What some people may be unaware of is the precursor to the modern Loch Ness monster legend, which dates back to the 6th century. In this earliest of lake-monster stories, the hero was Columba, a Gaelic missionary monk who spread Christianity amongst the Late Iron Age Celtic folks (called “Picts”). He and some followers were traveling to visit a Pict King, hoping to solicit the monarch's help in gaining converts to Christianity. When the monks approached the banks of River Ness, which flows from Loch Ness, they bumped into a group of mourners who were burying their friend, who, they said, had been bitten in half by a monster in the river. They had tried to save their friend from the monster, but the powerful beast had little problem dragging the man beneath the water and chomping him to death.
Columba, confident in his ability to call upon the Almighty for help, told one of his followers to swim across the river and fetch a boat moored on the opposite bank. His follower must have held confidence in Columba’s ability too, because he did as told. As the man swam toward the middle of the loch, the foul monster appeared again, but Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the creature to cease and desist. When the monster obeyed and sank back into the inky depths of the loch, Columa’s followers and the burial party stood in awe and soon spread the story about this miracle throughout the land. The story impressed the Picts and made them eager to align themselves with this (obviously) powerful God of the Christians.
With this legend intact—whether Nessie exists or not—one should not be surprised that it was later embellished upon. In the early 1930s, a road was built along the edge of one part of Loch Ness, through an area of dense woods, giving people easier access to the lake—and setting the stage for new monster tales. Sure enough, stories began pouring in. Fishermen on the lake, local residents, and motorists on the lakeside road, all reported monster sightings.
On November 12, 1933, one Hugh Gray decided to stroll along the loch after having attended church. Stretch his legs a little. Alone and with camera in hand (don’t ask me why he had a camera at church—I’m just relating this tale), he heard water splashing and a great disturbance. Then—lo and behold!—the tail of a monster appeared, rising two or three feet out of the water and moving about rapidly. Mr. Gray captured an image of the appendage with his camera, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that I, for one, would be happy to sport a “I saw the Loch Ness monster” T-shirt. Some tourist-shop souvenirs just have more cultural cachet than others.