Trip to Loch Ness
The Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster, nicknamed Nessie, sparks both curiosity and natural wonder in many people, especially reptile enthusiasts. Below, I'll detail a trip I took to Scotland in April of 2011, including a review of the 3D Loch Ness Experience in Edinburgh, followed by a trip three hours north into the amazing Scottish highlands for a visit to Loch Ness, including a description of what I saw there.

Picture of the Loch Ness monster

April 7th, 2011

The amazing company I work for recently sent me on a two-month relocation to our European headquarters in Cork, Ireland. I'm living in nearby Kinsale, which is an absolutely beautiful and friendly coastal town that lives up to its much heralded reputation. Over the weekends I'm afforded the rare opportunity to travel not only around Ireland, but also to a few of the surrounding countries. Most recently, history-rich Scotland.

Loch ness monster hoax photo

Here's the infamous "Surgeon's photo" which helped bring worldwide attention to the Loch Ness monster phenomenon. It was decades before the photographer admitted it was a hoax.

Review of the 3D Loch Ness Experience

While spending a couple fantastic, sunny days in Edinburgh, I happened across the 3D Loch Ness Experience while walking down the Royal Mile. I walked inside, bought a ticket, and proceeded into the small theater where I put on the headphones and plastic 3D glasses.

3D Loch Ness Experience Edinburgh

Entrance to the 3D Loch Ness Experience on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.

My review of the 3D Loch Ness Experience in Edinburgh is tainted by the fact that I will avidly consume virtually any Loch Ness monster related material, so naturally I wanted to like the film and was really looking forward to it. I mean, come on, this is Nessie in 3D!

That said, even as a Loch Ness monster aficionado, the 3D documentary was unusually dry, the picture quality looked as though it was recorded using state-of-the-art equipment from 1978, and the film itself was actually fairly boring
even for a fan of reptiles like me. It could have been so much better, it was full of potential, and frankly I expected more from a Loch Ness exhibit in Scotland of all places. Come to think of it, the theater was empty on a Friday, so perhaps that was a sign.

3d Loch Ness Tickets

This is a picture I took of the inside of the 3D Loch Ness Experience theater.

The film's creator and presenter (accomplished naturalist Adrian Shine) comes across as a bit patronizing, and the information he delivers is actually a bit of a downer. Background-wise he was at one time he was an avid Nessie hunter, even taking the lead in the mother of all searches in the 1980's (Operation Deep Scan), though in the film he all but says it's all a legend and Nessie can't possibly exist. The problem I have with this is: don't we all sort of already know that?

People purchase tickets to a Loch Ness Monster 3D exhibit in Scotland to be entertained by wild tales and riveting stories, not an analysis of the Loch's food pyramid and how it couldn't support several large reptiles. We want to believe that maybe,
just maybe, it's possible. Even if they're gone now, we like to think that plesiosaurs were recently roaming the deep waters of Loch Nesssomehow narrowly escaping extinction. We want to believe that the over 1,000 witnessed sightings aren't comprised entirely of lies and drunken hallucinations.

3D Loch Ness Theater in Edinburgh

Here you can see the 3D glasses and headphones used during the film.

In the end, the 3D aspect of this film is fairly gimmicky and provided no apparent advantage. In fact, it was mildly distracting at times, and a bit hard on the eyes.

If you're looking for Loch Ness monster lore, this isn't the place. Regardless, I did purchase a signed book Adrian Shine wrote about the Loch Ness Monster. It gives some background on Nessie expeditions, history, supposed sightings (and how easily people mistake common natural occurrences as Nessie), and feasibility studies. It was somewhat interesting and can be read in an hour or so. I recommend it for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about Nessie.

Visiting Loch Ness

On a spectacularly sunny Sunday morning in Edinburgh, I hopped into my rental car and began a three hour drive up into the Scottish highlands, destined for a remote northern city named Inverness, or Inbhir Nis, which in Scottish Gaelic is translated "Mouth of the River Ness." The beauty of the trip through the mountains was unmistakably amplified by my pent-up anticipation of finally visiting the mysterious Loch Ness
a body of water laced with a rich history of reptilian sightings.

I also had to smile in appreciation of the Scots as they are are unequivocally the
fastest drivers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was fantastic.

The city of South Loch Ness sign

Here's the last sign you see before driving for about ten minutes down the road to the waters of Loch Ness.

Here's a little background on the Loch itself. Loch Ness (Loch nis in Scottish Gaelic) is a long, fairly narrow body of water stretching 23 miles down Scotland, from north to south. At its thickest point, it's almost exactly one mile wide. As far as depth, let's just say it deep; 755 feet at the deepest pointthat's equivalent to two and a half football fields end-to-end. Think about that. The water is slightly less clear due to high levels of natural peat moss runoff from the surrounding mountains.

Once I reached secluded city of Inverness, and drove through the town and past the famous Inverness Castle, I headed south for 20 minutes through rolling grassy hills and thick forests. The road became a single lane eventually, although it was a two-way roadway, making meeting another car an interesting exercise in hazard avoidance.

The forest suddenly opened up and presented me with an amazing view of Loch Ness, just ahead of me on the right. It was truly beautiful, and something I won't ever forget. It was incredible. I've been to Lake Tahoe many times, but Loch Ness takes the cake.

Standing next to Loch Ness in Scotland

Standing next to Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands.

A bit further up, the road begins to hug the shore of the Loch, making it possible to look out and across the water. In fact, I had learned a few days prior that the vast majority of Nessie sightings are made from this very road, which is also logically why sightings began again in the year of its construction, 1933.

Looking for the Loch Ness monster on the road

Searching for the elusive Loch Ness monster from the car...

Road to Loch Ness

You can see up ahead how the width of the road diminishes.

There was a spot that allowed a clear path to the Loch's shoreline, so I seized the opportunity and pulled the car over. I made my way down the somewhat steep hill to the wave-lapped shore. Again, the view was awe-inspiring.

It was actually hard for me to believe I was standing on the shore of Loch Ness, reaching down and touching the same cold water where the legendary Loch Ness monster supposedly roams. Standing there, looking over the vast surface, I felt what I can only describe as a fascinating eeriness. Whether you believe in Nessie or not, it's a memorable experience to be there, scanning the water's surface.

Scanning Loch Ness for Nessie

The rocky shoreline of Loch Ness.

Eerie picture of Loch Ness in Scotland

Eerie, fascinating, haunting.

Nessie, or Niseag in Scottish Gaelic, is supposedly a type of aquatic reptile called a plesiosaur. If you're trying to picture it in your mind, imagine a small version of a brontosaurus, with fins instead of legs. Speaking of fins, because of a controversial picture of a "fin" taken in Loch Ness a few years ago, Nessie was actually given a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopteryx, which in Greek is translated "The Ness monster with diamond-shaped fin."

Fin of the Loch Ness monster

The controversial Loch Ness monster "fin" picture.

The first recorded sighting of a strange creature near Loch Ness was in 565AD, when St. Columba supposedly banished an aggressive "monster" from the River Ness. The bloodthirsty creature, eventually known as "The Kelpie" or "Waterhorse" (Cailpeach or Colpach means heifer or colt in Scottish Gaelic), then moved into the Loch Ness. "Loch," for those of you who have not put it together yet, means Lake.

The Kelpie would, as legend has it, lure people near the water by deceitfully taking the form of a beautiful, friendly horse. Once the person got close enough, they were violently dragged into the Loch's deep, dark waters to be consumed.

This fable can be slightly different depending upon the Scottish region of origination. One version claims The Kelpie would refuse to eat the heart and liver, while others believed it had an adhesive back that would trap anyone who tried to ride it. Many people believe the ancient Kelpie stories formed the basis of the relatively recent Loch Ness monster stories.

Rocky shore of Loch Ness

What's that dark patch in the water over my left shoulder?

Shoreline of Loch Ness in Scotland

Cold, peat-stained water. I noticed some insects crawling around the rocks.

Did I Catch a Glimpse of The Loch Ness Monster?

The simple answer is "no," but the more entertaining answer, and thus the answer I'm going to focus on, is "maybe." In his book, Adrian Shine lists several specific optical illusions that can reasonably appear to be animate "monsters" swimming in Loch Ness. Some where fairly obvious, such as crooked logs floating along the surface of the water, but others were far less so.

The single most compelling illusion is that of wave humps. Now, I read about these prior to visiting the Loch, and I can tell you as an eyewitness: they
can look like a dark, moving creature. Yes, I realize this sounds simplistic, and I probably would've thought the same thing had I not seen them with my own eyes.

After scanning the water's surface for a few minutes, I saw what looked like an irregular shape moving hurriedly and deliberately across the Loch. There were no boats, no ships, no canoes, and no kayaks. Just me and the Loch. Had I not read about the optical illusion that waves can create here, my curiosity would have
definitely been piqued. No question about it.

But, having read about the strange waves, I knew what I was seeing was indeed a wave. At that moment, I became convinced that many honest, unsuspecting people must have mistaken a wave for Nessie. I'm
certainly not claiming all the eyewitness stories are false, I'm simply saying that some of them were no doubt misread waves. They can look that convincing. Trust me.

Do I believe the Loch Ness Monster exists today? There's no easy answer. My brain says it's not possible within the Loch's current ecological conditions, but the kid inside me says, "Maybe,
just maybe." Stranger things have happened, I suppose. For instance, in 1974 scientists caught a 5 1/2 foot fish called a Coelacanth that they believed had gone extinct 65 million years ago.

Here's the confounding question I keep coming back to: how could over 1,000 official eyewitnesses since 1933
all be either liars or fools? It's a bit hard to reconcile, and Adrian Shine agrees, but then, what are they seeing?

are the three unexplained too-large-to-be-fish moving objects that modern day sonar recorded underwater during Operation Deep Scan?

There are so many legitimate questions about the Loch Ness monster that have no readily available answer. Perhaps that's one of the reasons we enjoy pondering the feasibility of this mysterious carnivore's existence in our modern day world.

Map of Loch Ness Scotland

I've added a red arrow to show where Loch Ness is located within Scotland.