Everyone has heard of Nessie, the reputed monster of Loch Ness, but fewer people realise that mystery beasts of various forms have also been reported from a sizeable number of other mainland Scottish freshwater lochs. Many of these reports were first compiled in Peter Costello's standard work In Search of Lake Monsters (1974) and later summarised in Michael Newton's very comprehensive Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology (2005), but here is a representative selection.
LOCHS ARKAIG, ASSYNT, AND FEITH AN LEÒTHAID
With a maximum depth of 359 ft and measuring 12 miles long, Loch Arkaig is situated in the Lochaber area of the Highlands. In a diary entry for 3 October 1857, English politician Lord Malmesbury recorded that his game stalker, John Stuart, had twice seen at Achnaharry the horse-like head and hindquarters of a 'lake-horse' basking at the loch's surface at sunrise when there were no ripples on the water. This loch monster has since been dubbed Archie.
In an article on Scottish loch monsters published during the early 1850s, Malmesbury included a claimed monster sighting from 1837 on Loch Assynt in Sutherland by two fishermen, who also saw it a second time shortly afterwards on a small island in this 6.3-mile-long loch. Very hairy, and grey in colour, the creature was compared by them to a young bull in size but with a broader back. It was about 3 ft tall, quadrupedal, with a bulldog-like head and large eyes.
Loch Feith an Leòthaid is connected to Loch Assynt, and during the 1930s an unidentified creature with a long neck and a deer-like head apparently surfaced close to the boat of Kenneth MacKenzie from Steen, gazing across this vessel's stern before disappearing again.
The third largest freshwater loch in Scotland by surface area (which is approximately 15 square miles), Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute is also this country's longest at 25 miles in total, and is reputedly home to a mysterious serpentiform monster known as the beathach mór. As far back as the 16th Century, fishermen were claiming that this loch's waters harboured gigantic eels "as big as a horse with an incredible length" - a belief that remains prevalent here today, though no eel of such inordinate dimensions has ever been drawn forth and made available for scientific scrutiny.
Do enormous eels inhabit the vast waters of Loch Awe? (public domain)
LOCHS EIL AND LINHE
One of the most unusual water monsters reported from a Scottish freshwater loch is the faceless, vermiform horror encountered at Loch Eil in the western Highlands by author Denys-James Watkins-Pitchford and documented by him in 1962. Here, quoted directly from his book September Road to Caithness and the Western Sea, is his first-hand description of what he saw:
I was watching some mallard paddling about among some weedy rocks at the end of a little promontory when there appeared out of the calm water exactly opposite me a large black shiny object which I can only compare with the blunt, blind head of an enormous worm.
It was, I suppose, some 50 yards from where I was standing, and it kept appearing and disappearing, not moving along, but rolling on the surface. The water was greatly disturbed all round the object. It had a shiny wet-looking skin, but the head (if head it was) was quite unlike a seal's and had no face, or nose, no eyes. It rose quite a long way out of the water, some three feet or more, before sinking back.
The most obvious explanation for a large elongate creature in a Scottish freshwater loch is an eel; but unless the creature was inaccurately recorded by its eyewitness, an eel with no face, not even any eyes, would be a very unusual one indeed - and one that could rise 3 ft or more out of the water would be even more so (as would a worm for that matter!).
Loch Eil is linked to Loch Linhe, a sea loch on Scotland's west coast and where, during the 1890s, a still-unidentified eel-like animal of sizeable length but bearing a mane was found dead at Corpach Lock, close to Fort William at Linhe's north end. Might this have been a vagrant giant oarfish Regalecus glesne that had made its way, or (perhaps dying) had been carried by water currents, into this coastal loch from the open sea? Long-necked Nessie-type monsters have also been sighted here, during the 1940s and again during the 1960s.
Was a giant oarfish found dead in Loch Linhe? (public domain)
Situated in the Strathspey area of Scotland's Cairngorms National Park, Loch Garten is most famous nowadays for the RSPB-coordinated success story in the breeding of wild ospreys here, but in bygone times it was famed for reputedly being home to a fearsome lake monster known as a water-bull or tarbh uisge. Resembling a hybrid of horse and bull, it sported a huge horned head, a jet-black mane, and would give vent to an extremely loud, hideous, roaring bellow.
According to local lore, a bold crofter once sought to trap this formidable creature, using as bait a young lamb attached to a very large hook, which in turn was tethered by a long sturdy rope to a huge lochside boulder weighing many tons. After rowing out to the centre of the loch and dropping the hooked lamb there, the crofter returned to shore in the hope that the water-bull would swallow the bait during the night, and thus be snared internally by the engulfed hook, after which he would haul the beast ashore. But when he checked the following morning, both the lamb and the boulder were gone. All that could be seen was a deep rut in the ground, where something with immense strength had dragged the massively heavy boulder into the loch.
Was a water-bull lured to its death in the dark waters of Loch Garten one night by a canny crofter? (© Steve Garvie/Wikipedia – photo-manipulated by Dr Karl Shuker)
As the water-bull was never seen or heard again, the inference in this tale is that once in the water, the huge boulder's weight had dragged the water-bull down to the loch bottom - where, unable to free itself from the hook that had snared it internally when it swallowed the lamb, the monster had drowned.
The lesser Nessie that has attracted most media attention in fairly recent times is Lizzie, the monster of 10-mile-long Loch Lochy - Scotland's third deepest loch (531 ft at its maximum depth), sited immediately below Loch Oich. With no publicised sightings for 36 years, Lizzie reclaimed the headlines in September 1996, when a 12-ft-long, dark-coloured mystery beast with a curved head and three humps reared up out of the water and began moving round in circles in full view of several staff and guests at the Corriegour Lodge Hotel, overlooking the loch. According to Aberdeen University psychology student Catriona Allen, who studied this amazing sight through binoculars: "It certainly wasn't a seal, otter, porpoise or dolphin".
In late July 1997, a six-man expedition featuring previous Loch Morar diver Cameron Turner and led by Gary Campbell, president of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, arrived to conduct a sonar sweep of the loch. Encouragingly, they achieved success on their very first day, when their equipment detected a large unidentified object swimming in the middle of the loch and estimated at 15-20 ft long - far bigger than anything known to be there. Turner came back to Lochy in September 1997, but no new evidence was obtained.
Maps pin-pointing some of mainland Scotland's 'monster' lochs – click to enlarge (© Ordnance Survey (left); © Jarrold & Sons Ltd (right); / inclusion here strictly on Fair Use/non-commercial basis only)
By surface area, totalling 27 square miles, Loch Lomond in Scotland's West Dunbartonshire/Argyll and Bute/Stirling region, and marking the boundary between central Scotland's highlands and lowlands, is the largest stretch of inland water in the whole of the island of Great Britain. In terms of anomalous aquatic animals and other esoterica, moreover, it is also famous as the locality claimed in an atlas published in 1659 to harbour "fish without fins" and a mysterious "floating island". And in 1724, Alexander Graham of Duchray claimed that locals living nearby sometimes see the water-horse reputedly inhabiting its waters.
More recently, at Easter 1980, a Mr and Mrs Maltman and their daughter were camping near the edge of Loch Lomond at Luss when a head and slender neck rose up to a height of about 5 ft above the water surface, no more than 200 yards away, with a long curved back visible behind. This amazing spectacle lasted for 30 seconds or so, then the head and neck swiftly submerged and were not seen again. The Maltmans were so frightened that they fled, later returning only to pack their belongings before journeying back home. And in 1997, a somewhat indistinct, unidentifiable moving object was filmed in the loch by investigator Nick Taylor.
Equally unexpected but totally verified, incidentally, is the presence on Inchconnachan, one of this loch's islands, of a naturalised, thriving population of Australian red-necked wallabies Macropus rufogriseus (also known as Bennett's wallabies). They are descended from some that were introduced there during the 1940s by Lady Arran Colquhoun, and Inchconnachan is nowadays referred to colloquially as Wallaby Island.
The fourth largest of Scotland's freshwater lochs by surface area, and situated in Wester Ross in the Western Highlands, Loch Maree is also referred to as Loch na Bèiste ('Loch of the Beast' in Scottish Gaelic), due to the muc-sheilch. This is a local name popularly applied to its own particular water monster and loosely translates as 'turtle-pig'. Yet despite its descriptive name, and the fact that sightings of this monster are reminiscent of Nessie reports, featuring humped backs rising above the surface and resembling capsized boats, zoologists have sought to identify it as merely a large eel.
The most famous lesser Nessie is Morag, the monster of Loch Morar, whose history, like Nessie's, dates back many centuries, as testified by a very old Scottish song:
Morag, Harbinger of Death,
Giant swimmer in deep-green Morar,
The loch that has no bottom...
There it is that Morag the monster lives.
Loch Morar is 11 miles long, approximately 1.5 miles wide, and with a maximum depth exceeding 1000 ft it is Britain's deepest freshwater lake. Unlike the waters of Loch Ness, however, which are extremely peaty, Morar's are very clear, enabling objects situated at quite a distance beneath the surface to be perceived with remarkable clarity - as exemplified by visitor Robert Duff's extraordinary sighting on 8 July 1969.
A joiner from Edinburgh, Duff was fishing from a boat in Meoble Bay on the loch's southern shore, where the water is no more than 16 ft deep and very lucid, when he spotted what he described as a "monster lizard", lying motionless on the loch's white, leaf-strewn bottom, looking up at him. Duff estimated the creature to be 20 ft long, with a snake-like earless head, slit eyes, and a wide mouth. Its body was grey-brown with rough skin, and it had four limbs, with three toes visible on each front foot, plus a tail. He was so startled that he revved the boat up and made off at once. Later, however, he returned to the same spot, but the animal had gone.
Even more dramatic was the 5-minute confrontation experienced on 16 August 1969 by Duncan McDonell and William Simpson. At about 9.00-9.30 pm, but while still daylight, their motor boat was travelling along the loch at a speed of 6-7 knots when McDonell, at the wheel, saw a creature in the water about 20 yards behind but moving directly towards them. A few seconds later it caught up, and collided with the side of their boat, seemingly unintentionally but nonetheless with sufficient force to hurl a kettle of water off the boat's gas stove and onto the floor. McDonell attempted to fend the beast away with an oar, frightened that it may capsize the boat, but because the oar was old it snapped in half.
When Simpson saw this, he picked up his rifle, ran out of the cabin, and aimed a shot at the creature - which slowly sank away from the boat. They did not see it again, but they did not see any blood either, or any other sign to indicate that Simpson's bullet had hit it.
According to Simpson and McDonell, the portion of the creature that they had observed was 25-30 ft long, with rough, dirty-brown skin, and three humps or undulations standing about 18 in above the water surface at the highest point. The head was brown and snake-like, measuring approximately 1 ft across the top, and raised 18 in out of the water.
On 1 August 1996 came the electrifying news that Cameron Turner, a diver from Darlington, had discovered some bones from a large unidentified animal at a depth of 60 ft in Loch Morar. Could these be the mortal remains of a Morag? Sadly, no - the following day a biologist formally identified them as the bones of a deer.
Returning to the media headlines in 2013 after two decades of cryptozoological reticence, the most recent claimed encounter with Morag featured a trio of sightings in close succession. For within the space of just two days during summer 2013, holidaymakers Doug and Charlotte Christie from Brechin in Angus apparently saw the monster on three separate occasions while staying at Kisimuil bed-and-breakfast at the lochside. They saw a 20-ft-long black object in the middle of the loch, for 10 minutes on the longest occasion before it submerged again. Charlotte likened it to a whale, Doug to a submarine.
Wee Oichie or Oichy of Loch Oich, directly below Loch Ness and 4 miles long, traditionally sports a flattened head rather than the familiar equine form often noted for Nessie and various other Scottish loch monsters. Having said that, the head of the very big, black, serpentine beast that rose to the surface one summer's day in 1936 was vaguely dog-like, according to A.J. Robertson who spied it while boating at the loch's southwestern end. Certain other eyewitnesses, moreover, including a former loch keeper at Oich interviewed by investigator J.W. Herries during the 1930s, have likened Wee Oichie to a huge otter.
As a river connects Loch Oich to Loch Ness, some researchers have speculated that perhaps Wee Oichie and Nessie are one and the same, merely swimming back and forth from one loch to another via this interconnecting river. Indeed, during the mid-1930s, Herries interviewed three eyewitnesses who claimed to have actually observed such an animal journeying via this means from Ness to Oich.
The most recent Oichy sighting currently documented occurred on 22 August 1998, when two Lochaber locals who wish to remain anonymous saw a large dark-coloured hump, rough but symmetrical in shape, break the surface a few hundred yards east of the Well of the Heads and about 22 yards from the shore as they were driving along the road next to the loch. Interestingly, they could see underneath the hump, thereby indicating that the creature was coiled and elongate. The two eyewitnesses got out of the car and ran onto the beach, armed with cameras, but the hump had already gone back down. Readily discounting identities such as swimming sheep, a line of otters, a seal, deer, and other commonly-posited candidates, they speculated that it might have been an eel, but with what they estimated to be a diameter of 18 in, if so it would have been one of truly prodigious proportions.
Situated west of Garry roughly 25 miles northwest of Fort William in Lochaber, Highlands, Loch Quoich is 9 miles long, with a maximum depth of 281 ft, and is supposedly home to a horse-headed but markedly serpentiform water monster. During the early 1930s, one such creature was even allegedly witnessed on land, when an unnamed lord, fishing on the loch's shores, spied it lying on a stony beach near to the water. It was also seen by the two fishing guides accompanying him, but he swore them to secrecy, afraid that the locals would consider all three of them inebriated, so their accounts remained unreleased for many years.
A collection of monster reports from Loch Quoich and other Scottish freshwater lochs was compiled by Father Henry Cyril Dieckhoff, from the Benedictine Abbey at Fort Augustus. Sadly, however, he died in 1970 before completing a book that he had been preparing, and which would have contained all of these reports.
Loch Morar is a famously remote lake, much of which can be reached only by boat, but this is also true of Loch Shiel - Scotland's fifth largest loch, with a length of 17 miles, a width ranging from 100 yards to a mile, and a maximum depth of 420 ft. Its own resident monster is known as Seileag.
Seileag's most diligent investigator was the afore-mentioned Father Dieckhoff, who collected many reports. One of these, dating from 1905, featured Ewan MacIntosh, two young boys, and an old man called Ian Crookback, all of whom observed three humps above the water surface with the aid of a telescope while travelling across the loch opposite Gasgan aboard the little mail steamer Clan Ranald.
A massive creature with a broad head, wide mouth, long thick neck, and seven "sails" (humps) on its back was viewed through a telescope by Ronald MacLeod as it emerged from the water at Sandy Point one afternoon in 1926. Indeed, it was claimed by MacLeod to be bigger than the Clan Ranald!
Scotland's sixth largest loch by area and over 490 ft deep at its greatest depth, Loch Tay is situated in Perthshire, is approximately 14.5 miles long and typically 1.0-1.5 miles wide. Cryptozoologically speaking, however, the most notable mystery beast from this vicinity was not reported in the loch itself but from the nearby Firth of Tay, during the late evening of 30 September 1965. Moreover, it was actually seen on land, and therefore in full – a rare event indeed.
Here is my documentation of that very remarkable incident, from my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995):
[It] was brought to cryptozoological attention by veteran monster hunter F.W. Holiday. It was 11.30 pm, and Maureen Ford (wife of amateur flyweight boxer David Ford) was driving with some friends along the A85 by car towards Perth, in northeastern Scotland. Close to Perth, Ford suddenly spied an extraordinary creature by the roadside, only a few yards from the banks of the River Tay, which enters nearby into the Firth of Tay - an inlet of the North Sea. She described it as: "...a long grey shape. It had no legs but I'm sure I saw long pointed ears."
Less than 2 hours later, it was seen again - but this time on the opposite side of the road, to where it had evidently crossed during the intervening period. At 1 am, Robert Swankie was driving along the A85 away from Perth towards Dundee, when his headlights revealed an amazing sight. As he later revealed in a Scottish Daily Express report (5 October 1965):
"The head was more than two feet long. It seemed to have pointed ears. The body, which was about 20 feet long, was humped like a giant caterpillar. It was moving very slowly and made a noise like someone dragging a heavy weight through the grass."
Swankie slowed down, and opened his window, but he could see another car not far behind, so he decided not to stop, and continued his journey. His testimony, and also that of Ford, were taped by an enthusiastic investigator, Miss Russell-Fergusson of Clarach Recordings, Oban, and the police were also informed. In the Express report, one of their spokesmen commented that in the dark the headlights of a car could play tricks when they strike walls and trees - but as Holiday sensibly pointed out, if Swankie's sighting had merely been an optical illusion, why didn't he see monsters throughout his road journey? And how can an exclusively visual deception create a dragging sound?
Far more reasonable, surely, is the scenario of a reclusive sea creature emerging under the cover of darkness from the Firth of Tay, possibly via the River Tay itself, and, by sheer chance, being seen by two night-travelling eyewitnesses during its brief overland foray.
A popular cryptozoological identity for highly elongate water monsters is an evolved, modern-day species of zeuglodont whale, possessing a more flexible vertebral column than that of fossil forms and therefore capable of performing the vertical undulations often reported for serpentiform aquatic cryptids. Might this be what emerged from the Firth of Tay 50 years ago?
A reservoir since 1929, the ominously-named Loch Treig (Scottish Gaelic for 'Lake of Death') is 5.6 miles long, and is located in a steep-sided glen just over 12 miles east of Fort William in Lochaber, Highlands. According to local medieval folklore, it was home to ferocious water-horses, but mystery beasts have also been reported here in modern times. Indeed, in 1933, during the creation of the extensive hydroelectric scheme now present in this area encompassing Treig, B.N. Peach, an engineer in charge of that scheme, stated that some of the divers working on the project had quit the job or had asked to be moved to other jobs because they claimed that there were monsters in this loch's depths.
Last – and definitely least – is Wattie, the infamous monster of Loch Watten, infamous inasmuch as its history owes precious little to cryptozoology, and even less to reality, as I discovered when conducting the only detailed investigation ever undertaken into this extraordinary case. All is revealed elsewhere on ShukerNature – click here to read my full exposée.
Holding my copy of The Monster Trap – Peter Haining's collection of supposedly true mysteries containing his account of the Loch Watten monster that inspired my extensive investigation of this exceedingly dubious cryptid (© Dr Karl Shuker)
As with the Nessie saga, many sober sightings have been reported at these Scottish lochs that do appear to feature something more than misidentified otters, seals, sturgeons, birds, boats, algal mats, and suchlike - but what? All of the familiar cryptozoological Nessie contenders have been offered - a surviving plesiosaur, an undescribed species of long-necked seal, an elusive modern-day version of the officially long-extinct elongate zeuglodont whales, a giant form of eel - but with no physical evidence to examine, no firm taxonomic identification can be offered.
If such reports as those documented here are indeed genuine, however, it seems likely that the species responsible can actively migrate overland, or via connecting rivers, from one loch to another (eels readily come to mind here) - thus explaining sightings in bodies of water that are too small or insufficiently stocked with fish and other potential prey to sustain a permanent, viable population.
Reconstruction of the possible morphology of the long-necked (aka longneck) category of water monster, represented by both marine and freshwater versions (© Tim Morris)
They do say that it takes all sorts to make a world, and certainly, from traditional water-horses, water-bulls, and turtle-pigs to modern-day long-necked, serpentiform, and even vermiform aquatic cryptids, this maxim is also clearly applicable to the cryptozoological world, at least as far as the multifarious monsters reported from mainland Scotland's freshwater lochs are concerned.
Beautiful vintage picture postcard depicting Loch Awe (public domain)
This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my forthcoming book Here's Nessie! - A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness, and was inspired by a much shorter account that originally appeared in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth.