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Loch Ness Understood: The Monster ~ Land Sightings and Footprints by Tony Harmsworth



Returning to understanding how the monster story developed, we now know that Mrs Mackay’s object, probably only some six feet (2m) long, gave rise to the first news report by Alex Campbell in the Inverness Courier, of “The Loch Ness Monster”.

As I mentioned earlier, with this being the depressed nineteen-thirties and the whole world in need of cheering up, journalists flocked to Loch Ness hoping to find more accounts of this “monster”. I wonder how many hostelries these hacks visited before some really exciting eye witnesses started to materialise to take advantage of expense accounts which were liberal with the amber nectar.

Loch Ness Monster Spicer Cartoon by Kelvin HunterThe tourist industry will forever be indebted to Mr and Mrs Spicer who saw, lumbering across the road, what Mr Spicer claimed was “the nearest thing to a dinosaur that I have ever seen in my life.” Now prehistoric monsters had really arrived.

It was not much later that a young veterinary student called Arthur Grant claimed that the monster, with a sheep in its mouth, had run across the road knocking him off his motorcycle before leaping the wall and disappearing into the loch. Loch Ness Monster Grant Cartoon by Kelvin Hunter

There are actually two versions of stories for how this Grant sighting came to the attention of the world. I must admit that they are both believable, but there would seem to be little chance today of actually finding out which is correct.

The version I had heard, from the late Joyce MacDonald of Drumnadrochit, was that Grant had fallen off his motorbike near what is now the Abriachan nursery and when he arrived home his mother asked how he had damaged his motorbike. Grant came up with the story that he had been knocked off the bike by the monster.

A friend of his, possibly many years later, told Joyce’s husband, Willie MacDonald1 that he had overheard the story and told a journalist. The account then appeared in the newspapers.

Today we have no way of discovering who that friend was. Loch Ness Monster Attacks Sheep?

A more recent version which I heard from Dick Raynor was that Arthur Grant and a friend were calling the newspapers themselves from a telephone at a local garage owned by Alec Menzies who had overheard one end of the conversation and also heard Grant turn to his friend after the call and say, “They’ve swallowed it.”.

Whichever was true I hope the reader will accept that neither Grant nor Spicer really saw any large unknown animal. In the defence of Spicer, Adrian Shine believes that they may have seen an otter or some deer distorted by a mirage beyond the hot tarmac on the brow of a hill.

Maybe so, but I feel that it is far more likely to have just been a joke.

The effect of the dinosaur sightings was to inspire the Daily Mail to send an expedition and who better to track down a dinosaur than Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter fresh from Africa?

He immediately set off on an expedition to the loch accompanied by reporters and a photographer named Pauli. They chartered a motor vessel called Penguin in case it became necessary to pursue the monster across the loch, no doubt.

Wetherell began his search by looking for the monster’s spoor around the loch side. Was it just good fortune or his great skill and experience as a big game hunter which enabled him to discover, very quickly indeed, some footprints? Loch Ness Monster Footprints Discovered by Big Game Hunter Wetherell

Plaster casts were made and sent to the British museum and, while speculation was rife, the Times newspaper, not wanting to be outdone by the Daily Mail, sent its own expedition. This was a fantasy expedition, however, a spoof which did its hunting within the walls of Fleet Street2. Their innovative journalists had their expedition discovering earmarks on ferns at the side of the road and other such nonsense.

Any credibility Nessie may have had in the wider world quickly disappeared and local people who had really seen something in the loch must have become quite despondent as their own sightings were heaped together with the rest of the jokes and hoaxes. Mrs Mackay remembers being quite shocked at how the whole series of events had grown out of all proportion.

It would be wise for me to mention here that Mrs Mackay was the manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel and it has been suggested by some commentators that she may have invented the whole thing to improve the tourist industry. It is certainly true to say there was a vast increase in the number of people visiting the area, but can we really imagine that she somehow foresaw what would happen when she reported seeing something no more than six to nine feet long, briefly glimpsed from a moving vehicle. If it were really the case that her sighting was a deliberate ploy, would she not now be considered one of the most brilliant marketing geniuses of the twentieth century? And why did she not elaborate on her sighting if it was invented, adding a long neck and head, spines and crests, flippers and flared nostrils?

Some may say that she sowed the seed of all of this and left others to convert her single humped creature into the image we all love today. That may well be the result of her sighting, but I cannot believe for one minute that she somehow orchestrated it. Even Saatchi and Saatchi couldn’t have achieved that result.

I believe that Mrs Mackay really did see something, but what?

None of this answers the question of the footprints though. After some ten days suspense the British Museum finally announced that their analysis had shown that the footprints were entirely consistent with a somewhat shrivelled hippopotamus foot.

Again many stories abound about the source of this foot, and all sorts of explanations were provided, from a local person’s umbrella stand to the possibility that a circus had passed by and allowed a real hippo to go for a swim.

Thanks to David Martin and Alistair Boyd3, we now know what happened .

The actual truth was always in the possession of the Wetherell family who, to this very day, still own a hippo foot made into a solid silver ashtray. Marmaduke Wetherell had come fully prepared for his own discovery and must have nipped out of his accommodation the previous night or early in the morning to make the footprints while there was no one around. The foot and drawing of the footprint is shown overleaf. Loch Ness Monster Hippopotamus Foot Ashtray

One other amazing fact is that no one seemed to find it at all strange that the footprints were all from the same left hind foot. What a brilliant hoax. Would anyone be able to top that?

Yes, Wetherell himself, but that is for the next chapter. In the meantime, however, the monster had become a joke and postcards such as the one overleaf filled the gift shops. Local people began to realise that Nessie could be a source of income. Loch Ness Monster postcard of monks with Nessie

1. Willie MacDonald was the village doctor during the fifties and early sixties, but his father would have been the Drumnadrochit doctor in the twenties and thirties.
2. Fleet Street was the main area of newspaper production within London for almost all of the twentieth century.
3. We should all be indebted to David Martin and Alistair Boyd for the incredible detective work they did in order to track down the detail of Wetherell’s escapades at Loch Ness. Their book “Nessie – The Surgeon’s Photograph” is an excellent read. I advise anyone with any doubts about my observations on the Surgeon’s picture to read their book. In fact I will go so far as to say that any opinion formulated about the Surgeon’s Picture without taking into account their work is utterly valueless.

Click here for "My Monster" section of chapter eight. See the Index/Author page for the list of contents.