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Local oddities
Tom Leppard
Tom Leppard lived in a bothy for more than 20 years

The rich culture of the Highlands and Islands has given the world some well-known mysteries.

The Loch Ness Monster is perhaps the most famous mystery of the region but let's not forget the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers at Flannan.

Residents past and present have contributed to mysteries and folklore too, Tom Leppard and Aleister Crowley among them.

Great attraction

References to a monster in Loch Ness can be found as far back as the time of St. Columba. In AD565 Columba allegedly prevented a monster in the loch from eating a Pict.

Since then, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of Nessie as this strange beast has affectionately come to be known.

Nessie has of course been a great attraction for many tourists to the area as this humourous postcard from the 1930s shows.

Around 1933, the A82 road which skirts the north-west side of the loch was completed which led to more sightings of Nessie.

Energy currents

Taken in 1934, the "surgeon"s photograph" was exposed as a hoax

Does the strange three-humped aquatic creature actually exist or is the topography of The Great Glen responsible for the sudden weather changes and rushing winds which can suddenly transform the calm water into a stormy sea?

It might be worth remembering that the mountain gorilla was only officially recognised in 1902.

The legend of Nessie has grown over the years with Edwin Morgan even penning a ditty, "The Loch Ness Monster Song", which is what he believes the monster sounds like.

Some claim that the monster may be the long-extinct plesiosaurus dinosaur, which had a small head and long neck.

Stranger still, is the belief that the energy currents running through the loch occasionally allow a glimpse into another world or a look into the past. Whether the monster actually exists or not is almost irrelevant.

To many as it is now embodied in Scottish folklore and continues to draw visitors to the area. Long live Nessie!

Leopard-like spots

The living legend of the Leopard Man of Skye is not to be confused with big cat sightings commonly reported in the wilds of Exmoor and elsewhere.

Mr Tom Leppard, born Woolridge, is now in his 70s and lived the life of a hermit on a remote part of Skye before swapping his bothy for the modern comforts of a house in 2008.

His body, more than 99%, is covered in one large tattoo of leopard-like spots which cost him £5,500. Only the insides of his ears and between his toes are not tattooed.

Living in a hut on the ruins of a croft, he bathed in the river and had no electricity, gas or heating. Visitors and passing walkers were often treated to a drink and a chat with the former ex-soldier amongst the boulders in his open-air living room. Every so often, he travelled by canoe to collect his pension and buy food.

He decided to quit the rat race after spending years with the armed forces of Rhodesia and South Africa. His strange appearance, complete with a set of fangs, has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most tattooed person on earth.

Although he may be scary to look at, he is a popular figure in the local area.

Occult and disappearances

A figure with a very different reputation was author and occultist Aleister Crowley. He owned Boleskine House, near Loch Ness between 1899 and 1913, which led to him being known as "the other Loch Ness monster" and the "Beast of Boleskine". He was reputed to have practised black magic and animal sacrifice. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame lived in the house in the early 1970s and the house is now in private ownership.

Loch Morar. Photo copyright John Haynes
Evidence of Morag's existence has yet to be found

What about the monster in Loch Morar, Inverness-shire? "Morag" has been likened to Nessie.

Folklore records Benbecula mermaids on the Isle of Lewis and the Blue Men of the Minch - water spirits who lived in clans in underwater caves and were blamed for shipwrecks.

What became of the three lighthouse keepers who were reported missing following a stormy night in 1900? To this day, no one knows how or why they left their station on Flannan Isle. The last entry in the log book was 13 December.

Other peculiar tales from the region include that of the Brahan Seer also known as the Gaelic Nostradamus. Real name Coinneach Odhar, a seer or soothsayer's role in 17th Century Scotland was to make predictions. He foretold the building of the Caledonian Canal, the advent of TV and North Sea oil. Opinion is divided as to whether he was a seer or sorcerer and there is some debate as to whether he actually existed.

Skye leopard man changes his spot
26 Oct 08 |  Highlands and Islands


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