Loch Ness: The History Explained

If you’ve been living under a rock all your life, you’re probably scratching your head about why Loch Ness is one of the most popular Scottish destinations. After all, there are over 31,460 lochs in Scotland, and more than 7,500 in the Western Isles, so what makes this loch so special?

Well, that would be the Loch Ness monster, of course. For years, the myth of the Loch Ness monster has been driving countless tourists to the Inverness region, each one of them hoping to catch a quick glimpse and a photograph. 

If you’re planning on hiring a motorhome in Scotland and you want to join the search for Nessie, you might want to know a little more about what you’re looking for. For instance, how did the myth start? What stories are there about Nessie, and is the monster actually real? 

To help answer these questions, we’ve written an article that explores the history of the Loch Ness myth, starting back in the 6th Century AD and going all the way to 2024.

6th Century AD

While many people think the first instance of Nessie came in 1934, with that infamous photograph of the long-necked creature, it actually began over a thousand years ago. 

In the Life of St Columbia, written by Adamnan, he talks of a “water beast” that killed a man near River Ness. Stories about water beasts were, of course, common during this period of history, and so many sceptics have questioned the narrative’s reliability. 

Nineteenth Century

Centuries later, sightings began picking up again. In October 1871, Dr Mackenzie sent a letter claiming that he had seen a “log or an upturned boat” wriggling furiously in the water, moving slowly before disappearing. Mason, Alexander Macdonald, also claimed to have seen a “large, salamander-like animal” surfacing from the loch and propelling itself forward at great speed.

Twentieth Century

It wasn’t until 1933 that the legend we’re all familiar with – a large, plesiosaur-like monster with a long neck and fins – arrived in popular culture. It began with Aldie Mackay’s article that was published in The Inverness Courier, when he used the word “monster” for the first time. This sparked a wave of sightings, including photographs that can still be seen online today. 

  • Hugh Gray’s Photograph (1933)

The most famous is the “Surgeon’s Photograph”, but before that, the first piece of photographic evidence came from Hugh Gray. 

The photograph depicts movement in the loch, with a serpent-like body thrashing wildly from side to side. It has since lost a bit of its credence, especially after Maurice Burton came into possession of slides that reportedly revealed the original negative: an otter rolling in the water.

  • The Surgeon’s Photograph (1934)

Known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph”, this is perhaps the most famous photo of Nessie ever taken. After Hugh Gray’s picture generated a wave of excitement – leading to the infamous sighting made by George Spicer and his wife, where they claimed to spot a creature pass in front of their car and disappear into the loch – a doctor known as Robert Kenneth Wilson went to the loch and snapped a photo of the head, neck, and spine of the monster. 

At least, that was the story for sixty years. In the 1990s, a man named Christopher Spurling claimed that he was enlisted to create a model of the monster and place it on a toy submarine. Robert Kenneth Wilson was then hired to claim he was the photographer due to his reputation as a doctor.

  • The AAS and LNI Photograph (1972)

This photograph of the Loch Ness monster didn’t come until 1972, when the Academy of Applied Science (AAS) and the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNI) underwent a study using high-tech sonar equipment and strobe lights. 

They came out with several images, the most famous being the “Flipper Image”, which seems to depict a flipper around the same size and shape as a plesiosaur would have been. While there have been several investigations into their validity, it has not yet been proven that they were a hoax – or at least, not a deliberate hoax.

Twenty-First Century

There have been no convincing photographs of Nessie in the 21st century – most of them are mysteriously blurry – but there have been interesting theories. One belongs to palaeontologist Neil Clarke, who claimed that travelling circuses might have allowed elephants to bathe in the loch early in the 20th century – hence the increased reports of sightings starting around that era.

But the truth is, no one knows if there’s a monster, an elephant, an eel or even, yes, an otter hiding in the loch! All we can do is visit and take a look for ourselves. 

We’ve written before about how great a day in Loch Ness can be, and we’d certainly recommend taking one during your Scottish motorhome journey in 2024. If you bring your camera, you might even be added to the Loch Ness history books – just make sure it’s not so blurry!