Apart from the famous Loch Ness Monster, there are many more reports of mysterious creatures within the lakes and lochs of Britain, dating as far back as recorded history, and probably further. Some are mingled with old folklore about dragons and mermaids, while the more modern sightings have often become attributed to unidentified real creatures, including extinct dinosaurs. There is little doubt that strange forms are seen in various bodies of water, what is more difficult to ascertain is whether the creatures are actually physical, misinterpreted natural phenomena or something else.
Loch Morar seems as likely a candidate as any for the home of a large creature, over 1000 feet in places, it is deeper than Loch Ness, although not as large a body of water. Its alleged resident monster has been dubbed Morag, and the story is perhaps one of the most frightening and physical encounters, of any British lake monster.
In August 1969, Duncan McDonnell, and Bill Simpson, were fishing on the loch in a motor cruiser. They became aware of a loud splashing in the water behind them and turned to see a large object in the water, which rammed the boat – side-on – in a deliberate manner. Simpson grabbed his shotgun from the boat and fired at the creature, which was described as ’25 to 30 feet long, with dirty brown rough skin, 3 large black humps and a snake like head’. The creature slowly slipped back under the water after it had been shot, much to the relief of the two men. Morag has been seen on several other occasions, and the loch’s remoteness (there is no road around the Loch) compared to Loch Ness, suggests that there could be many more sightings if the Loch was more accessible.
Like Loch Ness the sightings go back into history, and may have been part of common folklore before the sightings became publicised. Many other Scottish lochs are said to harbour monsters. Among these are Loch Lochy, Loch Arkaig, Loch Oich, Loch Linnhe, Loch Quoich, and Loch Shiel, (three of these along with Loch Ness are situated on the Great Glen Fault) many others were believed to have enchanted qualities.
In folklore, lake monsters have a long precedent, with many bodies of water thought to be haunted by strange supernatural creatures that fed on mankind. One example is the dreaded water horse: the most dangerous of which was thought to be the Each Uisge of the Scottish Highlands. This creature had shape-shifting abilities most commonly taking the form of a horse. It would drag people down into the deepest part of the loch and eat them, leaving only their liver behind.
In Wales, water creatures were more dragon like, and haunted the lonely lakes and rivers. The Afanc, said to haunt a pool on the river Conwy was one such creature. Traditionally it was captured and banished to a pool on Mount Snowdon. Another example can be found at Llyn Cynwch, which was traditionally haunted by a Nwyvre (a water dragon) dispatched by a local shepherd. In England there is also a tradition of lakes and pools being haunted by strange creatures, although this belief was not as strong as in places where there was a Celtic survival.
Folklore shows that there is a long of tradition of haunted lakes and pools, this may have some relevance on modern sightings in two ways:
- Old folklore could be related to real sightings of creatures with a long historical president.
- Newer sightings could be related to a different phenomena perhaps more metaphysical or imaginary, coloured by the belief of the times (this same theory applies to UFO abductions).
Of course this is an over simplification, and all modern sightings may be misinterpretation and have nothing to do with folklore and legend. But it is strange how sightings of strange phenomena are coloured by the belief of the time.
The main problem with the theory that these creatures are actually physical animals, is the lack of scientific evidence, and the fact that the lakes they are said to haunt do not hold enough food to support even a small a population of large animals. It is assumed that there must be more than one creature to sustain sightings over a long period of time.
Other physical theories suggest that the sightings are related to misidentified fishes and mammals, such as a giant catfish, or a giant eel, or even a giant sturgeon. One validation of this theory (described in The Best of Fortean Times, Futura 1991) came in 1987 when a 900 pound, 11 foot long sturgeon was found dead in Lake Washington USA, apparently there had been a story about a giant duck eating monster living in the lake for many years before this discovery. The Sturgeon is thought to have died from old age, and may have been 80 years old.
One of the most popular explanations for the Loch Ness monster is that it is a Plesiosaur, an aquatic dinosaur that has somehow survived for millions of years in the deep loch, when it became cut off from the sea. Probably its biggest detriment is that the loch was virtually frozen solid during the Ice Ages.
That creatures thought extinct can survive is proved by the rediscovery of the Coelacanth in African waters, which was thought to have died out with the dinosaurs. But if this were the case at Loch Ness, there is a high probability that a specimen would have been caught by now. If not a live creature perhaps a dead one, washed up on the loch’s shore. This will be the only way to prove its physical validity.
Other theories about lake monsters suggest that the sightings are more related to other paranormal sightings, such as black dogs and ghosts, than to real animals. Perhaps related to certain geophysical conditions affecting the human mind. This theory has been related to places where the earth is under pressure, such as fault lines and plate margins. Loch Ness, which has long history of the uncanny is situated on the Great Glen Fault, which stretches across the country incorporating Loch Lochy, Loch Linnhe, and Loch Oich, all of which are also reputed to be haunted by monsters.
Early exponents of the mystical view that the haunted lakes acted like gateways to the enchanted, included members of the Golden Dawn. One, a friend of W.B. Yeats the Irish poet, remarked that the creatures were placed here by subtle enchanters to watch over the gates of wisdom, which could mean anything but is related to older folk beliefs about gateways into the other world. Something that may be ingrained in human subconscious.
One exponent of this idea is Doc Shiels, who was apparently successful in conjuring up lake monsters using shamanic practices and sympathetic magic, during his ‘Monster Mind Experiment’ of 1977. This apparently resulted in two clear photographs of Nessie, which have been declared as fakes from some quarters.
In all probability sightings of strange lake monsters will continue, and so will speculation as to their origin. It is doubtful whether there is one unified theory to explain all sightings, but perhaps in the future we will be closer to understanding all paranormal events.