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A Bitter End

What do you get when you cross growing American religious fundamentalism and a burning desire for the End of Days with the get rich quick schemes of a group of Church elders blindly following the prophesies of a single, charismatic man into a state of sour confusion when nothing actually happens? How does the average follower in the street deal with their ongoing existence when the longed for end, as anyone with half a rational brain would expect, comes to nothing and leaves those supposed true believers waiting for answers a day wiser and in certain cases a whole lot poorer after selling up and donating their wallets wholesale to the church?

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Did Tom Pickles photograph Bownessie?

Fellow BARsoc researcher, Paul Pearson, wrote an excellent article last week detailing the Bownessie monster case from the first sightings, all the way up to the recent photo that was reported to have been taken by Tom Pickles in February that shows a humped thing in the water that people claim is the Bownessie monster living in lake Windermere.

The story was reported in the local news [1] and has since spread across most news websites and the usual paranormal interest sites and has inspired much discussion, with most people coming to the conclusion that it’s a hoax. I tend to agree with that conclusion, especially as Dr Ian Winfield, a lake ecologist at the University of Lancaster has been quoted in several news articles as saying:

“It’s possible that it’s [the “monster”] a catfish from Eastern Europe and people are misjudging the size but there is no known fish as large as the descriptions we’re hearing [the size of three cars] that could be living in Windermere. We run echo sounding surveys every month and have never found anything.”

You’d think that would be enough to close the case, but still people are speculating about the chance of this photo showing the monster that many have seen. It has even created debate and (rather childish) rivalry between different areas with supposed lake monsters,[2] so, I decided that it might be worth digging into the latest photograph to see if I could discover anything telling.


a) The photo was taken by Tom Pickles on a mobile phone. He was accompanied by work colleague Sarah Harrington.

b) The photo was apparently taken while they were in a Kayak during a team building exercise on lake Windermere.

c) The company seminar they were attending was by CapGemini and took place at Fallbarrow Hall, Bowness, Cumbria.

d) Tom Pickles told Westmorland Gazette reporter, Kate Proctor, that the photo was taken on Friday February 11th at 10:35am[3]

e) It is believed that the two islands in the background of the Bowness photo are either:

  1. Hen holme and Lady holme
  2. Or, as Pickles is quoted as saying they had “kayaked 300m out into the lake near Belle Isle when they spotted the beast to the south”[4] the islands could be the Lilies of the valley.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to try to establish contact with Tom Pickles himself but this has proved fruitless as my emails are unanswered. Also, a search online reveals no public profiles for a Tom Pickles living or working in the Shrewsbury area. The same with the colleague who was with him, Sarah.

This proves nothing, but it has made it difficult to try to establish contact with either of them which I wanted to do so that I could elaborate on the information already presented to the press. Also worth noting is the fact that Kate Proctor, the journalist who wrote the initial article on the Westmorland Gazette website has told me that Tom has since sold the photo to the Daily Mail. The West Moreland Gazette were unable to provide me with the photo because of the Copyright in place. I would like to thank Kate for her help.

The photo shows two bodies of land in the background, but it’s hard to distinguish which islands they may be. It is reported they had kayaked 300m into the lake near Belle Island and spotted the monster to the South, which suggests they were near the islands known as the Lilies of the valley, however, they may also have been near Hen holme and Lady holme islands.

circles indicate possible locations (5)

Due to the lack of quality in the photo (it was taken on a mobile phone, may have been cropped or zoomed in on and we don’t have the original) and no distinctive shoreline visible beyond the islands, it’s quite difficult to tell. Below are photos of each set of the islands mentioned, from similar angles to that in the Pickles photograph for comparison.

A trimmed version

The Lilies of the valley

Hen holme & Lady holme

I thought it would also be interesting to take the Pickles photo and position it onto these photos to see if they matched up but this proved inconclusive as they both seemed to match quite well. Without being told where the photo was actually taken it’s impossible to really be sure. Though, the two water buoys present in the Pickles photo (to the left of the photo) suggest to me that the photo was taken near Hen holme & Lady holme, but I cannot be 100% sure.

Lilies of the Valley

Hen holme & Lady holme

However, one thing that did become apparent to me as I made these comparisons with the photos of the islands is the fact that the ‘monster’ was much closer to the photographer (Pickles) than it had first seemed. My first impression was that it was nearer to the islands you see in the background than it was to the photographer, but the islands in the Pickles photo are quite small and because of

Bownessie photo taken by Tom Pickles

uncropped photo (click for big version)

the lack of any other detail in the photo (boats, objects in the water, a shore line in the distance) the distance between the islands, the object and the photographer is really quite misleading.

The ‘monster’ couldn’t have been the size of three cars and show up in the photo as it did. With the proximity of the ‘monster’ to the kayak, it’s more likely to be the approximate size of a large swan. The cropped version that many newspapers are using almost creates the illusion that it is further away from the photographer, however, the full version that the Westmorland Gazette printed (right) shows otherwise.

If you look back up at the photo of the Pickles photo stuck on top of the photo of the Lilies of the valley islands you will notice there is a boat moored close to the right island that looks quite small because of how far away it is from the camera. For the ‘monster’ to be the size of three cars as claimed by Pickles, the monster would have needed to be much nearer the islands that it was for it to appear the size that it is in the photo.

This leads to the question of what the object could be. A small lake monster that Pickles mistook the size of? Or something altogether more mundane?

Well, as I was researching the photo a story broke on the Westmorland Gazette website that suggested it could all have been a hoax brought about through the use of a tyre.  It was reported that John Phillips, from Solihull, photographed a car tyre cut into four humps which was left in a bush near the lake shore. [6]

tyre discovered close to the shore

This is an interesting development that suggests a possible way in which the photo was created. It’s certainly a more plausible theory many people have been suggesting. Of course, the John Philips discovery could itself be a hoax, but a tyre sliced open to create four segments does certainly resemble the oddity in the Pickles photograph when the tyre is straightened out.

Split tyre placed in the water

Does this mean it was all a hoax? Possibly and some would even say probably.

I would like to make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that Tom Pickles hoaxed the photo and I would even suggest that the tyre may have been simply discarded in the lake (tyres are often used as weights on boats, for example) and it happened to float past Tom and Sarah in their kayak at the right moment.

It may have become caught in the wake created by a boat had that passed by and may have been pulled up in the current (there are regular cruise tours of the lake that pass by the islands). We know that the currents caused by a boats wake can still hang around long after boat has passed without being seen (under water currents have caused lots of sightings of odd things in lakes that turn out to be drift wood emerging from beneath the water).[8]

Whether an intentional hoax, or simply misidentification – I feel confident enough to say that the Pickles photo is nothing more than a tyre in the water. I’m willing to change my mind though, should somebody decide to send BARsoc a copy of the orignal photo…


1 – Original Westmorland Gazette news story

2 – embarrassing monster boasting:

3 – Kate Proctor informed me of the Daily Mail purchase via an email exchange

4 – Company name mentioned:

5 – Map produced with

6 – Cut tyres story:

7 – ‘Killer croc’ example of driftwood monsters –

Analysis: Crop circle theory

The following letter recently appeared in the Daily Mail and was from Cheryl Hopkins who lives in St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan. She writes:

It was fabulous to see the aerial view of the new crop circle (Mail). Try making that shape on the ground: it’s impossible!

Last week, a lady came to my meditation group to give a talk on Wiltshire crop circles and turned up with the expert himself, Fred Rusher, who had just arrived in the UK from Arizona to study this year’s phenomenal geometric circles.

Fred has been studying these shapes since they first appeared in modern times (though his research has found that the first crop circle chronicled was in the 1500s).

He showed a video of himself and colleagues demonstrating a possible natural theory as to how these circles form.

Fred sprinkled sand on a flat square board and then played high frequency sounds at it, making the sand whirl around and form various geometrical shapes. The shape changed with the sound frequency.

I challenge any human to imitate the intricacy of crop circles. To do all the detailing that one sees, especially the intricate weaving at ground level, would need an architect and an army of people working in the dark to make one overnight – and not leave a single footprint.

Particularly interesting was that Fred linked everything to God or whatever you call him. He said the messages in the crop circles are from the Divine creator and in this latest crop circle there are three distinct crosses.

There is more to the universe that scientists want us to believe but, fortunately, the truth is coming out.

It’s likely she was talking about this article in the paper which features crop circles in the Wiltshire area.

The notion that Cheryl has that it is impossible to make the shapes on the ground in person is a conclusion she has jumped to without proper assessment. It is probably very easy to create such a design with a lot of planning. We know that people in Wiltshire create crop circles using string and planks of wood, people have admitted it and we know people have even been arrested for it.

Not only this but even if it were impossible for humans to make such designs in a field using all the technology available to them, to then say this must mean there is a supernatural cause is a leap of logic that has no evidence to support it. These sorts of leaps of logic occur all the time in paranormal research – whether the subject matter is ghosts, crop circles or werewolves.

The theory that Cheryl speaks of regarding the sound waves and the sand seems interesting, though, if we use Occam’s razor as a way of assessing the possibilities, it’s more likely that the shapes have just been created by humans. We know that people have created these circles in the past but we have no documented evidence to suggest sound waves on a large-scale would make a crop circle with precise details (as seen in the picture above.)

The theory from Fred Rusher has just overcomplicated something that clearly has a logical explanation.

Having looked for research conducted into this theory, the only documented study that available to the public [1] had serious biases from the start. The abstract reads:

To date, some 10,000 crop circles have been catalogued, in twenty-nine countries worldwide, and their anomalous features continue to defy human replication: plants bent an inch above soil; their cellular structure altered; stems lightly burned around the base; alterations to the crystalline structure of the affected soil; the evaporation of ground water, alteration of the local electromagnetic field, and dowsable, long-lasting energy patterns, not to mention hundreds of measured
effects on the human biological field. Sounds have been identified at the sites of some of the circles during their formation, suggesting that sound is one of the likely causal or organizing factors in their creation. This article presents evidence and theories in support of this hypothesis.

The bits highlighted in red show the dubious statements in the abstract of the research that suggest personal biases of the investigators towards the effects and causes of crop circles. If this is the case then it’s very likely they will have already had a conclusion in mind, and thus, their findings would fit that conclusion.

The fact that Fred links everything to the god he chooses to worship makes his theory less concrete because he has allowed his personal biases to influence his research. Again, it’s a huge leap of logic.

If the god link was taken from the theory it’s still an interesting notion, however, if sound waves large enough to bend crops into a pretty cube or circle formation did so, there would be other signs too. Not just an eye-catching shape in one field. Damage to nearby trees and other surrounding crops, surely? While it might work on a tray of sand, if you think of the scale at which crop circles are made it suddenly seems much more unlikely.

As for messages in crop circles… these are open to interpretation from everybody. Human beings are pattern finding creatures by nature. It’s quite fun to pick out messages from them too. It’s interesting how people interpret these crop circles according to their own ideas about the world. What would believers of the alien hypothesis for crop circle creation think, or how would they react if they awoke one morning to discover a field in Devizes had a giant swastika crop circle in it? Would it be the divine creator then? Aliens? or A hoax? How would that fit their beliefs?