by Amanda Castleman
The Loch Ness Monster resurfaced 80 years ago this week, when a woman spotted “a beast” rolling and plunging in Britain’s largest body of fresh water. The Inverness Chronicle published the account on May 2, 1933, sparking an enduring mystery and now more than $90 million each year from tourism.
More ancient accounts surround Loch Ness, including the one that had Irish priest St Columba running off a man-eating creature in the sixth century. But the “Nessie” of popular imagination — a swan-necked Jurassic reptile (like a plesiosaur) — is bowing to new theories.
“There have been 40 good sightings on land,” points out Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine. He spent two weeks searching for Nessie in Scotland and interviewing eyewitnesses for his book “The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep” in 1999. “It has whiskers and a mane, and moves up and down in the water like a mammal. More like a giant walrus or a long-necked seal.”
Many Scots agree. One of them is Patricia Anne Rodger, an Edinburgh-based academic who often visits her family outside Inverness, which lies near Loch Ness. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a prehistoric creature,” she says. “It’s probably a mutation of something that would normally live in the sea.”
Rodger can’t shake the feeling that something strange dwells in the 23-mile-long, 600-feet-deep tectonic lake on the Great Glenn fault line that connects the North Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. “Scotland is full of magical places, in the best possible way. There’s something very beguiling about Loch Ness: its length, the way it sits in a cleft between the mountains. Mist comes down and you can hear all these things… I’ve been to hundreds of lochs. Nowhere else do I get the feeling that something might emerge from the water.”
She likes to explore the lake’s quieter southeast shore, which offers good vantage points. Two years ago, the Visit Loch Ness tourism bureau mapped out a new 28-mile trail from Loch Tarff to Dores, where trekkers can revive at the beach and pub.
Most Nessie fans gravitate to the north side, where the village of Drumnadrochit is home to the Loch Ness Centre and its kitschier neighbor Nessieland as well as the ruined stronghold of Urquhart Castle.
Boats also cruise the loch: Jacobite Cruises tours range from a one-hour $20 taster to a 6.5-hour extravaganza ($62). Ever vigilant about safety, the company just bought $1.5 million in monster-collision insurance for its fleet. Owner Freda Newton says: “I don’t know what the odds of this actually happening might be, but how silly would we look if it did and we weren’t covered?”
Like many first-time visitors, Ashley Armbruster plans on a boat tour next month as well as a pint or two of real ale at the Loch Ness Brewery (its tagline: “now there is something new in the water!”). “We’re staying at a B&B right on the lake,” says the occupational therapist from San Francisco, whose family tree has roots in Scotland. “It’s perfectly positioned for any late-night sightings of Nessie.
“I'm sure we will spend at least a couple hours half-heartedly scouring the shores of Loch Ness for the monster. A small, irrational and childlike part of me believes in the possibility. It's like a fairy-tale hunt that I can be a tiny part of.”
Photos: A model of the Loch Ness monster stands outside a visitor center in Drumnadrochit, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The Loch Ness Monster looks a bit like a plesiosaur, as depicted at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. (Photo by Rebecca Thompson1 via Flickr)
Urquhart castle ruins sit on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)