We shivered on the dock as we waited for them to let us on board, standing as close as we could to the thin chain that separated us in the wet weather outside from the, presumably, warmer and much drier interior of the boat. Typical of the Scottish Highlands, we had experienced every season at least once so far that day; and at that moment, there was no doubting that what we were experiencing was definitely winter.
The three of us huddled closer together as fat, wet snowflakes blew in our faces, melting and dripping down our necks and seeping into our clothing underneath. We’d thought we had left the cold and brutal winter behind when we left Canada less than a week before. But there, in the middle of Scotland with only sweatshirts and light rain coats, we were right back in it. Maybe not quite as extreme as the -40C temperatures that we had suffered through for the previous 4 months at home, but it definitely wasn’t pleasant. And so, as soon as the well-bundled attendant released the clasp on the chain, we all but ran to get inside and out of the elements.
Greeted by significantly warmer and drier air we clustered to the front of the boat, sitting against the big glass windows to ensure we got a good view. Families and other visitors filed in behind us, and soon the enclosed space was packed full of eager tourists, all hoping to get a glimpse of the famed but elusive Loch Ness Monster in our hour on the Loch.
Within ten minutes the crew untied the ropes and we chugged out of the small bay, and into the main body of Loch Ness. A man with a microphone told us a little bit of geographical history about the area; how the depth of the Loch (600ft below sea level) was due to a glacier in the area over 10 000 years ago during the last ice age. He further explained that the water colour, a dark murky colour that is barely penetrated by the light, is caused by the peat particles.
As we pulled farther into the loch legends of the supposed monster unfolded. According to our guide, a scientist and professional Nessie hunter, the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster occurred in 500s. An Irish monk by the name of Saint Columba had come to Scotland and stayed with the Picts. It was here that he heard of a terrible ‘water beast’ lurking in the lake who had recently killed a Pict man swimming across the River Ness. After hearing this story, Saint Columba ordered one of his own men to swim across the river but when the monster appeared Saint Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the beast to go back. The beast fled and disappeared, causing those who witnessed the interaction to celebrate and praise God for the miracle.
It wasn’t until 1933 that modern day sightings began taking place. In July of 1933 a husband and wife claimed to see some type of strange animal with a long neck crossing the road towards the Loch. In August of the same year, a man on a motorcycle claimed to have nearly run over a similar creature, which upon seeing him retreated to the waters and disappeared under the surface. As for the famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster, it was taken in 1934 by a man named Dr. Wilson who just happened to be looking over the Loch when the monster appeared.
Our expert continued to tell us of other sightings and hoaxes, before moving on to the large screens placed around the interior of the vessel. Explaining to us how each of them worked he pointed out the fish swimming underneath us, telling us their ballpark weights and sizes based off a list of calculations. Nodding that we understood, he changed the screen, showing us a previous recording in which a large shape appeared on the screen. Clicking another button a new recording popped up, showing several smaller but still sizeable blips on the radar. He then told us that based on the weight conversions they used for measuring the fish, these shapes were estimated to weigh somewhere between 3100 and 6100 tonnes. And as for the regular fish themselves? According to the scientists’ work, they were disappearing at a rate of about two tonnes per day.
As our guide finished up; telling us of similar sightings around world (including 4 in Canada and some in Mariana’s Trench) and taking questions, I snuck out to the upper deck where I did a little Nessie hunting myself. The snow had stopped and the clouds cleared, and although there was still a cold bite to the air, it was bearable for a little while. I scanned the dark waters, looking into the distance both ahead and behind us looking for something, anything out of the ordinary. I spotted the rock slide where, according to one story the monster had attempted to leave the loch but just slid back down, but I had no luck in seeing the actual creature itself.
All too soon the sky clouded over and the wind picked up, encouraging me to I head back down to my friends and the screens monitoring what went on below. We spent the rest of the tour monitoring the screens and the lake in front of us. Sadly nothing occurred on our expedition, leaving the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster intact for the rest of our trip.
So does Nessie exist? Well our guide sure seemed to think so and he certainly had enough stories and potential evidence to prove that something is there. As for me, well I’ve always loved a mystery, and the legend of the Loch Ness Monster is definitely a good one.