"In a little book hailing from the fringe of the delectable region of Loch Ness, Mr R.L. Cassie describes his researches concerning the Monsters of Achanalt," noted The Times of 27 December 1935, adding, a little ominously: "It is a small book for so great an undertaking."
The monsters' story is indeed a remarkable one. In June 1934, about a year after the Loch Ness Monster first made international news, Cassie began to notice odd shapes in the lochs and rivers near his home in Achanalt, a village a short distance to the noth-west of Inverness on the picturesque Kyle of Lochalsh railway line. These soon resolved themselves into whole families of monstrous creatures, from 10 to 900 feet long, which choked the local waterways and spilled out onto land – in fact appearing more or less wherever the 77-year-old poet and author looked.
In Loch Achanalt itself (above right) dwelled a saurian which Mr Cassie christened 'Gabriel'. Gabriel was 900 feet long if an inch – only 150 feet shy of the length of the tiny loch itself. Yet he shared his domain with innumerable smaller brethren and at least six monsters of between 100 and 200 feet. "Many of the animals seen in the lakes are of enormous size," Cassie wrote, with careful understatement. "A hundred feet may be considered a mere minimum length."
With the exception of their unusual dimensions, the monsters Cassie was seeing seemed to have a good deal in common with the more conventionally-sized denizens of Loch Ness. Descriptions varied according to the weather conditions and the precarious state of Mr Cassie's health (he suffered "from various disabilities... [and] it should always be remembered that I am handicapped by distance and want of glasses"). Nevertheless, his books include familiar-sounding reports of "an upturned boat six feet long... reddish-brown", a "dark black mass rising and falling" and "a line of humps 12 to 15 feet long". Where Mr Cassie scored triumphantly over other monster-watchers was in the sheer fecundity of his sightings.
During his first week of observation there were 11 of them; a year later, in the summer of 1935, observations were resumed on a casual basis during the author's afternoon walks, and multiple sightings recorded almost every day. 'Saurians' were seen in the rivers around Achanalt and in lochs Garve, Culon, Rosque and Cronn.
Apart from Loch Garve, none of these lochs is more than 30 feet deep, and Loch Achanalt itself is subject to periodic drainage which reveals large portions of its bottom. At such a time, Mr Cassie notes, a 50 foot monster was observed in the loch which had "a long, gently arched hill in the region of its back. This ridge looked as if topped with thistles or rough scrub."
Such adverse conditions hardly encouraged monstrous procreation, and Cassie became convinced that "both the large and small animals are generated on land" – a proposition he explores in more detail in a second volume under such chapter headings as 'Monsters on Mountains', 'Colossal Animals on Summits', 'Weird Sights' and 'Grotesque Experiences'. Perhaps Cassie's most spectaclar land sighting was of "two giant necks outlined against the snowy face of Moruisg" [left], ten miles away. But he gives others, including accounts of animals with four symmetrically-arranged flippers, and even of monsters with two heads.
On land, the creatures revealed more of themselves, enabling the author to distinguish between females – elephant grey or blue-black hillocks with head-and-neck raised and foam issuing from their trunks – and the more mobile males, which he described as "caterpillar-like and elongated animals... reminding one of a Zeppelin." These beasts, Cassie wrote, were a dirty grey colour, but with "pale yellow hair."
Cassie never succeeded in getting close enough to his monsters to take their photographs, and he found, to his regret, that "the local inhabitants... are not vey helpful. They are not willing to admit the existence of the animals." Mr Cassie's friends did, however, report seeing the creatures on occasion, after their position had been pointed out by the writer.
What are we to make of The Monsters of Achanalt? There are only passing references to the book in the mainstream cryptozoological literature. Elizabeth Montgomery-Campbell, author of The Search For Morag, labels it "a chilling account of hallucinations that have actually found their way into print." The more sceptical Ronald Binns, in The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, calls Cassie's work "a bizarre contribution to the subject... so self-evidently absurd that it is difficult to know what to make of it." While placing a side-bet of my own on a possible case of senility, I am inclined to think Binns is closer to the truth, and suspect that The Monsters of Achanalt was intended as a joke or satire. Some support for this contention comes from Cassie's own frequent references to his advancing decrepitude and his dismissive references to the value of his theorizing, which he openly confesses "may not be great."
Since Cassie's main literary venom is directed at the "pompous, ignorant and obstinate class of sceptics who criticize without going to see for themselves," one might surmise that he was really attacking those willing to place their faith in writings that are inherently ridiculous without checking the facts for themselves. It isn't really clear.
What is certain is that in The Monsters of Achanalt, RL Cassie males a unique contribution to the literature of the bizarre and to the language of the absurd. And I don't think that he really believed a word that he wrote. Good grief, the man was practically a Fortean!
[Sources: RL Cassie, The Monsters of Achanalt (Aberdeen: D. Wyllie & Son, 2 vols, 1935-36) and The Cassies (Banff: The Banffshire Journal, 1932). An earlier version of this article appeared in Fortean Times 52, Summer 1989. Photos from Geograph used under the Creative Commons Licence.]