I've recently returned from a holiday to Loch Ness. Staying in the old Abbey at Fort Augustus no less. I had a marvellous time, thank you for asking and no I didn't see the monster except, well - more of that later! Whilst I was there I had the chance to chat to two men who have devoted considerable parts of their lives to Loch Ness and the reality - or otherwise - of its most famous inhabitant.
First up was Dick Raynor.
One of the things we had wanted to do was to go on one of the boat trips on the Loch and there are a number of them in operation. We ended up choosing one purely at random - it left from where we were standing, the weather and the price were right. And in one of those Fortean coincidences it was Dick Raynors boat trip, a trip he only does for two or three days a week during the season. I'd briefly met Dick a few years previously at a Loch Ness conference and we were both on some of the same email groups, so I knew he was both passionate and knowledgable about his subject. The trip lasted an hour and took us from Drummnadrochit to the other side of the Loch and back via Castle Urquhart. From 1967 Dick has been investigating Loch Ness, initially as a member of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau for whom he filmed a water disturbance at Dores. Ever since Dick has lived and worked by the Loch. As a boat tour driver he spends those days actually on the Loch looking out over the water, taking with him groups of people (to a maximum of 12) who are also looking out over the water. So if anyone is going to see Nessie then Dick stands a damn good chance of it being him. The boat is equiped with sonar to allow him to keep an eye on what's happening and also to show tourists the nature of the Loch - it's a steep sided valley full of water, some 700m at its deepest point. Or the water goes further down than the mountains and hills around the Loch go up. Dick was able to tell us of recovered aircraft and boats that had been found by sonar. That gives some indication of how good a picture can be obtained. But on the negative side he also says that things that are know to be there cannot be found. In 1970 the movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes featured a Nessie - I won't say more as I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it. However at the end of filming the Nessie model was sunk. And nobody has been able to find it. Dick has indeed had sightings over the years some of which were unexplainable at the time. But as his knowledge and experience has grown he has been able to give answers to them all. His most impressive took years before he could solve it and he now believes it was a group of birds on the surface of the Loch. Whilst I was chatting to him there was a small boy on the trip who came up to him "Excuse me sir, have you seen this?", could it be a monster sighting? Nope, a duck had landed on the boat demanding some bread which it was duly given. During the trip Dick played a DVD showing some photographs and some explanations. He seems a man happy in his work, and all he's after is the truth.
Secondly there is Steve Feltham.
I'd never met Steve before but I definitely wanted to see him. So we drove to Dores where Steve has lived for the past 19 years in a converted library van. He gave up his normal routine to come and live on the shore of Loch Ness all year round. A chilly prospect. I'll admit I was suprised at the size of the library van he now calls home. It was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. However he seemed happy enough there even if during the middle of summer he still had to have his wood burning stove on. From Steves fixed position he commands an excellent view down the Loch, aided by his powerful binoculars. In April he was givennotification of a sighting. Two girls had seen some sort of distrubance in the waterand soemone camping a bit further along from Steve had also witnessed it, and more crucially videotaped it. Eventually he was able to track down the owner of the tape and view it, frame by frame. As he was watching it - with far too much digital magnification on it - he was getting excited. It wasn't until literally the very last couple of frames were viewed by themselves that it resolved itself into birds on the water. But if that careful watching (taking a day) had not happened then no doubt some national newspaper would have heralded it as proof of the existence of Nessie. Something we would all love to have, but only if it's genuine. We need people like Steve to sift out the evidence and get rid of the material that doesn't reach the bar. Steve has never had a definite Nessie sighting himself and I asked him if he had any regrets about the last 19 years. None at all. I couldn't give up my creature comforts for that length of time but I'm glad someone has and I admire him for it. He sells paintings and Nessie models to keep the investigation going and they're available from his website as well as in person.
Two men who are living the dream in different ways - respect and good luck to both of them.
So what about our sighting of Nessie - well there were three - some fantastic boat wakes giving the classic hump appearances, a cutout on the window of a boat druing a second boat trip and finally a piece of driftwood which now resides in my back garden.