Loch Ness

One could make a decent argument that Loch Ness is one of the most famous bodies of water in the world.

Loch is the Scottish Gaelic word for “lake” (it can also signify a fjord).  Most lakes in Scotland take the word as part of their nomenclature, including Loch Lomond and today’s topic.

Located in the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness is a monster of a freshwater lake just over 20 miles from the city of Inverness. Though this loch stands out geographically, you most likely know it from the eponymous denizen that may or may not lurk ‘neath its waves.

Loch Ness with Urquhart Castle in the foreground - photo by Sam Fentress

The lake’s name comes from the River Ness, which flows from the body’s northern terminus. The likely origin of the river’s moniker stems from the Pictish word Nessa, the name of a river goddess. The waterway stretches from the loch to the sea at Inverness. The town’s name translates literally from Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Nis means “Mouth of the Ness.”

A couple of myths also attempt to explain the name. In one, Daly the Druid enchanted the surrounding glacial valley, producing a spring that brought great vitality. Daly warned the people that a stone must cover the spring when not in use, else desolation would befall the region. One day, a woman left the spring uncovered when she learned her child might be in danger. Rushing water filled the valley, prompting the Scots to say, “Tha loch ‘nis ann, tha loch ‘nis ann!” Translation: “there’s a loch now!” In the other tale, star-crossed lovers Dearduil and Noasi fled from Ireland to Scotland to be together. However, the King of Ulster loved Dearduil and pursued the duo, killing Noasi. The river, lake, and town were thereafter named for Noasi.

The lake covers an area of 22 square miles, making it the second-largest in Scotland, behind Loch Lomond. Despite the silver-medal finish on the surface, Loch Ness packs some serious heat for an area the size of Scotland. The lake reaches a depth of 755 feet, which also ranks second in Scotland. However, when you combine the size and the depth, Loch Ness is the largest lake by volume in the entirety of the British Isles. It’s so big that it contains more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined! The photograph above belies the size of the lake. The maximum width of the lake is only 1.7 miles, but she’s long. End-to-end, Loch Ness runs 22.5 miles.

Loch Ness viewed from Grant's Tower at Urquhart Castle - photo by Gregory J Kingsley

Speaking of folklore, this body is today most widely associated with Nessie, aka the Loch Ness Monster.

Though some historians point as far back as St. Columba in the 6th century, the phenomenon of Nessie begins earnestly in 1933. On 2 May, Aldie Mackay related a sighting she and her husband experienced to Alex Campbell,  journalist and water bailiff of Loch Ness. Campbell penned an article, called “Strange Spectacle in Loch Ness.” Campbell wrote:

“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. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realised that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.”

Just two months later, George Spicer and his wife spied “a most extraordinary form of animal.” Spicer claimed it was “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life.” Public interest soared. The zeitgeist settled on Loch Ness Monster with the diminutive Nessie for shorthand.

Sketches of the monster and supposed photographs popped up left and right. Enthusiasts refer to the most famous image of Nessie as the “surgeon’s photograph,” since the doctor who purportedly snapped the pic did not want his name associated with it.

The first photo of the supposed Loch Ness Monster by Hugh Gray in 1933
Arthur Grant sketched the being he witnessed in 1934
The surgeon's photo, the most iconic image of Nessie - 1934

Early during the hype, some posited that Nessie could be a plesiosaur, a Cretaceous-era dinosaur. Various explanations for the beast have popped up over the years, as sightings have continued to trickle in.

Of course, experts believe no such monster prowls the waters of Ness. Scientists have used sonar and a multitude of cameras to search for anything large that inhabits the lake. One thing that promulgates the myth is the geology of the lake. The region is rich in peat, which makes the water extraordinarily murky. Where one cannot see, perhaps an anomaly creeps, after all.

Most of the photographs have proved to be hoaxes. The surgeon’s photo is, unfortunately, a cropped view of a much wider image. What appears to be something large photographed up close is actually a zoomed-in peek at a small object. In fact, historians now believe a toy submarine outfitted with a wooden neck and head was towed through the loch.

The cropped and the original

If a mysterious creature does exist at Loch Ness, various theories attempt to explain what people see. These possibilities range from large fish, eels, and Greenland sharks to otters and birds to waves caused by seismic activity or optical illusions.

Even though the preponderance of evidence points to a slew of hoaxes and misidentified phenomena, many people continue to believe in Nessie. The Loch Ness Monster ranks in the top tier of cryptozoology, alongside Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and El Chupacabra.

Sightings continue to occur. Just this past week, a video surfaced that claimed to be Nessie cruising in the loch. What say you? Is this footage incontrovertible evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster or just another hoax? Either way, this gorgeous lake seems to be worth a visit with or without its most famous resident.

Nessie in 2022? (click image to view)
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