1197 (ca.): Walter of Bingham and the Beast in the River Ness

On April 1, 2013, researchers Professor Otto Haas and Dr. Ida Winchester at the British Library published exciting news on the Library's website: they had found within a little known manuscript from the 12th Century not only the description of an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster, but an illustration by the witness as well!

        The manusript, Itinerarium Scotiae ("The Journey Through Scotland"), had been written and illustrated by a minor cleric from Nottinghamshire named Walter of Bingham, who died around 1197. He had been unable to fulfill his vow to go on the Third Crusade to Jerusalem, so he shot for an easier goal... he made pilgrimage to the holy sites of Scotland. His interest in the country and its people has now earned him a reputation of being something of an expert on Scottish culture for the time he was writing.

        One summer evening, Walter was looking for a boat that could carry him across the River Ness; strangely, however, all the fishermen he talked to flat out rejected the idea, "with terror in their eyes." Nevertheless, Walter persevered and soon found a young boy with a coracle (a small, lightweight boat) who would be willing to take him across for a silver coin. The crossing was quickly and safely accomplished and the coin turned over, though it bothered the thrifty cleric to spend it. As the boy headed back to the other shore, a great beast with flaming eyes erupted from the water, roared, and dragged the coracle and the boy down into the waves of the river.

        This incident stood out in the manuscript not just for its unusual nature, but also for its illustration:

Walter's original
The original illustration, very faded out. [Larger version here]

...which apparently required much restoration to reveal the image:

Walter sees the BeastThe restored version. [Larger version here]

        Given the nature of the illustration, the research team that restored it could only come to the conclusion that the beast in question was a giant form of bear, possibly related to the extinct Cave Bear. Bone evidence would not rule out the possiblity of a massive bear living in 12th Century Scotland. Further details of the discovery and of the evidence for giant bears are promised to be published in an upcoming copy of the Journal for Applied Cryptozoology.

... April Fools!

        Unfortunately, there was a reason this 'discovery' was posted on April 1... specifically, at 12:01AM on April 1. So let me hit the high points:

  • There is no Journal of Applied Cryptozoology.
  • There was no Walter of Bingham who died in 1197CE.
  • For the above reason, I suspect you can't find a copy of the Itinerarium Scotiae.
  • There currently is no Professor Otto Haas or Dr. Ida Winchester.
  • And, just to be picky, the boat shown in the picture does not look like a coracle.

You'd probably be surprised how many accounts of stuff like this has its origins in a bad April Fools joke played by bored scholars... which is exactly the sort of crap I have to clean up after. Get a real job, guys!

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