I've finished my expedition to the glorious Okanagan Valley in British Columbia (Canada's California, apparently) investigating Ogopogo, the monster that is supposed to inhabit Lake Okanagan. Don't worry, I haven't gone all David Icke (yet) – this is for my new book, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and the subject gives me an excuse to visit some pretty interesting parts of the world. Canada was probably a brave choice for a first destination as it is seen as literary Mogadon by publishers. Bill Bryson supposedly wanted to write a book about the country but his publishers recoiled in horror. I love the place – I have a Canadian wife and spend every summer there – and hope to convert as many Brits as possible to the land of the beaver.
The Okanagan valley is packed with wineries. I forgot just how bored I get being shown around them as they're like fireworks – seen one, seen them all. I escaped after lunch and an extended tasting session. Well oiled, I decided to get straight back to the main purpose of my visit, the search for Ogopogo.
The winery was just above some cliffs that overlooked the lake. It was a stunning day with the water flat calm – perfect conditions for a sighting (you quickly become an "expert" in these things). I wandered down until I got to the cliff's edge. There was a solitary man sitting in a chair, a flask of coffee by his side and a pair of binoculars in his hand, with which he was scanning the waters below.
Normally I wouldn't speak to strangers but I needed stories for my book and he looked like a fellow monster-hunter. "Looking for Ogopogo?" I tried to retract the statement as soon it came out of my mouth, suddenly realising that, if the gentleman was not aware of the legend then this might sound like an offer for some specialist type of gay sex. Sure enough, he was not a local, and took my innocent question entirely the wrong way. He nearly hit me and made it very clear that I would either be leaving the cliffs by my own steam and fast, or else he would throw me off them. I didn't bother to explain, and scuttled off trying to retain some modicum of dignity.
I wandered down a steep hill until I got to the lake shore. To my right was a little stone beach. It was a hot day and I felt that, as a monster hunter, I should submerge myself in the cold lake waters at least once. I looked around; there was nobody about. I didn't have any swimming trunks or towel but this wasn't going to stop me. I stripped off, made a neat little pile with my clothes and headed for the water. It was heart-stoppingly freezing and I nearly gave up.
Monster-hunters, however, are made of sterner stuff so I ploughed on. The bottom was, luckily, not sludgy, but it was peppered with stones. I'd got to about thigh height, covering my privates with my right hand and getting ready to take the plunge, when I stood on something very sharp. I don't know what it was, but it hurt bad. I screamed blue murder, effing and blinding and running around stark naked with my hands on my head, doing that compression thing that you hope might somehow decrease the pain.
I was making a lot of noise, and I could see blood pouring from a large cut between two toes. I looked up to the sky in despair. My gaze fell on the top of the cliffs that loomed over the beach. The man I'd just "cruised" was standing on the edge looking down at me in disgust. He was on his mobile phone, no doubt contacting the Mounties. Its not easy, this monster-hunting.