Published: 11/11/2015 12:39 - Updated: 11/11/2015 12:51

Gareth finds a monster of a story in Nessie hunt saga

Gareth Williams says he had to wait until he retired from full time science before he could write his Nessie book.
Gareth Williams says he had to wait until he retired from full time science before he could write his Nessie book.

FOR Gareth Williams, the story of the Loch Ness Monster and those who have obsessively searched for it is the book that he has wanted to write all his life.

Yet for scientist Williams, it is a book that had to wait until he retired from full time academic life.

Just writing a book on the subject would have been enough to damage his credibility among his fellow scientists, he admits.

And he would not be the first, as his book A Monstrous Commotion reveals.

Senior scientists at the Natural History Museum and Chicago University lost their jobs after stating their belief in some sort of unknown creature living in Loch Ness and even revered naturalist Sir Peter Scott, son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott, was subjected to much criticism after proving Nessie with her scientific name, Nessiteras rhombopteryx, so the creature could be classified as a member of an endangered species.

"It’s a story that has grabbed me since I was a lad," Williams, Emeritus Professor of medicine and science at the University of Bristol, admitted.

"I grew up and lost the faith a bit, but then, in December 1975, there was Nessie on the front pages of the most prestigious science journal in the world, Nature."

The Nature article centred on underwater photographs of a supposed creature taken by American scientist Robert Rines and Rines is just one of the many memorable characters who feature in Williams’s book, which focuses more on the story of the hunt for Nessie than weighing up the evidence for or against its existence.

"That is in there, but there a many books like that," Williams said.

"They claim to be objective, but you know within four or five pages where they are coming from."

It is a story with heroes, villains and eccentrics, ranging from scientists to big game hunters and self-professed mystics.

"The impression I got in writing the book was that they had so much fun," Williams said.

"I wish I had been there."

Along with Scott, Williams’s own childhood hero, he also came to learn much about more ambiguous characters such as former soldier Frank Searle, who lived in a tent on the lochside and produced a number of fake photographs of the creature.

"There were two people I felt I really got to know well by going through the archives," Williams said.

"One was Frank Searle and the other was Peter Scott."

He was also introduced to living participants in the Loch Ness story, monster hunter Steve Feltham, Dick Raynor who was credited with taking one of the best photographs of the creature only to conclude later that he had photographed a flock of birds, and Adrian Shine, who has done much to promote wider study of the loch’s ecology.

"I regard him as a man of great scientific stature, but of course, he also started as a monster hunter," Williams said.

Author Gareth Williams. Photo credit: Caroline Williams.
Author Gareth Williams. Photo credit: Caroline Williams.

Williams may be a scientist, but even scientists cannot escape being caught up in the romance of the hunt for Nessie.

"I’ve deliberately left the last sentence of the book ambiguous," he said.

"Scientifically, I don’t think there can be anything there, but as Peter Scott said, the only way you can exclude anything being there is to drain the loch and because that’s impossible, he argued that you can never disprove the existence of the monster.

"The first time I went back to loch after many years, I stayed down near Invermoriston and on the last evening I walked down to the water and looked along the loch. You can see it’s a place of mystery and you can quite understand how people think there is something in there."

While the legend is unlikely to die, Williams believes we are unlikely to see thorough investigations on the scale of 1987’s sonar survey Operation Deepscan and later follow up Project Urquhart again.

"They were very thorough indeed," Williams said.

"With Operation Deepscan there are about two or three miles of the widest part of the loch that weren’t intensively scanned because the loch is an irregular shape. In my scientific heart of hearts, I can’t see a significant sized creature managing to avoid that sonar scan.

"But again, you can take a philosophical view and say you can never disprove something is there."

A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams, is published by Orion Books.

Gareth Williams will launch the book at Waterstones’ Inverness bookshop in the Eastgate shopping centre at 6.30pm on Thursday 12th November.

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