Loch Morar 2004Friday 15th January 2021
Most people are familiar with the idea of a monster in Loch Ness, but many other Scottish lochs play host to unknown animals as well. After Loch Ness, Loch Morar is the best known.
Morar is Europe’s deepest lake at 1000 feet, beating it’s better known rival by 200 feet. Unlike the peat stained waters of Loch Ness, Morar’s waters are very clear. Morar never freezes and despite being a deep-sided glacial lake it’s waters comparatively productive.
Its resident monsters have been named Morag, a derivative of the Gaelic mordhobhar meaning big water. In centuries past it was believed Morag would only show itself if a member of a certain Scottish clans was about to die. Morag could appear as a fair maiden or a great serpent. The bests did not gain much notice in the outside world until the 20th century.
The most dramatic encounter took place on August 16th 1969. Duncan McDonnell and William Simpson were returning from a trip up the loch. It was around 9.00 pm but still light. McDonnell was at the wheel and the boat was doing seven knots. He writes…
“I heard a splash or disturbance in the water astern of us. I looked up and saw about twenty yards behind us this creature coming directly after us in our wake. It only took a matter of seconds to catch up with us. It grazed the side of the boat, I am quite certain this was unintentional. When it struck the boat seemed to come to a halt or at least slow down. I grabbed the oar and was attempting to fend it off, my one fear being that if it got under the boat it might capsize it.”
“As we were sailing down the loch in my boat we were suddenly disturbed and frightened by a thing that surfaced behind us. We watched it catch us up then bump into the side of the boat, the impact sent a kettle of water I was heating onto the floor. I ran into the cabin to turn the gas off as the water had put the flame out. Then I came out of the cabin to see my mate trying to fend the beast off with an oar, to me he was wasting his time. Then when I seen the oar break I grabbed my rifle and quickly putting a bullet in it fired in the direction of the beast.. The I watched it slowly sink away from the boat and that was the last I seed of it.”
Neither of the men seemed to think the bullet had any effect on the monster. They estimated it to be 9 meters (30 feet). The skin was rough and dirty brown in colour. It had three humps that protruded 18 inches out of the water. McDonell thought they may have been undulations rather than humps. McDonell reported seeing a snake like head a foot across held 18 inches out of the water.
John MacVarish, barman at the Morar Hotel, had a sighting on August 27 1968. “I saw this thing coming. I thought it was a man standing in a boat but as it got nearer I saw it was something coming out of the water. I tried to get up close to it with the outboard out of the water and what I saw was a long neck five or six feet out of the water with a small head on it, dark in colour, coming quite slowly down the loch. When I got to about 300 yards of it, it turned off into the deep and just settled down slowly into the loch out of sight. The neck was about one and a half feet in diameter and tapered up to between ten inches and a foot. I never saw any features, no eyes or anything like that. It was a snake like head, very small compared to the size of the neck-flattish, a flat type of head. It seemed to have very smooth skin but at 300 yards it’s difficult to tell. It was very dark, nearly black. It was 10am, dead calm, no wind, brilliant sunshine. I saw it for about ten minuets traveling very slowly: it didn’t alter its angle to the water. It looked as if it was paddling itself along. There was very little movement from the water, just a small streak from the neck. I couldn’t really see what was propelling it but I think it was something at the sides rather than behind it.”
David Curtis the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s Sunderland representative kindly financed a fact-finding trip to Loch Morar in April of this year. Accompanying him was Lisa Dowley, a new lady in the CFZ, and myself. Our aim was to test out bait holding floatation devices I had designed.
We stopped at a lovely hunting lodge built in 1840 called Garramore House. It was used to train spies in WW2. It’s current proprietor, Julia Moore was a fascinating lady who knew my favourite author Mervyn Peake. She told us of a sighting that has never been recorded before and was unknown outside of the village.
Apparently two youths from Yorkshire were on a fishing holiday about four years ago. They were out on a boat, one keeping watch, the other operating the tiller. The lad on watch shouted out that there was a “tree” approaching the boat at an alarming rate. Both saw what looked like a tree trunk racing towards the boat. They feared a collision but at the last moment the “trunk” arched up and dove down into the depths. The pair maid the bank in record time, packed their tent and returned home on the same day.
Sadly we could not get out onto the loch as we could not get in contact with the only local man who hires boats. The water also became very choppy. Julia had warned us about going out on the water in inclement conditions. Just last year a young man had done just that and had disappeared. His upturned boat was found adrift. Despite police searches with divers and heat detecting devices the body was never found. In cold lakes decay in bodies is slowed by the low temperature. Ergo gases do not build up to buoy the body to the surface. The unfortunate man’s body may have sunk down to the bottom. On the other hand something else could have happened to it.
We were surprised at the amount of dead sheep washed down from the surrounding mountains and ending up in the loch. They would make a good additional food source for a big predator in the loch.
We used nylon rope with empty plastic milk bottles as floatation devices. We tied one end to a tree or rock. We then lased another length to the bottle connecting the two lengths. At the end of the second length, 20 feet or so beneath the float was the bait. This was a mixture of mussels, fish guts, herring, cow liver and Van Den Eynd Predator Plus, a fish-attracting chemical. The mixture was placed in Hessian sacks so it could permeate through.
Davey C pours Predator Plus onto the prepared carcass of a dead sheep
Davey and Lisa prepare the flotation devices
After preparing hessian sacks full of bait, Davey hurls the flotation devices and bait sacks into the deep water
Sadly nothing touched the bait, but the floatation devices worked a treat. We suspect that it may have been too early in the year and the creatures may have been torpid. Most sightings have been in warm weather and calm conditions.
So what is Morag? As with the Nessie I think the best bet are giant sterile eels. The common eels swims out to the Sargasso Sea to breed then die. The baby eels follow scent trails back to their ancestral fresh waters homes and the cycle begins again.
Sometimes, however a mutation occurs and the eel is sterile. These stay in fresh water and keep on growing. Known as eunuch eels no one knows how old they get or how big. In February 2004 two Canadian tourists came upon a 25-foot eel floating in the shallows of Loch Ness. At first they thought it was dead but when it began to move they beat a hasty retreat. In the 1980s a 20-foot eel was reported in the Birmingham Ship Canal. Another 20 foot eel was supposedly caught in the cooling system in some aluminum works in Dores in the 1990s.
One theory suggests that these rare, naturally occurring, mutations may now be on the increase due to pollution. PCBs and Beta Blocker chemicals have long been implicated in causing sterility in fish. Could they be causing more eunuch eels in the deep lakes of Scotland? For now we just don’t know but David, Lisa, and I are planning a return trip later in the year to try and find out more.
For information on the last expedition to the Loch – in 1975 – click HERE