Heritage and Culture

Huntigowk Day

Huntigowk Day
By Sophie

Did you know that in Scotland, April fools day was traditionally called Huntigowk Day? The name comes from the saying 'Hunt the Gowk' which translates from Scots as 'hunt for the cuckoo' or 'foolish person'. In Gaelic the alternative translation would be 'La na Gocaireachd' which means 'gowking day' or La Ruith na Cuthaige which means 'the day of running the cuckoo'.

The traditional prank consisted of asking someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests the recipients help. The message in the letter, instead, reads

"Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile"

The recipient would then reply that he can only help if he first contacts another person. He then sends the victim to the next person with an identical message, with the same result. This means the letter carrier spends as long as it takes them to realise the recipients are having them on to continue the joke.

In the UK, an April Fool joke is revealed by shouting 'April fool' at the recipient, who becomes the 'April fool'. The general rule is that the jokers have until midday to play pranks and jokes on their victims, after which it is themselves who become the 'April fool'.

A famous Scottish April Fools Day Story...

On the morning of March 31st, 1972, an eight-member team of scientists from Flamingo Park Zoo in Yorkshire was having breakfast in the dining room of the Foyers House Hotel, on the shore of Loch Ness. The team had traveled to Loch Ness to seek out Nessie. They claimed that they had created a hormone concoction that would attract the illusive monster.

As they tucked into their breakfast, the hotel manager came running up to them. Someone had just called to report a 'large hump' floating in the loch near the hotel. Intrigued by the call, the team made their way to the waters edge and sure enough, a large, dark object could be seen bobbing up and down in the water.

Immediately swinging into action, the team hopped in their boat and headed out the 300 yards to investigate. Twenty minutes later, they returned with the mysterious object in tow.

Within hours the news of the discovery had spread worldwide. News reporters solemnly informed their audiences that the Loch New Monster had been found, but was unfortunately dead. As reporters rushed to the Loch to get more details, locals told their personal stories of seeing the creature.

A local resident, Robert Mackenzie, confirmed that something weird had been dragged out the water saying, "I touched it and put my hand in its mouth. It's real, all right. I thought it looked half-bear and half-seal... green in color... with a horrific head like a bear with flat ears. I was shocked."

Other witnesses told reporters the creature had been between 12 and 18 feet long and must have weighed up to 1.5 tons. They stated the monster had a green body without scales and was like a cross between a walrus and a seal.

Eventually reporters contacted Don Robinson, Director of the Flamingo Park Zoo, who said, "I've always been skeptical about the Loch Ness Monster, but this is definitely a monster, no doubt about that. From the reports I've had, no one has ever seen anything like it before... a fishy, scaly body with a massive head and big protruding teeth."

The next morning, April 1, the discovery made front-page headlines around the world. The British press dubbed the creature "Son of Nessie."

Excited at their find, the team of scientists had already began transporting the creature back to Yorkshire to take it to the zoo for testing. In hearing of this news, the Scottish authorities put their foot down. This was a team of English scientists, taking one of Scotland's most famous lake monster - upon which depended a vast, lucrative tourist trade.

The Fifeshire country police department flagged down the scientists and took the creature to the nearest town, Dunfermline, where it was examined by Scottish scientists. Michael Rushton, general curator of the Edinburgh Zoo, came up to take a look at the creature.

When analysing the creature, Rushton confirmed that Nessie was in fact a bull elephant seal. Naturally living in the South Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from Scotland, Rushton couldn't work out how the creature had ended up in Loch Ness, however he did confirm that the carcass showed signs of having been frozen for an extended period of time.

"It is a typical member of its species. It's about 3 to 4 years old... I have never known them to come near Great Britain. Their natural habitat is the South Atlantic, Falkland Islands or South Georgia. I don't know how long it's been kept in a deep freeze but this has obviously been done by some human hand."

How the bull elephant came to be floating in Loch Ness remained a mystery until the following day when a hoaxer stepped forward to confess. John Shields, the Flamingo Park Zoo's education officer admitted it was his own doing.

Shields had been traveling to the Falkland Islands for an expidition, where he had recently brought the seal back to the UK. It had briefly lived at the Dudley Zoo, however had died soon after. He sought it's passing as a way to prank his collegues, who he knew were going up to Loch Ness in search of Nessie.

Gaining possession of the elephant seal, he shaved off its whiskers, padded its cheeks with stones and kept it frozen for a week. Dumping it in the Loch, he phoned in a tip to ensure his collegues would find it. Deliberately timed so the prank would fall in line with April Fools day, which also happened to be his 23rd birthday.