Strange Spectacle On Loch Ness

Highland folklore is filled with tales of strange creatures living in lochs and rivers, notably the kelpie (water horse) that lures unwary travellers to their doom. The use of the term ‘monster’, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon whose origins lie in an article published in the Inverness Courier on 2 May 1933, entitled ‘Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness’. The article recounted the sighting of a disturbance in the loch by Mrs Aldie Mackay and her husband: ‘There the creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron.’ The story was taken up by the London press and sparked off a rash of sightings that year, including a notorious on-land encounter with London tourists Mr and Mrs Spicer on 22 July 1933, again reported in the Inverness Courier:

“It was horrible, an abomination. About 50 yards ahead, we saw an undulating sort of neck, and quickly followed by a large, ponderous body. l estimated the length to be 25 to 30 feet, its colour was dark elephant grey. It crossed the road in a series of jerks, but because of the slope we could not see its limbs. Although I accelerated quickly towards it, it had disappeared into the loch by the time I reached the spot. There was no sign of it in the water. l am a temperate man, but I am willing to take any oath that we saw this Loch Ness beast. I am certain that this creature was of a prehistoric species.”

The London newspapers couldn’t resist. ln December 1933 the Daily Mail sent Marmaduke Wetherall, a film director and big-game hunter, to Loch Ness to track down the beast. Within days he found ‘reptilian’ footprints in the shoreline mud (soon revealed to have been made with a stuffed hippopotamus foot, possibly an umbrella stand). Then in April 1934 came the famous ‘long-necked monster’ photograph taken by the seemingly reputable Harley St surgeon Colonel Kenneth Wilson. The press went mad and the rest, as they say, is history. ln 1994, however, Christian Spurling – Wetherall’s stepson, by then 90 years old – revealed that the most famous photo of Nessie ever taken was in fact a hoax, perpetrated by his stepfather with Wilson’s help. Today, of course, there are those who claim that Spurling’s confession is itself a hoax. And, ironically, the researcher who exposed the surgeon’s photo as a fake still believes wholeheartedly in the monster’s existence.

Hoax or not, there’s no denying that the bizarre mini-industry that has grown up around Loch Ness and its mysterious monster since that eventful summer 75 years ago is the strangest spectacle of all.

Lough Ness is a must see attraction on your tours of Scotland.