary source and class this as a misidentified seal,. That would mean changing the data to fit the theory, but it is clear (to me) that there are things about this creature which are pretty un-seal like.

I won't tell the reader what he or she should believe concerning this story. I do not claim to be the last word on interpreting Loch Ness Monster accounts (though others may say or act as if they are). Read my words, consider and weigh them and other comments in the balance of your own mind and come to your own opinion.

The author can be contacted at

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Return of Mr. Binns

It is the age of the sceptic and don't we know it as they attempt to impose their way of thinking on the rest of us in not only the domain of cryptozoology but matters far and wide where they think theirs is the superior intellect.

However, one name I thought had retired to his armchair with his slippers and pipe is Ronald Binns. Nessie fans will know him well for his less than satisfactory book from 1983, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", which failed to live up to its title as it descended into a diatribe of exaggerations, misrepresentations and dubious interpretations.

I have covered the flaws in that book on several occasions on this blog with respect to the classic Mackay sighting and his treatment of the late Alex Campbell. The promotion for his new book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded", goes thusly:

On the fiftieth anniversary of the local newspaper report which made the Loch Ness Monster world famous, Ronald Binns published his classic but controversial book The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Over three decades later it remains both influential and a source of fierce debate. In this new book Binns takes a fresh look at Nessie in the light of later evidence and recent analysis of the classic photographs and film. He considers the relationship between the Loch Ness Monster and the water kelpie tradition of Scottish folklore. He also scrutinises the role played by central figures in the Loch Ness story such as Rupert Gould, Tim Dinsdale and Ted Holiday. Ronald Binns is a former member of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau. He has made numerous visits to the loch in search both of the Monster and a greater understanding of this enduring phenomenon.

This is the latest book in a line of recent sceptical works will be released on the 8th August. That line includes Loxton and Prothero's "Abominable Science" (reviewed here), Tony Harmsworth's "Loch Ness Understood" (reviewed here) and Darren Naish's "Hunting Monsters" (reviewed here). That will be four sceptical books in seven years, too frequent in my opinion.

I am not sure how pleased they were with my reviews ...

They have all so far pretty much said the same thing and rehashed the old arguments but added more ridiculous ones such as the swan interpretation of the Hugh Gray photograph. I wait to be surprised and will post a review in due course (though that may unfortunately involve buying the book).

The author can be contacted at

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Captain Munro, Monster Hunter

In the ranks of Nessie hunters, you would have heard of Tim Dinsdale, Ted Holiday and Roy Mackal, but perhaps not a man by the name of Munro. He is not a figure that dominates in the annals of Loch Ness Monster hunting, but he had a part to play in the early days of the mystery. In fact, his appearance is rather bright and fleeting, but it could all have been so different.

Captain Donald J. Munro, C.M.G, R.N. (Retired) came to the attention of the national media in June 1938 when he proposed a more rigorous scheme for obtaining conclusive evidence for the Loch Ness Monster. The earliest newspaper e-clipping I have on this is from The Scotsman dated 11th June 1938 and is reproduced below.

Previously, Munro had been one of the first advocates of modern harbour defences and in 1912 implemented boom defences at Portsmouth and later at Scapa Flow, where he was King's Harbour master. Indeed, in his pre-Nessie book, "Convoys, Blockades and Mystery Towers", he elaborates on the testing of mines at Loch Ness:

But, to summarise monster matters, Munro saw no profit in such tactics as aeroplanes, airships, boats or submarines as he saw the creature as being sensitive to noise. To him that meant immovable observation posts with "observers and instruments always ready for action" with the early morning being the best time. In support of this, his 45 years on steamships convinced him that fish and aquatic mammals were afraid of vibrations set up by propellers.

The instruments in question would be a camera with a long-range telephoto lens, range finder, cine-camera, stop watch, light meter and powerful binoculars. These would be employed by experienced observers, one being a naval officer and another trained observer and two other volunteers. These people would man the stations from daylight to twilight on two man shifts. One such platform could even be fixed on the surface of the water to get closer to the target.

The London Times took up the story on the 14th June as shown below. Though the Captain had no doubt as to the creature's existence, the source of its food mystified him as he speculated on unknown food stocks. I don't think he had to think too hard about that, but the biggest unknown was getting this project off the ground.

The Northern Chronicle took up the story further on the 15th June (below) stating that Munro had no idea what the identity of the creature could be, being unable to reconcile its observed behaviour with what he knew about from his maritime adventures. To him, it was all about obtaining those conclusive photographs which would be submitted before a panel of experts for assessment.

Of course, the thing is we hear no more of Captain Munro's proposals. We read in Ted Holiday's 1968 "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" on how the young Holiday contacted him and Munro sending him his proposal pamphlet entitled "Loch Ness Mystery" but no further details. Indeed, this pamphlet is one of the rarest of Loch Ness items as I have never seen a copy of it at any time in any place. It is not even in the National Library of Scotland which prides itself in being the main repository of Scottish literature. Perhaps one day ... one wonders where Holiday's copy ended up.

So, the idea never got off the ground. The aforementioned pamphlet actually doubled as a prospectus for the one and only Nessie IPO as shares priced at one shilling each were suggested as a means of financing the entire endeavour. Since the three camera stations proposed were priced at £500 each, that meant an initial offering of 30,000 shares.  The total cost of £1500 would be about £93,000 in today's money and so perhaps we see the problem Munro had in raising the readies.

How far Captain Munro actually got in this fund raising campaign is not known, finding the equivalent of £93,000 obviously was too much, but 1938 was not a great year for funding monster hunting either. By then, we were five years down the monster line and interest was waning, especially in the light of events surrounding Nazi Germany.

And, after all, even the insurance magnate, Edward Mountain had spent far, far less on his expedition back in the more halcyon days of 1934. So, it seems even rich men were averse to throwing too much money at this problem. 

However, Munro was somewhat vindicated twenty four years later with the formation of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau which did implement fixed stations with cine cameras fitted with long range telephoto lenses and multiple teams. The results were mixed but never conclusive and one wonders what the Captain would have made of it all and what suggestions he may have offered.

As it turns out, Donald Munro had died ten years previously in 1952 at his home in Crieff, Perthshire, aged 87. It was a pity he never saw the realisation of his ideas at the loch, but we should stand back here and acknowledge the foresight of this man in proposing these techniques those long years before.

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

What Tim said next to Herman

I previously posted a letter written by Tim Dinsdale to Herman Cockrell, the owner of the fascinating photograph previously analysed here. Another letter, dated the 7th February 1961, soon followed after Herman had sent material to Tim and which is reproduced below.

Now, unlike the last letter, this one is handwritten rather than typed and so is more difficult to read. The art of handwritten letters is largely a minority sport these days as emails rule the roost as well as letters typed out on Microsoft Word. Perhaps I would have found this easier to read if I had lived fifty years previously, presuming everyone was well versed in the art of deciphering such scribbles in those days. 

Tim's comment on the coming notches on the "totem pole" turned out to be premature for the curious reason that the classic photos of the 1950s did not give way to anything equitable after Tim's book, despite the heightened monster attention giving every incentive to every wannabee monster hoaxer. Anyway, here goes and the original letter is shown at the end.

Dear Mr. Cockrell,

Many thanks for your fascinating letter and cuttings - we really must fix a meeting. I shall be up at the loch for a week starting Easter week end - any chance of a visit? 

I am of course delighted with the photo and the Weekly Scotsman articles, but in order to conform to the routine of the book I have endeavoured to treat your account - on the part most important to me, briefly and concisely in the manner I have treated all the others.

If you could give me the O.K. on this as soon as ever you can (alter it if you wish of course) - it will get into the book which is now at the printers. I have sent the top copy to the publishers pending your clearance. Could you wire? Sorry about the rush but I do want you, and your account registered on the 'pioneers' totem pole, because pretty soon there will be so many notches on it that the marks of the few who really contributed something at a time when ridicule was the order of the day, will be obliterated.

I think, and hope, the book will be a success, and it may help to solve this problem. I believe the animals are resident myself, but we must discuss your underground river concept. I am all for intelligent second opinions and I have learnt never to be too serious about anything or any one of my own theories in this extraordinary business.

In compensation for your kind assistance may I send you a copy of the book when it comes out? - though I realise this might be construed as a threat! However, it's all good clean fun, and represent the most intense 2 years of study I have ever put into anything in my life.

By the way - do I have to clear copyright with the 'Weekly Scotsman', ? or can you give me a clean bill of health ? on the photo and its excerpt from article number 6?


Tim Dinsdale.

P.S. Let us dispense with formality - my name is Tim.


Monday, 3 July 2017

Further Thoughts on an Itinerant Nessie

Further to the last article, people had expressed doubts about large creatures getting in and out of the loch, or at least in such a manner as to not go unnoticed. Now, I would say that one such situation giving the opportunity of "escape" (or whatever motivates these creatures) is after or during periods of rain which flow into Loch Ness from the main tributaries feeding into it and then flowing downhill via the River Ness into the sea.

Do these raised water levels present a monster's opportunity to migrate or emigrate? I would say so, indeed two of the accounts from the previous article state that the river was in spate. The most interesting account for me was the George McGill sighting which took place right in the centre of the town of Inverness. I quote from page 173 of Holiday's "The Great Orm of Loch Ness":

During August 1965, there was a period of heavy rain lasting for several days. The loch rose and the River Ness was in spate. A salesman, Mr George McGill, had business in the Y.M.C.A. building, Bank Street, Inverness. At 11.45 a.m. the rain was so heavy that Mr McGill stood in the doorway with a friend, watching it.

Mr McGill wrote to me: 'Just as we got to the door I looked across the River Ness. What I saw was a large, thick, ridged neck looping out of the water. The height of the neck above the water would be about four feet six inches and it was about eight inches in diameter. There was a disturbance where the neck re-entered the water and another disturbance some distance to the rear. What it was I cannot say but it was not a fish. It was very unusual and I have never seen anything like it before. I'll try to draw what I saw.'

Mr McGill's drawing shows what appears to be the neck of a smallish Orm which seems to be going down-river on the flood water. The surprising feature of this sighting is that it took place near the middle of Inverness.

As to the objection that the creature should have been seen by more people, one should take into account the heavy rain that took place during the sighting. Such conditions are going to drive people indoors and away from the river, not towards it. That does not preclude others seeing it and not reporting it (some people seem to think witnesses will always come forward, they don't). A further investigation of the archives of the time may reveal more, but that is for another time.

However, if you want to know about the "mother of all spates", this happened on January 1849 and saw devastation across the areas the river flowed through. The water levels of Loch Ness rose by an amazing fourteen feet and the Caledonian Canal and River Ness merged into one channel at some points. The report on those troubling times are shown in the contemporary clipping from the Inverness Courier below.

Now whether our favourite monster took advantage of this inundation is unknown. The sightings record for that period of time is sparse to say the least. Furthermore, one should not presume that the migrant or emigrant is somehow waiting patiently at the top of the loch or at the estuary of the river for the next spate in order to make its move. It's all about chance and opportunity, not every spate leads to monster movements and perhaps the majority just happen during normal weather. 

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