Inverness is the self-proclaimed, and undisputed capital of The Highlands.
Its strategic position at the end of the Great Glen where the River Ness flows into the Moray Firth, has meant that it’s always been at the historical heart of The Highlands, even if it isn’t geographically.
In 2000 it became Scotland’s 5th city, therefore making it the UK’s most northerly city, and one of the fastest growing. The city’s population in 2012 was 46,870, and 59,910 for the Greater Inverness area, which means that a quarter of the Highland population live in, or around, Inverness.
For somewhere that holds such a key position in the affairs of the Highlands there’s surprisingly little of note to see in the city itself. The river, which flows for just seven miles between Loch Ness and the Moray Firth is crossed by the rather non-descript Ness bridge, but even so, a riverside walk is worth contemplating if you’ve found yourself here with time to spare.
There are a couple of appealing footbridges, the 19thc Cathedral of St Andrew, and Inverness Castle, which I’m sorry to say isn’t one of those romantic castles that Scotland is justifiably renowned for.
The present castle was only built in 1836 and houses the Sheriff Court and council offices, and apart from the grounds around it, isn’t even open to the public. That said, the red sandstone building has a prominent position overlooking the River Ness and still manages to make a statement about the importance of Inverness today.
This castle though is the latest in a line of many. The first castle on this site was said to be built by my namesake, Mael Coluim (Malcolm) III in the 11th century. It was supposedly built to replace another nearby castle in which his father was murdered by Macbeth.
The turbulence of Scottish history saw several castles built and subsequently destroyed, and in 1745 the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, blew up what had now become a fort (Old Fort George) prior to his engagement with the Duke of Cumberland’s army on nearby Culloden Moor a year later.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he was known, lost the battle and with the help of Flora Macdonald, fled to France. Disguised as Flora’s maid “Betty Burke”, he escaped ‘Over the sea to Skye’ and there’s a statue of her outside the castle which appears to show Flora looking across the Great Glen towards Skye.
The Culloden Battlefield is only 4 miles away and the ‘new’ Fort George is not far from Inverness Airport on the banks of the Moray Firth at Ardersier. Both attractions are well worth seeking out while you’re in the area, but for the most part I’ve regarded the city of Inverness as a place of convenience for a trip to the Highlands, rather than a destination in its own right.
Just because Inverness doesn’t have too many visitor attractions doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t have any appeal at all. Surveys in 2014 and again in 2015 were to show that Inverness was the happiest place in Scotland which once again just goes to prove that living somewhere is different to visiting there – after all, like I always say, “You can’t eat the air and you can’t drink the sea”.