Escape From the Woo Zoo: What Do You Mean, Nessie Isn’t Real?!
When I was a little kid, I loved dinosaurs. It all started with a school project about them when I was five, and by a TV show called Walking With Dinosaurs that was broadcast around the same time. It’s no surprise, then, that when I discovered the legendary Loch Ness Monster I was thrilled by the idea that there could be a real, live dinosaur in my own country. Internet was still a thing of the future in my household at the time, so my best bet for finding out more was to badger my parents into taking me to Loch Ness so I could see for myself.
A few years later they gave in, and took me the four-hour journey North to Fort Augustus for a weekend of Nessie-themed activites. I was loving the whole experience- we stayed in a quaint little bed and breakfast near the Loch, and wandered round the nearby towns. Needless to say, everywhere you looked there were tourist shops selling Loch Ness Monster magnets, t-shirts and toys. Fort Augustus even had a loch-side hedge shaped like… well, nothing like a plesiosaur, but kind of like a wiggly snake, and obviously supposed to be Nessie. It was fairly impressive all the same- like a Scottish Edward Scissorhands had got bored at one of the waterfront cafes and attacked a giant shrub.
There were several boats offering glass bottom tours, so of course my parents booked us a trip on one of these. It was around an hour long, and I remember the guide telling us stories about the Loch; legends, a bit of history, and something about freshwater pearls. Of course, I wasn’t particularly interested in this. I spent the whole time determinedly scanning the water for signs of a dinosaur-shaped inhabitant. At the end of the boat-trip I had seen nothing, and felt wholly disappointed. My parents assured me that Nessie must simply have been feeling too shy to make an appearance, and, pacified, we moved on.
Cue: Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Experience. If any attraction can be a fun sponge, I think I found it that day. I went in expecting to see cool stuff we could look at- photos, maybe even physical evidence! But no, what I actually found was a bunch of videos telling me how Nessie just couldn’t exist. It’s difficult, as a seven or eight year old kid, to suddenly be confronted by scientific evidence that shows that something you believe in isn’t real. I don’t remember disputing it for a second- science had showed that there was no plesiosaur lurking in the freezing depths of Loch Ness, and that was that. But I was still gutted, to say the least.
For me, as a Scottish child, I had grown up with Nessie being part of my national identity. Even now, if you ask people in any country in the world what they think of when they think “Scotland”, the answer tends to be “Braveheart, skirt-wearing men and the Loch Ness Monster.” I had believed in it like I believe in all the other things that make me feel Scottish, and I hadn’t thought that there was any reason not to. Parents don’t feel the need to tell their kids that it isn’t real, like they don’t feel the need to tell their kids about the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny- it’s just something you stumble upon in your own time. To be honest, when I think back I’m almost surprised; both that I had never questioned my belief in Nessie, and that the discovery that it wasn’t real actually affected my identity (however momentarily).
The effect, thankfully, wasn’t lasting, and I soon found it funny that I had ever believed in the Loch Ness Monster. But the simple fact is, when you’re seven you don’t think about the need for adequate prey and mating pairs, and you don’t think of underwater scans of the area. You just tend to think “that’s awesome!” ; and it’s all that you really need. And even though the effects aren’t as profound as when you leave a religion, and there certainly isn’t a stigma attached, letting go of a childhood belief- however insignificant- can still be an experience that you won’t forget.