I've taken my wife and kids monster-hunting for half term. They all passed on coming with me to the Congo, so we've come to Inverness for a week to look for the Loch Ness monster. It's quite tricky being a monster-hunter when you have the family in tow. Somehow, it gives you less gravitas. Not that being a monster-hunter up here is something I'd aspire to. Having spent the week chatting to other monster-hunters, it seems that internecine rivalry is intense. All come down on hard on rivals, denigrating their scientific abilities, intelligence and even their choice of facial hair. I heard stories of abuse being daubed on the walls of gorgeous Urquhart Castle. I even heard about one man setting fire to another's exploration vehicle. It's all got a bit heated.
One of the things I wanted to do while I was up here was visit the man who gave up his job as a burglar alarm installer in the South-east and has lived for the past 15 years in a tiny former mobile library on the shores of Loch Ness. He spends his days making little model figurines of the creature and selling them to tourists. This allows him to train his long-lens camera on the waters of the loch in search of the "beastie".
About 10 years ago, just before I made Trigger Happy TV, we were filming in this area. We made a huge foot out of wood and attached it to a stick. We waited until the man in the mobile library went to bed and then made a series of tracks all around his home. I wanted to apologise and ask him what he'd thought about the whole affair. So I got his number from someone and rang him up, but it turned out he was on a beach in Thailand. Looks like the monster model business is doing well.
In fact, the whole place is bursting with Nessie shops, Nessie tours, Nessie cruises, Nessie mini-golf... Lord only knows what the people of this area would do for income if the monster tourists stopped coming. I've now been all over the world looking for monsters for my new book, and this is the only place whose economy runs on monster "myths".
What's particularly interesting is how the original group of monster-hunters who all rocked up here in the Sixties have changed. Back then, they were rebelling against "establishment science" and saw the hunt for a monster that was unknown to the wide world as a big adventure. Now, most have become almost sceptical. They seem weary of monsters and spend their time discussing thermoclines and levels of silt in the loch. My kids were a little disappointed when they visited one of the larger monster exhibits up here. They were all prepared to be a bit freaked out and to see some monster footage. Instead, they got what seemed like quite a dull science lesson.
Luckily, the new generation of monster-hunters is a bit more fun. One that I met had set up two webcams on top of a friend's cottage overlooking the loch. He had even got a couple of white witches to bless the machines. This was more like it. The cameras look over a little paddock in front of the cottage and down on to the dark, moody waters.
The paddock happens to be the home of two rather beautiful sheep. I asked the owner whether there had been many sightings of the "beast" by online watchers? She replied that actually the main interest seemed to be in her sheep. Indeed, she had even had visitors from elsewhere in the United Kingdom who had come specifically to "meet" them. There is a joke to be made here about these visitors and something to do with Wales... but I won't make it.