Have you ever been fascinated by a subject since you were a kid? One that would become a lifelong passion and pursuit?
Steve Feltham has spent the last 23 years as a full-time monster hunter, living on the shores of Loch Ness in search of the legendary Nessie.
I am excited to have Steve launch my 6 Questions for series, where I interview people who have pursued unconventional projects and dreams.
1) What inspired your fascination with Nessie?
Firstly, the question of when I became inspired by this world famous mystery – well, that was back in 1970. I was then aged seven, on a family holiday with my parents and my brother Martin. We visited Loch Ness while touring the Highlands of Scotland. At that time, there was a team of passionate monster hunters calling themselves the “Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau,” who had set up a summer long watch over the loch in the hope of spotting something unexplained. Their base camp was a group of large caravans gathered in a field high above the water, giving them a great vantage point.
Luckily for me this was open to the public.
We spent a while visiting here. What I remember most was that they had built a viewing platform sticking out from the sloping field. On this, they had a camera mounted on a tripod. The lens on this camera must have been a meter long.
As a seven-year-old, I was instantly fascinated…grown men looking for monsters in Great Britain. Amazing.
Seeing my interest, my father bought me the information folder they were selling to the public to fund their expedition. The folder contained enlarged copies of the three most interesting photographs and copies of sighting reports, sonar charts, and maps.
I think my father thought that in buying this I would be kept quiet for the long drive home to Dorset, in the south of England.
He could not have known that this one small purchase would come to dictate the course of my life.
Several times in the years that followed I would pull out this folder in order to fulfill a teachers requirements in an English lesson.
“Give a ten-minute talk on a subject of your choice.”
Researching from whatever sources I could find, my talk would hold the classes attention and lead to heated debates afterwards. Debates in which I would strongly argue the case for there being a small colony of very large, as yet unidentified animals swimming about in the peat stained waters of Loch Ness.
During this time, my family had several more holidays at Loch Ness. My parents found they could leave me sitting on a camping chair next to the water, go into Inverness for the day and return late afternoon to still find me sitting, happily watching the ripples, camera, and binoculars by my side. In a way, Loch Ness was my babysitter.
In adult life, I would occasionally find that I had a free couple of weeks, and a desire to return to the loch. So I would set off on my own one man expeditions, to do the thing I felt most passionate about, try and photograph one of these animals.
During my twenties, these expeditions were some of the happiest times I had away from the rat race, able to feel part of the quest I read so much about.
2) How did you become a full-time monster hunter and support yourself?
Loch Ness could have remained just a hobby if I continued working in the creative industries I spent the first decade of my working life in.
Firstly being a potter, then a book binder, and ultimately a graphic artist. However, in about 1988 I had the opportunity to go into partnership with my father who was retiring from the police force aged 50, and was setting himself up in a one man business installing burglar alarms in peoples homes. For me, this represented a chance to learn a new skill and in the process make a lot of money.
Unfortunately, I instantly took a dislike to this kind of work. I found it a thankless job. Nobody wants to spend a lot of money protecting their home and family. I felt as welcome as an undertaker.
Our most regular age group as customers were the over 60s, the age group that felt most vulnerable to burglars. Each day when we took a break in these peoples homes to have a cup of tea, I would find myself in conversation with them about their lives.
So often these people would look at me in my mid-twenties and say,
“When I was your age I wish I’d…”
….Climbed mountains, swam the channel, or gone to live in Peru, whatever, but ultimately following their hearts.
Instead, they had followed their heads and wished they had followed their hearts.
At this point, I was also in a long-term relationship. We had bought a house and started to settle down. Next obvious step would be marriage and kids.
Did I really want that to be my life or did I want my life to be an adventure?
In 1990, I made one more expedition to Loch Ness, to help me make the biggest decision of my life.
Upon returning from that trip my fate was sealed, I wanted the life of a full-time Nessie hunter. For better or worse, not knowing what would become of me, what questions about the mystery I would be able to answer, what I would learn along the way, and what adventures would befall me. These were all aspects of life that I wanted to immerse myself in.
Have an adventure! The house went on the market.
That seven-year-old me that first stood at the loch back in 1970 would have been so proud and excited by the life to come.
While waiting for my house to sell, my brother located the converted mobile library that I now live in. It was the only mobile home I ever viewed in my preparation for this new life. Instantly I knew it was the right home for me.
During my childhood, my father had his own lifelong dream, a plan to drive overland to Australia, to emigrate. I was always brought up believing that at the age of 18 I too would be going on that overland journey with my parents, taking a year to complete the route.
All through my childhood he bought a series of different caravanettes. Our trips to Scotland and, therefore, Loch Ness, had all been dry runs for this mammoth road trip of his (a trip that for personal reasons never finally happened).
I had read a lot of books by people who made similar long journeys, living in various vehicles, and so the prospect of living in this beautiful old mobile library positively excited me.
I remember telling my parents that I would be quitting the successful family business, the very same day the check for the sale of my house went into my bank account, and that by the way, I would be setting off to find the Loch Ness monster. I recall my father being surprised, and my mother turning to him and saying, “I told you.”
I don’t think that mine was a career decision they would have wished for, but over the coming decades they soon realized my complete happiness in my life choice was enough justification for taking such a big gamble.
When I told my close friends, most of them expressed their surprise that it had taken me this long to reach a decision that to them had been obvious for years.
Living in a mobile home would mean that I could move around the loch to different vantage points on a whim.
If I heard of a sighting of something in the Loch at Fort Augustus, or Drumnadrochit, I could move my whole home to that location and watch from there.
I could also get a complete overview of life in the four main settlements around Loch Ness at the same time.
A wood burning stove makes the van lovely in the winter, and I find that because I have to outstretch my arm to touch the ceiling it does not feel claustrophobic. In fact, the opposite is true, because the door of the van opens out onto the biggest front garden anyone could wish for I have never felt cramped.
After ten years of circling Loch Ness, moving from ten or twelve different locations that I had established permission to park in, the landowner at the Dores Inn, my favorite ‘park-up’, came to visit me, and told me that if I wanted to spread out a bit, maybe make some decking, he would be quite happy.
Ultimately it was this one act of altruism on his part that has made it possible for me to continue this adventure. I would never have been able to keep this old vehicle mobile for all these years, and I had never made a plan ‘B’.
Spreading out on Dores beach has given me the most spectacular view of the loch that I could wish for, and has made it easy for people to come and find me.
Now if you ask any local around Loch Ness, “Where is the guy that lives in a van hunting for Nessie?”
It’s easy, they all point you in the direction of Dores beach.
Before I became static, I was very hard to find, as I could have been anywhere along the loch’s shoreline.
That landowner is Ian Cameron, and I thank him regularly for his kindness.
I even have a piano now in the van. I can’t play it to anyone’s satisfaction except my own, but it’s something that I have always wanted, so I made it fit.
I fund this quest that I am on by making little models of Nessie, and now because it is quite well known that I am here doing this people turn up from all over the world, just to say hello, and to buy one of my models, and to say, “keep following your dream”.
3) What has surprised you most about your journey?
So many aspects of this journey have surprised me over the last two and a half decades, not least that I have managed to make an extremely happy life for myself, a life of freedom to follow my dream.
It’s only when I find myself relating stories of recent adventures to other people that I realize just how thick and fast these adventures turn up. And because unexpected situations have occurred so often and so regularly, I now know in my heart that at times when I can’t see the next out of the ordinary situation coming, that it is merely just over the horizon, and will be along soon enough. I know this because that’s how it has constantly been since day one.
Peoples support and encouragement have surprised me too. People who may not actually care too much whether there are large unidentified animals swimming about in Loch Ness, but care deeply that there are people out there like me following our hearts.
Sometimes I inspire others to go and do whatever it is that makes their heart sing. This is also important to me, to tip someone over the edge into their own adventure.
Sometimes these people make a special trip just to come and thank me for playing a small part in putting them on their own road. Recently a man flew all the way from Rwanda, where he is writing a book about his own life of adventure, just to come and interview me for a chapter in his book.
He had watched the hour-long video diary that I made in 1992 for the BBC, Desperately Seeking Nessie, and by the time the program finished he had decided that he could not remain in the rat race. He went and followed his own dream.
Things like that surprise me.
I am now in the Guinness World Records, holding the world record for the ‘longest continuous vigil seeking the Loch Ness monster.’ That surprises me.
(I don’t think the record will be broken any time soon).
Most of all, I think I am surprised by the fact that with the turning of each year I seem to be getting happier and happier, more content that I am living a life that seven-year-old boy could never have dreamt possible. I turned 51 this year, and I suspect I am bucking the trend.
4) What are your fondest memories of 23 years living on the shores of Loch Ness?
My fondest memory is actually something that happens to me on a very regular basis.
It’s gone midnight. I am sitting beside the dying embers of a campfire, on the beach outside my van door. The beach is deserted, the stars are out, moonlight illuminating everything. I stand on the decking at the front of my van, a faint breeze coming off the water, and I ‘breath in’ the loch. It feels like it floods my veins, rushes to my heart, and occasionally if the circumstances are exactly right it feels like energy shoots out of the top of my head in a beam of euphoric white light. That’s my church, my energy center, my utopia.
There are other fond memories, but they run into the hundreds, and I don’t feel the urge to single specific events out.
I am extremely happy in my chosen life, and that is the most important thing to be.
5) What advice would you give to someone with an offbeat dream they want to pursue?
Your decision to follow your own dream must be decisive, with complete conviction that you are going to make it work.
If you are half-hearted or vague about it, then I suspect it might be doomed to fail.
But if you are 100% up for it then the first thing I found happening was the least expected people just seemed to come out of nowhere and help me on my way. That positivity attracts positivity and for me it’s still happening today.
As I have said before, if you don’t follow your heart you may one day look back and say, “Well I wish I’d tried that when I had the chance.”
6) What do you think of the hypothesis from In Search of Aliens that Nessie’s appearances are due to a space-time rift?
People with an interest in this mystery often turn up at my van to discuss their ideas with me, and so I have heard the full range of possibilities. The idea of a rift in time is something that a few people have suggested might explain what keeps Nessie from being seen at Loch Ness.
I was filmed telling Giorgio Tsoukalos about some of the more outlandish beliefs, rifts in time and space ships on the bottom of the loch.
Ultimately despite all of the efforts to identify what people have been glimpsing here, Nessie’s identity remains a mystery. A rift in time is one possibility. However, at present I don’t see it as a remotely likely explanation.
Currently, it’s up to everyone to draw their own conclusions.
When I find the answer, I will let you know.
To learn more about Steve Feltham:
- Facebook Group
- YouTube Channel
- Desperately Seeking Nessie (BBC Video Diaries series – 1992 broadcast)