Nobody really thinks they'll see this thing, which has become ingrained in the modern collective unconscious – a monster that everybody has heard of, but nobody ever really sees. Nobody feels real disappointment when they go to the lake and see nothing, because, really, what are the chances?
And nobody believes us when we say we saw it, but we really did.
The lovely wife and I have been to Scotland twice – the second time was just last year, when we went so far north we fell off the end and ended up in the Orkney Islands. But the first time we went to Scotland we only got as far north as Loch Ness.
It was the summer of 2007, and we were on a first major trip around the world, a newly married couple checking out the planet, and liking what we see. Scotland was about halfway through a six-month trip, and we were only in Edinburgh for a few days before heading off to Europe for a couple of months.
Time was tight, but we had to go see the Loch Ness, because I'd been fascinated by its story, ever since I was a little kid. So we caught a coach up there, saw the lake, bought the tea towel and went for a cheesy boat ride on a tourist vessel packed with sonar equipment.
And we spend about an hour on the lake, and we're heading back to port, and we’re facing backwards while everyone is looking out the sonar screen, and the shore is about 30m away and between us and the shore, there is something there and....
Nessie was one of my absolute favourite real life monsters as a kid. I looked at every blurry photo and read any dodgy book and magazine article I could find on the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t care that all the famous photos of the monster have been debunked over the years – I still love them.
In fact, it was probably my favourite, followed closely by Bigfoot (almost entirely due to that few seconds of the Patterson–Gimlin film – I still find the way he swings his arms particularly haunting). There was just something a little creepy about Loch Ness, and that old, dark lake, and the secrets it hides, and all the stories it generates.
I know there isn’t really a monster. I know that there is no dinosaur in that lake, and that most of the sightings and photos have been the work of hoaxers and the over-eager. I know the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t really exist.
I still saw it.
This is what we saw:
About 10m out from the shore, at a part where the hillside dives sharply into the water, there is something in the water. Janie sees it first and points it out to me.
It looks like two brown dolphins briefly breaking the surface of the water, rolling over smoothly and barely making a ripple on the surface. Two months before this, we’d had the extraordinary luck to be barrelling around New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds in a small boat with a two-stroke motor, surrounded by a pod of hundreds of dolphins, so we were familiar with that kind of motion.
The moment only lasted two or three seconds, and then there was nothing, and the lake was still again.
It wasn’t a great ‘HOLY SHIT’ moment, just a deeply profound moment of ‘HUH?’.
Was that….? Did we….? Could it…?
The first thing we asked the guide on the boat was whether there were dolphins in the lake, because that’s what we thought we saw, but he just laughed at us, and said they’d choke on the peat. We told him we just thought we saw dolphins, and he said it was probably just diving ducks.
I don’t know what the hell we saw, but I do know one thing: That weren’t no ducks.
Obviously, I didn’t get any photos, but I don’t regret that one fact, not one little bit.
It was all over so quickly, that if I had been scrambling around for the camera, I might not really have seen it at all, and I wouldn't have the moment seared into my brain, like it is now. There was just no time to react, only to gawp.
I'm still so grateful that the wife also saw it, because I'm sure I would have convinced myself I'd imagined it by now, if I'd been on my own. But we both saw it, and we both saw the same thing, so it can't have been a figment of the imagination. We really did see the monster.
I mean, we still barely believe it ourselves, even with that back-up, so we don't blame anybody else for not believing us. I totally wouldn’t believe us. I would laugh at any of my mates who said they saw Bigfoot, (or even a moa). I can only expect the same in return.
Nobody really sees the monster. Only bullshitters would say they did. Especially when they didn't even get any damn photos.
I don't care. I know I saw something, and she saw something, so there definitely was something out there on the lake, that grey Tuesday afternoon in 2007.
And it might have been otters, or big bloody fish, or some strange optical illusion, or even those diving ducks, but I really don't want to know the truth. (It was definitely something living, I can say that much.)
Because, as sad as it sounds, that was one of the best moments of my entire life. I went to Loch Ness and saw something strange, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be that lucky. But I was, and now I've got a story and an experience that I will take to my grave, and I don't care if nobody believes me, or scoffs when I say I saw it. It was still one of the greatest days ever.
We also stopped by the Loch when we were heading north last year, and spent a lovely sunny Sunday morning wandering around Urquhart Castle and eating tablet, and I kept glancing out at Loch Ness and looking for strange wakes and waves.
I didn't see shit, but that's okay.
I'd already got a lifetime's worth of strangeness out of those waters.