Stories of sea serpents abound in the Orkneys,
but there has been a number of documented "sightings", over the years,
of strange sea creatures.
1850 a boy, Alec Groundwater, was spending a day in Orphir .He was on
the shore, perched on some rocks, gazing out over the Scapa Flow his
legs dangling out into the water. The sea beneath him suddenly began to
boil and an animal with a broad, flat head and a wide mouth containing
some “wicked” looking teeth or tusks surfaced before rearing up and
attempting to seize the lads dangling legs. Obviously the
creature failed to gab him or he would not have been around to tell the
story . He said it dived beneath the sea surfacing once to “shake its
head and mane till the water cascaded from it on all sides, then
Then there is Gilbert Voy's account of his sighting in the early 1900’s of a sea monster in Inganess Bay
“Now, one afternoon in the early autumn, my sister and I were in the
ebb gathering whelks which we intended to sell. This was our chief
method of raising funds to spend at the Lammas Market. On this day, we
had quite a lot gathered when we noticed the sky becoming very black and
overcast. It looked as if we were in for a thunderstorm and we were
thinking of making for home when we heard a bit of a commotion in the water
at our side. On looking up, we saw a huge animal rearing its head over
the top of us. My sister, who was older than I by about 4 years,
screamed and dashed aside, knocking me and my pail of whelks flying into
a deep hole of water. She then fell over the top of me and we both got
entangled in the seaweed. After frantic struggling and scrambling, we
got out on to the bare rocks and then, without even looking backwards,
we tore for home, leaving out whelks and good tin pails behind us in the
ebb. It had a long smooth neck, devoid of any hair, with a head like a
comic horse or cow and with large protruding eyes that didn't blink.
It made a hissing noise while water dropped from its chin and water
sprayed from its distended nostrils. Now, I would have been about 10 or
11 years old at this time and not guilty of seeing things that didn't
exist, but the picture of this strange animal is still clearly in my
mind. I've never seen anything like it since and, therefore, am a bit
doubtful as to its real size. I now realize that it could have appeared
enormous to us, as we were both up to the knees in water and, in
addition, were both bending down when this thing reared its long head
and neck over us.
Then in Tim Dinsdale’s book on the Loch Ness Monster ,the following appeared: A sighting of a SEA SERPENT by BILL HUTCHISON
It was on a beautiful day in August 1910 that my father along with
my cousin and myself decided to take our sail-boat to the Skerries of
Work in Orkney to shoot duck and plover.
We had a twelve-bore shotgun and a Martini Henry rifle aboard. The
latter fired a heavy lead pellet. We had rounded the Head of Holland and
got about halfway between the north point of the Head of Holland and
the skerries of Work when we observed a school of whales to seaward of
us leaping out of the sea so dar we could see the land of Shapinsay
Island below their bellies when they jumped. It was a wonderful sight to
see these creatures - some of them sixty feet long - crashing down on
the sea sending the water up in spray. We watched fascinated until they
had disappeared from view, heading for the open sea.
My father was steering and when the whales were out of sight he
looked ahead and I heard him say: "My God, boys, what's that?" We looked
where he was pointing and saw a creature standing straight up out of
the sea. It had a snake-like neck and a head like a horse or camel. At
the distance it was away from us, a hundred to a hundred and fifty yards
it stood about the height of our boat mast - eighteen feet - above the
sea. My father turned the boat to port heading for the land, bringing
the creature abeam on the starboard side. I jumped for the rifle which
was under the deck and loaded but my father whispered "Don't shoot,
Bill, you might wound it and it will sink the boat". This was a
disappointment as I should have liked to have killed it and find what
the creature really was. We sat very quiet as the boat headed for the
land and shallow water. I held the loaded rifle intending to make a
fight if the creature attacked us.
The wind was light and we were not leaving it quickly behind so we
had a good opportunity to watch it for about five minutes before it
slowly began to sink straight down and the water closed over its head
without a splash. We now expected it to attack us as we were all sure it
had been chasing the whales. It looked as if it could have picked us
out of the boat one by one without much effort. However we re The colour
of the creature was dark brown with lighter stripes across the neck.
The head resembled that of a horse or camel and appeared to be very
large for the slenderness of the neck were they joined. Probably the
best description is if one can imagine an enormous brown giraffe with
its body submerged and only the neck showing at water-level would be
about three feet and gradually tapering upwards. We reached shallow
water and saw no more of it.
in 1919, a lawyer, Mr J. Mackintosh-Bell, was on holiday in the Orkney
Islands. On the morning of August 5th, from the deck of a cod-line
fishing boat, off Hoy, he saw a monster with 'a long neck as thick as an
elephant's front leg, all rough looking like an elephant's hide'. He
described the head as like that of a dog, with small, black eyes.
The most famous of these encounters has to be the story of The
Stronsay beast in 1808. The Stronsay beast was first sighted on
September 25, 1808, lying on rocks at Rothiesholm Head, in the
south-east of the island. John Peace, a local man, fishing off the
coast, was puzzled by the sight of seabirds flocking around what looked
like an animal's corpse on the rocks. Turning his boat,
and watched by another Stronsay man, George Sherar, Peace made his way
to the carcass. But what he found was unlike anything he had encountered
before. Lying on the rocks were the remains of a large serpent-like
creature, with a long, eel-like neck and three pairs of legs. At the
time, the corpse was inaccessible, so closer examination was impossible.
However, ten days later, a gale
blew the decomposing remains ashore.Sherar now had his chance to
examine the corpse.The beast was described as serpentine, measuring
exactly 55 feet long, with a neck measuring ten feet three inches long.
The head was like that of a sheep, with eyes bigger than a seal's. Its
skin was grey and rough to the touch. However, if stroked from the head
down the back, it was said to be as "smooth as velvet". Six "limbs"
extended from the body and a bristly mane of long, wiry hair grew from
the beast's shoulders, down to its tail. These silver coloured bristles
were said to glow eerily in the dark.
flesh was described as being like 'coarse, ill-coloured beef, entirely
covered with fat and tallow and without the least resemblance or
affinity to fish'. The skin, which was grey coloured and had an elastic
texture was said to be about two inches thick in parts.Account of the Stronsay Beast as reported in The Orcadian newspaper.
the remains had rotted away to practically nothing, the four men who
had originally examined the carcass were taken to Kirkwall and they had to swear to the magistrate that their information was the truth.
The details of the find
reached the ears of a Natural History Society in Edinburgh.At the
society's meeting in November 1808, the creature was given the Latin
name Halsydrus Pontoppidani. The name, meaning Pontoppidan's Water Snake of the Sea, was in honour of the 18th century Norwegian bishop, who collected reports of sea-monsters.Then the
naturalist Sir Everard Home read of the Stronsay Beast.He viewed what
was left of the evidence. He thought the creature was nothing more than
the remains of a decomposing basking shark.
Yvonne Simpson, a geneticist from Orkney, has researched the evidence
and suggests that the Stronsay Beast may indeed have been an unusually
large Basking shark.
Geneticist Dr Yvonne Simpson has researched the Stronsay Beast and
presented a lecture on it to the Orkney International Science Festival
in September of 2008
See website here: http://www.theangloscot.co.uk/ Dr Yvonne Simpson,
However the beast was measured to be 55 feet long from tip to tail, so the shark that decomposed to form the Stronsay Beast must have been a monster of sharks!.
the sea beasties reported cannot have been basking sharks. One or two
sound like walruses or elephant seals, but fishermen would recognise
these creatures so there is always the seed of doubt, that perhaps it
was a real sea monster one of the witnesses saw.