An Encounter with Lizzie (sister of the Loch Ness Monster)

I was pretty hesitant about the idea of writing this post, as I suspected It might lead me to become the target of ridicule and disrespect. But then I remembered that being the target of riducule and disrespect was "just another ordinary day at the office", so I went ahead, and here it is (complete with photographic evidence.)

Strictly speaking this page isn't about the Loch Ness Monster (scientific name: Nessietarius-rhombocterix. sensible name: Nessie), but her cousin Lizzie, who supposedly lives in Loch Lochy, which is next door to Loch Ness. It stems from an experience my family had in the mid '70's.

An Encounter with Lizzie

I was four years old and we were driving from Fort William to Inverness in our little blue three-wheeler van (which, incidentally, is more embarrassing than the rest of the story). We were alongside Loch Lochy when my parents suddenly pulled over in a right commotion. Next thing I know, my Mum has dived outof  the van with her camera and my dad is staring agog into the water. I don't remember his exact words, but they would've been something along the lines of "my goodness graciuous me, that appears to be the darned Loch Ness Monster".

Yes indeed: he was staring at a large unidentified grey mass cutting through the water at a fair rate of knots. There were no windows in the back of the van, so by this time I'd unbuckled my seat and pulled myself towards the passenger window. I looked in astonishment as I saw what appeared to be a large trunk-like tail protruding from water. As any four-year would, I yelled "Daddy, It's the Loch Ness Monster!" - making exactly the same geographical mistake as my father had done moments earlier. At this moment, the 'beast', apparently reacting to my shouts, subsided below the surface. (I've been kicking myself ever since. So have my parents.)

Mum had run a good half-mile back down the loch-side so we set off up the road to turn round and collect her. My dad raced to the nearest layby and swung the van round viciously. In the layby was a woman eating sandwiches in her car. As my dad pulled up, he yelled, "We've seen the monster! We've seen the Loch Ness monster!". Not sure what to make of a lunatic in a blue three-wheeled van ranting about other-worldy beings, she rapidly wound up her window, and drove off at speed in the opposite direction.

We drove back and collected Mum, who by this time was somewhat flustered, and indeed traumatized - she had felt distinctly eerie as she stood alongside this strange beast. So... what about the contents of that camera?!

Ahhh... I can see the camera now - it was as much a monster as the object in the water. It was all dials and knobs and buttons, and not a hint of the word automatic. [Oh Kodak disposable or Cybershot Phone - where were you when we needed you?] Amazingly my Mum had kept her wits about her, and instead of firing off shots at random, she'd actually tried to set the picture up with the correct focus and exposure, as you had to do in those days. And this was whilst running along the road. Consequently she was delayed in taking the crucial photo, and my shouting had been badly timed, it transpired.

The photo was taken just as the grey object dipped below the surface, leaving just a huge wake in the water as evidence of its presence. Here is the photo:

Clearly we were disappointed that the picture didn't show the 'monster'. It was such a rare opportunity, to see something at such close quarters, and (quite by chance) to have a camera with us. If it was to happen again today, there is no doubt that with modern equipment we would have a series of photographs, possibly a video, that would have proved quite a talking (or even tweeting) point.

We still feel the photo is strong evidence for the presence of something in the water, as yet, unexplained. The wake is equivalent to something a mid-size power boat would make: not the trace of an otter or seal. It is clearly not a log or a rock - for where did it disappear to? The photo was submitted for analysis by several experts, none of whom have been able to provide a definite explanation. It is documented in a number of books, and we still treat it with an open and intrigued mind.

The tale (tail) still brings a shiver to my spine as I recall it. Although I was four, the image is as vivid as it was the day I saw it. And although it might be tempting to think the story is an elaborate fabrication on the part of my parents, how on earth could they convince a four year old to go along with the story??

Take the High Road

Crisp. Dry. It could describe any winter mountain scene, but this is actually my triple-strength coffee. Hot. Wet. Not a tropical paradise, but in fact my trousers. Like they say, you shouldn't drink and drive.

Caledonia is a land of beauty and great contrast, and a fabulous way to experience it is by car (and well sealed waterproof). But to do that, you have to get there, and the journey can be almost as epic as the destination, particularly in winter.

These days I always begin my journey at the eleventh hour. Nothing to do with spontaneity, but a question of conscious timing. Starting the 10-hour journey just before midnight means arriving in the Highlands in time for a sizzling Scottish breakfast and a warm slice of hospitality.

The journey is one of solitude, shared mainly with long distance truckers and snoozy coppers hidden in lay-bys, whose presence is marked only by a momentary flash of luminous yellow and blue.

In a primitive way, it is easier to measure progress simply by the movement of the sun. Although on this particular brisk night, the empty sky is filled with the crystal-like sweep of comet Hale Bopp. It's almost Christmas and its biblical gaze makes me wonder if I should stop at the next service station to pick up some gold-points.

This first landmark is the appropriately named Scotch Corner, although ironically it is barely half distance. Nor is it a corner. One sandwich and a trouser-drying session later and the steady rise west through the Pennines begins. It's easy to glaze over the grey detail of the undulating road underneath as the sun tentatively begins its dawn climb directly ahead. The sky is a cocktail of deep purple and orange, mutating through reddy pink. At its most intense, this vibrant palette lasts but a moment - any loss of concentration and the backdrop is rapidly approaching commuter-blue.

In this clear weather the road allows good progress. Only the need to negotiate the odd tractor serves to remind of the daily life that goes on outside my metal cocoon.

Half distance is marked by a pleasant change of direction north onto the M6. A dreary road, but swift. Besides, I have my radio for company, at least until the heights of the Lake District. Soon, the traffic reports begin to interject, and those luckless London-bound workers disrupted by carriageways of spilt milk seem a world away. That reminds me to sip my coffee. And slowly my mood rejects urban insanity and turns to the tranquility of the islands and drama of the snow-capped mountains.

Glasgow is the next target. The steady progress means I'm soon passing the very "Welcome to Scotland" sign. The lack of an immediate "Welcome to England" on the reverse once more makes we wonder what territorial antics are possible in no-man's-land between the signs?

Right on cue, the sky begins to loom with precipitation. Not sinister, but the characteristic dreich grey is best hidden by the sun visor. So much for telling the time by the sun.

The City of Culture beckons, and the twisting Lowland passage soon approaches the once-industrialised landscape of the Glasgow environs. Almost spontaneously I'm surrounded by civilisation. Traffic, tower blocks, and roundabout hell - the curse of the 60's 'New Town'. I'm fighting my eyelids which are adhesively heavy and gulping my liquid Java breakfast. In a stasis somewhere between reality and commuter madness, I'm drawn onward by the bold orange orb of sunlight, faintly piercing the city mist. Stage 2 complete.

The home run, as I like to think of it, requires a change of pace. This is the gateway to the Highlands, and the word 'haste' is not in the dictionary. The journey is spectacular, the weather unpredictable, and even the mobile phone drifts into solitude. By now, the main threats to journey time are stray sheep, black ice, or an irresistible urge to 'give it some welly': although with care, the first two are avoidable. The sensuous curves of the road make driving a thrill.

The "low road" twists along the craggy banks of bonny Loch Lomond, her surface churned up by a chilling breeze. Squeezed between the overhanging stone wall and tree-lined shore, the poise of even the most confident of drivers is challenged. It's too cold for a morning dip, with or without the car. (Anything to avoid wet trousers again.) The crackling into radio silence signifies a transition to the "high road". The well-maintained tarmac trail soars over Rannoch Moor; bleak and barren, inhabited by hardy deer, circling eagles, and lonely mountaineers treading the damp heather. It's the top of the world, but being frozen and exposed, there's no incentive to stop. Not even if nature calls.

Eventually, the trail tumbles through the glaciated landscape of Glencoe. A landscape characterised by the spray of waterfalls, craggy outcrops and slightly less lonely mountaineers. Over thousands of years, the river beneath has cut through rock as if it was butter. This is Ben Nevis country, and on either side, mountainous giants of the Ice Age stand guard, never faltering, leaving me feeling vulnerable and humble. This timeless vista deserves respect: for it claims lives. And yet the silent panorama kindles my thoughts of the warm welcome that soon awaits. (And the chance to dry my trousers).

A Kayak Napa

I'm beginning to understand the love of water that nautical types have.

Perhaps not quite the reaction you'd expect whilst largin' it in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Most reports talk of this small town as the "New Ibiza" -Dance capital of Europe for Garage worshippers.

So here I am, paddling my ocean kayak round the sea caves, somewhere off Grecian Bay. Out of view of the garishly-clad tourists, flipping themselves every half-hour within a soupcon of well-done, the sea is calm, clear and tranquil. The occasional snorkeller or tourist boat does little to spoil the overall scene; while the jet-skis churn up their white plumes half a mile off shore. Their faint buzzing to and fro like bees, forever leaving and returning to the hive. It's close on 35 degrees - it feels it - and I can't help but wonder if everyone that conquers the sea feels the same sense of satisfaction. I circle and wave to the swarthy skipper of a nearby anchored yacht - he grins back in the dozy afternoon shade. For a split moment, I am a pirate, and his "ship" is my unsuspecting prey...

By day, Ayia Napa is like any other tourist resort for sun-seekers. Golden sand, rows of tightly packed holidaymakers tanning to impress. The hotels are ugly - but I'm not here to look at the hotels - and their air-conditioned rooms are an essential haven.

Situated toward the east of Cyprus, and not far from the Turkish area, Ayia Napa isn't best situated for exploring the island. You'd be best placed further along the coast - Limassol - for such pursuits. But there are some local villages that offer cheaper shopping, and splendid views to be had from Capo Greco - just a few miles up the road. Walking is not an option however - not in this heat - and car hire, with insurance, is affordable- though you pay extra for air-conditioning. Scrimp on this at your peril.

By night, Ayia Napa is not ordinary. And it is not for the faint-hearted. The regime is straightforward: eat at nine, find a bar at eleven, hit the clubs. The bars stop their music, and then their drinks somewhere between one and two, so that's when those who are warming up, are swarming up to the clubs. Bed?... what's that?

On the stroll into town my companion points out an "English" bar that did good steak last year. We poke our noses in, and the owner, a stout well-worn local, remembers last year's patronage and welcomes us as if we are his prodigal children. One chicken and one pork kebab later we are sorely disappointed. I ask him about his food and his business. He is a local farmer and the lack of rain for the last three years has made farming a struggle. He tells me he has "downgraded" his menu, so that it appeals to the younger up-fer-it types who now frequent this place. He is glad the way the town has changed, because without it, he couldn't pay his bills. And he proudly gestures towards his nine year old daughter as if to make a point. We begin to leave, but courteously accept a lemon liqueur on the house. It's sweet and sticky - at least things can only get better.

We continue our townward stroll, dodging the dishevelled and incomplete pavements. They bemuse me; and they will probably claim me on the way back, if I return tipsy.

Finally, "The Square" - odd, because it isn't square, and even moreso, because it's co-located with a ruined monastery. It's quite a sight and sound to behold. It creates a sense of dizziness and disorientation the moment you stand still - far better to keep moving, pushing past hot bodies. It is a melee, a crowd, a huge crowd, crushed, standing, drinking, chatting - indeed shouting - over the pounding sub-bass of the surrounding bars. Each establishment is competing to see whose PAwill distort first - don't even try to pick out a tune. Too noisy to think, but if you stop and allow yourself to feel for a moment, then you will sense you're at the centre of an ants' nest. Utter chaos on the surface, and yet everyone with a purpose - lines of ants pushing their way through the mass, forging onwards - and not a drop of beer spilt! My colleague turns to me and shouts: "Every time I come here, I lose my faith in mankind and the future of the planet". In a subconscious way I understand exactly, but I quickly turn and say "Don't you get it!? That's the point. While the rest of us are saving the planet, we keep all these people busy here!...". Perhaps we're getting old.

Bar after bar runs some kind of alcoholic promotion - buy one, get one free. Buy one, get two free. The most impressive was buy two, get ten free! Ten what? I'm not sure, but it was sweet and sticky, and very dilute - unlike the local beer, KEO, which was surprisingly pleasant, and pleasantly cheap. The number one premise here seems DRINK. And presumably inebriation is what seduces us into the night clubs - after all there's nothing overtly memorable about the music that's the mainstay of this place: UK Garage playing master to House. All the clubs promote "big-name" DJ's making appearances, but personally I don't get too worked up - I just keep reminiscing of my hospital radio days.

In the bars there's a wider aural selection, with some M.O.R Pop, and a smattering of R&BHip Hop. I even saw an Irish Folk Pub: but there were more people in the band than in the pub. What you won't find isJungle, that's for sure. We were laughed at when we asked. For a trek through the 80's and 90's, take a trip to the pinkly-neoned Jasmin Bar; where the cockney gaffer sings along, takes his top off and encourages his punters to dance on the bar and tables. And remember, someone just ate their food on that table! "Oy Oyyyyyyy!"

Before the rush (at 4am) - we head over to River Reggae club to wind down. This outdoor bar sports palm trees, mellow music, and a u-shaped swimming pool. Additional entertainment is in the form of a large 'telephone pole' strapped across one end of the pool. It begs drunken males to attempt to cross, and impress the onlookers by remaining dry. On my first attempt, my weary dancing legs are so pathetic, I can barely balance a few seconds. Amazingly, soaking wet underwear, four in the morning, and it still feels warm. This is sufficient to encourage a second and no-less foolish attempt! Within a metre of completing my challenge and suddenly I feel unsteady, and so I leap for home, onto the slippery tiles of the pool edge. It's a lesson well-learnt in impressing onlookers. I slip backwards, and crack my head down on the poolside. I'm sure eighty-thousand people go "oooohhhh". Next thing, I hear twinkling and some bloke is pulling me up saying "YOU DIDN'T WANT TO DO THAT!". How astute. I wibble gratefully.

River Reggae is a compelling way to spend the last few hours of darkness, despite the inherent perils of beams, concrete pool edges, water, alcohol and exuberance. It transports you to some kind of state of mind, where nothing matters, and time is irrelevant. My kind of holiday.

...After a pause, this pirate grins back. Capture will be another day - it's addictive out here on the water - I will be back! For now I must seek some shade, water and factor 60. I weave among the lilos, with their roasted occupants meandering on the tide, and head beachwards. I must build my strength for tonight's trip into town...

© august 2000