Nessie-hunter's camera is always at the ready
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HE left his girlfriend, quit his job and sold his house in the south of England to move to Loch Ness in search of Nessie – the other woman in his life.
But 20 years on and Nessie hunter Steve Feltham says he has no regrets about his decision, which has seen him settle in a permanent home on Dores beach.
"None at all," he said. "In fact, I could have done with doing it three years earlier."
It was a seven-year-old Steve who first fell in love with Loch Ness after coming across an expedition of monster hunters while on a family holiday.
"That was me, hooked," he said.
His family returned for numerous holidays during Mr Feltham’s childhood.
"They sort of knew Loch Ness was the perfect baby-sitter. I’d be in a tent beside Loch Ness and they could go into Inverness to do some shopping, when they got back three hours later I’d still be there, staring at the water, not having moved.
"I just had a huge thirst for knowledge about Loch Ness."
As an adult, he would return to Loch Ness for holidays whenever he could, hoping he would see Nessie.
"My love of the place, the mystery of it, just grew during these visits," he said. "All the time, when I was going back down south, I was thinking this is where I am happy, this is what I love doing and I thought, ‘Why am I going away to earn money to come back?’."
At the time, Mr Feltham, who had worked as a potter and a book binder, had started a business with his parents installing security alarms in the Bournemouth area. He described it as "soul destroying", but it acted as a catalyst for his move to Loch Ness.
"I’d be fitting burglar alarms for retired people and they would be saying, ‘I wish when I was your age, I’d have gone to live in Australia or climbed Mount Everest.’ It made me think I didn’t want to get to my seventies and regret not following my dreams at Loch Ness.
"I’d been in a relationship for seven years, the next thing would have been marriage and kids and all of that and I just wasn’t ready for that sort of thing."
After one more visit to Loch Ness in 1990, Mr Feltham’s mind was made up and he sold his house near Bournemouth and moved his entire life north.
"The day the cheque went into the bank, I told my parents I was quitting the game and going to find the Loch Ness monster – that’s when my mum turned round to my dad and said, ‘Told you.’"
To begin with, he would spend a few weeks here and there. "I just moved around Loch Ness on a whim. If there was a sighting at the other end, I would go down there for a few days."
During the winter he would repair to his van at Dores and over time he "grew into" the village.
"It became the base I would return to do the repairs and as the years went on it got harder to keep my van on the road."
When the opportunity to stay on land to the edge of Dores beach arose 12 years ago, Mr Feltham decided to park up his van and make a permanent home there.
And it is those years which have turned out to be some of the best of his life.
"I get a lot of satisfaction from what
I do – inspiring other people to follow whatever dreams they have," said the 48-year-old. "People turn up here just to shake my hand, to say thank-you. They’ve read my story and it has made them do whatever it is they wanted to do."
He has also enjoyed some surreal experiences in his time on the Ness.
"It is the unpredictably of Dores Beach,
I compare it the Champs-Élysées – if you sit here long enough, all people from all walks of life are going to turn up at Loch Ness."
He recalled one evening when a group of people turned up on the beach with a 60ft high, inflatable, plastic pyramid – it turned out to be a stunt to promote Brooke Bond Scottish Blend’s new pyramid-shaped tea bags and the team managed to persuade Mr Feltham to get inside the object as it was towed by a cruise boat.
He also woke one morning to find a promotional photograph being taken of a human pyramid made up of performers from the Chinese State Circus.
The arrival of the RockNess music festival to Dores has also opened Loch Ness to new faces.
"People standing in that field behind me are bowled over by that view – that is what I have 365 days a year."
Prospects of a major tourist development of a new Dores Inn in the car park at the beach will bring even more tourists to Feltham’s doorstep as he will continue to live a few hundred yards along from it.
But while people flock to see him, 20 years after arriving in Loch Ness, Mr Feltham is still no closer to tracking down the elusive monster.
Since 19th July 1991, he has recorded just one sighting, at Fort Augustus.
"It was probably about year two," he said. "It was just like something pushing through the water, against the waves. I can only compare it to a torpedo below the surface.
I thought, ‘Christ, that is amazing, I wonder what that is. Next time I see it, I am going to take a photograph.’ Twenty years later I am still waiting for that next time."
However, the lack of sightings does not dishearten Mr Feltham, who has seen evidence of Nessie on sonar and underwater imaging equipment.
"I go out occasionally with the guys who run the Royal Scot at Fort Augustus. They have state-of-the art equipment and they regularly pick up things they cannot explain," he said.
And Mr Feltham, who makes a living selling sculpted models of Nessie from his van, does not intend giving up on his hunt any time soon.
"The camera is always ready, just inside the van," he said. "You could be at Loch Ness for half an hour and see something, or you could be here for 20 years.
"We know so much about the British Isles, but there is this 23 mile by one mile stretch of water which has a world class mystery and there is almost nobody trying to solve that mystery. That is amazing to me. To be involved in trying to get the answers to this, it is just so satisfying.
"There is nothing I would rather be doing than trying to identify this mystery."
Nessie: the story so far
LEGEND has it that the first recording sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was by St Columba in 565 AD.
But it was an article in The Inverness Courier in the 1930s, which really heralded the start of the phenomenon.
A local couple from Drumnadrochit described seeing something rolling and plunging in the water. A report was penned by water bailiff and part-time reporter Alex Campbell, who referred to the creature as a "monster".
Since then tourists have flocked to Loch Ness to catch a glimpse of the elusive monster, with various sightings making the headlines.
"It has dropped off quite a bit in the last couple of years, but in the last couple of months there seems to have been a resurgence," said Mr Feltham, who noted recent sightings in Foyers by shop and cafe owner Jan Hargreaves and her husband Simon, and last week’s sighting by a tourist in Fort Augustus – according to Mr Feltham, one of the best spots for spotting.
Ronald MacKenzie, director of Cruise Loch Ness, in Fort Augustus, runs daily trips on the loch, including on his boat the Royal Scot, but has not seen the monster himself. However, he believes it does exist, having seen a large, solid object on his boat’s sonar equipment.
"We have had quite a lot of sonar sightings on board the boat," he explained. "For a while there when we got two or three big sonar contacts. I have probably done more hours on Loch Ness in my lifetime than anybody else. I’ve seen a lot of things on the loch, that maybe other people would see and maybe interpret as the monster, such as deers, otters or seals. It is quite a mystical place. I have never seen anything on the surface that I couldn’t explain."
However, he does not give up home of seeing Nessie with his own eyes. "I certainly hope so. I know a lot of people who swear they have seen something in the loch over the years."
Gary Campbell, president of The Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, added: "There is still probably the same number of bona fide sightings every year – about one or two," he said.
He actually formed the club in 1996 after meeting Mr Feltham.
"I saw a black hump coming out of the water twice and I went to Steve," he explained. "It was
on the opposite side of the loch, so I went round and reported it to him.
"I asked, ‘What happens now?’ and he said, "Well, nothing.’"
Having discovered there was no one place keeping a register of sightings, Mr Campbell and his with Kathleen, who live in Milton of Leys, decided to set up the club, which now has more than 360 members.
"We wish Steve all the best on his quest," he added.