The Monster Men

investigating Bownessie with joe nickell.jpg

It isn’t very often that you are asked whether you would be at all interested in going monster hunting with an investigator you’ve admired for the majority of your life, which is why when the organisers of QEDcon asked me in 2011 if I’d be up for visiting Lake Windermere and Loch Ness with Joe Nickell I said ‘YES PLEASE!’. Not only did it fill me with immense joy that Joe would be speaking at QEDcon in March 2012, I danced around the room because I would be investigating two lake monsters with the legendary Joe Nickell – the man whose work I have admired from afar for a long time.

On Monday 12th March I met Joe at the QEDcon venue and we awaited the arrival of my father who would be our driver for the week. See, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to organise a trip to Windermere and Loch Ness when you aren’t able to drive, but it soon becomes apparent that you will be spending a lot of time on trains and buses. This doesn’t just eat into your time in quite a significant way, but it also eats into your bank account quite a lot too. It was cheaper to drive from Manchester to Windermere, and then onto Loch Ness and back, which I think is pretty terrible. I would have preferred to have used public transport but we were simply unable to justify spending almost twice as much doing so.

We arrived in the Lake district within a few hours of setting off from Manchester and our first task was to locate a hotel so we headed straight for the Tourist Information Office. On a tight budget, we asked the lady at the Centre for a list of nearby hotels that had vacancies that were quite cheap. She suggested one that wasn’t too far away from where we were parked that was also reasonably priced too. As she wrote down the phone number and marked the location on a map for us Joe asked her ‘do you sell hunting licenses here for the lake monster?’.

It was a great way to initiate a conversation about Bownessie which is something I aimed to do, but hadn’t been sure how to approach with a complete stranger. The lady laughed and shook her head and I realised it was the perfect opportunity to probe further and so, in the most convincing “air-head” style I could muster up, I asked with wide eyes ‘Is there REALLY a lake monster?’, concern creeping into my voice.

“Ha! No, the story was made up by one of the local hotel owners to drive more business to the area’ she told us cynically. ‘There’s nothing out there, my brother goes out in the water and he’s never seen a thing’.


We were shown ‘paranormal books’

Most skeptics would have smiled smugly at that as though it proved the whole story surrounding Bownessie was a giant story fabricated to boost tourism. Yet, it didn’t sit comfortably with me at all. As the lady showed us the two books they had in their store about ‘the paranormal’ stuff in the area I thought back to all the research I had previously done on the Bownessie sightings and I knew that Thomas Noblett, the hotel owner that she was referring to (and whose phone number she had written down for me that now sat in my pocket), hadn’t been the first person to have a Bownessie experience, and certainly wasn’t the first person to suggest a lake monster was in lake Windermere. Her analysis of him fabricating the story didn’t sit right with me as it just didn’t ring true. I knew though that the best thing to do would be to contact Thomas himself and arrange to have a chat with him.

We soon left the Tourist Information Office and headed for the recommended hotel. Upon arrival it was clear that the hotel wasn’t exactly the nicest hotel in the area, but it was cheap and that was all that mattered. My hopes of a comfortable stay were dashed further when upon inquiry about vegetarian breakfast options I was told ‘we usually just remove the bacon and sausages from the fry up’. Lush…

As my dad (whom I shall refer to by his name, Andy, from now on) and Joe sorted our booking out I sneaked out of the hotel and decided to give Thomas Noblett a call on the off-chance he’d be willing to meet up with us later that day as I felt that talking to him would be a great start to our research in the area. When he answered he explained he’d be around for the next hour or so and my hopes of chatting to him on that day were dashed. We still had to head back down to the car, drive it up to our hotel and unpack and I didn’t think it was realistic that we could do that and then drive to meet Thomas within an hour. When I explained this to him he asked me where we staying and then told me we should have stayed at his hotel, The Langdale Chase. I explained that we were on a very tight budget and he said that didn’t matter and that he’d match the price of our current hotel for us.

I LITERALLY RAN AT EIGHTY MILES AN HOUR. ‘Cancel the booking, we’re staying at the Langdale Chase!’ I told the others who both looked at me blankly. They’d never heard of the Langdale Chase Hotel. They had no idea how generous Thomas had been. They had no idea what luxury we were heading for. Oh boy. If they had then they too would have been running at Eighty miles an hour towards it.

You can learn more about the Langdale Chase Hotel here. Open Fires. Lakeside. Awesome views. Oh yeah.

I feel I must make it clear here though that as we were conducting serious research during our stay we took no delight from our time at the Langdale Chase Hotel. We shielded our eyes from the view, didn’t enjoy the delicious food at all (oh, the sticky toffee pudding…), and slept on the floors instead of our comfortable beds. We wouldn’t want to be accused of having a ‘holiday’. Oh no. There was no fun.

We got to spent quite a substantial amount of time talking to Thomas Noblett and Andrew Tighe about their experience that day in 2009. Thomas had been swimming across the Lake from the Langdale Chase Hotel jetty and towards the shore near Wray Castle when at a considerable way across, something large swam behind him, going up the lake and the subsequent wave created by this thing hit him in the water and Andrew Tighe who was in a rowing boat alongside him.

Neither saw what it was, but both agreed that the wave/wake that ‘it’ gave off was quite large, and that there hadn’t been a boat anywhere near them at the time and that the lake was quite calm and empty.

I believe that they had a genuine experience and I do not believe they have fabricated their story, but I do not believe that they encountered some sort of monster. I don’t think that they believe what they encountered was some sort of prehistoric beastie either. As we spoke by the lake Joe and I put forward many other possibilities and both Thomas and Andrew did consider these as possible, but as Thomas said himself ‘who knows’. One theory that Thomas put forward was the idea that a Wels Catfish was in the lake and was the cause of these sightings and experiences. He told us of a friend of a friend who claimed to have once seen the carcass of a Wels Catfish on the shore of Lake Windermere, alluding to the idea that they are present in the lake. I was doubtful of this because Dr Ian Winfield who studies the ecology of Lake Windermere has also said that he thinks the only monstrous thing living in the water hat could cause the sightings could be a Wels Catfish, but that he had never come across one in the lake during the twenty years that he had gone out on the lake and studied the life systems. It’s true that we will never know for certain what it was that Thomas experienced in the water of Lake Windermere, it’s certainly an intriguing encounter, but intriguing encounters do not make a monster. I also do not think that it is logical to conclude that it was a Wels Catfish as there is no evidence that these live in the lake. If we’re going by that logic we may as well say it was a shark. We have just as much evidence of them being in the lake as a Wels Catfish, after all…

On the second day in Windermere we met up with Paul Pearson who knew the area a lot better than we did, and who had studied Bownessie more than I had. We set off for Wray Castle because it was along these shores that the first sighting of a lake monster in Lake Windermere was reported in 2006 by Steve & Elaine Burnip. We parked by the castle and all four of us set off for a walk along the shoreline. As we walked we observed numerous boats creating deep wakes in the water. It was interesting to observe how the wakes didn’t come anywhere near the shore until a considerable amount of time after the boat has passed by. On one occasion I timed the wake to take 7 minutes to reach the opposite shore after a ferry had passed us.

At one point along the shore we found a twisted branch from one of the trees in the area and, upon agreeing it looked sort of “serpent-y” we went about trying to create a monster. We sort of succeeded, and discovered that Joe has a good throw. Watch the video below to observe for yourself. The monster – not Joe’s throw, though you can observe that too if you so wish.

After our trip along the lake shore by Wray Castle we all piled back into the car and retraced our route and travelled to the Windermere Visitor Centre as we wanted to find out what wildlife lived in and around the lake and, more importantly, whether there were Otters in the area. Entering the centre we were disappointed by the lack of available information, but as we browsed around, Andy discovered a leaflet for Lakes Aquarium which had a picture of an otter on the front cover.

The best Bownessie-like merch we could find…

We all piled back into the car and headed into Bowness-on-Windermere with the intention of finding lunch, and then seeing if we could determine which islands were seen in the Tom Pickles photograph. There has been some confusion as to whether the islands in the background of the photo were Hen Holme and Lady Holme – placing Pickles nearer the shore in Bowness-on-Windermere at the time of taking the photo, or whether they were ‘The Lillies’ which would have meant he was further out and to the side of the lake.

Hen Holme & Lady Holme from the shore in Bowness

Upon arrival it was quite clear that the islands in the photo were Hen Holme and Lady Holme, and after spending some time in the area we were able to agree that the photo was taken from around the ‘left side’ of the harbor area and that Pickles was not too far out in his kayak from the shore to have been able to capture the islands at the angle and distance that he did.

This raises the question of whether he would have been able to realistically stage a hoax using a tyre/tyres as many have suggested, in such clear view of those on the shore at 10:35am? We also discussed whether it was possible for a tyre to float in such a manner that it creates the four-humped effect seen in the photo without capsizing. This is something that I will be exploring in more detail in the near future.

After lunch we traveled to Lakes Aquarium where I inquired at the desk whether anyone was available who could possibly help a group of monster hunters. Surprisingly, the girl behind the counter didn’t find this as strange as I thought she might and we soon met Dave Conway, the education officer at Lakes Aquarium who was able to confirm that Otters do live around the lake.

Dave explained that Eurasian otters live and breed around the lake and were often spotted and that there were even some that were semi-tame and had learnt that they could get food by approaching tourist boats on the lake. Clever. The Otters that live at Lakes Aquarium aren’t the same as those who live in the wild in Windermere – they are much smaller and a whole lot more tame, but Dave very kindly told us that we could go behind the scenes and that he would wake the Otters up for their feed so that we could see how they act in the water.

This was a brilliant opportunity and something that we totally didn’t expect to happen and, if I’m honest, it made my day as not only did we get to see the way that Otters behave in the water, we also got to see the Lakes Aquarium Otters and they are SO CUTE. They’re tame of course, and Otters aren’t like that in the wild, and Dave even told us of how an Otter had been seen near the Aquarium just a few weeks ago trying to grab a duck. ‘They will do anything for food’ Dave explained as we watched the older of the two Otters standing on its hind legs screaming at Dave to give her a meal worm. ‘Quite’ I thought, and made a mental note not to go searching for Otters in the wild unless I was on a boat, or very far away from their teeth.

The way that the Otters moved in the water was incredible, as you can see for yourself in the footage I filmed in the Aquarium below. The can twist and turn and dive and resurface in seconds. There is no doubt in my mind that if you saw a number of Otters playing ‘follow the leader’ as they often do you could mistake them for one creature with humps protruding from the water.

We asked Dave if he thought the Pickles photo could have been a number of Otters playing in the water near Bowness and he wasn’t sure it was. He pointed out that a tyre had been found shortly after the Pickles photo had exploded into the newspapers, and I showed him the copy of the Tyre photo in question as Joe, Andy, Paul and I had already discussed this find and concluded that, actually, if you truly look at the ‘monster’ in Pickles photo, it does not resemble the discovered tyre at all. This is why I am keen to test the ‘Tyre in the water’ theory for myself. I live near the River Avon and will be recruiting some friends who are keen Kayakers to help me with these experiments soon, so we shall see…

Dave Conway also listed off numerous species of fish that live in the Lake that I’d already heard about from Dr Ian Winfield (whom we had been unable to meet as he was on holiday) and we asked Dave if it was possible that any of those fish could get large enough to swim past Thomas Noblett in the lake and create a considerable wave. Dave thought that this was possible, and it seemed like a strong possibility to us too. Apparently a pike was once caught in the lake that measured at three and a half feet in length and weighed in at a record-breaking 36lbs. Salmon also grow to quite a length and Dave commented that he had seen trout that were about a foot in length in the lake before.

Dave also mentioned that during World War Two the lake was trawled for perch fish and no monster was discovered, which is something I hadn’t heard before and was very interested to learn about. I asked him if he had heard the theory of it being a Wels Catfish and he nodded. I probed further and mentioned that Thomas Noblett had suggested to us that an aquarium had released two Wels catfish into the lake some time in the past. Dave explained to us that he had heard this rumor too but did not know it to be true. He told us how the aquarium had owned two Wels Catfish up until a year ago that were five foot and three-foot in length. They outgrew their tanks though and so were given to a nearby Golf course who now have them in their pond.

Could this be where the rumor that catfish were released into the lake came from?

After our trip to the Aquarium we decided to head back to the hotel as time was ticking on. We first made a stop in the gift shop where I purchased a cuddly toy Otter for Joe and then Dave caught up with us to explain they actually had a Wels Catfish in one of the tanks, he took us to see it and explained it was a very small one at about one and a half feet in length.

The Wels Catfish at Lakes aquarium

We had wanted to climb Gummers How to see if we could recreate the photo taken by Linden Adams that shows a mysterious long object claimed to be some unknown creature. We didn’t make it though because we were all feeling very tired, needed food, and were aware that we needed to pack up our stuff ready for the second leg of our journey the next day.

We headed back to the wonderful Langdale Chase Hotel, claimed the sofas around the open log fire and wrote up our notes and thoughts on our discoveries of the day. I am pleased that I had the chance to visit Lake Windermere and see the various places involved in the ongoing Bownessie story. As I learnt from Joe Nickell, it is easy to sit at home and speculate as to what is happening and what the intentions of the people involved are, but you very rarely get things right by that process of investigation. It isn’t until you actually visit places and see the areas involved through your own eyes that you can start to get a feel for what is what. It isn’t until you speak to the people involved that you can start to understand what has happened. I have become so involved in the race to be the first to comment on the latest paranormal news story that I’ve really lost  a taste for what good investigative behaviour is, and I aim to remedy that immediately.

I will be returning to Windermere later this year and I will be exploring the places I didn’t get a chance to visit. Thank you to Thomas Noblett, Andrew Tighe, The Langdale Chase Hotel, the staff of the Bowness Tourist Information Centre, Paul Pearson and Dave Conway for their help, time and assistance. What fun!

Part 2 of ‘The Monster Men’ will be online soon. Prepare for tales of Nessie hunting!

Revisiting Bownessie

In my initial article considering the case of the “Bownessie” lake monster in detail, I concluded that I felt that the most likely cause for the various sightings of the monster was simple misidentification of fish, objects and other animals in the lake.

After I published my article online I received feedback from one of the eyewitnesses, Linden Adams, who took the first photo that allegedly shows the monster in the lake. His feedback stated:

Firstly my photographs were exstensivley [sic] studied by professional forensic photographers including Canon UK. The size and distance of the object was calulated [sic] by forensic’s [sic] and in the presence of Dr Winfield so you have been mislead yourself. Please read statement signed by Dr Ian Winfield clearly stated he was happy with the size and distance. As for large Pike or Otter then may I suggest a trip to the sumit [sic] of Gummer’s Howe with a copy of my images to give you scale. You have failed to mention that Deer are known to swim the lake to find a richer feeding area, like so many publications on this subject it’s incomplete. It is however one of the better articles but can’t understand why you spoke to a strange man from CFZ and didn’t speak to Mark Carr forensic photographer.

Credit: Linden Adams

For more photos click here (and scroll down to the bottom of the page)

I should point out that the reason I spoke to Jon Downes from the CFZ (the strange man who Adams mentions) and not Mark Carr was because I didn’t know Mark Carr was involved in the case at all. I am, after all, not psychic and unless people are completely transparent about their research or involvement in a case like this, it would be impossible to know all the facts. Especially as Dean Maynard refused to share his research with me, that may have brought up Mark Carr’s involvement.

I was interested to find out more about the statement from Ian Winfield, whom I had spoken to before, and so I contacted Ian and he agreed that he had indeed made a statement, as had Jon Downes it appeared. The statements were later forwarded onto me by Linden Adams and are as follows:

“I have viewed a series of photographs taken by Mr Linden Adams on the 5th February 2007. Having spoken at length to Mr Marc Carr of IE PHOTOGRAPHY of Hawlshead, I am satisfied that:

1. The images have not been tampered with in any way. The images in the photographs are exactly what Mr Adams saw.

2. Although the fact that the camera was not fixed to a tripod makes it impossible to be sure, the empirical evidence suggests that the object is moving fast enough to cause a bow wave.

3. There appears to be a solid object 12-15 feet in length that is leaving a wake of about thirty feet.

Having compared these images with well known images purporting to be those of cryptids, these images, especially – according to Mark Carr – when one considers the forensic evidence contained within the images in terms of time codes etc., these images provide better evidence for the existence of a large animal in the lake than – say – the famous 1963 Tim Dinsdale film taken at Loch Ness.

Logic suggests that the object in the picture is animate. It appears to be far too large to be any known mammal or bird, and therefore I would suggest that it is a huge fish of indeterminate species. This is in line with other evidence collected by the CFZ in recent years, and we are very excited with this latest piece of evidence” – Jonathan Downes


Hi Linden

It was good to meet you in person this morning and to examine, in the presence of forensic photographer Mark Carr, your photographs taken at the south basin of Windermere on the morning of Monday 5 February 2007.

It is my understanding that Mark’s judgement is that the source of the observed disturbance of the water surface is a moving object, with several of the photographs showing both a part of the object itself (with the remainder being underwater) and a generated wake or other disturbance on the water surface.

As I have mentioned in earlier discussions, in my opinion identification of the object hinges on its size. This morning, Mark clarified this issue by informing me that his current best conservative estimate of the minimum length of the visible part of the object is approximately12 feet, which I convert to approximately 3.5 m.

On the basis of my 27 years experience as a professional freshwater fish ecologist, including leading research programmes on Windermere for the last 17 years and intermittent research on waterfowl, this size estimate means that I cannot explain the photographs by reference to any fish or other vertebrate species previously demonstrated to inhabit Windermere.
Best wishes, Ian J Winfield –  BSc PhD MIFM CEnv

I also got in touch with Mark Carr, the forensic photographer in question because I’m always willing to consider all possibilities and I like to gather all the information I can about a case and the research conducted into it prior to my involvement.

Mark got back in touch to tell me that after examining the photos and explained:

I was asked to illicit if the image had been altered digitally and what it may be in terms of size etc.  The series of images were not conclusive as to what the object was BUT based on my research and analysis I would say the photographs had not been altered electronically, the object appeared to be solid and   in respect of length was at least 12-14 feet ( c4 m) though could possibly be longer. I have no expertise or ability from the quality of the images to determine what the object was.

I was also sent these two images by Linden Adams that were apparently used by Mark Carr to determine the size of the anomaly that Adams photographed.

Linden Adams promised to send me the full report from Mark Carr but this has yet to appear over a month later. However, in an extract from his photography blog:

As the photographs were taken on a professional Canon camera and shot in camera Raw format as appose to Jpeg it would be easy to get the images validated so I sent them off to Canon UK. A letter came back supporting the validation and future equipment support, next was a forensic report to uncover other information like size and location. Mark Carr an independent forensic photographer spent three days analysing the memory card and was ultimately satisfied that I had genuine images.

Here are a few extracts from his report,

 ON a number of the images (particularly 48) there was a darker patch of pixels contained in the anomaly. It was not possible to resolve this any further (in part due to camera shake and in part due to the distance the anomaly was away from the camera). This effect could be due to their being a solid object. I would estimate this darker patch to be as much as 4m in length on shot 48.

In conclusion, based on the information I have been given and the checks I have so far been able to carry out I am satisfied of the following:

  1. The images I have seen have not been digitally modified or are the result of a camera or lens error.
  2. The position of the anomaly was around 2.8 to3 km away from the camera.
  3. The anomaly was approximately 150-200m off shore from the northern most boat house.
  4. The overall anomaly is at least 15m in length.
  5. The darker area observed is at least 4m

This is all very interesting and it’s good to see that such thorough investigation of the photos has been carried out, however without the originals, and without the full report from Mark Carr it is impossible to verify any of this information, which members of BARsoc are very keen to do.

The sharing of this research has also not swayed me away from my original conclusion that what has been reported on numerous occasions by eyewitnesses is most likely to be misidentification of fish, animals or other objects around the lake area.

The anomaly captured by Adams, for example, could easily be a bird coming in to land on the water and creating a wake behind it – thus causing such a large anomaly. Or perhaps even a log or stone emerging from beneath the water, causing the same effect – an effect that Ian Winfield told me on the phone could be the cause of many odd sightings in the lake.

I accept that there is a large oddity in a photograph taken by Linden Adams, and I accept that this has been verified as true and not tampered with. However, this does nothing to prove that the “Bownessie” sightings are some sort of strange creature living in the lake, which is unlikely for reasons pointed out in my initial article examining the case.

To suggest that this photo is proof of a lake monster in the lake is a leap of logic. It would be as easy to suggest that the oddity in the photograph taken by Linden Adams is an alien, but unless I have the proof to back up that statement I would be making wild speculations based on no evidence. The burden of proof, as always, lays with those making such claims, and no evidence has been provided.

I am, by all means, willing to accept that there could be some sort of creature in the lake, but all research I have done into this, suggests a much more mundane conclusion for what is being seen by people. If someone, such as Dean Maynard or Linden Adams can provide evidence that suggests otherwise – without making logical fallacies in the process of doing so, then I’m all ears.

A monster, an odd photo does not make…

With thanks to Mark Carr and Ian Winfield for their help. 

The Windermere Lake Monster

bowness trimmed


My interest in the Bownessie Lake Monster case began when the news broke that kayaker, Tom Pickles, has allegedly taken a photograph of the monster. It was the latest in a whole series of sightings and investigations into the monster. I wrote an article for the British Anomalistic Research Society website exploring the story behind the photo and concluded that it was probably a tire in the water.

After my research into the photograph I became interested in the sightings previous to the Tom Pickles sighting, as well as the investigations conducted in Windermere by the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) as well as the ones conducted by self-proclaimed psychic, Dean Maynard.

A brief time line of the Bowness sightings

Sighting one

When: 23rd July 2006 (between midday and 1pm)
Steve & Elaine Burnip from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire.
Standing at Watbarrow point, near Wrap Castle (North end of West Shore)
Saw 3 humps breaking the water, travelling in a straight line. One hump was described as a head. Burnip comments that it wasn’t a wave or boat wake, that it looked like a giant eel and was twenty-foot long. He also said it was faster than a rowing boat, but not as fast as a motor boat.

According to Jon Downes from the CFZ, Steve managed to get a photo of what they saw, it is poor quality but shows ‘grey humps’ in the water. Steve Burnip is very reluctant to hand this photo to the press.

“He showed us the original of the photograph he had taken, still on his digital camera, and zoomed in. What had been merely discolouration in the water on the version that had been rather badly reproduced by the Westmorland Gazette, were actually what appeared to be quite sizeable humps. We hope that as time goes by we shall be able to persuade Steve to let us have a copy for our own use.”  – Jon Downes

You can watch a video here of Steve Burnip explaining his encounter to local press.

Sighting two

When: July 2006
Mr & Mrs Gaskell
Cruising near Ambleside at the North end of the lake
Saw a large animal jumping in the wake of their vessel which looked like a seal or dolphin without the fin, leaving a large wake and ripples.”

Around this time the local press had contacted the CFZ after reading about their ‘giant catfish’ research from 2002. They asked the CFZ is they could shed any light on the supposed monster. An appeal was put out in the local newspaper/s for witnesses to come forward and in the following month six more did so, including one from the 1950’s and 1980’s.

Sighting three

When: February 2007
Linden Adams
Windermere area
What: Local photographer, Adams, was walking in the area with his wife when he spotted an oddity in the water of the lake. He said it appeared to be 50 foot long, when compared to boats nearby. Adams took a photo of the object that was then published in numerous papers. Read more here.

Sighting four

When: July 2007
Crew of a boat (unidentified)
North end of the lake
A yatch was moored at the North end of the lake when something banged into the side of the boat, causing it to rock. This was described as a ‘Jaws Style attack’ in the local press. Read about it here.

2008 – no sightings or reports on record that can be found.

Sighting Five

When: July 24th 2009
Thomas Noblett (managing director of The Langdale Chase Hotel)
Lake Windermere
Noblett was swimming close to Wray Castle at 7am on the Wednesday morning when the 3 foot swell hit. He and swimming trainer Andrew Tighe – paddling in a boat beside him – were the only people on the lake. Read about it here.

Sighting Six

When: February 11th 2011 at 10:35am
Tom Pickles & Sarah Harrington
Tom Pickles, 24, and fellow kayaker Sarah Harrington, 23, paddled 300m out onto Windermere lake near Belle Isle when they spotted a mysterious creature the size of three cars gliding across the lake. A photo was taken on Tom Pickles’ mobile phone and then published in numerous newspapers. The story was reported here. I wrote an article examining the photo here.

Sighting Seven

When: February 16th 2011    
Brian and June Arton from Hovingham, North Yorkshire
Where: Beech Hill Hotel off Newby Bridge Road 
Brian said: “We’d just checked into our hotel room at around 4pm when I opened the veranda doors and saw something about 300 yards away in the middle of the lake. I joked to my wife: ‘There’s the Loch Ness monster’ as it had humps but I thought it had to be a pontoon or a very strange shaped buoy.” Read about it here.

The Expeditions

Expedition one

When: October 11th 2006
Who: The CFZ dispatch a research team made up of: Jonathan Downes, Richard Freeman, Mark North, Lisa Dowley, Corinna James, with guests Jon Ronson, Laura (a producer from Radio 4), and Dominic, a cameraman from The Guardian.
What: “
The main point of this three-day expedition was to meet the eyewitnesses, suss out the lie of the land, and – as far as the diving was concerned – carry out something of a dress rehearsal.” You can read a full summary here.

Expedition two:

The CFZ returned to the area in July 2007, but this time were over the western hills in Coniston, searching for giant eels following on from their original trip in 2006.

Expedition three

When: 19th & 20th 2009
Dean Maynard
Where: Windermere details of the expedition)
Dean Maynard conducted an expedition to the lake. Dean was joined by ‘Bownessie’ witnesses Thomas Noblett, Linden Adams and Andrew Tighe. You can read a brief outline of the expedition – with all the associated press – here.

Expedition four

When: September 1th & 12th 2010
Dean Maynard
second expedition with no results other than media coverage. Read more here.

My research into the Windermere lake monster

It seemed to me that Dean Maynard is of the opinion that the sightings were caused by a paranormal creature. The little detail on his website suggested that he and his crew were aiming to find proof that a monster existed in the lake and because of this their research was biased from the start – especially as numerous key eye-witnesses were involved in the research.

I emailed Dean via his PA, Debra Moyce, to ask for a copy of the reports from his expeditions at the lake to see if I could get a general understanding of what claims were investigated and how, but in an email from Debra I was told:

“I have spoken to Dean about your request and have to inform you that due to discussions being held with a third-party we are unable to give you this information at the moment as it may be used during the publishing of a book later on in the year.”

I emailed back to explain that I didn’t necessarily need all the details, just information about the claims researched and the methods used, but I am still to see a reply.

It’s a shame when researchers do not share their findings with others, and because of the lack of details about his research that is outweighed by the amount of press coverage he received, I cannot help but feel that Maynard’s research was a publicity stunt. Especially as when he announced his expedition in 2009 there had been no reported sightings for over a year.

The most intriguing result of the Maynard expedition was some footage filmed by John McKeown of Lakes TV who had been filming shots of the lake for a documentary he was creating about Dean’s investigation of the monster.

It shows something breaking the water in a V shape that John claimed was 20 meters long.

Jonathan Downes from the CFZ was more willing to talk to me about the time he spent at Windermere as part of a research team. Downes had this to say:

“Our theory is that they are giant eels which occur once or twice in a generation, but are nowhere near as big as people say. When eels reach sexual maturity they swim down to the sea, migrate to the Sargasso Sea, mate, spawn and die. We believe that occasionally an eel is born sterile so it doesn’t have the biological imperative to migrate, it stays in freshwater and carries on eating and gets enormous (by eel standards). European eels are not supposed to get bigger than 4 ft but there is (or was) a 5 foot plus one in Blackpool Tower Aquarium (of all places).

I think that once or twice in a generation in a large body of water like Windermere or Loch Ness, a specimen of 8-12 feett could be living. We have found eyewitnesses but the rest is exaggeration or potentially fraud.

If there is anything there it HAS to be a fish and basically that means eel, pike, or possibly Sturgeon. In my long and chequered career I have found that there is usually a sensible explanation for everything, not always, but very much usually.”

I found Jon’s ideas to be interesting, and the idea that what is being seen is something naturally occurring in the lake being misidentified sounded plausible to me, but I wasn’t 100% sure about the giant eel claim. I understand that an eel of 5 foot in length was in Blackpool Aquarium, but the monster sighted on the lake is said to be between 20 – 50 feet in length.

Also, eye-witness testimony alone doesn’t make conclusive evidence for the existence of eels that are 8 – 12 foot in length.

I realised that the people I really needed to speak to were the people who had experience with the ecosystem of Windermere. If a giant eel or fish was being misidentified as a monster I realised that the people who studied the fish population of the lake would be the people most likely to know about it.

I managed to make contact with Dr Ian J Winfield who was happy to answer the questions I had about the ecology of Lake Windermere. Dr Winfield has been studying the ecology and management of freshwater fish in Windermere since 1990 for The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in their Lancaster facility. Although such work is conducted throughout the UK and overseas, a large component of it involves the continuation of long-term netting and trapping studies of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), perch (Perca fluviatilis) and pike (Esox lucius) in Windermere, which began during the 1940s.

This work is augmented by the use of state-of-the-art hydro-acoustics to investigate fish abundance, distribution and size structure, together with aspects of their biotic and abiotic environments, (also worth noting is the fact that the Fresh Water Biology Association has also been studying Windermere since the 1930’s).

Most of the sightings of the ‘Bownessie’ monster have been described as being between 20 and 50 feet in length. In all the time that the ecology of the lake has been monitored and managed nothing even close to that size has been documented. Indeed, there is no species native to the UK of that size in Windermere.

Also worth noting is the fact that unlike Loch Ness, there is no canal connecting Windermere with the sea so this discounts the possibility of a large sea creature accidentally finding its way into the lake as was a possible cause for some Loch Ness Monster sightings. Windermere is drained from its southernmost point by the River Leven, but the River has a waterfall along its length which means it would be impossible for a seal or a whale or similar to pass along the waterfall, down the river and into the lake.

Had a seal, a whale or similar been illegally introduced to Windermere and survived, there would have been more than just the handful of sightings that have been documented. Not to mention the impact such a creature would have on the ecology of the lake – something that researchers would certainly have seen and would have documented.

The fish community of Windermere, which comprises 16 species including the nationally important Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), is undoubtedly the best studied Lake fish community in the UK.

Winfield & Durie (2004) reviewed the history of fish species introductions in Windermere and nearby lakes, a total of 12 native (brown trout (Salmo trutta), European minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), perch, pike) and non-native (common bream, crucian carp, dace, grayling (Thymallus thymallus), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), roach, rudd and tench (Tinca tinca)) fish species are known to have been brought for the purpose of live-baiting. [1]

As mentioned before, one theory for the cause of the monster is that people are mis-identifying a giant eel.

Although there are Eels in Windermere, they tend to be three or four feet in length and none are as large as 20 foot long. Also worth noting is that Eels do not stick their heads out of the water when they are swimming, which is something that many eye-witnesses have reported the “monster” to be doing when they see it. (Quite often eye-witnesses have reported the monster has ‘humps’, one of which is a head).

Grass snakes, on the other hand, have often been seen by ecologists on the lake swimming very fast through the water, in a straight line, with their head held up out of the water. However, a grass snake will grow no larger than a few feet in length.

Although there is a link between sterility and growth in eels, it tends to be growth in girth rather than in length. Also noteworthy is the fact that several of the ‘Bownessie’ sightings were made during winter months when Eels (like many species of fish in Windermere) tend to become more inactive and hibernate. Therefore the sightings in winter months were not likely to have been eels.

Dr Winfield has suggested that if a creature of quite some size is being seen and misidentified as some sort of monster it could simply be a large pike. Another possibility is that somebody has illegally introduced a catfish into Windermere as this is something Anglers have been noted to do in other lakes. They can grow up to 1 ½ meters in length (the biggest ever captured was 9 feet in length), but these specimen take some time to grow that large. Worth noting though is the fact that catfish have never been documented in Windermere and Dr Winfield doesn’t believe this is a very possible cause for the sightings reported (despite the media misquoting him to suggest that he did).

I also asked Dr Winfield about the video shot by John McKeown that apparently shows something breaking the water, and whether there was anything in the lake that could cause such a disturbance to the water surface. He informed me that although he didn’t believe it to be caused by a species of fish, it could have been a rock in the water (they sometimes become exposed as wakes go over them etc.) or may have even been something under the water that had become caught in a boat wake.

I too felt that McKeown and Maynard had connected the footage with the monster with nothing to support such a connection and it was clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that despite the video being interesting, it doesn’t really weigh up as evidence of a monster existing.

With all of this in mind, I took another look at the information about the individual sightings I had collated and looked at the features of the monster that eye-witnesses had noted.

If we are to believe that all of the eye-witnesses saw the same monster, then we have to believe that the creature they saw has the following features:

  1. It is 20 – 50 feet in length
  2. It has a head like a Labrador dog
  3. It can jump in and out of the water
  4. It looks like a dolphin or seal without fins
  5. It looks like a giant eel

No species of fish or animal in Lake Windermere has all of these features – especially not a head like a Labrador dog. When Dr Winfield was first shown the photo taken by Linden Adams, the detail about the size of the creature and the labrador-like head were not mentioned.

After reading over various accounts of the sightings of this monster and the different opinions of researchers, I am drawn to the theory that the monsters that the eye-witnesses have reported may actually be simple mis-identifications of other fish in the lake. It’s not difficult to see something you can’t identify and misjudge it to be paranormal in nature – especially if the suggestion of such a creature existing is already there.

In this video produced by the CFZ about their expedition you can hear Steve Burnip, the first eye-witness in 2006, stating that it was very difficult to judge the distance between where he was standing and where the creature was in the water.

This is, I believe, probably the reason that many people believe they have seen some sort of monster in the lake when in fact they could have been looking at a large fish or a regular sized eel.

There is no way that Burnip could be 100% certain that the creature he saw was twenty-foot in length if he couldn’t tell how far away from him the thing was.

Linden Adams claims he was 1000 feet above ground level (on the side of a mountain), when he spotted and photographed the creature swimming through the lake and causing a wake. It would have been really difficult for him to make an accurate guess at the size of it, even by comparing it to boats in the distance. It could have been a number of things leaving a wake behind.

Tom Pickles and Sarah Harrington were in a kayak in the water when they allegedly saw the monster swim past them. It is very difficult to judge the size of something in the water ahead of you, when you are positioned low down in the water yourself – I personally live next to the Kennet & Avon Canal and have been in Kayaks and know what sort of perception you have of the water in front of you.

Also, if you look at the photo taken by Tom Pickles you can see, in the un-cropped version at least, how small the so-called monster actually is when you put the islands in the background in perspective (as I did in this previous article).

The case of Thomas Noblett, the managing director of a local hotel was one that intrigued me due to the fact that he seemed so ready to jump to the idea that his encounter was the result of a monster in the lake when there was nothing in particular that suggested such a thing. It was a huge leap of logic.

He was hit by a three-foot wave that appeared to come out of nowhere on the lake and then continued to travel on across to the bank. While speaking to Dr Winfield about the lake I happened to mention Noblett’s experience to him and he laughed and told me that it was nothing abnormal for a wave to come out of nowhere to disrupt a seemingly still lake. Quite often, wakes will stay around for long periods of time and will bounce back from the bank. This is probably what hit Thomas Noblett.

I cannot help but believe that the sightings of the Bowness lake monster may have been inspired by the suggestion in the media coverage of the case. It’s easy to slap a paranormal tag on something you experience when such an idea is playing at the back of your mind. For example, Mr & Mrs Arton who believe they saw Bownessie from their hotel room thought it was a Pontoon at first, until they read the local newspaper the next day and saw a mention of the lake monster.

I also feel that many people have jumped on the monster as a publicity tool, and not necessarily for the area because Lake Windermere doesn’t need any help attracting tourists to the area.

The Windermere Lake monster case is, in reality, quite unremarkable as far as evidence is concerned, though I am sure that for many people the sightings and stories are evidence enough in themselves. This is how folklore is made, and I believe that there will be many more sightings of the monster, and possibly more photos that show nothing to suggest a monster is in the water that will prove that exact thing to many who see them.

I will be watching this case intently for future reports, and who knows, I might even buy a copy of Maynards book if it gets published, just so I can finally read his expedition reports.

1 – Winfield, I.J., Fletcher, J.M. and James, J.B.  (2011). Invasive fish species in the largest lakes of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England: the collective UK experience.  Hydrobiologia 660, 93-103. doi:10.1007/s10750-010-0397-2.

Thanks to Jon Downes for his time and to Dr Ian Winfield for his help in my research and constant questions.