Any mention of lake monsters will provoke images of Scotland's legendary Loch Ness Monster. But, just how many types of lake monsters are there? Well, let's take a look at some. We'll begin with Nessie's cousin, Morag, of Loch Morar, Scotland. It’s a little known fact that that there are more than a few Scottish lakes with legends of diabolical creatures attached to them. While many of the stories are decidedly fragmentary in nature, one of them is not. Welcome to the world of Morag, the resident beasty of Loch Morar. At just over eleven and a half miles in length, it has the distinction of being the deepest body of freshwater in the British Isles, with a depth of just over 1,000 feet. Unlike Loch Ness, the water of which is almost black, Loch Morar can boast of having practically clear water. It takes its name from the village of Morar, which is situated close by and specifically at the western side of the loch, and which was the site of the Battle of Morar – a violent, death-filled confrontation between the Mackenzie and MacDonell clans. As for the monster, Morag, the tales are many. What makes them so different to the ones coming out of Loch Ness, however, is not the descriptions of the creatures, but that such reports are often hard to uncover. Unlike Loch Ness, Loch Morar is an isolated, seldom visited loch. It is bereft of much in the way of a large population, and not particularly easy to access. The result is that tourists to Scotland very rarely visit it. The same goes for native Scots, too! For that reason, just like Las Vegas, what happens at Loch Morar is very often destined to stay there.
On November 5, 1885, the Wallowa Chieftain newspaper ran an article on its resident monster, which has been given the distinctly non-monstrous name of “Big Wally.” It is said to dwell in Wallowa Lake, Oregon, an approximately fifty-one square-mile body of water with a depth of around 300 feet. The article states: “A prospector, who refuses to give his name to the public, was coming down from the south end of the lake on last Friday evening in a skiff shortly after dusk, when about midway of the lake he saw an animal about fifty yards to the right of the boat, rear its head and neck up out of the water ten or twelve feet, but on setting him it immediately dived. He ceased rowing and gazed around in astonishment, for the strange apparition which he had just seen, when it raised about the same distance to the left, this lime giving a low bellow something like that of a cow. It also brought its body to the surface, which the prospector avers was one hundred feet in length. The monster glided along in sight for several hundred yards. It was too dark to see the animal distinctly, but it seemed to have a large, flat head, something like that of a hippopotamus, and its neck, which was about ten feet in length, was as large around as a man’s body."
A resident of Lake Windermere, England, Bownessie was rarely seen prior to 2006. In terms of the publicity stakes, however, it has certainly done a great job in catching up. As for Lake Windermere itself, Britannica.com state the following: “The lake is 10.5 miles (17 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and has an area of 6 square miles (16 square km). It lies in two basins separated by a group of islands opposite the town of Bowness on the eastern shore and is drained by the River Leven. Part of Lake District National Park, Windermere is a popular tourist center with facilities for yachting and steamers operating in the summer.” As the above data demonstrates, Lake Windermere is much smaller than Loch Ness; yet, that has not stopped a mysterious creature from appearing in its depths, which extend to 219-feet at their deepest. Now, with that all said, let us take a look at the saga of Bownessie and how and why it has become a monster of the modern era.
The first person to have encountered Bownessie in modern times was a journalist named Steve Burnip, who saw the creature in 2006. He said of his close encounter of the monstrous type: “I saw a straight line of broken water with three humps. It was about twenty feet long and it went in a straight line up the lake. I nudged my wife and watched open-mouthed as it gradually faded from sight. The water was not choppy, so I know it wasn’t the wind, and I know what the wake from motor boats looks like and it wasn’t that either.” And, thus, a monster was born. Or, at the very least, unveiled and unleashed. Then, in February 2007, Linden Adams was confronted by the sight of an unidentified animal that, it was estimated, was somewhere in the size of fifteen-feet in length. It should be noted that there are no known animals in the lakes and rivers of the U.K. of such an extraordinary size. Such was Adams’ amazement regarding what he and his wife encountered, he created a website to ensure that just about each and every sighting could be logged and studied. Also in 2007, this time late at night, the crew of a six-ton yacht were rocked – as in quite literally – when something large slammed into the yacht. It was never identified.
One of the most interesting theories for some (but, certainly not all) sightings of lake monsters is that they may actually be giant-sized eels. On a particular September day in 2009, England-based monster-seeker Jonathan Downes, his wife, Corinna, and Center for Fortean Zoology colleague Max Blake headed out to Ireland’s Lough Leane, a small but engaging body of water. It was late afternoon on September 17, 2009 and Tony “Doc” Shiels both a creature-hunter and an Irish wizard - had invited the trio to spend some time with him. It was fortuitous, indeed, that Downes accepted the invite. Notably, Shiels said that the trio should keep their eyes focused on one particular stretch of water. As Corinna Downes notes, something very strange appeared before them: “I saw a trail left by something as it made its way from the island to the shore to the east of it… I was to be pressed for an answer I would probably suggest a large eel.” Max Blake recorded his thoughts on the encounter, too: “If I had to make a guess, I would say that it was most likely to have been a giant eel.”
Taking into the location of the affair above – namely, Ireland – it may well be the case that the following story (which also originates in Ireland) can be explained by the presence of a massive eel. In 2015, I was fortunate to acquire a wealth of original notes and files belonging to the late monster-hunter, F.W. “Ted” Holiday, who spent a great deal of time in the 1960s and 1970s investigating the Loch Ness Monster. Amongst those notes was a summary-report of an interview that Holiday conducted with one Stephen Coyne, in July 1968. Not at Loch Ness, Scotland, however: at Lough Nahooin, Ireland. Holiday’s notes report the following: “At about seven on the evening of 22 February 1968, Stephen Coyne went down to the bog by the lough to bring up some dry peat. With him he took his eldest son, a boy of eight, and the family dog. Although the sun had set it was still quite light. On reaching the peat-bed beside Nahooin he suddenly noticed a black object in the water. Thinking it was the dog he whistled to it; however, the dog came bounding along the shore from behind. On seeing the object it stopped and started barking.
“He then saw that the object was an animal with a pole-like head and neck about nine inches to a foot in diameter. It was swimming around in various directions. From time to time it put its head underwater; two humps then came into view. Occasionally, a flat tail appeared. Once this came out near the head which argued length and a high degree of flexibility. The thing was black, slick, and hairless with a texture resembling an eel. The dog’s barking seemed to irritate the monster and it began to move in-shore, its mouth open. However, when Coyne strode over to support his dog it turned away and resumed swimming around this little lough. At about this point the little boy ran home to bring his mother to see the strange beast. When Mrs. Coyne and the children returned the Peiste [which is Irish terminology for a lake-monster] was still busily patrolling the tiny lake.' There was more:
“Both Mr. and Mrs. Coyne agreed that the creature was about twelve feet long and both agreed they saw no eyes. Mrs. Coyne told us that she noticed two horn-like projections on top of the head. Whereas she thought the thing approached as near as four to five yards, her husband felt that the nearest point was about nine yards. Both agreed that the mouth was underslung in relation to the snout and neither of them saw any teeth. Coyne described the mouth-interior as ‘pale.’ “To and fro before the seven members of the Coyne family strutted the Nahooin dragon. As dusk was setting they finally left it and made their way home over the bog.” Whatever the true nature of the Irish beastie of Lough Nahooin, it was never seen again.