What exactly do you do, Steve?
I watch the waters of Loch Ness hunting for ‘Nessie’, the Loch Ness monster.
What’s your first memory of Nessie?
Back in 1970 when I was seven I was on holiday with my family in the Highlands of Scotland. We visited Loch Ness and met a team of passionate monster hunters called the ‘Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigation Bureau’. They had set up a summer-long watch over the loch in the hope of spotting something unexplained. Their base camp was a group of large caravans gathered in a field high above the water, which gave them a great vantage point to observe from. On a viewing platform they had a camera mounted on a tripod, with a lens that must have been a metre long. I was instantly fascinated. Grown men looking for monsters in Great Britain? Amazing!
What appealed to you?
There was just something about this idea of the mystery of the unexplained – and monsters. And what child is not interested in dinosaurs? The possibility that one might actually exist stuck with me. I learned more and more about Nessie and gave talks on it at school, and made more expeditions to the loch well into adulthood. I’ve never been happier than when I was sitting at the edge of the loch watching the ripples, camera and binoculars in hand.
How did you make the decision to give up and hunt Nessie full time?
I’d been working as a potter, then a bookbinder, then a graphic designer when in 1988 I joined my dad in his burglar alarm installation business. Talking to people in the course of this job as a guy in his 20s they would constantly say, “When I was your age I wish I’d...” done this or done that – in other words followed their hearts. All of a sudden I knew I didn’t want this to be my life. I wanted adventure; I wanted my life to be a quest. So by 1991 I’d sold my house, bought a mobile home and the rest is history. After ten years of circling the loch chasing Nessie I settled the caravan permanently at the Dores Inn right on the water and I’ve been there ever since.
What do people think Nessie actually is?
The jury’s out on that one. The first sighting was back in AD 565 as recorded by a saint visiting Scotland, but there have always been Scots stories about the kelpie, mythical creatures living in the lochs here. In 1933 a sighting led to a local newspaper calling it a monster, and for the rest of that decade it caught the public imagination. Today no two Nessie hunters see the same thing – some even believe they are looking for a rip in time, or a route to the so-called ‘hollow earth’.
What do you think was the most convincing sighting recorded so far?
A guy called Marcus Atkinson, a friend of mine who lives on a boat in the lake and goes hunting for Nessie with sonar, recorded a significant event in 2008. He was in 600 feet of water on the loch with his engine off and sonar on. He looked down under the boat and about 60 feet down he saw a long line of an object passing underneath. The sonar indicated it was five feet wide from top to bottom.
What’s a typical day for you?
There’s no typical day really, especially if the weather and visibility is poor. When I settled the van at Dores Inn and expanded a little with wooden decking and more space, I was able to set up a proper oven and stove, which I use to make clay models of Nessie. If the weather is good, especially in the summer, I will spend a lot of time meeting people who come to talk abut Nessie. I might go out on a boat. But the majority of my time is focused on simply watching the water. That’s a perfect day to me.
How do you make a living?
I don’t need much to live. Mainly my income is from the models I make, but it’s a hand-to-mouth life. Of course this means there are things that are out of my range like these new underwater cameras that cost about £1,000. That level of hunting is eluding me at the moment.
What do the locals think of you?
After 26 years I am local now! The vast majority are very happy with me and the Tourist Board can’t get enough of me. In fact, they made me an official Highlands and Islands Tourism Ambassador for Scotland!
What percentage of people you talk to seem to want to believe there’s something in there?
Of the locals it’s very much 50-50. Those who have seen something or know someone who has are believers. Those who haven’t tend to be more sceptical. Of the visitors and tourists it’s more like 80 per cent. They are excited about spotting and photographing something and it’s a pilgrimage for a lot of people who’ve always wanted to come to Loch Ness. I find it amazing more pictures don’t come forward.
How convinced are you that there’s something in there?
If I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t be here. But my ideas have definitely changed. When I first came here I thought I was looking for a dinosaur-type monster. Today the most plausible answer for me is that Nessie might be a Wels Catfish. These are huge scale-less freshwater fish with broad flat heads and wide mouths and no dorsal fin – which would explain the hump sightings – that can live up to 100 years. A lot of these fish were introduced in British lakes in Victorian times.
What have been your most encouraging sightings?
My most exciting sighting was in my first year, at Fort Augustus. Something shot across the bay like a torpedo across the water, with a spray like a jet ski, going against the waves. That really stopped me in my tracks. I thought then this job would be easy. I’m still waiting for my next incredible sighting.
What would you do if you got the ‘killer shot’ that proved to you that Nessie existed?
I’ve though about this and over the years my opinion has changed. At first I thought I’d exploit the image for as much revenue as I could get. It would be another piece of the puzzle and I could use the money to buy new and better equipment to continue the search. But then I think I might just keep it to myself, and not go public. I guess I’ll decide when I get the evidence. It would open up a lot of doors though. I could go on and be an international monster hunter!
Finally, what would you do if you could conclusively be convinced that there was no Nessie?
I don’t believe that will ever happen. I am here all the time, I hear so many tales from so many people, all unexplained, and that’s enough to convince me there is definitely something. The day I think there’s nothing, the next day I’ll find out someone’s seen Nessie and it exists.