Nessie, also known as the Loch Ness Monster, is one of the Most Famous creatures in Cryptozoology, and probably one of the most famous legendary monsters from the Scottish Folklore.
In this article we will dive deep into the History of the creature and learn more about its legend.
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The first appearance
When the Romans first came to northern Scotland, they found the Highlands occupied by fierce, tattoo-covered tribes, the Picts, or “painted people,” as they called them.
From the engraved, standing stones still found in the lands around Loch Ness, it was clear the Picts were fascinated by animals, and they rendered them with great accuracy. All the animals represented on the stones are lifelike and easily recognizable—all but one.
The exception is a strange beast with a long beak or muzzle and flippers instead of feet. Described by some scholars as a “swimming elephant”, the Pictish beast is the earliest known evidence for an idea that has held sway in the Scottish Highlands for at least 1,500 years—that Loch Ness is home to a mysterious aquatic creature.
In Scottish folklore, large animals have been associated with many water bodies, from small streams to the largest lakes, often labeled Loch-na-Beistie on old maps. These water horses, or kelpies, are said to have magical powers and wicked intentions. As one version of the legend narrates, the water horse lures small children into the water by offering them rides on its back.
Once the children are aboard, their hands become stuck to the beast and they are dragged to a watery death, washing their livers ashore the following day, never to be seen again.
The first historical record of Nessie
The earliest written reference to such creatures in Loch Ness is in the biography of Saint Columba (in Latin “Vita Sancti Columbae”), the monk credited with introducing Christianity to Scotland. In 565 A.D., according to the tales, Columba was on his way to visit a Pictish king when he stopped by the shore of Loch Ness.
There he saw a group of people burying a man by the coast. He asked them what had happened to him, and they said that he had been attacked by a monster that grabbed him and dragged him underwater, drowning him. The monk decided to make one of his followers, a man called Luigne Moccu Min, swim in the lake, to coax the monster out. Seeing the large beast about to attack his man, Columba raised his hand, invoking the name of God and commanding the monster to “go back with all speed.”
The beast complied, and the man was saved.
The Surgeon's Photograph
The creature has almost disappeared from the records for many years until the 1930s, when many news reports reported that some people have seen an unidentified shape moving through the water of the lake. These accounts culminated on the 22nd of September 1933, when Mr and Mrs MacKay, who were hoteliers in Drumnadrochit, saw a mysterious creature of huge proportions come out from the surface of Loch Ness nearby.
This news spread rapidly through the region and pushed many people to investigate. One of these “detectives” was Hugh Gray, who became notorious after he was the first person who took a picture of the creature, which was called Nessie.
Many believed that the picture is actually the image of a backlight swan, however, what he really saw that day is shrouded in mystery since the original negative was lost.
1934 was the year in which the legend was consolidated into pop culture: in fact that year it was taken the most famous picture of the monster of Loch Ness. This image is also known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph”, since it was taken by a medic called Robert Kenneth: in the picture Nessie clearly looked like a Plesiosaurus (a sea dinosaur with a very long neck), opening in the following year’s many speculations about the origins of the creature.
Some believed it was a completely unique creature, others stated that it might be a survival of the Era of Dinosaurs.
Since the 1930s, the sightings of the creature have multiplied.
More recently, in 2011, sonar impulses were used to track Nessie inside Loch Ness, but without any clear result. Initially, it almost looked like that the sonar had captured the trace of a mysterious animal inside the lake, confirming at first the legend: however further researches revealed that those traces were only clusters of zooplankton.
The Truth Behind the Legend
Well, I guess it depends on what clues you want to look for. If you want to believe the different sightings, it is. If you are a strong believer in the scientific method, well it is probably not. In 2018 some researchers conducted a DNA survey of Loch Ness: their objective was to determine what type of organism lives in the waters.
No signs of a plesiosaur or other such large animal were found, though indicating the presence of numerous eels. This research opened the possibility that the creature might have been an oversized eel. One thing is certain, Nessie, the creature of Loch Ness, is definitely one of the most famous folklore creatures and has often tickled the imagination of many people over the years, transforming the lake into a very famous tourist attraction.
Behind Nessie, there is a profitable business that brings almost $80 million annually to the economy of Scotland.
Like many other monsters, we will not probably ever know the truth.
At least, you could still visit the wonderful Scottish lake and stare at its cold water on an isolated shore: maybe, when the sun is starting to cross the horizon, you might see a mysterious scaly back shatter the calm water, before sinking into the deep lake…