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Issue 47 - Inverness & the Highlands – Highland gateway

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 47
October 2009


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Inverness & the Highlands – Highland gateway

Charles Douglas explores Inverness and the Highlands.

The Highland Capital of Inverness, which gained Millennium City Status in 2001, is situated at the mouth of the Great Glen, where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. Loch Ness, into which the river runs, is the largest and deepest expanse of fresh water in Scotland and travels 27 miles (37km) south west of the city as part of the Great Glen Fault, carving its way across country to the west coast town of Fort William.

Visitors hoping for a glimpse of the fabled monster, however, will probably have to travel south along the A82 on the west side of Loch Ness to the ruins of 13th century Castle Urquhart and Drumnadrochit, where there are now two visitor centres: the Old Loch Ness Visitor Centre (www/, which provides monster spotting cruises on the loch, and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Experience (

Inverness today is a busy shopping and administrative centre for the surrounding Highlands, essentially comprising a modern metropolis with a high-tech economy and progressive outlook. There is nevertheless still evidence that in the fifth century, Picts occupied a stronghold at Craig Phadric, as it was then called. And it was here, in 580AD, that the Irish missionary St Columba arrived to meet Brude, King of the Picts, who tried to turn him away but then relented and later converted to Christianity.

The red sandstone Inverness Castle, which overlooks the River Ness, is, in contrast relatively modern, dating only from 1836.

and houses Inverness Sheriff Court. In front of the entrance there is a fine statue by Inverness-born sculptor Andrew Davidson of Flora Macdonald, the heroine of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, gazing wistfully west towards her family home in the Hebrides.

My favourite view of the city though has to be from the A9 as you approach from the south. From memory I recall an upward climb and then, all of a sudden, it sprawls ahead of you with the silver sheet of the Moray Firth and the looming hills of the Black Isle beyond.

I used to travel there often to visit a printing works on one of the city’s industrial estates and the sight of the northern landscape never failed to uplift my spirits.

Inverness is a hospitable place with plentiful accommodation for the visitor, and an ideal base for exploring the region in every direction. Once in the centre, a focal point is the Eden Court Theatre. Located close to Inverness Cathedral, this was built in the 1970s and incorporates part of the old Bishop’s Palace. One wonders what the staunch churchmen of old would think of the eclectic mix of theatre, sport and entertainment now taking place on their doorstep. For those who prefer to be out-ofdoors, another diversion is to stroll along the river walk with its four suspension bridges.

Travel west beside the shores of the Beauly Firth, and you reach the picturesque town of the same name with its 13th century priory, a treasure trove for purchasing tweed, knitwear and crafts. This was once the heartland of the Frasers of Lovat who built their stately Beaufort Castle three miles south of the town. Unfortunately, this is no longer owned by the Fraser family and is not open to the public. Every August, Muir of Ord hosts one of Scotland’s largest agricultural shows.

Across the Kessock Bridge from Inverness, and you have the options of heading north on the A9 to traverse the Cromarty Firth and travel to Alness, Invergordon and Tain, turn onto the A832 for Fortrose and Cromarty, or head west towards Dingwall and Strathpeffer, connecting with the A835 at Connon Bridge, and onward to Ullapool and Lochinver. The scenery is breathtaking with mountain, moor and loch at every turn.

Loch Torriden, Loch Maree, Little Loch Broom and Loch Broom, fingering out into the Atlantic Ocean. At Inverewe, the Victorian laird Sir Osgood Mackenzie, transformed 100 acres of barren acres of exposed, acid soil into one of the greatest gardens of the world. Today owned by the National Trust for Scotland, its tropical vegetation and plant diversity continues to enchant, washed by the warm waters of the passing Gulf Stream.

Turning west from above Inverness, the name “Black Isle” gives rise to much debate.

This fine peninsula, washed by the waters of the Moray, Beauly and Cromarty Firths, was anciently known as “Ardmeanach”, meaning “the height between.” Old statistical accounts say that in early times the area was covered by black, uncultivated moor on which snow rarely lay for long.

Today’s covering of forest often gives a dark appearance, but another reason given for the given name is that when the Norseman Thorfinn conquered Ross in 1033, he apportioned Ardmeanach for his bloodthirsty followers. The land was therefore described as “The Land of the Black Danes.” The Black Isle which is 20 miles long and eight miles wide survives on farming, fishing, forestry and tourism. There are 60 prehistoric sites to be seen and in the year 120AD, the Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemy reported that it was inhabited by the Dekantai tribe. Rosemarkie is believed to have been a centre for Druid culture and this would explain why the area is so thickly populated with Christian churches.

Certainly Fortrose was hardly large enough to warrant a cathedral, but one was built here in 1240 by Bishop Duthac of Tain and dedicated to St Boniface and St Peter. The Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie is a delightful diversion, and, for those who enthuse about Scotland’s “Small People”, there is a Clutie Well situated on the road to Munlochy.

Cromarty on the north of the Black Isle is a classic Georgian town in its original unspoiled beauty. It is, in fact, the third Cromarty, the original supposedly founded by Greek sailors washed ashore here in a storm. What calamity overtook this first town is unknown , but the ruins of a second town can clearly be seen at low tide.

The third town owes its form to George Ross, who, at his own expense, built the sandstone pier, opened flax, flour and hemp factories and built a brewery. In the nineteenth century, Cromarty developed into a significant fishing centre. Worth a visit is Hugh Miller’s Cottage, where Cromarty’s most famous son, the geologist, author and stonemason, was born in 1802. Nowadays it houses a charming museum managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

In the 17th century, Kenneth Mackenzie, best known in Highland folklore as the Brahan Seer, prophesied that the coastline of the eastern seaboard would one day be joined with bridges. His prophesy has now been fulfilled along with others relating to the discovery of North Sea Oil and the fate of the Mackenzie of Seaforth family, who once ruled this territory. If you have the gift of second sight it obviously pays to keep your predictions to yourself. So incensed was a Countess of Seaforth when told that her husband was dallying with some ladies in France, that she had the unfortunate seer taken to Chanonry Point and boiled in a barrel of tar.

Across the Cromarty Bridge, the A9 leads north into Easter Ross. Foulis Castle, four miles of Dingwall, home of the Chief of Clan Munro, was mostly built in 1754. Below Ben Wyvis is the Victorian spa town of Strathpeffer where the earls of Cromartie, Chiefs of Clan Mackenzie, have their ancestral home Castle Loud.

Royal Highland Hotel
18 Academy Street, Inverness
Inverness hotels just don’t come more central than this. Perfect for short breaks and weekend breaks
in Inverness
Tel: +44 (0)1463 231 926

Glenmoriston Town House
20 Ness Bank, Inverness
Situated with a short walk from the city centre with outstanding views over the river Ness.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 223 777

Drumossie Hotel
Old Perth Road, Inverness
Set in a listed art deco building and is located 10 minutes from the centre of Inverness.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 236 451

Ness River Lodge
This fabulous lodge which is newly constructed and beautifully appointed enjoys a tranquil location on the banks of the River Ness, yet is only 15 minutes from Inverness.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 229 342

Culduthel Road, Inverness
Voted Scotland’s best small luxury hotel of 2009; an exclusive hideaway in the centre of the city.
Tel: +44 (0) 1463 240089

Dochfour Gardens
The house and gardens set in mature parklands, boasts stunning views over Loch Dochfour and Loch Ness.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 861 218

Inverness Golf Club
Culcaback road
The club provides an excellent test of golf for all levels of player and a great alternative to the traditional links courses. There are two bars and a restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 239882

Inverness Cathedral
Also known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew (1866-69) is a cathedral of the
Scottish Episcopal Church.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 233 535
Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
Castle Wynd
Explore Scottish history and discover how the
Highlands are linked to the rest of the world.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 237 114
Inverness Floral Hall,
Gardens & Coffee Shop
Bught Lane
The award winning Visitor Centre features
large tropical and cacti display houses
landscaped with rockeries and pools alive
with koi carp.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 222 755
Inverness Dolphin Cruises
Shore Street Quay
The best chance of seeing the most northerly
group of bottlenose dolphins in the world plus
common seals, grey seals and porpoise.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 717 900
Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland.
The final clash between the French-supported
Jacobites and the Hanoverian British
Government in the 1745 Jacobite Rising.
The battlefield is open all year round.
Tel: 01463 790 607
Caledonian Canal
60 miles of Scottish Highland splendour amid
outstanding unspoilt scenery best describes
the Caledonian Canal.
Slicing through the Great Glen, this majestic
canal is considered by many as one of the
greatest waterways of the world. Four natural
lochs – Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, the famous
Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour – all lie in near
perfect alignment between Fort William
and Inverness
Bulnaraun of Clava
The Clava Cairns, or more correctly Bulnaraun
of Clava, is one of the best preserved Bronze
Age burial sites in Scotland.
There are three cairns here, two with passage
ways aligned to the Midwinter sunset, and all
with more subtle features, incorporated to
reflect the importance of the
South-west horizon.
Number 27
Castle Street
Newly renovated and tastefully
decorated bar & restaurant
with prime position in the centre
of Inverness
Tel: +44 (0)1463 241 999
River House
Greig Street
Fine seasonal ingredients sourced from
sustainable local produce make this a great
place to eat and enjoy.
+Tel: 44 (0)1463 222033
Restaurant Chez Christophe
Ardross Street
A handsome town house built
in the local stone offering a union
of French cuisine with the best of
Scottish produce.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 717126
Chez Roux restaurant at
Rocpool Reserve Hotel
Culduthel Road, Inverness
First class food in fine surroundings all make
this one of the best spots in the city.
Tel: +44 (0) 1463 240089
Contrast Brasserie at
Glenmoriston Town House
20 Ness Bank, Inverness
Casual style and superb cuisine with great
views over River Ness.
Tel: +44 (0)1463 223 777

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