How Nessie lookalike saved Oban tourist trade

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This month we look back at how a sea serpent saved the tourist trade in Oban.

Loch Ness has long been popular with tourists and visitors who hope to see its monster. During a slump in tourism in Oban, a plan was hatched so the town could claim its own.

A businessman arrived in late April 1877 and took up lodgings in one of the hotels for his long summer break. He noticed the landlord was depressed. He was not the only one.

The whole town was suffering from a lack of visitors. The man told the hotelier he had an idea that would bring tourists flocking back. He returned to his room and wrote a letter to a newspaper in the south of England.

He stated he had witnessed a wonderful sea serpent that had been landed on the shore in front of the Caledonian Hotel in George Street. It had been spotted earlier in the bay and a crowd had gathered on the pier, with some pointing their telescopes at it.

A few boats were launched under the direction of Mr Nicholson and, he claimed, as they approached, the creature suddenly sprang from the water and tried to head out to sea. However, the vessels forced it to change course.

A rope was secured to its neck and it took around 70 people to drag it above the high-tide mark. He went on to say it was 101 feet in length with its head 11 feet in circumference, with small eyes. It also had some strange markings that would be of interest to the scientific community.

The newspaper ran the story and, within weeks, papers across the country were publishing it. Visitors flocked to the town to see the creature and that season was one of Oban’s most prosperous.

It was not until the end of that summer it was leaked that the story was fake.

  •  Valerie Forsyth is an author and is passionate about the history of the Highlands and Islands.