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“When Monsters Come Ashore” – Reviewed

Back in 2011, Roland Watson wrote an excellent book on the Loch Ness Monster. Its title: The Water Horses of Loch Ness. Roland’s book was not a rehash of old material, as is the case in so many books on Nessie. Instead, Roland made a strong case that sightings of the Nessies date back hundreds of years, rather than having begun in 1933 – the year in which there was a wave of encounters at the loch. That Roland chose to address an aspect of the Nessie controversy that few had ever tackled – and certainly at book-length – was a very good thing. Seven years later, Roland has done it again. He has a new book out right now, When Monsters Come Ashore. The sub-title is: Stories of the Loch Ness Monster on Land.  Like The Water Horses of Loch Ness, Roland’s new book provides us with a wealth of new and extraordinary data.

Just about every book ever written on the Loch Ness Monsters has (to varying degrees) covered the matter of the creatures having been seen out of the water. But, until now, that has largely revolved around recycling old cases and equally old theories to explain such an undeniably controversial  aspect of the overall puzzle. It’s one thing to say that you have seen a Loch Ness Monster in that huge body of water. It’s quite another thing, though, to come face to face with one of the beasts in the woods surrounding the loch – or even on the road. But, that’s what you get in this book – and way more too.

If you know your Nessie history, you’ll know that there were a number of sightings of Nessies on the land in the early-to-mid 1930s. They include the story of a Mr. and Mrs. Spicer who (from their perspective) had the significant misfortune to have a close encounter of the monstrous kind in 1933. Then, there was the astonishing claim of a man named Arthur Grant – a veterinary student and motorcyclist who said he almost collided with a Nessie, in the early hours of one particular morning in 1934. There are a few other such cases that have caught the attention of Nessie-seekers over the years, as well as having captured the imagination of eager readers of books on monsters. But, for the most part, it’s the Spicer story, and that of Grant, which really spring to mind. At least, that’s how it used to be. Thanks to Roland, there’s a new perspective on this part of the overall enigma.

It’s important to note that Roland knows Loch Ness like the Nessies know the back of their flippers. In other words, Roland isn’t just an expert on the history of the monsters: he has a deep knowledge of Loch Ness itself, the landscape, the woods, the hills, and the roads, too. It’s this wide knowledge – of both monster and loch – that has allowed Roland to go where most of us haven’t. As he reveals, the number of land reports in his possession of the Nessies is now close to forty. And, those reports date back to a significant degree. Indeed, Roland makes a very good point on this when he brings up the issue of the “water horses” that he tackled in his earlier book.

Although skeptics maintain that the Nessies were not seen until 1933 (and, therefore, the whole thing must be due to mistaken identity and hoaxing), Roland, in his 2011 title, demonstrated that centuries earlier the loch was plagued by menacing and deadly creatures: those aforementioned water horses. Or, kelpies, as they were also known. While many of the tales of the kelpies of Loch Ness were very much supernatural in nature, Roland makes it clear that sightings of the kelpies occurred not just in the water, but on the land too.

In other words, even centuries ago there was a land-based component to the tales and traditions of the water-horses. Of course, some of these kelpie-based stories are undeniably folkloric in nature; but, as Roland notes, sometimes incredible legends have a degree of reality attached to them. In this case, it seems that the people who lived in the area centuries ago knew that what they termed kelpies occasionally left the water and spent brief time on the land. And, it appears it’s much the same today, as incredible as it might sound. The only thing that has changed is that the kelpies are now called Nessies.

To his credit, given the sensational nature of some of the stories, Roland keeps a level-head on his shoulders as he pursues the stories and the witnesses. Indeed, in a field that is understandably filled with emotion, Roland takes a different path and uses logic and science to make a case. In that sense, When Monsters Come Ashore is less a  straightforward hunt for unknown animals and far more a real-life detective story. One of the most fascinating parts of the story – and which Roland skillfully reveals – is the pattern of land-based encounters. That’s right: as the book progresses, a definitive trend develops. A careful study of Roland’s near-to-forty cases shows that most of the land-based incidents occurred very close to the water’s edge. For the most part, we’re not talking about sightings a couple of miles from the loch itself. Most witnesses to the Nessies on land state that the creatures seem to have trouble getting around when they’re not in the water. They move in an awkward, even clumsy, fashion. Their heads are described as not just being small, but “absurdly” small.

Things get really intriguing when Roland addresses the matter of why, exactly, the monsters would even need to leave the loch at all. It’s time to focus on the one thing that we have in common with the Nessies and everything else on the planet: the need to feed. Roland theorizes on the possibility that – taking into consideration the local populations of deer and sheep – when food supplies in the loch are scarce, perhaps the monsters briefly venture out of their typical environments. That’s to say, they leave the water and take to the land. We’re not quite talking about rampaging monsters charging around the landscape. Such a thing would admittedly be cool to see, though!

Rather, Roland paints a quite creepy picture of the monsters quietly and cunningly lurking – and laying low – in the woods, on the shores, and in the shallows, ready to pounce on an unwary deer, in much the same way that a crocodile might when it launches a surprise attack in very shallow waters. Still on this aspect of the story, Roland also addresses the possibility that the Nessies might have extendable necks.

It’s a fact that some witnesses to the creatures of Loch Ness describe seeing long-necked animals, while other say they saw little or no neck at all. Roland draws parallels with the way in which turtles can extend their necks, and at an incredible speed, too. Keeping that changing neck in mind, we may be seeing a clumsy, slow-moving animal that has an ace up its sleeve: a swift and deadly ability to take down its prey when it is just about on the land. After all, it’s a fact that the local deer population – and many other wild animals – get their water from the loch itself. They come down to the water’s edge. Who would miss the occasional deer? Not many. If any.

There is much more to When Monsters Come Ashore, all of it fascinating and thought-provoking. If you thought there was nothing new to be said on the matter of the Nessies, you’re dead wrong. This is a book that just about anyone and everyone with an interest in the Loch Ness Monster in particular and Cryptozoology in general should buy. It’s still only March, but, I seriously doubt I’ll read a better crypto-themed book this year.


Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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