Loch Ness

by frankbeswick

Scotland's deepest Loch is an impressive place to spend holiday time, but the loch is to be taken seriously.

The name Loch Ness conjures up images of the Loch Ness monster, which is entirely fictitious, but a boon to the tourist industry. But even without the monster it is a challenging place to take a small boat, with cross winds, strong currents and at times a choppy surface that boatmen need to respect. Yet there is the beautiful Scottish landscape and an ancient castle , ruined of course, that rewards a visit.

photo courtesy of Simple, of Pixabay

The Nature of thePlace.

The Great Glen, known in Gaelic as An Glen Mor, splits the north of Scotland from the rest of the isle by the presence of three lochs. To the west is Loch Oich,to the east Loch Dochfort, and in between them the mighty Loch Ness. All three lochs are narrow, with Loch Ness being one and a half miles wide at its widest  and twenty two miles long. These lochs are linked by rivers and by the Caledonian Canal, which was constructed by Thomas Telford to provide small ships with an alternative to the stormy, wreck-strewn passage round the northern tip of Britain. It is for this reason that you sometimes  see ships sailing through Loch Ness.

The rocks on the north of the glen are geologically part of Canada. How has this happened? When the continents split ages ago in geological time a bit of what is now Canada became detached, and floating on tectonic plates it  eventually banged up against the rest of Britain, and there it stayed. These events happened millions of years ago, long before humans evolved. But more recent events have been significant. The Ice Ages buried the land under hundreds of feet of ice and left glacial deposits on the land, but this was less significant than the occurrence of a trapdoor fault, a  geological phenomenon in which land on the north side hinged downwards to create a loch bed that is shallow on the south, but up to seven hundred plus feet deep on the north. The result is that the hydro-dynamics of the loch are complex. This situation results in choppiness at times and places. 

The great depth means that the loch contains more freshwater than the lakes of England and Wales combined. There was a sonar reading that gave a thousand feet at one point, but this proved to be a false reading.

The Ice Age retreated from the area about 12000 years ago and the vacant space began to be filled with melt water, which became murky as peat deposits developed on the land and washed into the loch. This information about the age of the loch is significant  for the loch's most famous resident, the supposed monster. Some enthusiasts claimed that it might be a plesiosaur, a reptile of the dinosaur age, but plesiosaurs became extinct sixty million years ago and the loch is but 12000 years old, so there  is a massive  gap to be filled. Anyway, the climate of Scotland is unsuitable for large reptiles, it is far too cold for them to survive. 

Enjoying the Loch

Maureen settled down in the stern of the dinghy, while I took the oars. We had started from a sheltered bay on the southern side, but we wanted to get out into loch. The hired dinghy had a shallow draft, which pleased me not, as I had learned to row on an Irish loch in a superb custom built boat with a deep draft, not good for speed, but great for stability. We were fine in the bay. sheltered by the tree-lined shore, but once on the open loch we ran into a south westerly wind that was coming diagonally to  the direction of the boat. Looking towards the centre of the loch I could see that the wind was whipping up the surface into visible crests. I realized that a dinghy  was not the best of crafts for the loch on a windy day, so I gingerly turned a wide, gentle curve and rowed back. 

We were on a subsequent day to attempt a loch cruise in a motor vessel, but the  skipper felt that conditions were too rough and turned back.

Now for the experience of my son-in-law, a super-fit, athletic man who a few years ago canoed across Scotland through the Great Glen. He and his companions kept to an established canoeing route along the north shore, but he told me later that canoeing that shore was fine in the morning,  but turbulence set in in the afternoon, making the canoeists rest ashore. I cannot work out why this happens, but I suspect that it is caused  by the hydrodynamics of the loch. But don't let me give a false impression, there is boating on the loch, including the use of motor boats.  Leisure boating thrives, but boat users need to be competent and know when conditions are unsuitable for going out. 

The shores are suitable for strolling, and there is on the northern shore Urquart Castle, a ruin abandoned in the eighteenth century. Its story is part of the blood-stained history of Scotland, in  particular the clash for dominance between the king in Edinburgh and the Lords of the Isles, who were officially subject to the king, but in reality independent war lords. The castle was finally abandoned in the aftermath to the 1715 Jacobite rebellion when the government troops who had occupied it decided to blow up he gatehouse as they left to prevent its ever being used by an enemy. You can visit the castle and it is said to be the place where monster sightings are commonest, though what people see is no more than wakes.

The Monster

The first monster tale comes from the time of St Columba, whose loud voice was said to have scared off a large fish that was attacking one of his monks in the river Ness, that flows from the loch into the North Sea. That  was in the sixth century, then there was nothing until the 1930s, when one dark night some motorists spotted a large creature crossing the lochside road. I think that it was likely to be a large red deer stag seen in the interplay of headlights and shadow. But the press got hold of the tory, dubbed the beast "the monster" and thus  was a legend born, along with several hoaxes. All pictures of the beast are hoaxes, but  some unexplained wakes have been seen.

There have been genuine mistakes. One is caused when a motor boat speeds down the narrow loch and its wake bounces off both sides and the two wakes meet in the middle. A line of waves appears to move down the loch and it is sometimes mistaken for the dorsal fins of a large fish.

But the problem comes with the word monster, which suggests an exotic beast unknown to science. There is something down there, but it is not a monster. There are three possibilities.

a: Sturgeon. This large fish was once common in Scottish lakes. Did a colony of them survive? However, while sea sturgeon have been found in the Moray Firth, which is connected to the loch by the river Ness, none has been caught or sighted in the loch, and no sturgeon DNA has been found.

b: Catfish. Once these fish were released into the loch, but no catfish DNA has been discovered.

c: But eel DNA has been found aplenty in the loch, the species being the European eel. Moreover, with no predators in the loch there is nothing to prevent eels growing large. Large, though not giant,  eels are reported in other lakes, such as Loch Morar, which is very close to the sea, and some Irish loughs [lochs.] The monster is  just an eel grown large.

Talk of monsters is therefore misleading. Keep the monster story for cartoons.

Updated: 04/12/2021, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 05/19/2022

I am giving it some thought.

frankbeswick on 05/19/2022

Corrib is a corruption of a Gaelic name for an ancient god to whom the area was sacred.

Veronica on 05/18/2022

Frank, you could include the eels and link it into Loch Ness, You must include Oughterade. OOhhh and Ashford Castle.
My Big Bro can do this if anyone can.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/18/2022

It's such a great idea, Veronica! Will you write the article, Frank?

Will I have to wait for the article -- or will you all tell me now -- to learn what corrib -- one internet source says "cultivated variety of potato" and another "stony"! --means?

frankbeswick on 05/18/2022

I would need to do some research, but it is a good idea.

Veronica on 05/18/2022

Having seen a super large eel in Lough Corrib, I can easily see how it could be taken for a monster! I do think Frank, that an article about Lough Corrib and the eels , geology, mythology , history would be fantastic.

frankbeswick on 05/18/2022

St Columba's voice was said to have scared the monster away on one occasion, but why nothing was reported for 1400 years is open to discussion. But tradition has it that Columba had a remarkably loud preaching voice.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/17/2022

Has there been any explanation for why St Columba's loud voice managed to scare the monster away for 1,400 years (quite a feat), not forever?

Is there any reason -- such as environmental disruption or large-scale development -- for why the monster would show up in the 1930s?

frankbeswick on 04/14/2021

Not really. Local people would recognize otteŕs and seals easily,and these creatures need to surface to breath,which the eel does not.

blackspanielgallery on 04/13/2021

I had heard it could be an animal like an otter or seal. Are these plausible.

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