Inverness is the social, cultural, transport and administration centre for the Highlands, serving a huge area that includes the Western Islands as well as communities to the north and east. The first written references to the town came in the sixth century with Adamnan's account of the life of St Columba. He describes, therein, the saint's visit to King Brude's fortress on his mission to convert the northern Picts to his religion.
Inver means 'mouth', with the town being established near the mouth of the River Ness where it meets the Beauly Firth. There are lovely views looking from the lower bridges up to the town and its red-sandstone castle perched on the southern banks.
The original Inverness Castle was the possible scene of the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth and stood in the Crown area to the east of the present Castle Hill. The present castle, built between 1834 and 1846, contains the offices of local government and law courts.
Just below the castle is the Tourist Information Office in Upper Bridge Street, adjacent to the town's museum, which contains various items relating to the town's and Highland history as well as an art gallery.
Most of Inverness's High Street has been pedestrianised so it is easy to amble through an area mostly given over to High Street retail shops. There is little of architectural interest. For indoor-shopping there is the modern Eastgate Centre and various supermarkets if you wish to stock up on reasonably priced groceries before venturing further north or west.
Inverness caters well to the archetypal tourist who wishes to trace and identify with their Scottish ancestors. At the local library in Farraline Park, beside the bus station, there is a genealogist-in-residence through the summer months. He offers an initial, free consultation to those that wish to discover their Highland roots.
The Clan Tartan Centre at Holm Mills can also work out which tartan you are entitled to wear and for a small fee include this and your clan history on a certificate. After this you should feel thoroughly Scotified.
Following Church Street, you come to Abertarff House, one of the oldest buildings in Inverness dating from 1592 and containing a wonderful turnpike stairway. It also serves as the Highland regional headquarters for the National Trust for Scotland.
Crossing the river by the Ness Bridge and turning left along the river on Ness Walk, you come to Eden Court, the most northerly theatre in the UK, built in 1976 and named after the Bishop Robert Eden who commissioned the adjacent cathedral a century before. The main hall has 800 seats and the building has a variety of uses as a theatre, conference centre and art gallery. There is a small restaurant. Nearby St Andrew's Cathedral, built in 1866 to 1869, has an elaborate interior with a choir screen and rood cross by Robert Lorimer, well worth seeing. The font is a copy of Thorwalden's Font in Copenhagen Cathedral.
For a pleasant walk you can follow the banks of the river on either side or cross the Georgian bridges to Ness Islands which have been turned into attractive public parks.
The Caledonian Canal
Also worth seeing is the northern end of Telford's Caledonian Canal. Here the Brahan Seer, a sixteenth or seventeenth century Highland prophet, predicted the coming of the canal, allowing ships to sail across Scotland.
'Strange as it may seem to you this day, a time will come when full-rigged ships will be seen sailing eastward and westward by the back of Tomnahurich near Inverness'.
Tomnahurich is the noticeable lump, otherwise know as the 'Fairy Hill' near to the canal. The Brahan Seer touched on many other facets of Highland life that have since come true. 'That the clans will become so effeminate as to flee from their native country before an army of sheep' was another poignant premonition.
A popular excursion from Inverness is down the A82 to Loch Ness as far as Drumnadrochit and Castle Urquart. There is only a small stretch of the man-made canal at this end of the loch where it runs parallel with the River Ness.
The Caledonian Canal stretches from the Beauly Firth in the north to Loch Eil in the south linking Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and the small Loch Dochfour. Less than half of its 60 miles (97km) are man-made. The rest is a massive geological fault called the Great Glen which runs diagonally across Scotland, already half full of water when Thomas Telford commenced the canal in 1803. One of the reasons the government employed Telford to institute his plans was to give employment to the hundreds of Highlanders who had poured into the area following the Highland Clearances.
The canal was never the industrial success that was hoped for and has since been used mainly for fishing boats or pleasure craft traversing the Highland interior. But the feat of digging this gigantic trench through some of Scotland's most inhospitable countryside still stands as a monument to the men who made it.
Loch Ness is a spectacular stretch of water although the A82 alongside can be quite busy. The natural Highland vegetation that lines its banks, birch, alder, rowan and hazel trees, now struggle to resist the intense forestry schemes of pine that continue to engulf wide swathes of the Highlands. It was the construction of this road in the 1930s that sparked off the modern craze for monster spotting when workmen and locals claimed many sightings. Perhaps the digging and blasting disturbed the monster. The first mention of 'Nessie', as he or she is colloquially known, goes back to St Adamnan's chronicle of St Colomba who had to placate the monster following its attack on a fellow monk.
For the chance of a closer encounter with the monster, the best bet might be to go underwater. Operating from the Clansman Marina about 6 miles (l0km) south of Inverness is the Swatch Loch Ness Submarine where a small submersible dives several times a day to the floor of the loch usually at around 400ft (122m).
As it is primarily a scientific project, various daily missions are set to observe things like plankton, fish or sediment. Samples of the sediment taken by the submarine show changes in the atmosphere over the past 10,000 years and incidents such as Chernobyl and the accumulated debris from the Industrial Revolution. Visibility is good at lower levels although, because of the peat stain in the water, it is a bit like diving through a glass of whisky. Places in the submarine are limited so advance reservations are nearly always necessary. Contact the local tourist information centre for details (Tel 01456 450709).
At Drumnadrochit, a third of the way down the loch, the Loch Ness experience congeals into a mass of commercial monster madness. The best chance visitors may have of seeing the elusive Nessie is by standing next to the model in the pond at the 'The Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre'. Using sight and sound in a multi-media presentation, the centre offers facts about the monster and leaves you to draw your own conclusion. There are shops and craft outlets as well as a restaurant, lounge bar, coffee shop and hotel at Drumnadrochit.
Visitors driving to Urquart Castle, 2 miles (3km) further along the A82, reserve a portion of their attention to the choppy waters of the loch, hoping for a chance sighting and a fortune-making photograph. It is around this area that most of the sightings have been made.
Urquhart Castle was once one of the largest castles in Scotland and it stands on a rocky outcrop that juts out into the loch, part of a series of forts that controlled the Great Glen. Since Pictish times the site has been strategic. It was partly dismantled by the English during the Jacobite rebellion to avoid it becoming a rebel outpost and through the centuries since, its decay has continued. The castle is reached by crossing the defensive ditch and entering the crumbled stone walls through a series of arches and tunnels before reaching the outer loch-side walls and tower. The cavern where Ted Danson finally meets the monster in 'Loch Ness', the movie, unfortunately does not exist - as far as I know!
The A82 continues through Invermoriston where you can take a diversion through Glen Moriston to see the memorial for Roderick McKenzie, a follower and look-alike of Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was captured and killed by the Redcoats but before he died he bravely cried 'You have killed your prince' thus delaying the pursuit of the true monarch.
Fort Augustus is a crossing point of the Caledonian Canal and the main A82. Here, sailors and their craft often gather at the quaysides and adjourn to the bars, waiting to pass through the locks the next morning. Following the 1715 Jacobite uprising, a garrison was established in the town to quell further trouble.
A fort was built named after George II's son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, later to become known throughout the Highlands as 'Butcher Cumberland' following his victory at Culloden and the subsequent atrocities carried out on the vanquished Highlanders. The fort was dismantled and incorporated into an abbey, now a public school with its church open to visitors.
A golf course is found on the edge of town, moved there in 1925 to make way for tree planting. The proviso was that the course would have to share the ground with sheep, which remains so today.
It is possible to return to Inverness via the south road of Loch Ness but, although very scenic, it is twisting and hilly so allow of plenty time. The plunging Falls of Foyers are 10 miles (16km) north of Fort Augustus on this route, the B862, and quite spectacular.
The estates of Coignafearn, in the heart of the Monadhliath
Mountains, can be reached from the B851 where a variety of deer, red kites, wild
goats and the occasional Golden Eagle can often be seen. Bare in mind, it is a demanding
drive through forest and mountainous single track road to this remote glen that surrounds
the River Findhorn. It can also be reached via Tomatin on the A9 about 16 miles (26km)
south of Inverness.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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