Tourism: A monster? Loch Ness does not reveal its mystery

Sometimes it's a seabird, sometimes an otter - but not a Loch Ness monster.

Tourism: A monster? Loch Ness does not reveal its mystery

Sometimes it's a seabird, sometimes an otter - but not a Loch Ness monster. Steve Feltham has been observing the legendary lake in the Scottish Highlands for decades. What's moving there, why is the water rippling there? Even on this sunny spring day, the 60-year-old suddenly tenses his back and reaches for the binoculars that are always at hand. But it's just a gust of wind that makes a wave slosh. The creature that Feltham has been passionately searching for so long fails to show itself again.

It has long been known that something is supposed to live in Loch Ness, which is up to 230 meters deep. As early as 565, the Irish monk Columbanus claims to have seen a sea monster here. In modern times, the newspaper "Inverness Courier" was the first to report that a "monster" lives in the lake on May 2, 1933. Exactly 90 years later, the hype is enormous. Feltham was also drawn to the stories. As a child he spent holidays at the lake, as an adult he was drawn back again and again. Eventually he quit his job, sold his house in southern England and has been searching ever since.

For 32 years, Feltham has lived in a converted trailer on the beach in Dores, directly on the lake, met his girlfriend there - and has long been in the Guinness Book of Records. No one has searched for the "monster" longer - and more in vain - than Feltham. Or as the "full-time Nessie hunter" jokingly said in an interview with the German Press Agency: "I'm the world champion at not finding Nessie."

Nessie is everywhere

Whoever says "Loch Ness" almost always means "Nessie". Around the 36 km long lake it is impossible to avoid the monster. Nessie can be seen on information signs and billboards, the friendly, green dinosaur laughs from mugs, T-shirts and magnets, plush figures hang in heaps in the souvenir shops.

"Nessie is arguably our best tourism ambassador in the Highlands - and everyone who visits Loch Ness wants the opportunity to see the mysterious creature," says Chris Taylor of tourism organization Visit Scotland. It's worth it: The "Inverness Courier" recently reported that thanks to Nessie, 1.6 million tourists come to the lake every year, bringing in sales of 330 million pounds (373 million euros) and creating hundreds of jobs.

Mike Bell has one of those jobs. He has been driving tourists across the lake since 2019. His boat is called "Nessie Hunter", Nessie hunter. The best chances of sightings are around the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the west bank, reports Bell. He explains with a smile: "That's where most of the tourists are." The young man himself has not yet seen any traces of the monster, only on the sonar he has come across an inexplicable measurement. His predecessor on the "Nessie Hunter" is said to have seen the monster 19 times.

It all started 90 years ago

The center of Nessie tourism is the small village of Drumnadrochit - although it has no direct access to the lake. That has to do with the report in the "Courier" 90 years ago, says Captain Bell. At the time, manager Aldie Mackay stormed into the bar of her hotel and excitedly told the man behind the counter that she had just spotted a "whale-like monster" in Loch Ness. The hotel was in Drumnadrochit - and when the story became public, onlookers and adventurers traveled there: the start of Nessie tourism.

Today the building houses the interactive Loch Ness Centre. After a refurbishment, which is due to be completed by the end of May, Nessie is once again seen from all angles. The scene with Mackay, embodied by actors, will be shown as a video.

Next door, the more tranquil "Nessieland" also takes care of the well-known resident. "We keep the myth alive," explains staff member Mark, who also works as an author under the pseudonym Mark Marquis HK. "That's why people come to Loch Ness," he says. "You don't come here to be told that the story isn't true." This is one of the reasons why Nessie is always portrayed in such a friendly way. "We don't want to create an atmosphere like in 'Jaws'," says Mark, laughing. Boatman Bell agrees: There have been children who have not boarded - fearing that Nessie will eat them.

"No smoke, no fire"

Finally, the most important question remains: does Nessie exist or not? The statements of the experts at the lake result in a clear Yes. "There's something there. No smoke, no fire," says Mark. Captain Bell says sonar images have consistently revealed clues of moving objects larger than a fish that cannot be explained. But it's definitely not a prehistoric monster, it's not scientifically possible, they both say -- and they agree with the "full-time hunter."

"I think there's something in here," Feltham insists, stroking his playdough-stained hands as a memento of the Nessie crafts he does for a living. It is shy and - unlike seals, which occasionally get lost in the lake - rarely has to appear. It is something that multiplies, which also explains the sightings for decades. Maybe it's a big catfish, says Feltham thoughtfully. The only thing that is clear to him is: "It's a mystery." Feltham does not give up hope that he will find the solution.