In the middle to late 600s, the abbot of Iona, Saint Adomnán, penned the most famous document relating to the life of Saint Columba, known today as the Vita Columbae. This document, although having become a commemorative piece of sorts for both its author and its subject, is unique for other reasons. Namely, this document has what some hold to be the earliest mention of the world’s most famous water beast: Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.
The story (which actually takes place in the River Ness, a river connecting the Loch and nearby Inverness), reports that in 565 AD Saint Columba, after seeing a nearby group of Picts who were laying one of their own to rest among the river’s waters, was told of a water beast that had killed the ill-fated swimmer. To their astonishment, Columba’s response was to send one of his own companions into the water; as one might assume, this prompted an encore appearance from the man-eating beast. But rather than allow his companion to meet an untimely and bloody demise, the Saint merely lifted his hand, making the sign of the cross, and instructed the beast that it would go no further, prompting its return to the icy depths of the river.
Since those early times of saints and serpents, there have been scads of reports of similar water monsters the world over, and despite more recent rumors that the Large Lady of the Loch had actually passed from this watery world into that great land-locked lake in the sky, modern reports do continue to this day, involving a rather large something that is still seen swimming in the Scottish Highlands.
One of the most recent sightings on record dealt with an encounter described by Jan Hargreaves, a shop owner near the shore of the famous lake. She and an employee, while taking a short break outside their Foyers Store location, “saw something that looked bizarre.” Getting excited about what had appeared in the water nearby, she called to her husband, Simon, asking him to join them and watch the strange creature. Hargreaves told the area Inverness Courier that, “We stand here all the time and look out and we see boats and kayaks but it didn’t look like anything we have seen here before.” Though the animal the Hargreaves managed to observe wasn’t very close to them, they claimed nonetheless that they were able to discern a long neck, “too long to be that of a seal,” and which looked to be “black in appearance.”
Popular reports of monsters in Loch Ness in modern times date back to the turn of the last century, although a sighting by Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer in 1933 had the greatest success in putting the creature on the public radar. In fact, the very same newspaper, The Inverness Courier, carried the story on 4 August 1933, with the headline “Is this the Loch Ness monster?” Since that time, a number of sightings of the beast, both on land and in the water, have continued. Does the latest encounter, as related by the Hargreaves, truly indicate the presence of some strange, unidentified beast that lurks in the Loch’s depths, even to this day?
Over the years, a number of theories, ranging from sturgeon in the Loch, to more bizarre propositions that include species of long-necked seals and giant Tully monsters (or Tullymonstrum, a small, soft-bodied waterbound invertebrate that lived 300 million years ago in modern Illinois). However, the more popular speculation associated with Loch Ness and its famous monster tends to lean toward the idea of relic saurian animals that have survived for hundreds of thousands of years, specifically something akin to the aquatic plesiosaur, which thrived between the Triassic and Cretaceous periods. Despite the controversy over what exactly is being seen in the Loch–and whether such a creature, if it has ever existed, is still alive today–recent reports such as those described by the Hargreaves will no doubt help keep this strange and fantastic mystery very alive and well.