Is there a Loch Ness Monster?
Could this poor wee beastie be a left-over from the last Ice Age? Known fondly as “Nessie”, Niseag, this plesiosaur-like creature is said to be under a long, deep lake near Inverness, Scotland.
Even St Columba met Nessie, (although in less than pleasant circumstances) and he seized the moment to practice a little Christian conversion.
Perhaps I will never meet Nessie, that fabulous beastie in the depths of the Loch, but. I would love to. It’s on my bucket list.
Nessie, Grandmother of all Monsters
Sea serpents, the terrfiying kraken and other mythological creatures have formed a part of folklore since the beginning of time.
Around the world there are reputed to be sea serpents or monsters in many bodies of fresh water.
Nessie in Loch Ness, Morag in Loch Morar, Shielagh in Loch Shiel, Lizzy in Loch Lochy, Champ in Lake Champlain, Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan and, quaintly, Wally in Lake Wallowa.
While research has been conducted at many of these lakes, Loch Ness is the icon for monsters and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster is, without doubt, the grandmother of them all.
Nessie is in the realms of cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals considered to be legendary or otherwise nonexistent by mainstream biology
St Columba meets Nessie
Columba was a man who stood for no nonsense, not even from a monster.
He had ordered one of his monks to swim across the River Ness to fetch a boat when, halfway across, the beast appeared, roaring in a most frightening manner. The monster headed straight for the swimming monk.
The Saint himself jumped in the river crying out at the monster :
Go no further, nor touch the man! Go back!
Thus commanded, the monster fled.
According to a 7th century text from St. Adamnan, … the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes. The brethren gave glory to God.
How do we know St Columba met Nessie?
It wasn’t Columba himself who jotted this Nessie encounter in his journal.
It was Adamnan, descendant of kings and a man respected at that time for his great learning, who tells us this.
Adamnan is the author of Vita Columbae. The Life of Columba, possibly the most important surviving work written in early medieval Scotland. He wrote many other works dealing with law, one of which (The Law of Innocents) is considered the prototype of the Geneva Convention.
If you would like to check on this story, you can read the complete Vita Columbae online at Life of Saint Columba, Written by Adamnan, Ninth Abbot of Hy.
So should we take what Adamnan says seriously? What about these reports of Columba encountering and conquering, sometimes converting, various assorted “monsters”, at various places in Scotland?
How reliable is this?
This reliability of this earliest reference by Adamnan has been questioned. I have a few questions myself.
Critics always point out that the event is said to have occurred on the River Ness, not in the Loch. But my concern is deeper than a little geographical license.
My concern is the alleged attack by Nessie. There’s certainly no other reported instance of her attacking anyone. She is generally portrayed as shy and quick to avoid people, and who could blame her for hiding from us? If Nessie had not remained so elusive, her poor body, stuffed and mounted, would doubtless be gracing some baronial hall right now.
I believe Adamnan confused Columba’s peaceful encounter with another occasion. An occasion when Columba experienced a less happy meeting with another Highlands beastie, the Water Horse.
I think Columba saw a Kelpie
In Scottish folklore, large animals are associated with many bodies of water from small streams to the largest lakes, often labeled Loch-na-Beistie on old maps.
These water-horses, or kelpies, have magical powers but often harbour malevolent intentions.
They are dragons under water, lurking with ravenous intent, waiting for the onset of darkness in the long Northern nights before they come forth and devour the Innocent
Nessie Sighting 1933
In August 1933, a London man named George Spicer said he had sighted Nessie. A few weeks earlier while motoring around the Loch, both Spicer and his wife had seen “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life”, trundling across the road toward the Loch carrying “an animal” in its mouth.
The following month, another letter came from a veterinary student reporting a similar encounter while on a night drive.
By the end of the year, Nessie received official recognition from the Secretary of State for Scotland, ordering the police to prevent any attacks on her.
The Great Glen
This Great Glen, almost cutting Scotland in two, is home to the black waters of Lochs Ness, Oich, Lochy and Linnhe.
As the continents began to break up and cluster around the north pole, great Scottish mountains, which would have been Himalayan in size were gradually worn down to the stumps which you see today.
Scotland was still in the grip of the ice twelve thousand years ago, but the main advances were over and the land was beginning to rebound from being depressed into the mantle. The surface of Loch Ness would have been at a similar elevation to sea level.
Anything living in the Loch today must have arrived from the freezing North Sea up the River Ness after the final retreat of ice!
Did Nessie’s family arrive in the Loch at this time?
Researchers Flock to the Loch
It is to Loch Ness that myriad researchers have flocked with their cameras and sonars, webcams and mini submarines, their hopes, fears and dreams of solving the mystery of Nessie.
Some say that she lives under or around Urquhart Castle and many photographs (mostly fake) have been taken of her in the vicinity
There are numerous theories as to her identity, including ..
a type of long-necked aquatic seal
a giant eel
a giant walrus
a giant mollusc
a giant otter
a giant diving bird
a surviving plesiosaur
a floating mat of plants
an image from a ‘slip in time’
a “paraphysical” entity
a drug-induced hallucination from marsh gas
a survivior from an alien spacecraft
Is this a joke?
Nessie was even given a scientific name “Nessiteras rhombopteryx” named by Sir Peter Scott so that Nessie could be added to the British Register of officially protected wildlife.
The name, from Greek, means “The wonder of Ness with the diamond shaped fin”.
Over the years many people have noted that if you rearranged the letters of Nessiteras rhombopteryx, it can be made to read “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”.
This may mean something – or it may mean nothing at all.
Has Climate Change done for Nessie?
Some people believe that climate change may have killed Nessie, (there have been no credible sightings since 2010) as environmental conditions in the loch have changed drastically and can no longer sustain the poor creature.
Long may Nessie live in the loch!
Nessie is either there, or she’s not. I like to think she has outwitted our efforts to trap her, pin her down, categorise her, tame her and turn her into an icon on tea towels.
And one day I may get to see her myself. Long may she live in the loch!
© 2008 Susanna Duffy