Inverness Museum and Art Gallery stands on the city's Castle Wynd. It actually backs onto Bridge Street, a continuation of Inverness High Street, and despite a location in the very heart of the city is oddly anonymous when viewed from the side most people see it from. To appreciate its exterior properly you need to see it from Castle Wynd, though the very best view of it is from the rear of Inverness Castle's grounds, a position which allows you to look down on the museum from above.
But this is a museum and art gallery, so the most important thing is what happens inside the building. And what you find within the glass fronted entrance lobby is a really excellent museum that helps visitors and residents alike fill in the background about Inverness and about the Highlands more widely. A visit to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery should be on the itinerary of everyone visiting the city.
The museum is on two main floors connected by stairs housed in the curved section of the frontage, and by a lift, ensuring full accessibility. The largest part of each floor is given over to nicely laid out, beautifully lit and informatively captioned museum exhibits. There is also a gift shop and a coffee shop on the ground floor, plus the Discovery Room for educational visits and functions. On the first floor one side is given over to the art gallery and the adjacent small gallery, which provide a venue for the museum's programme of temporary exhibitions. When we visited this was home to "Way of the Warrior", featuring arms and armour made for epic movies.
Although the museum spaces on both floors are large, the way the internal partitions are laid out (often at an oblique angle to the actual structure of the building) means that many of the spaces have a nicely intimate feel, though in places vistas open out that reveal the full scale of the museum.
The main reception desk is on the ground floor, and beyond it the story of the Highlands, and early Highlanders, is told by progressing in a generally clockwise direction around the galleries. The starting point, appropriately enough, is the geology of the Highlands, or to look at it another way, the first 3 billion years of the story of the area. Here pride of place is taken by a drill bit of the type used under the North Sea. The very first Highlanders are introduced to the story in a section looking at finds dating back to the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras and the Bronze Age. Exhibits ranging from a carved stone ball to cooking vessels and stone beakers help bring to life our early ancestors.
For us the highlight of the museum was "Home of a Warrior Society", which includes a wide range of artefacts from the iron age and Pictish era. Here you can view the museum's fine collection of Pictish symbol stones, in the form of complete stones and fragments. Other objects like a quernstone are more practical, while the people seem almost present when you encounter brooches, combs and other personal objects. These lead you into the next time slice, dealing with Scots, Vikings, Normans and the foundation of modern Scotland: and this in turn leads into the story of medieval Inverness, one of Scotland's first towns. The tour of early societies in the Highlands concludes with a look at Gaelic language and culture.
The final area on the ground floor takes the humans out of the picture altogether, and looks at Highland habitats and wildlife. Stuffed animals are not everyone's cup of tea, but they contribute to some very nice scenes here, while in the centre of the area is a lineup of typical Scottish wild mammals, including a fairly benign looking Scottish wildcat, a very laid back pine marten in a tree, and a badger in an oddly human pose.
The museum areas of the first floor cover the period from the Jacobites to the 20th Century, plus some diversions as far back as the Wars of Independence. It is of course no surprise that the story of the Jacobites should feature so prominently in a museum located less than five miles from the site of the Battle of Culloden. From the Jacobites we move to the influence of the Highlands on what is now regarded as Scottish culture, with everything from fiddles and bagpipes to tartan, targes and broadswords.
Moving on, one exhibition features the work of silversmiths in Inverness, while topics such as agricultural revolution and the clearances are also covered, along with a range of 20th century exhibits looking at "war, work and play" in Inverness during the last century. Here, too, you can find a complete recreation of Rosie Rollo's kitchen, the sort of kitchen which would have been known to many in the early to mid 1900s; and an exhibition focussing on Highland aviation pioneer Ted Fresson.