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First published January 2010
Copyright © A G Harmsworth 2013
Note that all images within these pages are owned by the author or other individuals or bodies. Permission has been granted for them to be used within this book only. NO IMAGE FOUND IN THIS PUBLICATION may be reproduced elsewhere without the expressed permission of the owners. Any infringement is likely to be pursued through the courts. A list of the copyright owners can be found in printed and electronic versions of the book.
First published in print as Loch Ness, Nessie & Me A G Harmsworth has asserted his moral rights.
Upper Boglashin Croft
This book is dedicated to Wendy for putting up with the trials and tribulations of my business ideas and enjoying with me a fascinating lifetime.
Thanks also to: Adrian Shine for checking the Loch Ness passages. Terry & Wally Andrews for general help and advice. Ricky Gardiner Ivor Newby Dick Raynor & a host of other friends for use of material.
The fearsome monster I encountered in the Eagle comic of 10th January 1959 was attacking space pilot Dan Dare in the swamps of Venus. This fired my imagination.
Here, on Earth, in Britain, in Scotland, in Loch Ness, we had our very own monster. I became absorbed in Nessie’s story as a ten year-old.
Over the years I kept a keen eye on newspaper accounts and the various pictures and sighting reports which materialised. During my childhood, holidays in the Highlands always involved a diversion to the huge moody loch in the hope of that elusive sighting or photograph.
Today it is difficult to know whether my father was as interested in the subject as me, or was just humouring his imaginative son. Certainly on one occasion, in 1959, perhaps less than an hour before the photograph opposite [below] was taken, I clearly recall us stopping the car in the long “Wellington” layby and taking pictures of three humps in the distance. That they were some six miles distant and stretched across a mile of water didn’t seem strange to me at the time. Nor did my incredible luck strike me as unexpected. Seeing the monster within minutes of arriving at the lochside.
Of course, as we approached they resolved themselves into three fishing vessels making their way through the loch on their way towards Inverness.
Did my father know they were boats and was taking an opportunity to add an element of adventure to the holiday or did he really think there could be a mile-long monster in the loch? He died in 1975 so I can never know the answer to that question, but it was interesting that within minutes of taking my first Loch Ness Monster photograph I had already debunked it. Was this to be the pattern for the future?
My interest was refreshed in the seventies when the underwater photographs of a flipper-like object in Loch Ness were published. Could there really be a lost world in the Highlands of Scotland and did plesiosaurs still swim in the world’s oceans?
During a holiday at the loch in 1975 as an adult (27 years of age) I met the infamous late Frank Searle and am ashamed to say that I was totally taken in by his faked images. Interestingly my profession at the time, in Work Study and Organisation & Methods, required me to be able to assess when I was hearing the truth, fabrication, exaggeration or lies. Perhaps because I was outside my work environment my instincts were dulled, but whatever the reason I swallowed Searle’s stories hook, line and sinker.
Searle used the classic conman’s technique. Ninety percent of what he told you was true and verifiable, so that when the lies were slipped in they weren’t questioned.
In 1976 strange pictures were published purporting to be the carcass of a plesiosaur trawled up in the Pacific Ocean by a Japanese fishing vessel. I made enquiries, discovered who held the copyright for the photographs and ordered duplicates of them.
These I took to Dr Whitehead, head of fishes at the Natural History Museum in London. He and a colleague immediately identified the object as the decomposing carcass of a basking shark … the jaw had dropped away leaving the appearance of a long neck with a plesiosaur shaped skull at its end.
Meeting Searle, discovering that he was a hoaxer, hearing criticism of some of the better monster pictures, the Natural History Museum’s dismissal of the plesiosaur carcass together with other factors left me very disillusioned. A retired librarian from Glasgow named Muir, whom I met in 1977, seriously called into question the whole existence of a monster in the loch, but before I finally washed my hands of the subject I decided that I needed to talk to Father Gregory Brusey OSB [Order of St Benedict], one of the Benedictine monks living at Fort Augustus Abbey at the south-western end of the loch.
While accompanied by famous organist Roger Pugh [at the time the organist for the Catholic Westminster Cathedra], he had been treated to the best Nessie sighting ever. This tall gently-spoken monk had reputedly seen, from the monastery garden, a huge neck moving through the water. I resolved that if he turned out to be less than believable that would be the end of my Nessie hunting days.
On the next Highland holiday with my wife Wendy, I remember driving into the deserted Abbey grounds. The front of these rambling buildings comprised a tasteless fifties wing, a handsome eighteenth century structure and a large modern looking church. In a small side building there was a tiny exhibition about the Turin shroud, but no monks to be found. We parked and walked to the large oak door at the front of the Abbey and rang the bell.
Seconds turned into minutes and patience to impatience. I rang again, but barely had my finger left the bell the second time than a small wooden cover slipped to one side and an eye peered at me through a black iron grill. A gruff voice demanded, “What do you want?”.
I now know that this priest was Father Edward Delapine as I met him sixteen years later when I was invited to consult for the monks after their boarding school closed. With his thinning hair and protruding teeth, which I later discovered gave him the nickname “bunny”, he epitomised “monk” to someone such as myself. I’m sure the schoolboys had great fun at his expense.
I asked for Father Gregory and was told, “wait”.
At the time I had no idea how large these buildings were and Father Edward had had to walk all of the way to the back of the monastery to find Fr Gregory. So it was a considerable “eventually” later, that a tall, craggy monk arrived and I asked with some trepidation if he would tell us what he had seen in the loch. He began to recount his story, emphasising points with his enormous, arthritis-ridden hands.
My confidence, at the time, was restored. I was convinced that there had to be more to the mystery at the loch than just a myth after all.
It was during holidays at the lochside in the mid-seventies that we fell in love with the beauty of the Highlands. Perhaps this is something inspired by my Scottish roots, but I knew this was the place I would ultimately make my home.
In 1978 we moved to the Highlands and bought and renovated a croft house overlooking a large expanse of the loch. The house still has its original corrugated iron roof. Its large picture window and interior bathroom are among the few changes we have made to the classic Highland design.
The move was lifestyle oriented, but the location was no accident. After being taken in by Frank Searle I was already thinking about the potential of an exhibition.
In 1979 I researched and in 1980 set-up the Loch Ness Exhibition which later became the Loch Ness Centre, although it began as a fairly simple text and pictures exhibit with just a few working models to add interest.
During that decade I facilitated collaboration with the Loch Ness Project, resulting in funding from the exhibition proceeds which continues to this day. I also went through a fascinating and gruelling learning process as people from all sides of the subject made contact.
In particular, the Loch Ness Project helped develop my scepticism, exposed fakes and hoaxes and raised concerns over the famous evidence. I owe much to my long-term friendship with Project Leader Adrian Shine FRGS (Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society) , who has assisted me by convincing me of the validity of some of the concepts I raise in this book. He has also helped me avoid glaring errors.
I ran the exhibition centre for more than a decade then, after irreconcilable arguments and disagreements stemming from an intellectual property dispute with my co-founder, reluctantly left to pursue other business interests.
As the eighties became nineties, the plesiosaur image gradually slipped away and we have been left with … what? It may be no surprise for readers to learn that if I hadn’t seen something myself in the loch in 1986 this book may never have been written, yet what I saw is less important to me nowadays than seeking the truth.
This is my attempt to tell the story of that thirty-year learning curve and to explain how the tradition of something large in Loch Ness became distorted into the Nessie image we all love so much, but inwardly suspect or fear cannot be real.
Let us take a voyage of discovery to find out if there is any truth behind the legend. I hope you find the adventure interesting and enjoyable.
I have broken the story into three sections and these appear in each chapter headed “Monstrous”, “The Monster” and “My Monster”.
“Monstrous” contains anecdotes and events which are indirectly related to the story line, often amusing and sometimes plain ridiculous. Many are great fun and were crying out to be recounted.
“The Monster” is the serious business of the book and contains background to the loch and its environment and then goes on into an analysis of the evidence which has been submitted to support Nessie’s case. I have written this section not for scientists, but for intelligent lay people with a desire for the truth, warts and all.
“My Monster” details how the Loch Ness Monster has affected our lives since I became involved. It is an integral part of the story itself. It is not, however, always a pretty story, but, given my time again, apart from being less trusting of certain individuals, I would probably have followed much the same course. It is an adventurous, but cautionary tale filled with pitfalls, mistakes, deceit and both good and bad fortune.
Tony Harmsworth, 2012