Sunday, May 1, 2011

Peeking at Ivan's SITU files: Loch Morar's Monster, Part One.

We haven't been swimming for awhile, so lets look at one of Ivan's files about lake monsters. This is a good time to say something about his files in general. Ivan's files, in most part, aren't treasure chests containing the secret information which will answer all mysteries. In fact, I find them to be much like any serious adventurer-scholar's files --- not unlike those that you or I would make if we're simply collecting material on things which we aren't feverishly pursuing but find intriguing. The Loch Morar Monster file contains about 40 pages or so of paper [I didn't bother to make an exact count]. This consists in its majority of newspaper clippings about Morag sightings or other news coverage. Many of those clips are repetitive. Whereas in some files there are several unusual things, in this one there is only one; the report illustrated below.

This report is 37 pages [hmmm...I must revise my estimate the file 75 pages] of rather scientific analysis of the Loch Morar situation coming from a formal study done in 1970. A good bit of the text consists of a look at the Loch's ecosystem [finding in it nothing larger than trout and salmon] and the geological structure and history. There was, however, a serious attempt to collect reports of incidents and see if they, in aggregate, made any sense.

Loch Morar is a nice Scottish lake not far from Loch Ness and far less populated. During the time of the survey, it was almost not populated at all except for its western end. Still, as you can see in the great picture above, it's an atmospheric place and boated upon by fishermen looking for trout, eels [the smallish kind], salmon, char, and stickleback. Several species can still migrate in from the sea, but if something like the Loch Ness Monster tried it, the shallower connecting water would make it hard to miss. Also, there appears to be zero chance that the two lochs are connected by underground tunnels [unless of course, George Hunt Williamson's Shangri-la super-tunneling engineers are involved]. Loch Morar holds a lot of water, though, allegedly more than Loch Ness in depth, and rivaling it in quantity.

The people around the lake were reserved folk and this, at least initially, caused troubles for the research team. It was the great hope that once on the site, they could go about the villages and countryside and collect many first and second hand tales of having seen the "monster". It turned out that almost no one wanted to talk about the thing and getting incident reports was worse than pulling teeth.

The team's second plan also struck out and even more completely. They were sure that a thorough scanning of the regional newspaper, the Oban Times, would produce many possible sightings going well into the past. No way. They discovered that the Times had a specific policy of NOT publishing anything on any such frivolous matters. This left them with nothing to do but try to "make friends" and hope for a few tales to trickle in.

That ultimately happened, though a trickle was all it ever amounted to. Ultimately they got 27 reports which they considered credible and three which they rejected. Humorously [to me anyway] one of the rejected reports came when the team leader rejected her own sighting as being too distant to be certain of the details. I can't help but loving that, and instantly fell in love with another girl.

Most of the 27 credible reports are mapped on this line drawing of the Loch. I've taken this directly from the report-body and only outlined the Loch to make it stand out a bit more. The number of filled-in dots don't add up to 27 because with some older cases the location couldn't be nailed down. Still, the team thought that, even given the lower population density towards the deeper eastern end, that the array might indicate that the beast might prefer slightly shallower water. The fact that there were no sightings at the higher populated extreme western end [and the shallowest water] made them think that a combination of too-shallow water plus lots of noise and people might be a deterrent to monstrous incursions. I'm not sure that I buy any of that and, intuitively, I'd go looking near the Loch's mid-section myself. By the way, today there are many more camper/hikers who go to the remoter end of the Loch, so it is not nearly so abandoned.

So what sort of "history" did they find that this thing had?? I was surprised to find that the earliest recorded information about the whateveritwas pointed to a folkloric entity akin to a nastier-than-usual mermaid and shapeshifter. That awareness made me pause for awhile and say to myself "uh-ohh; here we go again".

This early information comes from a remarkable person, James Macdonald, who wrote a very rare book, Tales of the Highlands, which was published almost privately in 1907. {I'd very much like to read this thing as it is purported to contain other interesting anomalistic things as well}. Almost no copies apparently exist but the team was loaned one to read. In it Macdonald describes his encounter with Mhorag in 1889 as you can read on the left. He believed that what he saw was a shapeshifting beautiful mermaid-like creature with a serpentine tail of significant length. The Mhorag [pronounced "Vorack", the ...ack being like the Scotch pronounce "ock" as in "Och Aye!!" and the spelling being shifted with Anglicization to Mhorag and finally Morag] was for Macdonald and the people thereabouts another entity in the Fairy, Faun, Naiad, group, and a Ban-Shi like portent of death to boot.

To support this view of the way the older people had thought, the team also located a fragment of an old ballad which sang: "Morag, Harbinger of Death, Giant Swimmer in deep-green Morar, The Loch that has no bottom ... , There it is that Morag the Monster lives".

In the interim between that olden era and recent times, the team was able to dig out almost nothing. In fact, while Nessie thrived on publicity nearby, Mhorag was left in dark obscurity. Then, during 1968-1969, seven reports came in. Only one had major impact, but it started a minor frenzy of interest in Nessie's "brother" [though "sister" would have been more to the tradition]. This was the McDonnell & Simpson case of August 16, 1969. [see the clipping to the left -- it is representative of several like this in Ivan's file].

These two local folks, out fishing at the time, were "attacked" by a very large serpentine creature with either a frog-like, eel-like, or serpent-like head. The one guy tried to beat it off with an oar, but Mhorag took a sizable bite out of it. The other guy got his gun and unloaded a blast into it, thinking that he not only hit the thing but put a hole in it. The beast turned and swam away. This is the case that drew national publicity but also the Loch Morar Study team which then did the report we're looking at. Ivan's file is particularly interesting at this point because it indicates why you value pressclippings. You can read the clippings in timeorder and look for consistency and additional facts due to the novel question asked. In this case, the clippings tend to support the quality of the witnesses' story even though a few details differ.

In the years following the 1970 study, the team went back the following two years and with less and less to show for it, then quit. Further sightings on Loch Morar have been rare or at least poorly publicized. I leave you with one alleged photo. In part two, I'll give the results/analysis of the team, and do some personal BS-ing about the theories.


  1. Hi, I wonder if it'd be possible for you from now on to use the label "ufo" (without the quotes) for any blog posts related to UFOs.

    It'd help include your UFO-related posts into the UFOupdates RSS feed, which is a syndication of about two dozen blogs from around the world, that is also available at Twitter ( and Facebook (

    Note that the delimiter of Google's is a comma (,) not a semicolon (;).

  2. who knows? it's become habitual.

  3. Hey Professor - For once I have a book you don't - Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell's and David Solomon's "The Search for Morag," which for the most part contains slightly more fleshed out versions of the sightings that are listed in that 1970 report. It's an excellent book. For readers interested in the Morar Survey and Loch Ness Investigation Bureau yearly reports, their easily downloadable in PDF format from one of the Loch Ness sites -- I think it's Adrian Shine's site, but I'm not sure off hand.
    My thinking on the Scotish lake monsters has come sort of full circle. There was the whole generation of cryptozoologists and zoologists, etc., who were waiting to find a surviving plesiosaur or an new species of some kind. I think the highlanders were right all along -- it's a water-horse, more akin to the fairies and such entities than a flesh and blood creature. Stories of the "each usige" is common througout Celtic folklore, and runs a spectrum of kelpie/fairy-like mermaidish spirits to horse and humped-backs in the water. The highlander and people of old did not have any epistemological issues with having various creatures along this flesh to fairy spectrum.
    I think it's in Ted Holiday's "Dragon and the Disk" where he asks an Irish crofter if he's ever seen any strange animals in the Connemara lakes near his home.
    "No, not that I can think of..."
    "How about water-horses?" Holiday asks.
    "Oh, water-horses? Yes, I've seen them. Why didn't you say so!!"
    My quote's not direct at the moment, but I love the apocryphal truth therein. I tracked down a book recently of the memoirs of a British Columbian pioneer who writes that the Indians told her Ogopogo was a spirit animal, which I believe is what Holiday started to think after talking to witnesses of these little Irish loughs that seemed too small to support a living "beiste," though he found some testimony suggesting that the "horse-eels" as they were locally called, moved from lough to lough and even into the nearby ocean. Hmm...
    When I was in Clifden, on the Connemara coast, the hostel keeper where I stayed remembered the crew of "Irish dragon" hunters that came through town in the late 60s, that included Holiday, Lionel Leslie, and Roy Mackal.
    See you this weekend, prof!

  4. Willy: you're right. Our dear lady's book is one that continuously slipped past me while I was looking up for UFOs instead of down into the lochs. I'll bet that we have at least one copy in the SITU library though so I'll get to read it afterall. What I was REALLY hoping you'd say was that you had a "copy" of Macdonald's book. Now THAT would really make you a hero. --- See you Saturday, Will. P.s. the British TV guys might want to interview you in about two weeks. Think about it.

  5. Hello Professor,

    As always, I tremendously enjoy your posts. About the book by Jmaes McDonald - owing one would certainly earn the owner the distinction 'Fortean hero', as only two copies of the book are known to exist.

    Kind regards,


  6. Well, Theo, then it's your duty to get over the Channel and up to Loch Morar, find Macdonald's grandniece and have her let you get a photocopy. [AND, of course send me one --- I'll reimburse you for the postage]. : )

  7. You know how I like to chase up these FBI's (Fortean Bibliographic Impossibles)...:)

    Actually, I know of the whereabouts of one copy, better speaking, a copy of the original, numbering 104 pages. So who knows I might get lucky and if so, I'll let you know of course:)

    Kind regards,


  8. I'll hold you to that : ). And if you can get across the Big Pond to see SITU or whatever, I'll buy you dinner.

  9. Hi Professor,

    I have now the first 20 pages of MacDonald's book.

    Kind regards,


  10. Well, you really ARE a magician! Congratulations.

  11. As the next generation-and-a-half down from me would say "You Da Man!!"

  12. Hi professor,

    Today I received a further 20 pages. I think I will have a digital copy of the entire book about end of next week. Due to the fragile nature of the paper copy it takes a while.

    It is, indeed, a remarkable book!

    Do you have an e-mail address so we can communicate off-forum as to how to get the files to you?

    Kind regards,


  13. I believe that I have your e-mail address, and will send mine there. If that doesn't work, I'll post it on this site.

  14. Hi there,
    I am doing research for a documentary on Morag and am looking for press articles which covered the 1969 sighting. I see some examples on this page but the photos are too small for me to get the references, would you be able to send the references by email please? Thank you!
    Best regards,

    1. Ivan Sanderson does seem to have several news clippings covering the 1969-1970 period. I'm not sure if I can read the faint inking of the references, but I could, I guess, scan them and make a specific post with just the scans. [it would be a "current" post as I can't add such stuff to this one].



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