Nailing Nessie

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Ronald Binns, with R. J. Bell. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, Open Books, 1983.

Ronald Binns comes close to doing to Nessie what Larry Kusche did to the Bermuda Triangle! The legend of the Loch Ness Monster is shown to contain many fictional elements. The 'history' of pre-1933 sightings turns out to consist of misquotations or untraceable or factious sources. Some of these derive from "an eccentric letter which appeared in The Scotsman newspaper on 20th October 1933, and which has been quoted ad nauseam ever since."

The Loch Ness Monster 'tradition' has depicted the Loch as an isolated wilderness before the opening of the 'new' road in 1933. In fact it was a popular tourist resort in the last century, and had been the scene of military operations during the '45 Rebellion; the so-called new road was merely an improvement of a route dating back to the eighteenth century. In these years, despite being visited by a wide cross-section of people of note, no tradition of a monster emerged.

Binns convincingly shows how the Loch Ness Monster was promoted by water-bailiff and newspaper stringer Alex Campbell. Campbell, who wrote the original piece on the monster has claimed many personal close encounters, and emerges as a figure rather like Arthur Shuttlewood, as someone to whom the curious and the faithful come on pilgrimage.

The photographic evidence is show to be, at best, ambiguous. The famous 'surgeon's photograph' appears less impressive when one realises it was taken on April 1st! The Dinsdale film may well, indeed, have been a boat, the Rines pictures may be little more than driftwood. Binns emphasises the role of expectation and preconception in fleeting eyewitness testimony, and points out that sceptics such as Maurice Burton can equally be made to look foolish when they take such testimony at face value and try to 'explain' every last detail.

Binns, like the 'new sceptics' in ufology, has emerged from the ranks of the investigators rather than professional debunkers, and has reached similar conclusions. He makes the following very interesting comment a propos monster witnesses: "A 'sighting' is to them something almost akin to a 'miracle', an occurrence so rare that it is like (to quote one witness) 'the time of revelation' something which exerts an often benign, strongly spiritual influence over the observer. The effect has also been noted on those who have seen flying saucers. Not for nothing is Loch Ness a place of pilgrimage, and the Monster a creature whose very existence depends on the word of 'witnesses'."

Yet people will still see in the gothic Loch of the Wilderness, reflected on its mirror-like surface, reflections of real monsters those which lie in the depths of the human psyche. -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 18, January 1983.

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