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Issue 52 - 24 hours in Inverness

Scotland Magazine Issue 52
August 2010

 

This article is 7 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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24 hours in Inverness

Charles Douglas takes us round the essentials of the Highland capital.

With its strategic situation on the River Ness, the Black Isle and Sutherland to the north, the head of the Great Glen and Wester Ross to the west, Morayshire and Aberdeen to the east, and Loch Ness and the sprawling hills and glens of Perthshire to the south, the City of Inverness was infinitely well qualified to become the Capital of the Highlands. In centuries past, it served as a market town, commercial centre, sea port, and control centre for Scottish kings.

Today it still provides a focal point for the tentacles of the Highland road network, affording as it does wonderful excursions in every direction. Additionally, Inverness has its own airport providing access to the Orkney and Shetland islands in the north, and to the larger islands of the Hebrides in the west.

But the city, the name of which in Gaelic translates literally as “the mouth of the River Ness”, is far more than just a kicking off point for exploring the Highlands.

Centred on its castle, which, despite its imposing red sandstone façade, only dates from 1836, the city simply whirls with activities and distractions for the visitor. In the evenings, pubs, bars and restaurants hum with music and geniality.

Eden Court Theatre, at its hub, hosts a busy programme of events which, this autumn, ranges from traditional Scots entertainment such as Ally Bain and Phil Cunningham to Danny Bhoy, Rick Wakeman, and the Lady Boys of Bangkok (www.eden-court.co.uk).

Moreover, the city’s pedestrianised High Street features a wealth of small Scottish shops. Directly linked to the expanded Eastgate Shopping Centre (www.eastgatecentre.

co.uk), there is something here for everyone, from antiques and crafts to traditional and top of the range fashion items.

For example, a visit to Duncan Chisoholm & sons’ Scottish kiltmaker centre in Castle Street gives an insight into the traditions and culture of the kilt, with a workshop and audio-visual exhibition. Top Shop, Next, River Island, Monsoon, Debenhams and Crabtree & Evelyn are among the top retail names to be found nearby.

Eating out in Inverness is also surprisingly cosmopolitan, with restaurants and cafés offering the full range of choice from local produce to gourmet. Start off, for example, at Cafe 1 in Castle Street, or the River Cafe in Bank Street, then move on in the evening to The Mustard Seed in Fraser Street, The River House in Greig Street, or The Rocpool in Ness Walk.

Those in search of the long ago and distant past of Inverness, however, should not be disappointed by the relatively modern antiquity of the lofty castle which overlooks the River Ness. It is only the latest of five castles which have guarded this unique corner of Scotland for over 15 centuries The Picts occupied this site as far back as the fifth century, occupying a stronghold which they called Craig Phadric. And it was here, in 580AD, that the Irish missionary St Columbus arrived to meet up with the Pictish King Brude whom he converted to Christianity.

Before it was re-traditonalised by the architect William Burn, the Inverness Castle of the 18th century enjoyed a stormy existence which culminated in its being garrisoned by the Duke of Cumberland’s army. This was before the devastating Battle of Culloden which was fought on 6th April 1746 only a short distance from the city’s outskirts. Afterwards, the castle was abandoned and Fort George, which sits at a distance of 11 miles, was built to control the Highlands. The present Inverness Castle houses Inverness Sheriff Court, and outside is a fine statue of Flora Macdonald, the heroine of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

Most people I know who visit Inverness for the first time are immediately struck by the contrast between the commercial bustle of the city centre and the close-at-hand tranquillity of the leafy riverside walks. Eden Court Theatre, which also houses an art gallery and two cinemas, is set on the banks of the River Ness which winds its leisurely course between the head of Loch Ness and the Moray Firth. As you stroll alongside, the river you will come across the ice rink, leisure centre, swimming pool, and the floral gardens, famous for displays of tropical and local flora. There are nine riverside churches which, incidentally, are linked with their own website ( www.churchesinverness.com).

If, however, you want to set forth on the waters of Loch Ness to possibly catch sight of the illusive monster, there are daily trip options to be had aboard the Jacobite Cruiser from Tomnahurich Bridge, Glenurquhart Road (www.jacobite.co.uk). Excursions, after all, are part of the Inverness visitor experience. Within easy reach from the city centre are the battlefield of Culloden with its National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre, a string of historic castles such as Cawdor, Brodie, Urquhart and Moniak (the latter with its own winery), and wildlife parks such as at Kincraig and Aigas. One highly recommended outing is to the Dolphins & Seals of the Moray Firth Visitor Centre at North Kessock.

With a 21st century population which is now in the region of 65,000, Inverness can certainly look back on a long and emotive history. In 1158, King David of Scotland awarded the then town its charter as a Royal Burgh. Robert the Bruce, captured one of its first castles from English forces in 1307, and, in subsequent centuries the town regularly came under assault from Clan Donald. In 1428, James I summoned the northern chieftains to the castle and executed three of them for defying his sovereignty. The following year the impetuous Alexander, Lord of the Isles, burnt the city to the ground in retaliation, and, forty years later, Inverness Castle was again stormed by Clan Donald during the Raid of Ross. The relationship between the citizens of Inverness and centralised authority was ever challenging.

In 1562, Mary Queen of Scots had the Governor of Inverness Castle hanged for unwisely refusing her entry to the Burgh.

For those of you who are therefore determined to explore at first hand the stormy past of this scenically wonderful region, a visit to the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery in Castle Wynd is essential. To the south at Newtonmore, the Highland Folk Museum (www.highlandfolk.com) offers an equally fascinating, but much more down-toearth interpretation of what everyday life was really like for our ancestors in times past.

In 1822, the remarkable Caledonian Canal was completed by the civil engineer Thomas Telford, a waterway to link Inverness through a series of locks and lochs to the west coast of Scotland. In 1921, Inverness Town House hosted an historic meeting of the British Cabinet, up until then the only such meeting of the British Government to have taken place outside London, but now a practice introduced by the current British Government, aware of the importance of reaching out into the electorate. The city is , as a matter of interest, twinned with Augsburg in Germany, and La Baule and Saint-Valeryen- Caux in France.

Be assured that Inverness will be celebrating Hogmanay this year, with a riot of parties and ceilidhs never to be forgotten. However, for those who might be contemplating a visit in 2011, they should perhaps first check out the Inverness Summer Festival website (www.invernessfestivals.com). The Summer festival takes place in July, the Capital of the Highlands has something special and memorable for every month of the year.