It is notable how many of Scotland’s lochs have monster traditions and sightings: Loch Ness, Loch Lhinne, Loch Lochy, and Loch Arkaig to name just a few. Morar is a freshwater lake in the highlands of Scotland, in relation to which – in common with the neighbouring Loch Ness – occasional reports of a large unidentified creature (dubbed Morag, the monster of Loch Morar) in its waters have been made. The loch, although not as large a mass of water as Loch Ness, is a thousand feet deep in places, and is much more remote and inaccessible to eyewitnesses. Its resident monster, who in general appearance resembles the classic pictures of Nessie as a prehistoric plesiosaur, has allegedly been spotted just as often as Scotland’s most famous loch-based monster. While, up until a couple of years ago, Morag had been quiet for more than two decades without even the hint of a recorded sighting, there are now signs that Scotland’s second most famous Loch monster is making something of a comeback.
It was Alexander Carmichael, a prolific gatherer of folklore at the turn of the last century, who first gathered stories about Morag from people living near the loch. His writings, thought to date from 1902, paint a conflicting view of Morag. On the one hand, she is presented as a mermaid-like character with flowing hair, while another description paints her as a grim reaper whose sighting was viewed as a death omen. Carmichael, however, is thought to have spent only a couple of days in the area of Morar and did not claim to see Morag for himself. Most sightings, which date back to 1887, have depicted Morag as a humped serpent-like creature similar to the more famous Nessie. In 1948 nine people in a boat claimed to have seen a 20ft-long creature in the loch (interestingly, in the same part of Loch Morar as the 1887 sighting). The best known encounter, in 1969, involved two men, Duncan McDonnel and William Simpson, and their speedboat, with which they claimed to have accidentally struck the creature, prompting it to hit back. McDonnel retaliated with an oar, and Simpson opened fire with his rifle, whereupon it sank slowly out of sight. They described it as being brown, 25–30 feet long, and with rough skin. It had three humps rising 18 inches above the loch’s surface, and a head a foot wide, held 18 inches out of the water. Since then, Morag has been seen on several other occasions, and the loch’s remoteness (there is no road around it) compared to Loch Ness, suggests that there would be many more sightings if the loch was more accessible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, several expeditions with the aim to prove or find the monster have been made, but no evidence for an unknown, large creature has been found.
Most recently, in 2013 tourists Doug Christie and his wife Charlotte claimed they spotted a 20ft black shape in the water three times in two days, convincing them that the beast had returned. What makes all of these accounts so compelling is their consistent, though infrequent, nature and the character of the eyewitnesses. McDonnel and Simpson were hard-working fishermen, not given to flights of fancy, while Christie was a retired oil engineer, with equally little reason to make something up. There are similarities in the description of their encounter – and those of others – with Morag, as well as their account of the monster itself. True, there aren’t any convincing photographs or videos associated with these eyewitness accounts, but those who came forward must have known they would risk disbelief in doing so. A final description of the monster, penned by Carmichael, retains Morag’s association with death but sees her take on more human characteristics. He wrote: “Like the other water deities, she is half-human, half-fish. She is represented as being fair, beautiful and very timid and never seen save when one of the Morar family dies or when the clan falls in battle”. Perhaps this is as convincing an explanation as any other for the seemingly regular appearances made by the Monster of Loch Morar over the years.