The Monster Hunter
- Jasper Hamill
- 1 October 2008
He’s shunned the conveniences of modern life and lived in a caravan for almost 20 years, all in a single-minded quest to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. But what is life really like for Steven Feltham, Scotland’s most dedicated monster hunter? Jasper Hamill finds out.
You might expect a monster hunter to live in a castle, surrounded by the pelts of the mythical beasts he’s slain, but Steve Feltham’s home is unprepossessing to say the least. His obsessive search for Nessie is conducted from a small caravan parked on one of Loch Ness’ only beaches. It’s a resolutely lo-tech base with no expensive monster-spotting gadgetry, only a video camera and a telescope which are pointed constantly at the choppy waters.
His monomanic quest to find the Loch Ness Monster began almost 20 years ago when, spurred on by a ‘childhood fascination’, he fled Dorset, his birthplace, spent a holiday on the banks of the loch and decided not to leave. Since then he’s devoted nearly every day to gazing into the depths, hoping that at some point Nessie will pop her head up and he will have achieved his bizarre goal. ‘I became fascinated with the hunt for the monster aged seven,’ Steve explains. ‘I was amazed that people just stood there hunting for monsters and thought: that’s the life, you don’t have to make any compromises. So I decided to follow them.’
To fund his search he makes models of the mythical beast in the ‘fat-bellied, long-necked, bug-eyed’ style popularised by cartoon images of Nessie. Not that he’s convinced that’s what the monster looks like - in fact he’s made a cast-iron guarantee to his customers that once it’s discovered what the monster actually looks like, they can all have their money back if his guess is wrong. Many theories have tried to explain what the mysterious presence in Loch Ness actually is, ranging from suggestions that disturbances in the water are down to a swarm
of catfish, to one idea that a Plesiosaur, an aquatic dinosaur, has somehow survived through the aeons and still inhabits Loch Ness. Steve’s not made his mind up yet, neither does he expect to until concrete evidence surfaces from the loch. In the meantime he’s angered by the naysayers who claim that all Nessie evidence is fabricated, peddled by con-artists, and say that anyone that believes in Nessie is credulous at best or insane at worst. ‘Everybody’s entitled to a guess as to what the monster is’, he says. ‘The people that annoy me are the ones that simply deny it exists because they don’t know anything about it. The less you know about the monster, and the less you’ve studied the evidence, the more likely you are to deny its existence.’ He’s only seen something strange in the waters once, when a ripple like ‘a torpedo’ swept through the bay.
It’s a rare type that will give up everything to search for a beast whose existence no scientist has ever proven; a rarer type still that lives in a caravan to carry out that search. But he seems pretty happy with his humble existence, which sounds almost normal: he pays council
tax like the rest of us, has a girlfriend, who lives in Inverness - not yet willing to move in and dedicate her life to the cause - and a cat, Mao Mao, who is his only housemate. Sadly, he shuns some of the more romantic aspects of a life spent close to nature, shopping in Tesco, rather than living off the land or catching fish. ‘I can sit and watch the waters for years on end, but give me a few hours watching an orange fishing float bob up and down and I’d be bored out of my mind.
Unsuprisingly built up a fanbase, his little caravan drawing the attention of tourists and even celebrities. The walls of his home are lined with photos of Steve hugging the stars. On one particularly memorable day, he ended up giving a talk to Billy Connolly’s A-list friends
who Connolly had brought up to see the Highland Games. ‘I’d been asked to give a talk to the kids, but found myself explaining the Loch Ness monster to Steve Buscemi, Robin Williams and Ewan McGregor. It was pretty exciting.’ He even ended up being towed around the loch in a 60 foot tall plastic teabag when a film crew shooting an advert for Scottish Blend (who make teabags specially designed for Scotland’s soft water) turned up, inflated it outside his house and decided ‘the advert would be better with a monster hunter in it.’
It’s not a life many of us would opt for, but Steve’s made his decision and he’s sticking to it. The only thing that would drive him from his home is if Nessie was discovered. So what then? ‘My dream is to find another monster and make models of it. It would be great to start a rumour about a monster in Venice’s Grand Canal and move my caravan to St. Mark’s Square.’ Finding the Loch Ness monster is a quest that many others have embarked on and failed. The world’s most famous Nessie hunter, Robert Rines, recently gave up after 37 years. But he didn’t live in a caravan right on the shore. That takes a different kind of dedication, so it doesn’t look like Steve Feltham’s going anywhere soon.
Take a train from any of Scotland’s cities to Inverness or Fort William and connect to local bus services. Direct, fast services run from Glasgow, Edinburgh and London (including sleeper services). Most trains will happily carry your bikes. Traveline Scotland: 0871 200 2233, www.
National bus companies, including Megabus and Citylink, operate from major Scottish cities to the centre of Inverness, where local rural buses provide a service to all Loch Ness and Highland areas.
Megabus: 0900 160 0900, www.megabus.com. Citylink Buses: 08705 505 050, www.citylink.co.uk
Driving to Loch Ness takes about 3.5 hours from Edinburgh and Glasgow and 2.5 hours from Aberdeen. Hiring a car is simple and can cost as little as £14 per day. Pick-up points can be found in the main cities, usually with the option of one-way hire.
Enterprise: 0870 350 3000, www.enterprise.co.uk Hertz: 0870 8460013, www.hertz.co.uk
The 60-mile long Caledonian Canal connects Loch Ness with Inverness to the north and with Fort William to the south. Hire your own cruiser to sail where you want to go: there are piers, jetties and mooring places along Loch Ness, most of which are free of charge. There are also some well-established Loch Ness cruises that last from a couple of hours to all day and even overnight.
West HighlandSailing: 01809 501 234, www.westhighlandsailing.com. Jacobite Cruises:01463 233 999, www.jacobite.co.uk
* A medieval chronicle contains the first recorded sighting of Nessie. It describes how, in 565 AD, Irish Apostle St. Columba saved the life of a Pict from a ‘ferocious monster’ on the banks of the River Ness. Sceptics have pointed out the habit of the author to invent supernatural creatures for St. Columba to battle with in the name of converting ‘barbarous heathens’ to Christianity.
* Sightings were sporadic from then on, and generated little interest, until in 1933 when a flurry of close encounters with Nessie sparked enormous interest in the Loch and its slippery inhabitant. In 1934 the famous ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’ was published by the Daily Mail. Debate over the authenticity of the photograph raged until 1994 when the Daily Mirror exposed the picture as an elaborate hoax, executed with the help of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big-game hunter whose own efforts to discover Nessie in the 30s had led to failure and ridicule.
* The hunt for Nessie took a new twist with the arrival of self-described ‘monster-hunter’ Frank Searle at the Loch in 1970.A larger-than-life character, former military man Searle styled himself as a colonial adventurer and was often accompanied by a series of nubile young ‘monster-huntresses’ on his excursions. He became a local celebrity, even inspiring a character in the 1995 film Loch Ness, and was well-known for his violent altercations with journalists and other competing Nessie-hunters. However, despite his efforts, Searle lost credibility through the 70s and was widely accused of fakery, even of chopping images of dinosaurs into his photographs.
• In 2007 the Loch Ness Monster was thrust back into the public spotlight.Yorkshire lab technician Gordon Holmes released video footage of what he described as a ‘jet-black thing, about 45 feet (14m) long, moving fairly fast in the water’.The video was instantly hailed as a momentous discovery by leading figures in the Nessie-hunting world. Unfortunately this excitement soon subsided, and Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Centre told reporters that the footage more likely showed a seal, a bird or an otter. Holmes’ credibility was not helped by the fact that he had previously published a range of material showing evidence of supernatural creatures, including a DVD that he claimed proved the existence of fairies.