Chapter Seven

Urquhart Castle, a picturesque ruin on the banks of Loch Ness, is another castle we visited. This castle was originally built in the 13th century, though evidence shows there may have been a settlement there as early as 2000 BC. A fragment of a Pictish broach from the 8th or 9th centuries was discovered on the grounds. It faced a similar history of involvement in Scottish wars as the other castles we’ve visited. Those who took and controlled the castle throughout history repeatedly looted the local citizens, leaving the residents of Glen Urquhart devastated.

Loch Ness sits in the Great Glen, a valley that is situated between the Moray Forth at the northeast and the Firth of Lorne at the southwest. Within this valley are several lochs - otherwise known as freshwater lakes. The Caledonian Canal has joined the lochs making it possible for someone to travel by boat across the neck of Scotland. The lochs are beautiful with tree covered mountains on either side. They have fairytale castles that hang on the cliffs and villages that sit nestled in the valleys between mountains.

Loch Ness is largest loch in terms of water volume. It is 22 miles long and 800 feet deep, though there are some places reach depth that exceed 900 feet. The sides of the loch are extremely steep and it has a flat, silt covered bottom. There are falls that tumble into the streams, which feed the loch. The water is extremely cold, and until recently it seemed to support very little life, particularly at bottom of the loch. There are plenty of small animals such as mussels, copepods and worms. Modern sonar has discovered a type of salmon that has been undetected for millennia. Along the shore, deer and otters make their homes, often swimming through the waters of Loch Ness. Man has made his place, also, with little villages and pleasure craft.

We cannot mention Loch Ness without mentioning the most famous resident of this beautiful lake, “Nessie,” the Loch Ness Monster. Since we do not have positive evidence to prove the existence of this illusive creature, I’ll present the facts as best as I can. Nessie is not the only one of her kind. As a matter of fact, similar creatures have been sighted in 265 bodies of water around the world. Twenty-four of these are located in Scotland. Loch Ness has had hundreds of sightings, particularly in the last 80 years. The first recorded sighting of Nessie is in St. Columba’s biography in 565. The story claims that as Columba traveled to what is today Inverness to meet with the king of Pictland, a man in his company was swimming in the waters of Loch Ness and was attacked by a large beast.

The next written report of the beast is not until 1930, when three men in a fishing boat saw a great commotion in the water. An article appeared in the local paper, which brought more reports from eyewitnesses. In 1933, a couple driving along the loch saw a something in the water. This was the first time that the creature was referred to as a monster. The existence of this creature became major news when the BBC picked up the story. People from all over Scotland and England came in search of Nessie. A local man took the first photograph, which appeared in a newspaper in December 1933. Film footage was taken at the end of the same year. None of these pictures were substantial proof of the existence of the monster. The pictures can often be explained away as having been an otter or dear swimming in the water, a large branch, or even a bird whose presence the photographer was unaware. There have been more sightings in the years since, and a more scientific approach has been taken to find conclusive proof. Many teams have undertaken photographic, sonar and underwater studies. The question remains unanswered, though the research in the Loch has turned up many things which have enhanced the scientific knowledge of our world.

Several things to consider. Sturgeons from the North Sea have been sighted in the loch. They swim the River Ness to breeding grounds and occasionally end up in the loch. A sturgeon of enourmous proportions was once sighted there, and the underwater photograph of a fin, attributed to Nessie, looks quite similar to the tail of a sturgeon.

Scotland is a place of mystery where the bard was held as a holy man and his stories told the history of the people. The legend and reality of their stories meld together until it is difficult to see the distinction between the two. The stories of the saints and ancient kings often include tales of dragons. St. George, St. Michael and King Arthur all slew dragons. Perhaps the tales of Nessie are the result of these stories.

The greatest numbers of sightings have occurred during times of Nessie hysteria.

We must consider the carcasses of some creatures that fit the descriptions given of Nessie that have been found in the Southern Hemisphere. However, if a creature like Nessie were to live in the loch all these years, it would necessitate a breeding herd of them, perhaps as many as twenty individuals. I’m unconvinced that a large group of these creatures lives in Loch Ness, though I think that the information gleaned from research in the quest for Nessie shows it should continue, so that we we will have a better understand our world.

We had great fun scanning the water for signs of the illusive Nessie, wandering around the remains of the castle and visiting the Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre. There were actually two different centres. There were aspects of each that bordered on tacky. The Official Centre, which Nessie herself frequents (I’m kidding, it sits quite a way inland away from the loch, and how would she get there?), had a great series of film presentations giving the history of Nessie. I was pleased to note that Historic Scotland, who cares for Urquhart Castle, made no reference to the monster and refused to play into the hype created by her presence in their shop. We walked to the water’s edge, and I spent some time exploring the base of the mount on which Castle Urquhart is built. Some legends claim Nessie lives in a cave below the castle. In my search, I discovered many places that could appear to be caves from boats on the loch, but in reality they are just recesses in the stone covered by ivy.

We adopted a friend named Louie, a pet dinosaur who will be our companion on future adventures. We found him at Loch Ness, and he says he is a cousin of the illusive Nessie. We decided he might be worthwhile to have around. He had great fun with us at Balmoral and Hadrian’s Wall. Louie is wild. At Hadrian’s Wall, he even dressed up in a toga. As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans!”

Chapter Eight

Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three - Chapter Four
Chapter Five - Chapter Six - Chapter Seven - Chapter Nine

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