Posted on: June 20, 2011

I have to confess up front that my feelings about Loch Ness do NOT fit into any standard crypto zoology section, so anything expecting me to talk about the monster as if it’s a real flesh-and-blood creature will be disappointed, although having said that Nessie will feature strongly in this piece. My interest in this area is because Loch Ness has had a very long history of paranormal activity of all kinds. I personally feel that talk of a huge aquatic strange beast is pretty underwhelming when compared to everything else that has gone on there, though I admit that’s probably not a popular feeling.


Some sceptics like to imply that Ness is a wholly 20th century phenomenon, cynically born to coincide with the growth of the inter-war British tourism industry. But it is an area that has always attracted odd activity. My interest in Loch Ness as an area of high strangeness had always been there, for as far back as I can remember, but was inspired greatly by Colin Wilson’s description of the events that befell folklorist Ted Holiday there (of which more in a moment), and I became further intrigued when reading the introduction to ‘Alien Energy’ by Andrew Collins, in which he pointed out that the area around Loch Ness has long played host not just to sightings of the monster, but UFO sightings, big cats, poltergeists and time-slips.

He cites the little known case of a couple who had disappeared in the 18th century whilst travelling in a horse-and-trap near Loch End on the southern side of the Loch. The general feeling in the area was that they had either been set upon by outlaws and thrown into the Loch, or had been kidnapped. A 100 years later, in the mid-19th century, two people walked into a local almshouse, seeking refuge from a violent storm. According to the priest who took them in, they were wearing old-fashioned clothing, and were in a very confused state. They stayed there for two days, during which time they could offer no explanation as to what they were doing in the area or where they came from. At the end of the two days they went out into the open, and were never seen again. It intrigues me no end to speculate what finally happened to them.

Of course tales of sightings of a monster in the Loch first really hit the national press in 1933, after a new main road had been built along the side of the Loch, which increased traffic to the area, and so increased the likelihood of a Sighting. In his book ’The Enigma Of Loch Ness’ Henry H Bauer states that prior to the “official” birth of Nessie in the 1930s, the whole subject of a giant sea-serpent in Loch Ness was a subject deemed fit only for jesting, and as such many witnesses to the monster would refuse to go public about what they had seen.

Sightings of the monster go back to the famous tale of St Columba allegedly seeing off the creature 1500 years ago. There were sporadic sightings of the monster in the centuries following, but lets fast-forward to the 19th century. The Victorians treated the whole subject with so much scoffing that any witnesses knew they were going to be subjected to untold ridicule. Among the witnesses were several naval officers who refused to say anything at the time because they knew they would face “the scepticism of the British public”. Captain R J Cringle saw the monster in 1893, and wrote many years later in 1929 that he had “suffered so much ridicule on this that I must decline to have anything more to do with it”. Of course such ridicule isn’t exactly unknown in the here and now. On one television documentary I saw about Loch Ness a few years ago, a geologist got terribly stroppy when the presenter asked him about the monster, and abruptly cut short the interview (a sense of humour by-pass I think). I was at a drinks party once, having just got back from a week at Loch Ness, when a scientist jokingly asked me if I had seen the monster. I cheerfully said I thought I had a couple of times, but was mistaken on both occasions, to which he looked at me as if I had escaped from a cage, and sidled away! (You have to get used to this kind of thing if you’re into the paranormal).

In 1880 diver Duncan MacDonald was examining the wreckage of a ship that had sank in the Loch, at the far south end, when he spotted “ a very odd-looking beastie, like a huge frog”. Mr MacDonald was so unsettled by his experience that he refused to ever enter the Loch again.


There have been more water-sightings of Nessie than you can shake a stick at, and to list them all would be rather tedious, as the details vary very little from one to the other. In any case it is the land sightings of the beastie that intrigue me the most though, and most particularly the effect that it can have on the witnesses.

In 1971 Nessie-enthusiast Nicholas Witchell interviewed a Mrs Margaret Cameron, who said she had seen the creature when she was a teenager during the First World War, along with some friends. She described it as having a huge body, and that it came out of the trees “like a caterpillar”. She said that it was about 20 ft long. She said that she and her friends were so upset by the sighting that they couldn’t eat their tea afterwards.

In April 1932, a year before the first modern water sighting, Colonel L McFordyce said that he and his wife were driving through the woods on the south side of the Loch when they saw “an enormous elephant” cross the road about 150 yards ahead of them. They said it looked like a cross between a very large horse and a camel. This story wasn’t released to the general public until June 1990, but it eerily coincides with the similar experiences of a Mr and Mrs F Spicer in July 1933. They too saw the beast cross the road in front of them as they drove down the east side of the Loch between Dores and Foyers. They said that it was 25-30ft long, elephant-grey in colour, with a bulky body and a long neck. The couple described the creature as “horrible”, “an abomination”, and a “loathsome sight”. The reactions of these witnesses (an almost psychic reaction I feel) is now exactly what we have come to expect from tales of loveable old Nessie. It doesn’t exactly fit the image of Nessie smirking and winking in a tartan cap, that you get in soft toys sold all over Scotland!

But you see that’s the trouble. Loch Ness does have its very disturbing, not to say downright malevolent side, as we have already seen. At the turn of the 20th century Aleister Crowley was attracted to the area, as he was searching for somewhere peaceful and remote to carry out a long and involved ancient Black Magic ritual to raise the dead. He also needed somewhere with a north-facing terrace for the experiment, and Boleskine House, just outside the village of Foyers, fitted the bill. It was also just over the road from Boleskine graveyard, and rumours have abounded since then that Crowley stole bones from the graves for his experiment. Whether there is any truth in these sensational claims is unknown, but I suspect Crowley (who relished being dubbed The Wickedest Man In The World, and the Great Beast) thoroughly enjoyed them.

In his autobiography ’The Confessions Of Aleister Crowley’, he seemed to gloat that his experiment had had traumatic effects on some people in the area. Parts of an incantation left written down on a butcher’s bill resulted in the butcher having a nasty accident with a meat-cleaver. He also said that the goings-on at the house so traumatised a male member of his staff that he had a complete personality change and became a violent drunk. Although I can actually believe that some people are that easily influenced by their near surroundings, you also have to bear in mind that Crowley was a tireless self-promoter, and spent most of his life trying to convince people what a naughty boy he was. He never seemed to grow out of being the provoking child out to annoy the adults at every turn. I get the impression that the locals here were more bemused by this eccentric Englishman who had more money than sense, and left him to his devices as long as left them to theirs (in his memoirs Crowley admits that he earned valuable Brownie points in the area by not making a fuss about the illegal whisky stills he found when he was rambling in the hills above the Loch).

Crowley abandoned his experiment because he said he found it too gruelling. As it involved long periods of fasting and staying up all night this could well be true.

During his time there, the house was said to have been haunted by sinister dark shapes, and mysterious winds on still days.  In his book ‘Loch Ness, Nessie & Me’ Tony Harmsworth relates how Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin fame (who bought Boleskine House in the 1970s) claimed that the house was haunted by the sound of the head of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, rolling up and down the corridors!

In his unsettling and eyebrow-raising book ‘Final Events’ Nick Redfern credits (if that’s really the word) Crowley as being one of the men responsible for opening the door into another dimension, and ushering in powerful demons, who manifest to us most typically as space-aliens. Crowley himself complained about people messing around with “raising demons” (to put it succicently) who hadn’t the intelligence or expertise to fully comprehend what they were doing.


Boleskine House was only inhabited by Crowley, on and off, for a few years, but his influence in the area still lingers on more than a 100 years later. Poltergeist activity has, on occasion, been said to have been reported at the house, and the graveyard sadly has been a haunt of Satanists and Crowley’s more dubious admirers. It was reported many years ago that some American students, exploring Boleskine churchyard, had found a new tapestry hidden beneath a grave slab. The tapestry was embroidered with “worm-like creatures”, which led some to suppose that it had been used in a Black Magic ritual.

When I visited the place in September 2002 I found some idiot had daubed Satanic symbols on the side of the little bothy (where coffins used to be stored prior to burial) which stands in a corner of the graveyard, and various rather juvenile eulogies to Crowley. Back outside again I found a black van with black tinted windows had pulled up outside the cemetery gates. Leaning out of the driver’s window was a hatchet-faced woman in dark glasses. She glared at me in what I can only assume was meant to be an intimidating way. I wasn’t having that, so I glared back at her. She drove off.

I located my husband and we decided we had had enough of the graveyard by then, and walked up to the pub at Whitebridges, just outside Foyers. The landlady was standing outside the main door, talking to someone, with her dog nearby. As soon as it saw us the dog went berserk, barking and baring its teeth. (And no, this sort of thing DOESN’T usually happen when we go to a pub!). The landlady gave an embarrassed laugh and said to the dog “you’re only supposed to do that when the customers leave, not when they’re trying to get in!” I jokingly thought to myself that Crowley’s ghost must have followed us!

I returned to Boleskine Churchyard recently, in August 2011, and found that the doorway to the little Bothy had been bricked up, which is a shame but perfectly understandable if people can’t be trusted not to behave like morons.

Another Nessie-enthusiast, Tim Dinsdale, became convinced that the Loch Ness monster was in fact a ghost, not a living creature. He was certain of this after he had anchored his boat in the area near Boleskine House, (sometime around 1970) and made the extraordinary claim that “a series of ghosts, ghoulies, demons” all crawled into the boat and came at him. He said he wasn’t physically harmed, but from then on he was convinced the mystery around Loch Ness didn’t concern a living dinosaur. Dinsdale was a respected member of the crypto zoology field at that time, and to go public with his new revelations would have been the end of him. He would have found himself being branded as a nutcase. (As though believing in living dinosaurs is somehow any more respectable!!!). Dinsdale kept his views private, which was understandable, considering that for most Ness-enthusiasts, the idea that we are dealing with anything that could be more occult and supernatural than zoological, continues to be beyond the pale. A few years ago I (foolishly) tried to raise the subject on an Internet forum about Nessie, and was immediately subjected to a barrage of venomous abuse from a man in the United States.

According to the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition at Drumnadrochit (which in spite of what some will tell you is good fun), Boleskine House was built in the 18th century on the site of a church, where (it is said) all the congregation perished in a fire.

A leaflet on the local area which I found in the cottage where we stayed this summer (2011) stated that in the 17th century a local wizard, An Cruinaur Friseal, the “maker of circles” (I hope I’ve got that right!), was known to raise the dead in Boleskine Churchyard.  At that time the local minister was charged with the task of exorcising the spirits of the dead and laying them to rest once more.

The original Boleskine Church was situated on the banks of Loch Ness, and in 1762 it was reported that it wasn’t unusual to see bones above the ground, and sometimes “dogs were seen running away with them between their teeth”.  Boswell, touring the Highlands with Dr Johnson in 1773, described Boleskine Church as “the meanest parish kirk I ever saw”.  The church was relocated soon after his visit.
In 1962 Ted Holiday drove up to the Loch in order to try and catch a glimpse of the Monster for himself. On settling down in his tent Loch-side though he felt nervous. He later made the comment that “after dark, I felt that Loch Ness was better left alone”. He is not the only one to have made observations along that line. In my own experience Loch Ness after dark is so not much terrifying, as just very very strange. I remember once, being outside near midnight one June evening (at that time of year it hadn’t gone completely dark, more a sort of deep twilight), and found all the birdlife in the area going completely nuts, like something out of the Alfred Hitchcock film. This may not sound much when written down, but it was a peculiar experience nonetheless.

Anyway, back to Ted Holiday. Two days after arriving at the Loch, he saw the monster at daybreak. It appeared as a black hump in the water, which he said dived like a whale. He said it disappeared when a workman began hammering on a nearby pier. Ted remarked on the fact that many observers of the monster have remarked on its ugliness, and he concluded from that that they had been stunned by seeing it.

Several years later, in June 1973, Ted returned to the Loch with the Rev. Donald Omand, with the express purpose of carrying out an exorcism there. A short time before this a Swedish journalist, Jan-Ove Sundberg, had been walking in the woods near the Loch when he had come across a landed spacecraft and 3 grey humanoid figures wearing divers’ helmets. Sundberg managed to snap a photo of the craft before it sped off. Back home again in Sweden, Sundberg claimed he had a visitation from the sinister Men In Black, who he said (according to ’Alien Dawn’ by Colin Wilson) left “strange footprints”. Sundberg had a complete nervous breakdown soon after this experience.

In August 2011 I was watching a film about the Loch at the Monster Exhibition in Drumnadrochit, which had Jan Sundberg appearing in the spring of 2001 with the intention of proving the existence of the monster.  He came up against a self-styled wizard called Kevin Carlyon though, who climbed out of a stretch limo, looking quite a vision in what seemed to be a red dressing-gown tied up with string, and swinging an incense burner around.  Carlyon had appeared to protect Nessie, and to stop Sundberg “capturing” it.  A very entertaining altercation took place, with Sundberg threatening to throw His Wizardness in the Loch, and Carlyon calling him a “twat”.  Things have got very nasty between these two at times since this little publicity farrago, and Carlyon has posted copies of abusive e-mails he claims Sundberg has sent him in recent years, which come across as classic Internet troll rubbish.  Frankly, I think they’re welcome to each other.

Anyway, back to Ted Holiday.  He was fascinated by all the strange happenings at the Loch, and he went to see Wing-Commander Basil Carey and his wife Winifred, who lived in a house above Loch Ness. They had seen yellow, globelike objects hanging above the Loch. Mrs Carey expressed warned Ted about visiting the site where Sundberg had seen the UFO, warning him that she had heard of people being abducted there. At this moment in the conversation they both felt a roaring rush of wind and saw a ball of white light. The Wing-Commander, who had been standing at the living-room window with his back to them, preparing drinks, had noticed nothing.

The next morning, whilst exploring the area, Ted saw a man clad in black and wearing motorbike goggles, watching him. The man disappeared. One year later, Ted had a heart-attack in exactly the same area where he had seen the sinister figure. At least he survived that one. Five years later he wasn’t to be so lucky. In February 1979, a second attack killed him.

Ted had formulated an interesting theory that the Loch Ness Monster wasn’t a living creature at all, but some forbidding inter-dimensional being, which he tied in with ancient folklore. I’m not that keen on folklore if the truth be told, but I do like his ideas, and am taken with his off-the-wall theories. He put down his experiences and ideas in a book ’The Goblin Universe’, but decided not to publish it when fresh photographs of Nessie convinced him that the creature was probably real after all. After Ted’s death, Colin Wilson persuaded his publisher to release the book posthumously. It’s quite difficult to get hold of a second-hand copy at a reasonable price now, but if you can it’s an interesting read.


Nessie as a real flesh-and-blood creature though has become part of the national culture, and that is very much how she is regarded in her native habitat. When I was last there, a few years ago, bulletins of the latest sightings of her were still being pinned up in the Fort Augustus tourist office, and a man in the nearby gift shop was very … er … assertive let’s say in his belief that the creature is some sort of living dinosaur.

There were two occasions when I get very excited and thought I had seen the creature myself. The first time it turned out to be a fishing-boat seen at an awkward angle, and the second time it was a flotilla of ducks moving at high speed through the water! In his excellent book ’The Unexplained’ Jerome Clark has a photograph of some mysterious ripples on the surface of Loch Ness, which apparently gets everybody excited, because there were no boats in the area to cause them at the time it was taken. Unfortunately having seen the ducks I can no longer instantly assume that such ripples are caused by Nessie, for the simple reason that for quite a while I could only see the ripples before I saw the ducks.

In recent times though a bizarre new phenomenon has been noticed in the area. In August 2008 it was reported on Mysterial website that residents of the area were being woken up at night by a weird humming noise. The same phenomenon has been noticed down in Sudbury, Suffolk (very near Borley), which has led a local resident and keen Ufologist to claim that this is all to do with aliens, and that Loch Ness has also been singled out as a portal area. (The hydro plant at Foyers has been ruled out as the cause incidentally).

This noise is sometimes known as the Taos Hum, (named after Taos in Mexico) and I first came across it in the 1970s, when the newspapers cited a case of a woman being driven so mad by it that she ran out of her house screaming. In those days it was regarded as something sinister to do with the Cold War. Nowadays the Hum is having a bit of a revival, most recently being heard in a small village in County Durham. There are all sorts of theories as to what it could be. It could be aliens of course, or, as some people believe, it could be the sound of the Universe expanding, which is rather a beautiful thought in its way.


The area was very much in the paranormal news again in 2011. A short while ago there were reports of sightings of a mysterious large black cat roaming the area. And just very recently, in the middle of June, the ‘Inverness Courier’ reported that the couple running the Waterfall Cafe in Foyers had sighted Nessie from the front of their property one afternoon. They described it as black, with a long neck, diving under the water. Some scepticism has been poured on this tale because of it occurring at the beginning of the summer tourism season.  I risk being shot down for this, but I’m afraid I’m a little sceptical.  The only (distant) view of the Loch from the decking at the front of the cafe is through a small triangular gap where a couple of trees have been cut down.  Even peering with binoculars it’s hard to see how somebody could have got a very good view of the creature.


Full-time Nessie-hunter Steve Feltham believes the cafe sighting to be genuine though, being more prepared to take the word of locals than tourists.  I’m not sure I really understand the logic there, but I would hate to disagree with him.  Steve has a commendable dedication to monster-spotting, having spent 20 years at it  He lives in an old converted mobile library – with ‘NESS-ESSARY PRIVATE RESEARCH’ on it – on Dores beach, at the edge of the Dores Inn car-park.  There is a small telescope set up permanently outside his caravan, and I often saw him emerge to patiently scan the Loch.  His only means of financial support seem to come from selling little models of the Monster which he makes himself.  It can’t be a comfortable existence by any means (even at the end of August,, when I was there, the beach was a forbiddingly cold and windy place).  He has no electricity or mains water, and showers by heating up two buckets of Loch water on his stove.  All respect to his dedication.

(Just a little fun fact about the Dores Inn: up until the 1970s there were no ladies toilets at the pub, and the gents had to make do with an outhouse which straddled the stream in the car-park which runs into the Loch.  I can’t imagine that did the Monster any good!).

According to a notice pinned up in the Fort Augustus tourist information office, a holiday-maker called William Jobie sighted the monster on two separate occasions in May 2011 from the Fort Augustus quayside (one day after the other).  This was alongside a rather good photo showing a dark hump rising out of the water.

On the weekend of the 20/21 August BBC News reported that the emergency services undertook a night-time search of the Loch after members of the public raised the alarm at 8 o’clock on the Saturday evening, reporting that a blue balloon-like object had fallen from the sky and into the Loch near Dores.  Police, coastguard, lifeboat and RAF all thoroughly searched the area, but found nothing.

It would be nice to close this blog with some sensational news of my own about Nessie, but sadly I can’t.  I have never seen the Monster, and in all honesty I have never personally seen anything at the Loch that couldn’t be explained by boats, logs or the ubiquitous ducks.  BUT somehow I don’t think my fascination with this marvellous place will ever end, and I will always be on the alert for more strange tales from the Loch.

I’ll close with some words of Steve Feltham’s that I’ve found since coming home: “If you have a dream to do something, no matter how harebrained others think it is, then it’s worth trying to make that dream come true”.



[…] Sarah Hapgood – Loch Ness: Area of High Strangeness Indeed […]

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