THE 80th anniversary of the first ‘modern’ sighting of the world-famous Loch Ness Monster is to be celebrated at an international conference bringing together academics and “Nessie” experts.
It was in April 1933 when Drumnadrochit hotel manageress Aldie Mackay saw “something resembling a whale” while on the road from Inverness. There had been previous reports of a creature, including one by Christian missionary St Columba in 565, but Mrs Mackay’s sighting was to herald the start of massive international curiosity.
After a subsequent report in The Inverness Courier, headlined “Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness”, other sightings followed and within months the story developed into a global sensation, establishing the area on tourist map.
With speculation as strong as ever today, a one-day conference, “Nessie at 80”, is being staged on 6th April as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
It is being organised by Charles Paxton, a research fellow at St Andrew’s University and author Gordon Rutter who specialises in the paranormal.
The speakers will also include naturalist Adrian Shine, of the Loch Ness Project, Drumnadrochit, tour guide and writer Tony Harmsworth and David Martin-Jones, a lecturer in film studies at St Andrew’s University.
Mr Paxton, a leading statistical ecologist, believes reported sightings and anecdotes of mythical sea creatures could provide important statistical data and reveal information about human perception.
He thinks the conference, which will look at the impact of the Loch Ness Monster, is the only event to be celebrating the milestone anniversary.
“It will review the data and what we know of the Loch Ness Monster after 80 years,” he said.
“We have a variety of speakers. Some will talk about the history of the loch, someone else will talk about the cultural phenomenon and how the monster has been portrayed in film.”
A self-confessed Nessie sceptic, he reveals he had visited Loch Ness just once about four years ago although he will make a return visit the week after the conference to mark the 80th anniversary.
“Some people believe it gives off an aura of mystery,” he said. “I didn’t feel the mystery — but it is a very beautiful loch.”
Despite his sole visit, Mr Paxton maintains he is qualified to take part in the conference as he will focus on the statistical analysis of more than 800 eyewitness reports, many of which had been obtained by trawling back issues of the Courier.
He found the peak years for recorded sightings were 1933 and 1934.
“It was incredible,” Mr Paxton said. “If you go back over the old issues, you realise what a massive impact it had. There were traffic jams all around the loch.
“The council in Inverness had a tourism budget but they decided to dispense with it as so many people were flocking to Loch Ness. Until I started to read about it. I had no idea what a massive phenomenon it was.”
Tour guide and long-term Loch Ness researcher Tony Harmsworth acknowledges his company reaps the financial benefits of the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon.
“I think for most people coming to the area, it is a big joke, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to come to Loch Ness,” he reflected.
He believes there could be “something” in the loch but not a monster.
“If there is something, it has to be a fish,” he maintained.
“The only fish it could be of that sort of size is a sturgeon.”
He estimates at the outset of a tour about one cent of visitors believe there is something in the loch but after debunking the myths of Nessie as monster, he estimates more than 50 per cent go away thinking there is something such as a sturgeon.
“It gives visitors a longer term interest so when they get home they are still thinking about,” he said.
Mr Harmsworth, who has written an on-line book, “Loch Ness Understood”, revealed he once spotted something on an October morning in the mid 1980s from his house.
“It was crossing the loch diagonally against the direction of wind and appeared to be about 9ft long,” he recalled.
“I don’t know what it was.”
* Nessie at 80 The Symposium will be held on Saturday 6th April at The Counting House in Edinburgh. Tickets cost £20 including a buffet lunch.
The Inverness Courier and the birth of the modern-day Loch Ness Monster phenomenon
A story, headlined Strange spectacle on Loch Ness, on Tuesday 2nd May 1933 was a pivotal moment in sparking the global sensation of Nessie.
The report was written by its Fort Augustus correspondent Alexander Campbell, also a water bailiff, and related the sighting of something resembling a whale on the loch near Abriachan by a well-known local businessman and his wife. It described how the creature had rolled and plunged for about a minute.
The story quickly gathered pace and soon staff reporters from daily papers in Scotland and England and newspaper correspondents from France, Holland, Germany, Italy, America and even Japan and China were sent hot foot to Inverness,
The Monster was given the title by the then Courier’s editor Evan Macleod Barron. After reading Mr Campbell’s copy, he said it was so well authenticated and Mr Campbell was so reliable a correspondent that the story should be published. “But why call it a creature? If it is as big as the witnesses say it is, it must be a monster,” Dr Barron declared.
Since then, there have been more than 1000 record sightings.