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Getaway: Land of the Water Horse -- exploring Scotland's Loch Ness region

Joe Yogerst

I have never knowingly seen a ghost, never been kidnapped by aliens, and in all the tramping and trekking I've done, I've never come across anything that remotely resembled the missing link. Yet I find myself perched on a bluff overlooking Loch Ness, double-checking every ripple and shadow, hoping against all hope that a mythological creature called Nessie really does exist.

And I am not alone. Tens of thousands of people flock to the famous Scottish Highlands lake, hoping they will be blessed with a Nessie sighting. And the number will no doubt grow substantially with the release of ``The Water Horse,'' a film version of the beloved children's book by Dick King-Smith about a Scottish boy who discovers a rather large egg on the shores of Loch Ness that eventually hatches into a cute little plesiosaur.

There have been stories for years, going all the way back to 565, when Saint Columba reportedly drove away a water monster by making the sign of the cross over Loch Ness. Norse and Celtic folklore embraces several mysterious water-dwelling creatures, including a sea serpent called the Orm and malevolent kelpies (a.k.a. water horses) that would seize fishermen and drag them into the depths never to be seen again.

But the Nessie phenomenon did not hit fever pitch until the 1930s when the lakeshore highway between Inverness and Fort Augustus was completed. Monster sightings skyrocketed, research parties were dispatched to find Nessie, and a local doctor snapped the famous black-and-white photo of a long-necked dinosaur swimming through the lake.