The Loch Ness monster is a cryptid that is generally described as a large, aquatic creature that resembles pre-historic plesiosaurs that inhabits Loch Ness, a lake in the Scottish Highlands. Nicknamed “Nessie”, popular interest and belief in the creature’s existence has varied since it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. However, sightings of similar creatures have been reported by fishermen for hundreds of years.
On 6 December 1933, the first purported photograph of the monster, taken by Hugh Gray, was published in the Daily Express, and shortly afterwards the creature received official notice when the Secretary of State for Scotland ordered the police to prevent any attacks on it. In 1934, interest was further sparked by what is known as The Surgeon’s Photograph.
The earliest report of a monster associated with the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events he described, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. They tried to rescue him in a boat, but could only drag up his corpse. Hearing this, Columba stunned the Picts by sending his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river. The beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror, and both Columba’s men and the pagan Picts praised God for the miracle.
Believers in the Loch Ness Monster often point to this story, set in the River Ness rather than the loch itself, as evidence for the creature’s existence as early as the 6th century. However, skeptics question the narrative’s reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common; as such, Adomnán’s tale is likely to be a recycling of a common motif attached to a local landmark.
Much of the scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explain sightings as including misidentifications of more mundane objects, or outright hoaxes. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology.