There are many mysterious tales about Scotland. However, the most famous might just be the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. This aquatic creature living in the waters of Loch (Lake) Ness in Scotland, dates back to the first century when the Romans migrated to Northern Scotland.
The earliest written reference can be traced back to Saint Columba—the man who introduced Christianity to Scotland. In A.D. 565, Columba wrote that on a visit to the king he stopped along the shores of Loch Ness. There he saw a large beast about to attack a swimmer. He raised his hand and in the name of God commanded the monster to go away and so it did. There have been countless sightings since that time, of a large creature at Loch Ness, but it wasn’t until 1933 that the legend became more widely believed.
Following the construction of a new road along the lake, many more began reporting a large beast in the water. This included a young couple who claimed to have seen “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface.” They shared this sighting with a reporter at Inverness Courier. When the editor used the term “monster” to describe this creature, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster went from fable to phenomenon. It was also around this time that people began calling the monster by its nickname, Nessie.
As interest in this creature grew, many people visited the lake to see for themselves. This included several British newspapers who sent reporters to Scotland. The London Daily Mail even sent a “big-game hunter” named Marmaduke Wetherell to hunt down Nessie. After only a few days, Wetherell found footprints he believed were left by this monster. After sending plaster copies of the footprints to the Natural History Museum in London, scientists determined they belonged to a hippopotamus. It is still unclear whether Wetherell was the victim of a hoax or the actual perpetrator.
While this temporarily calmed the storm surrounding the legend, sightings continued. The strangest part about many of these sightings was that they came from reliable sources such as doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, policemen, and even a Nobel Prize winner.
It wasn’t until April 1934 that an actual photo was published (by the London Daily Mail). The photo, sent in by a surgeon, was often used as evidence of the monster—that is, until 1994 when it was also revealed to be a hoax.
The truth behind this photo, originally shared by Wetherell’s son Ian in the 1970s, caught little to no attention. It was later confirmed by Christopher Spurling—co-conspirator and stepson of Maramduke Wetherell—on his deathbed. As a form of revenge against the Daily Mail for humiliating him, they created a model of the monster’s neck and placed it on a toy submarine. It turns out Wetherell was the photographer behind the world’s greatest hoax surrounding the Loch Ness Monster.
Over the years there have been more sightings and photographs, but most have been discredited. The area continues to attract its’ fair share of tourists, including a large number of monster hunters, though most are simply there to see the exhibits. There have even been two sonar explorations, in 1987 and 2003, to try and locate the creature—both were unsuccessful.
If you visit the Scottish Highlands today, be sure to stop by the large lake at least once. There are plenty of Nessie themed-activities like the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition or Nessieland Castle Monster Centre; and who knows, you may just be the first person to capture a photo of the real Nessie!