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The Loch Ness Monster Guide

We have all heard of the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, a serpentine beast lurking in the depths of Loch Ness. There have been over a 1000, often unexplainable, eye-witness accounts and sightings attracting monster hunters and leaving scientists baffled. This fame has turned the Loch Ness Monster into Scotland’s most beloved and elusive creature. But does it really exist?

What is the Loch Ness Monster?

The Loch Ness monster is a marine creature and one of the most enduring myths in Scottish folklore. It is usually described as being large, with a long neck and with one or more humps that protrude from the water. When sightings of the beast started drawing public attention, it was described as a “Monster Fish”, “Sea Serpent”, or “Dragon”. Since the 1940s the Loch Ness Monster has been affectionately referred to as Nessie.

Where does the Loch Ness Monster Live?

The Loch Ness Monster is believed to live in Loch Ness, the second largest and deepest lake in Scotland. It is a stunning location situated in the Scottish Highlands and a must-see for any Lord, Laird or Lady, especially if they’re keen to catch a glimpse of Nessie.

How old is the Loch Ness Monster?

Reports of a monster living in Loch Ness date back to ancient times. Stone carvings made by the Picts, a Celtic group who lived in these areas, often depict curious-looking beasts, like a creature with flippers or snake symbols.

The earliest written account that could be describing Nessie appears in a biography of St. Columba, an Irish abbot and missionary from 565 AD. According to this work, a beast close to Loch Ness fatally injured a Pictish man swimming and when it prepared to attack another man, Columba intervened and the monster fled.

Loch Ness Monster History

The first claimed sighting of the Loch Ness Monster in modern times was in the early 1870s, when D. Mackenzie claimed to have seen something “wriggling and churning up the water”. But an article in the Inverness Courier published on the 2nd of May 1933 is probably the best-known early mention as it attracted widespread attention. The article discussed a sighting of an enormous creature with the body of a whale rolling in the water in the loch, spotted by Aldie Mackay while she and her husband were driving on the A82. The word “monster” was reportedly applied for the first time in this article, which soon became a media phenomenon. After this story broke, London newspapers sent their correspondents to Scotland and one even offered a £20,000 reward for anyone who could capture the beast.

On April 21, 1934, the London Daily Mail ran a photo that forever changed how Nessie is seen. It was supposedly taken by respected London gynaecologist Robert Wilson, and is to this day still referred to as ‘the surgeon’s photograph’. It shows a half-submerged creature with a long slender back, craned neck, and pointed face. And it set off a craze unlike any other in cryptozoology’s history, sending tourists to the Scottish Highlands to see for themselves the creature swimming in Loch Ness.

For 60 years the photo was considered evidence of the monster’s existence, however, in 1994 it was finally established that the photo was a hoax. The creature in the photo was allegedly a toy submarine with a head and neck made from wood putty. After being publicly ridiculed by the Daily Mail for finding fake Nessie footprints, the big-game hunter M.A. Wetherell decided to take revenge with this practical joke, giving the now famed Nessie photo to Wilson to sell to the Daily Mail.

The Surgeon’s Photograph
The Surgeon’s Photograph
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Loch Ness Monster Sightings

Since the surgeon’s photograph, there have been numerous other reported sightings of the legendary beast hiding under the surface of Loch Ness.

In the spring of 1938, South African tourist G. E. Taylor filmed something in the lake for a whole three minutes. The film was then obtained by popular science writer Maurice Burton, and a single frame of the film was later published in his 1961 book. But it was later concluded that it was just a floating object.

Then, in July 1955, Peter MacNab took a photograph that appeared to depict two long black humps in the water. But researchers suspected the apparent humps could be a wave effect resulting from three fishing boats that were travelling closely together.

In 1960 Tim Dinsdale, an aeronautical engineer, filmed a hump that left a wake crossing Loch Ness. Many people believed that the hump was a boat after the contrast was increased in the photo. But in 1993, a documentary was produced by Discovery Communications, called “Loch Ness Discovered,” which used a digital enhancement of the Dinsdale film. A shadow was spotted by the person doing the enhancing in the negative, which had not been obvious in the developed film. By enhancing and overlaying frames, he found what appeared to be the rear body of a creature.

In the mid-sixties a 10-year observational survey was carried out by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, which recorded an average of 20 sightings per year. Then in the 1970s some underwater photographs of what appeared to be a flipper became public.

Even sonar explorations have been used to try and find the beast. The most notable ones took place in 1987 and 2003 but to no avail.

Many more photos have been taken over the years, but have since been discredited as fakes. In 2007 Gordon Holmes, a lab technician, filmed what he claimed was the Loch Ness monster- although, a marine biologist said it was more likely to have been an otter, seal or water bird.

Then, in 2011, a boat captain on Loch Ness photographed a sonar image of a 4.9-foot wide object which appeared to follow his boat for several minutes. However, just a year later this was discovered to be a bloom of algae.

How Big is the Loch Ness Monster

Though there is an abundance of eye-witness accounts and sightings, there has been no consensus on the exact size of the Loch Ness Monster apart from her being a ‘large’ creature. She has previously been identified as a Greenland Shark, which can reach up to 20 feet in length, an unusually large eel, or merely a resident otter. It has even been suggested that Nessie could be a swimming elephant from a travelling circus, with the top of the elephant’s head and extended trunk mirroring a Nessie-like appearance. Some have also theorised that Nessie is a plesiosaur, an extinct aquatic reptile that could reach up to 49 feet in length. It seems that no single explanation can account for this notorious Scottish monster.

Is the Loch Ness Monster Real?

The ongoing and fierce debate around Nessie’s existence and what she really is seems to have finally come to a halt in May 2019. Researchers from New Zealand undertook a massive project to document every organism that swims in Loch Ness based on environmental DNA sampling. The reports confirmed that Nessie could in fact be a giant European eel. No DNA samples of Greenland sharks or plesiosaurs could be found. Scientists seem to believe that these giant eels account for most of Nessie’s sightings over the years.

Tours & Centre

There are numerous companies that offer boat trips across the 23 miles of Loch Ness, often with a tour guide to give you all the information about the famous expanse. There are also guided tours to be enjoyed by coach around the surrounding landscapes. You could spend a day Nessie-hunting, take a cruise on the mysterious loch, explore the village of Fort Augustus, visit the ruined loch-side Urquhart Castle, admire the Falls of Foyers and wander along Dores Beach all on one fantastic trip!
If this sounds like the kind of day out you might be up for, use the links below to check out some of the available tours.

The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition

The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition was established in 1980 and is a favourite for visitors from all over the world. It boasts the highest possible award from The Scottish Tourist Board as a 5 Star Visitor Attraction. Naturalist Adrian Shine, leader of The Loch Ness Project research team (for over 40 Years), wrote and narrated the Exhibition. Here they have developed 7 themed areas that tell the story of Loch Ness and its mystery, from its beginnings to now.

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Loch Ness Monster Facts

  1. A triathlon in 2005 that included a swim in Loch Ness insured all participating athletes for £1 million against bites from Nessie.
  2. The largest search of Loch Ness was ‘Operation Deepscan’ in 1987 using state-of-the-art sonar equipment and a fleet of 24 boats. The search for Nessie ended inconclusively. 
  3. The Loch Ness Monster featured in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The 30-foot long model of Nessie used in the film was found on the loch bed in 2016 during a sonar search by Kongsberg Maritime. It’s thought the model sank after its buoyant humps were removed.
  4. In the 1930s, William Fraser, the chief constable of Inverness-shire, wrote a letter to a government official stating that a man from London “was having a special harpoon gun made and that he was to return [to Loch Ness] […] for the purpose of hunting the monster down.” Fraser suggested that some official government protection of Nessie might be established, demonstrating a form of civic pride.
  5. You can go to the Satellite view on Google Maps to look for Nessie under the surface of Loch Ness!

Read More About Loch Ness From Our Highland Titles Loch Ness Guide

Learn about the history of Loch Ness, the best places to stay, things to do, and more!

View Loch Ness Guide