To say that I am a patient man would be quite an understatement. Nineteen years sat watching and waiting on the shores of Loch Ness for one decent sighting of
The “Loch Ness Monster” has to be considered dedication in anybody’s eyes. To me its more a dream come true, all my life this subject has fascinated me, ever since a family holiday in 1970, when I was seven. It was then that we visited the ‘Loch Ness Investigation Bureau’, a team of volunteers who each summer set up a makeshift camp on the loch side near Urquhart castle, from where they mounted round the clock surveillance in the hope of filming Nessie. What really caught my imagination was the platform they’d built, on which they had mounted a cine camera and tripod; the lens alone on this camera must have been about a metre long. Grown men seriously looking for monsters? Fantastic!
Sensing my interest, and knowing that it would be a long drive back home to Dorset, my father bought me their information pack, a folder that I still have, filled with copies of sighting reports and A4 reprints of some of the iconic photographs. I was hooked. Over the next decade my interest grew, fuelled by classroom debates, several more family holidays to the highlands and my thirst for any new information that I could lay my hands on.
I would return to the loch many times, first as a child and then in adult life on two week long ‘expeditions’, armed with a very basic camera, and my grandfathers second world war binoculars, fully expecting to be able to have this mystery solved in the allotted two week period- little did I realise that to solve this mystery could take a lifetime.
I would have been content to periodically visit to the loch, get my fix of monster hunting, then return to the rat-race had I remained in the creative work that I pursued for the first ten years of my working life, first as a potter, then a book binder and finally as a graphic artist. However, by 1987 I had a house and steady girlfriend, and when it was suggested that I join my father in setting up a company installing burglar alarms, an opportunity to make loads of money, I jumped at the chance, forsaking the creativity of before in exchange for financial success.
Pretty instantly I realised I was in the wrong job, but the thing that most got to me whilst working in peoples homes was the number of retired folk who when drinking a cup of coffee with me would say “oh, when I was your age I wish I’d gone and lived in America” or climbed Mount Everest, or whatever. What would I regret not doing when I reach seventy if I continued on this path?
To me it was obvious, I knew where I was at my happiest, and what I was most interested in, things had to change. So I quit the relationship, and put the house on the market.
To make absolutely sure that what I was planning was right for me, not just a pipe dream, I loaded up the works van and in the summer of 1990 took myself on a three week hunt to the loch. I had the time of my life, and upon returning found that the positivity I had generated started to make my whole dream unstoppable. The same day that the cheque from the sale of my house went into the bank I told my parents that I would be quitting the by now very lucrative family business,
“oh, and by the way, instead I’m going to search for the Loch Ness Monster.”
“Told you,” my mother said to my father.
I needed something to live in, and within days my brother located the perfect thing, a 1970 ex mobile library van, wood lined with a potbelly stove. With this I would be able to move around the loch between vantage points, plus I would be able to pick up on any new sightings by other people as and when they happened.
On the 19th June 1991 I arrived loch side, and became a full time monster hunter. I had never been happier.
To fund myself I struck upon the idea of making little nessie models out of a modelling clay that you bake in your own oven, sit this on a rock from the shore and surely tourists would buy them. The first year I found it quite hard to sell any, basically nobody knew what I was doing, or why.
Through a piece of luck whilst planning this quest I had phoned the BBC for advice as to which video format I should buy if I wanted my results to be broadcast quality. I was put through to the team that were making the “Video Diaries” series, who, spotting the potential for a good story, kitted me out with enough equipment and batteries to film the whole of the first year of settling into my new life.
As soon as this programme, “Desperately Seeking Nessie” was aired, in august ‘92 I knew that everything would be okay. Instantly people started turning up wanting to buy a model from the guy who had made his dream come true. Still to this day I get visitors who remember it. Now everyone knew why I was here, and what I was doing.
I never set a time limit, but I suppose I thought that within the first three years I would surely see, and film something. I now know that was a wee bit optimistic. At over 23 miles long realistically one man can only be looking at about a mile of loch at any time. I’ve tried other methods of hunting over the years, using a boat with some fairly decent echo sounders onboard I’ve certainly had contacts with objects in mid water that appear to be much larger than the resident fish. But an echo sounder will never tell you what it is, just a rough idea of how big it is. I’ve also got a good friend who owns a micro-lite, which when flying over the water will give you some degree of three dimensional view because, judging by the chains on some of the mooring boays you can see maybe 10 feet underwater, handy, unless you are looking for a very dark object in very dark water.
So I watch and wait mostly nowadays from the shoreline, a full time boat would be ideal, but first I have to film Nessie to be able to generate enough money to buy one.
For most of first decade my van remained mobile, which gave me a rare opportunity to move between three or four loch side villages, thus giving me a great overview of the different characteristics of each place. However, I increasingly found myself drawn to the village of Dores, on the south shore, from where I had the best view of Loch Ness that anyone could wish for.
About ten years ago the van failed its last MOT, and so I decided it was time to become static. The Dores inn car park was perfect, backing onto the beach as it does, and thanks to the owners kind altruism I had permission to spread out a bit, build some decking out of old pallets, and incorporate a large piece of driftwood to sell my models on. Utopia!
Now I have my perfect loch side base, which incidentally I have my own postcode for and pay council tax on, no running water or electricity, but the pubs got an outside tap, and car batteries charged off a solar panel make up for the lack of mains power. My shower consists of two buckets of loch water and a saucepan heated up on the stove and a big old umbrella that I pull into the door of the van, cutting out the wind. The prevailing weather deposits plenty of driftwood for my stove right outside my door, (much needed as I’ve seen temperatures reach –17) and a great big concrete patio table on my ‘decking’ makes sitting out on a summer’s day my favourite pastime. Breakfasting at this table, putting my models out for sale, and waiting to see what adventures will turn up. Tourists arrive to ask me many questions, friends come to sit and chat, maybe a Mediterranean style buffet, an evening campfire, a starry nights sky, and best of all sometimes the northern lights making an appearance. Then when everyone’s gone and I have the loch to myself again to stand at the shoreline and feel the energy that pores off of the place. Retire into the van, and watch the night sky through the metre square skylight above my bed. That to me is a perfect day.
The Highland weather does not always permit such joys, in which case I find that I can keep myself admirably busy inside my van. I have become a bit of an “Ubber-potterer”, make a few models, possibly do a watercolour painting which I can later sell, read, listen to the radio, maybe even watch the occasional osprey feeding right outside my door. Never a need to get bored because as soon as I feel boredom coming on I change tack, and anyway ive long since realised that in this life unpredictable adventures are never far away, be it the Chinese State Circus dropping by for a photo shoot or Billy Connelly inviting me to be a guide for half a dozen of his A’ list chums for a day on a boat, something or someone interesting always seems to turn up.
I find that film crews and journalists from all over the world turn up on a regular basis, and I answer all their questions, however they are invariably focused on the one big question regarding Loch Ness, is there or isn’t there? Which is perfectly understandable, but it frustrates me that I never get the chance to get my other equally important point across, that being, if you have a dream to do something, no matter how harebrained others think is, then its worth trying to make that dream come true, I am living proof that it might just work. Or there’s always the alternative, reaching seventy and saying,
“ I wish I’d tried that when I had the chance.”
Have I ever regretted my decision? Never for one single second. And as to the obvious question regarding my work here at Loch Ness… you’ll know about it when I see it.
The original article of the above text is here