The Monster Men

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!

About Hayley Stevens 431 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

6 Comments on The Monster Men

  1. Really enjoyable to read. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, Hayley 🙂

    Next year I’m taking a holiday after QED too, although, obviously, this wasn’t at all like a holiday!


  2. I have to say, taking a trip to Windamere and Loch Ness, with or without monster hunting, with or without Joe Nickell, sounds like a splendid idea.

    Doing it with someone who can observe, only better.

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