Have you ever been to Scotland? A land of wild beauty, endless rolling bare-rock hills, and sheep carelessly grazing.  But visitors might also spot something else… something bigger, aquatic, and with sharp fangs. In the heart of the Scottish Highlands, one of the biggest lakes in the country stretches like a scar: Loch Ness. Extending itself for 37 kilometres, or 23 miles, its dark waters hide more than fish, and the occasional joyful otters splashing around. Loch Ness is home to a bloodthirsty creature, with a taste for human flesh. Preferably undercooked, with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.

#1 Nessie. From monster to attraction

Warmly nicknamed Nessie, by the fearful neighbours of tenebrous Loch Ness, who know of its existence thanks to several… blurred pictures.

This 1934 picture of the Loch Ness Monster is known as the Surgeon’s photograph. It was believed to be genuine for many decades until it was proven to be hoax. Author: Robert Kenneth Wilson and published in the Daily Mail. Source

Several sonar expeditions starting from the late 50’s, claimed to have found large, mysterious, underwater targets. The likeliest explanations, range from Nessie plotting its next human victim, to it getting tired of its miserable monster loneliness, thus searching for a Nessie-partner to team up and terrorise the helpless locals. Although the evidence to Nessie is rather flimsy and inconclusive, this hasn’t deterred thousands of visitors a year to flock to Loch Ness, in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the most famous fresh water monster.

But if according to the sound judgement of the scientific community there’s no such monster, why did the story stuck? Well first is the fact that almost any sizeable water body in Scotland has its own spirit, no doubt the Celtic inheritage. These were known as the Kelpies, shape-shifting spirits who took the shape of horses and women to lure men and drown them.

The Kelpies. This monument in Scotland represents the kelpies, the water spirits. Photographer: Beninjam200 (Wikipedia user). Source

But that’s not all that there’s to it. Why didn’t other kelpies became as famous as the Loch Ness Monster then? The answer would be the first man, a saintly man, who claimed to have made Nessie’s acquaintance. His name was Columba.

#2 The missionary (Not to be mistaken with the sex position)

Painting depicting Columba and the Picts
Columba converting the pagan Picts. Painter: William Hole. Collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Photography: Kim Traynor (Wikimedia Commons user). Source

Columba was born in 521 in Gartan, modern day County Donegal, Northern Ireland. He was brought up by a priest called Cruithnechán, and when Columba found it impossible to keep pronouncing such tongue-twister of a name, he left and moved to Clonard, the Oxford of the medieval churches in Ireland.

In 563, Columba departed Ireland, as all Irishmen tend to do, but since the United States didn’t exist to emigrate to yet, he chose the beautiful glens of Scotland. Not that Scotland existed yet either. At the time, it was divided between very different people and kingdoms. Lucky for Columba, his kinsman, Conal mac Comgail, king of Dal Riata in western Scotland, gave him the tiny island of Iona to build a monastery and spread the Christian faith in Scotland.

Iona’s abbey today. The original building was destroyed by the Vikings several times and finally abandoned during the Reformation in the 16th century. it was rebuilt in the 20th century and today remains a very popular place of pilgrimage. Picture taken by the author of this article and blog.

#3 Columba visits Nessieland

Conal mac Comgail and the kingdom of Dal Riata (the predecessor of the Scottish kingdom) were Irish in origin, and as such, Christians. But their enemies, the Picts, still worshipped several gods. Columba felt it was his duty to become a pilgrim, and bring the Picts the word of God. Some say it was his attempt to seek redemption after him taking lives in a battle bakc at home.

Armed with his walking stick, Columba travelled to Pictland, in north-east Scotland, expecting to visit King Bridei of the Picts, and convert him. Knowing the word of God might not be enough to impress the superstitious pagans, he packed a floating stone to impress Bridei. However, saving so many souls from eternal damnation must have been exhausting, and Columba decided on taking a wee break from his divine mission. You already guessed where. Columba and his aides stopped right by the shore of Loch Ness.

Loch Ness seen from the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Picture taken by the author of this article and blog

 There, Columba approached the local Picts, who were burying a dead companion. He asked what happened and they told him he had been mauled and killed by a water monster that lurked in the depths of the loch (Gaelic for lake). When the monster had ripped and taken half the corpse, the locals had managed to pull the other half back to shore with hooks.

#4 A duel for the ages

Columba pondered much after this, and did what every sensible friend would do: he ordered his companion Lugne Mocumin, to swim across the Loch to retrieve a small boat moored on the opposite bank. Lugne, who was either an idiot or didn’t listen the Picts describing their companion’s horrible death, thoughtlessly stripped off and jumped into the water.

Just as Lugne had almost reached the boat, he was startled by big ripples in the water. And then, so close that he could almost touch it, the monster emerged. It let out a frightening roar, surely hoping that the naked idiot swimming before its fierce yellow eyes, would taste better than the average Pict.

Artistic depiction of Plesiosaurus hunting
Those who believe in the monster, have long speculatted that it might be a surviving family of Plesiosaurus, a marine predator that once roamed in the seas of the Jurassic era. Author: Dmitry Bogdanov. Source

Unhesitant, Columba darted to the rescue of Lugne. Leaping from a tree top, he landed on the monster, delivering a devastating holy elbow. Nessie was wary though, and blocked Columba’s with its flat, grey fins. Both opponents exchanged blows and flying kicks, wrestling each other, equally matched despite the unfair, gigantic size of Nessie. The battle raged, waves roared, but Columba finally gained the upper hand when, making the sign of the cross, he banished the monster to the depths of the loch. Might we add that invoking the mighty power of God was foul play?

#5 Nessie’s retirement

Be that as it may, Columba’s epic match against Nessie earned him the endearment of the Picts and Sainthood for his conversion efforts and little bit of monster wrestling here and there. Until his death in 597, he built several churches, wrote poetry and books, and did other uninteresting things lacking lake monsters.

Time has been kinder to Nesie though. Perhaps the strenght of the movement against animal cruelty? Be as it may, the man-eater enjoys of unprecedented fame, and his home of Loch Ness has become a must-see in the Highlands, where every year the tourists closely watched the waves breaking the lake surface, hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary Loch Ness monster, fondly shortened to Nessie.

A reconstruction of Nessie outside the Museum of Nessie, Scotland. Photography by: StaraBlazkova at Czech Wikipedia. Source
Nessie hasn’t been precisely active of late, but here’s some interesting footage for the believers:
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