Scottish myths 16

  Loch Monsters

It's said that the Loch Ness monster was brought to the world's attention in 1933 when there were as many as five eye-witness accounts during that year, but sightings have been recorded at various times throughout history, allegedly even from as early as the 6th century.
One of the 1933 sightings was made by a Mr. George Spicer. During a drive round the loch the Londoner and his wife saw "the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life" ambling across the road to return to the loch with an animal in its mouth. The report was published in the Inverness Courier.

Similar creatures, mostly thought to be surviving generations of the Plesiosaur, have also been seen in other, very deep Scottish lochs.
The Loch Ness is the largest of three lochs in the Great Glen. It's 23 miles (37 km) long and 1 mile (1,6 km) wide. It's average depth is 182 m (600 ft).

The 6th century report is found in the Life of St. Columba, written in the 7th century by Adamnán. He relates that during the previous century the Irish monk, St. Columba, whilst sojourning with some of his followers in the land of the Picts, noticed some villagers burying someone by the River Ness. As Columba wished to know more, the villagers explained that the victim had been swimming in the river when he was suddenly attacked, mauled then dragged below the surface by a "water beast". Some men in a boat had tried to save the poor man but only succeeded in retrieving his corpse.
On hearing this St. Columba went out on the river in a small boat with one of his devotees, Luigne moccu Min. He then bid his faithful, foolish friend to swim in the river. When the creature was drawn to the bait, Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the beast : "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once." The ferocious beast reacted as if it were "pulled back with ropes" and "swam away in terror." Columba's men and the Picts praised God for this miracle.

The creature's reaction appears to indicate that the 6th century generation of Loch Ness Monsters were God fearing man eaters, and that St. Columba's stern command set a precedent for the future generations of Loch Ness Monsters. From then on it would seem that they had to mostly make do with a diet of fish, for to my knowledge there are no records of them ever attacking human beings again.

I came across the following account in the Collins Book of Scotland (1950). It was written by Seton Gordon (b. 1886) in Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands.

'From the neighbourhood of Urquhart Castle of recent years the strange but now well-attested creature, the Loch Ness monster, has on a number of occasions been seen. There is in my mind no doubt that such a creature- there may be more than one- does exist in Loch Ness. Among a number of reliable witnesses who told me that they saw the monster was the late Captain Grant, of the MacBrayne paddle steamer Pioneer, which regularly plies on Loch Ness during the summer months. From Captain Grant's observations- and from the observations of other reputable witnesses- it would seem that the strange creature is timid, and that the sound, or vibration, of a steamer's screw or paddles causes it to submerge while the ship is yet a considerable distance off.
Mr. Goodbody of Invergarry House and his daughter watched the creature for forty minutes through a stalking-glass. The Loch Ness Monster is indeed no recent "find", although at the present day it is known to a much larger number of people than ever before. The chief reason, I believe, why many more people now see it is that the new high-road along the north shore of Loch Ness gives a much better view of the loch. But there is another reason. Before the monster became, so to speak, public property, those who saw the "unchancy" creature decided that the less said about it the better. They realised that they would be laughed at, or pitied, or would be set down as addicted to a "dram." So long as half a century ago, to my knowledge, children were told by their nurses that if they persisted in naughtiness the loch monster would take them. I heard of a well-known resident on Loch Ness-side who one day, after rowing down the loch in his small boat, appeared at a friend's house white and shaken, and asked for brandy. His friend for some time vainly endeavoured to ascertain the cause of his distress, to receive as answer, "It is no use my telling you, for even if I did you would not believe me." But in the end, when prevailed upon to unburden himself of his secret, he said to his friend, "As I was rowing down the loch some creature came to the surface beside me- and all I can say is that I hope I may never see the like again."
Most of the large and deep Highland lochs harbour, in the legends of the country, creatures which, as described in old books and writings, in their appearance resemble the Loch Ness monster. A peculiarity common to them all would appear to be their humps. The monster of Loch Morar, deepest loch in Scotland with a depth of 1,080 feet, and a floor no less than 1,050 below sea level, had a special name; it was known to the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders of the district as Mhorag
(pronounced Vorag), and appeared only before a death in the family of Macdonell of Morar. May it not be that in the monster of Loch Ness we have a survival of an ancient race which, living for the most part under water and being of a timid disposition, has existed in comparative obscurity successive centuries?'

Scottish myths 17 
Scottish myths 15

Intro text and images © Mirino. The Loch Ness Monster from Collins Book of Scotland
With thanks. June, 2012

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