Inverness is the traditional ‘Capital of the Highlands’, home of the Highland Council and the region’s commercial and administrative centre. Taking its name from the River Ness upon which it is sited, the city lies at the north end of the Great Glen and to the north-east of Loch Ness at the mouth of the river as it enters the Moray Firth. Inverness is also a seaport with Muirtown Wharf being just 15 minutes walk from the city centre and located at the eastern end of the Caledonian Canal. Home to approximately 65,000 residents, Inverness is the most northerly and largest city in the Highland Region although it still retains its character of a market town. It is an historic and solid city largely built with local natural stone, and is a diverse, busy and bustling centre servicing the large areas that lay to the west and north with its compact and attractive shopping complexes, and is today known as one of the major tourist destinations of Scotland and the ‘Gateway’ to the Highlands.
Once a major stronghold of the Picts, Inverness was originally secured by them in the 4th century with the construction of a vitrified fortress atop the wooded Craig Phadrig, which stands to the west of the present day city. Later in the 6th century a settlement was established which in the 12th century was made a Royal Burgh by Scotland’s King David, who built the first stone castle here. The city’s important position within this northern region has been determined by being a natural hub for lines of transport and communication to and through the Highlands for most of the last two thousand years!! Subsequent monarchs fortified the town further and it played an important part during the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century. An earlier stronghold of the city was developed in 1727 into the first Fort George which was blown up by the Jacobites during the rebellion of 1745. Fort George was built on the top of the steep embankment that overlook the River Ness and which today is the site of Inverness Castle whose silhouette dominates the skyline. A hundred years later the site was cleared and the present sandstone castle was built in 1835 to house the Sheriff Court and Council Offices, which although not open to the public, highlights the continued importance of Inverness and the grandeur of the building. A statue of Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape in 1746, is situated outside the castle. Standing on the opposite river bank can be found the 19th century Cathedral Church of St Andrew was built when Robert Eden, Bishop of Moray and Ross, had Caithness added to his diocese, and he moved its seat from Elgin to Inverness to be more central. Built in the Gothic Revival style, popular in Victorian Britain, the plans originally included spires on top of the square towers, but these had eventually to be omitted due to lack of funds!! Inverness is proud of its riverside walks which can be used to enjoy the church spires of the 9 churches of the city. Ever since St Columba, and Irish priest converted Brude, King of the Picts in 565 A.D., Christianity has played an important part in the life of Inverness, and the nine churches on the river give testimony to the city’s Christian heritage.
Other buildings of interest include the old Tolbooth at the junction of High Street and Bridge Street which was built in 1791 to house prisoners awaiting trial. It was damaged by an earth tremor in 1816 and later repaired. The Gothic styled Town House in Castle Street, opened in 1882, looks out of place in these northern climes, and was remarkable in 1921 as the place in which the first ever Cabinet meeting outside London was held!!
From Inverness it is possible to enjoy a Moray Firth wildlife cruise where you can see the most northerly resident group of Dolphins in Europe, and possibly encounter Ospreys, Red Kites and Seals!! Inverness has also become the northern end of the long distance walk known as the ‘Great Glen Walk’ which connects the city with Fort William to the west.
Other sites, in the city, worthy of mention –
Abertarf House, built in the 16th century, has a fine spiral staircase and is the headquarters of the ‘Highland Association’ which preserves Gaelic language and culture.
The Mercat Cross and Clach-na-Cudainn, or ‘stone of tubs’, situated in front of the ‘Town House’, it is the place which women rested their baskets for washing on their way back from the river.
Ness Islands, joined to the river bank and each other by footbridges, make for a series of wooded island walks.
Museum and Art Gallery in Castle Wynd, has a collection of bagpipes, Jacobite memorabilia and excellent Highland silver. This excellent museum is located in the centre of town.
Other places of interest within 30 kilometres –
Culloden, eight kilometres east of the city, the site of the final battle of the Jacobite rebellion of 1746, in which the army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland for the King, defeated the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Fort George, 20 kilometres north-east of Inverness, built as a consequence of the 1745 rebellion, is an interesting piece of 18th century military architecture. It houses the regimental museum of the Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders.
Drumnadrochit, 25 kilometres south-west, is home to the Original Loch Ness Exhibition Centre and the Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition, and an area for fishing, pony trekking and hill-walking.
Cawdor Castle, 25 kilometres north-east of the city, houses an interesting collection of tapestries and portraits held within the 15th century keep and later additions.
Did you know that – the first written account of a monster, if not in Loch Ness at least in the River Ness, was reported in the biography of St Columba in AD 565?