A Personal Investigation of England’s Lake Windermere

Posted by: John Kirk on October 2nd, 2006

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to be in two lake monster venues in a very short period of time, and it is even less often when one is there just shortly after there has been a sighting. This summer I had the incredible fortune of following up on two sightings at lakes in England and Scotland.

It has been a longstanding wish of my mine to visit the Lake District in Cumbria, northern England as it is one of the most scenically beautiful locales in all of Britain. A long time ago my ancestors came from this area and I wanted to get in touch with some of my roots. It was also the home of many famous people including poet William Wordsworth, writer Beatrix Potter, philosopher John Ruskin and artist John Constable.

I have often wondered why Lake Windermere has never boasted a cryptid sighting even though it is England’s largest lake. There are a large number of lakes in Scotland from whence sightings have been obtained of unknown creatures that yet remain uncatalogued by science, but there is a real dearth of them in England.

In August an English newspaper published in the Lake District carried this amazing story:

From the Westmorland (Eng.) Gazette: 18 Aug. 2006

Lake ‘monster’ sighting

A HOLIDAYMAKER has spoken of his horror at seeing a Loch Ness-type monster’

emerge from the depths of Windermere, report Paul Duncan and Peter Otway.

University lecturer Steve Burnip and his wife, Eileen, were shocked at seeing the serpent-like creature surface from the waters as they stood at a well-known viewpoint.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted, I just stood there and couldn’t believe what I was looking at," said Mr Burnip, who has been holidaying in the area for 13 years with his family.

He claimed the creature was about 15-20ft long with a little head and two small humps following in its wake. "It was like a giant eel."

Mr Burnip, who is 51 and from Hebden Bridge, was looking out from Watbarrow

point that looks across the lake to Waterhead.

Ian Winfield, a fish ecologist for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Lancaster University, believes Mr Burnip could have seen a catfish, as they have been introduced to a lot of lakes for angling.

"The Wels catfish comes from mainland Europe and can grow to about 500cm and weigh up to 306kg and there have been numerous records of catfish washing up dead in Cumbrian lakes," said Mr Whitfield.

When I got wind of this story, I must admit I was absolutely thrilled to bits at the possibility that there was a cryptid yet to be found in English waters. I happened to have booked a stay in the town of Windermere itself from August 22 to 24 and was going to spend a fair chunk of time visiting the lake and nearby Coniston Water where Sir Donald Campbell died while attempting to break the world water speed record aboard Bluebird in 1967 so I had the opportunity of checking Lake Winderemere out.

People often say that if there is a cryptid in a lake why haven’t more people seen the creature and more often as well. If the body of water is anything like Lake Windermere, I can fully understand why this creature would be so rarely seen. Unlike North American lakes, access to the shore around Lake Windermere is extremely difficult. True, there are a number of piers from which you can board tour boats of the lake, but most of the shoreline – particularly at the southern end – is inaccessible.

The witness, Mr. Burnip, was very fortunate that he was in a location that afforded a good view of the lake. Watbarrow Point is the home a famous local castle so it is not surprising Mr. Burnip and his family were in this area. As the report indicates you can see Waterhead very well from this spot so the witness description of his sightlines is accurate.

Although it is certainly possible there are Wels catfish in Lake Windermere, what Mr. Burnip saw and described is nothing like a catfish. He is adamant that he saw head and two humps and this is certainly not an aspect that one could possibly expect a catfish to exhibit. Richard Freeman and the gang from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) in Devon, also checked out the lake, as I did, after Mr. Burnip’s sighting and they hypothesized what Mr. Burnip saw might have been a large sterile eel. Now, that is a hypothesis I could live with. It is possible that Mr. Burnip saw an eel swimming on its side (this does happen and I have seen footage of it myself) which would account for the creature. It would have to be a very large eel to be 15 – 20 feet long, but it is a possibility with some merit to it.

Neither the CFZ crew or our British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club (BCSCC) field work team saw anything out of the ordinary at Lake Windermere, but I am fairly excited about the prospect of revisiting the lake to ascertain whether this unknown creature is a cryptid or an extraordinarily large and unusual eel.

Next time, I follow up on a spectacular sighting at cold and windswept Loch Ness.

John Kirk About John Kirk
One of the founders of the BCSCC, John Kirk has enjoyed a varied and exciting career path. Both a print and broadcast journalist, John Kirk has in recent years been at the forefront of much of the BCSCC’s expeditions, investigations and publishing. John has been particularly interested in the phenomenon of unknown aquatic cryptids around the world and is the author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (Key Porter Books, 1998). In addition to his interest in freshwater cryptids, John has been keenly interested in investigating the possible existence of sasquatch and other bipedal hominids of the world, and in particular, the Yeren of China. John is also chairman of the Crypto Safari organization, which specializes in sending teams of investigators to remote parts of the world to search for animals as yet unidentified by science. John travelled with a Crypto Safari team to Cameroon and northern Republic of Congo to interview witnesses among the Baka pygmies and Bantu bushmen who have sighted a large unknown animal that bears more than a superficial resemblance to a dinosaur. Since 1996, John Kirk has been editor and publisher of the BCSCC Quarterly which is the flagship publication of the BCSCC. In demand at conferences, seminars, lectures and on television and radio programs, John has spoken all over North America and has appeared in programs on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, TLC, Discovery, CBC, CTV and the BBC. In his personal life John spends much time studying the histories of Scottish Clans and is himself the president of the Clan Kirk Society. John is also an avid soccer enthusiast and player.

14 Responses to “A Personal Investigation of England’s Lake Windermere”

  1. Remobec responds:

    Now, maybe I need a biology lesson here, but what in the world brought them to the conclusion that it was a *sterile* eel? That’s kinda odd.


  2. scousequatch responds:

    I was only recently thinking about Lake Windermere in relation to cryptids, or lack thereof, and now this! Excellent. I have heard of the catfish in there too. A head and two humps is no catfish sighting.

  3. woodwose responds:

    Did anyone else misread Mr. Burnip as “Mr. Bunyip”? Hoax tip-off?

    As for sterile eels, they are also known as eunuch eels and they grown abnormally large. See this article.

  4. UCTZoology responds:

    Sterile, hmmm, well eels are the opposite to salmon, they are catadromous – meaning that they migrate from freshwater into the sea to spawn. Like salmon, eels use all their energy in mating frenzies and die after mating. At a guess a sterile eel may not ‘feel like’ mating and not be driven to going to sea for a death orgy – therefore living longer and presumably growing larger than eels that kill themselves to mate.

  5. twblack responds:

    Does a “Sterile Eel” grow larger than a non Sterile Eel??? I would agree this is no way sounds like a catfish.

  6. lastensugle responds:

    “Sterile Eel” …would make a really cool band name!
    -Kirk, Did you happen to speak to Mr. Burnip yourself while you were there?
    -UCTZoology, I like your theory, think you`re right.
    A large eel could explain the sighting.
    Lookin foreward to the Loch Ness Tale!

  7. Remobec responds:

    Thanks for the info on the eels. However, is this for real, or just something proposed by cryptozoologists/fortean biologists? I googled “eunuch eel,” “infertile eel,” and “sterile eel.” All only came up with a handful of pages, all seeming to relate directly to Loch Ness/lake monsters.

    Is it really fair to use it as an explanation for lake monsters when there’s no scientific evidence that they exist? (Maybe there is and I’m missing it.)

    I guess I’d think scientifically-undocumented giant sterile eels are more likely than long-necked seals, which I know some (at least armchair) cryptozoologists still find plausible.

  8. MBFH responds:

    I’d be surprised if there was a cryptid in Lake Windermere. It’s smaller than Loch Ness and far more frequently visited so if there was something I’d imagine there would have been more reports by now. The temperatures in the this year have been higher than ever before (24 degrees C) so maybe that has caused some unusual activity in the native fauna? There are recognised anomalous species in the Lake though. The Arctic char is a relict species from the last Ice Age. Scientists think that its survival in the Lake is under threat however due to the increasing temperatures.

  9. RockerEm responds:

    I have grown up with the belief that anything a human mind can imagine exists and I’m quite sure a dinosaur existing to this day is one of them. Explanation for the lack of evidence and reports? Well there definately is that to consider but on a scale from 1-10 you must think of the way Nessie was trapped by the land formation due to the Ice Age. This is a major possibility in this case too. From the description of the eels and the catfish, I laughed the moment it was suggested because

    A) Catfish don’t have long necks and definately can’t come to the surface of the water and stick their heads ten feet outta the water.

    B) Eels don’t stick their heads outta the water either.

    Can anyone name a species of eel that CAN? So those two animals are out of the picture.

  10. Rillo777 responds:

    One sighting of “something” doesn’t make a cryptid, neither does wishful thinking make a lake monster. I am guessing that now that someone has claimed to see something there will be a rash of “sightings”. For all we know he saw a gas-filled log rise to the surface and then sink. Or he may have unintentionally exaggerated the whole episode. The human mind can be tricky like that. I advise caution about giving this too much attention where there is no history of previous sightings. After all, people have lived in that area a long, long time and 2006 seems a bit late in the game to suddenly be finding a lake monster there.

  11. UKCryptid responds:

    To be honest with you, any sighting I read or hear of that describes ‘humps’ just makes alarm bells go off in my head. It just doesn’t seem right to me. Are these people seeing floating camel herds or something?

    Chances are, if there is ‘something’ in lake windermere, then it’s a released exotic animal or a hoax.

    Keep in mind that whilst shore access to this part of the lake is difficult, in the summer in particular there are many, many boats that are constantly in the area described. Normally fishing related or tourists. The largest fish i’ve personally caught there was a carp weighing 26lb by the way, quite a beast in its own right 😀

  12. Ranatemporaria responds:

    The sterile eel debate comes about very frequently on this forum. They do exist and grow larger due to a lack of hormones reducing the migratory instinct. Thus the eel remains in one place feeding and growing and does not travel to the Marine place of birth to breed, (belived by many to be the sargaso sea. A subject currently under debate). For more info try searching for the term Sedentary instead of sterile and use the latin name Anguilla anguilla. Pop these into google scholar there are a wealth of papers to be read.

  13. Panander responds:

    Well I am a regular user of Windermere, both boat and shore, north and south basin all year round. I fish there and have done regularly (like twice a week at least) for the past 20 years. The waters around Wray (where Watbarrow is) is an area I frequent often.

    This in my opinion is a load of cobblers. Windermere is one of the most researched waters in the UK. It is gill netted by the CEH for a month every year (in November) and has been since the second world war. The CEH use extremely sophisticated sonar equipment studying the char. I am sure that some strange “monster” would show up sometime in their research either by a damaged net or on sonar sweeps.

    As for the 26lb carp claimed in a previous comment, well that in itself would be an event worthy of mention bearing in mind that carp are not native to the water.

  14. Sordes responds:

    Eels which can swim to the sea and are therefore locked in a body of water will actually often grow much over average if the live long enough. But even then, they will never reach real monster sizes. The biological maximum an eel with very good genetic conditions could reach is about 1,50m, and it would need nearly a century for this. This is huge for a european eel, but far away from monster size. There are known cases of the large eel from New Zealand or the Solomon Islands, which are on average much bigger and stockier than European eels, which lived for nearly a century in small ponds and were even feed by people on a regular base. They grew actually unusually large, but even this eels which would dwarf every european eel were still under 2m and no lake monster-candidates. The eel-idea for lake monsters is theroretically not bad, but it doesn´t work with the facts.
    And the wels is also no good explanation for this case. At first the old report of 5m is nearly 100% untrue. The actual records are much smaller, in the range of 2,5-2,8m and highly exceptional. Furthermore the wels grows very bad in GB, because the climate is not good for them. In middle-Europe where the conditions are much better, even 2m are local sensations and very rare, but in England they stay much smaller, and the chance to find one which only exceeds 1,5m are nearly null, not to speak about sizes much over then confirmed records from southern europe. The possibility that a big wels of around 1,5m could be mistaken for a lake monster is actually not bad, and I know cases in which this happened.

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