Inverness, capital of the Highlands, became Scotland's fifth city in celebration of the start of the Third Millennium. It lies at the north end of the Great Glen, where the River Ness flows into the Moray Firth, and has been a natural focus for lines of communication to and through the highlands for most of the last two thousand years.
The origins of Inverness lie on its western edge at the now wooded crag of Craig Phadrig. A fortress atop this crag was a capital of the Pictish kings from as early as the 400s. In about 580 Craig Phadrig was the stronghold of the Pictish King Brude when St Columba embarked on his quest to convert the Picts to Christianity. It is said that King Brude denied St Columba entry when he arrived at Craig Phadrig: but the gates opened themselves when Columba knocked. Brude, suitably impressed, quickly converted with his people.
It is thought that the fortress on Craig Phadrig was destroyed by fire in the 700s. A later castle in Inverness was destroyed by Malcolm III in about 1070, who then built another on a hill overlooking the River Ness at the point where it was crossed by a ferry.
The town grew rapidly and by 1250 a bridge had been built across the river and a priory founded. It was also an important centre for boat building and fishing. Progress came to a halt when Inverness was largely destroyed in an attack by Alexander, Lord of the Isles in 1429 to avenge his arrest in the town by James I the previous year (see our Historical Timeline). (Continues below image...)
By the 1600s Inverness was thriving once more. In 1652 Oliver Cromwell built a citadel to strengthen his hold on northern Scotland on the riverside site of the medieval castle. With the restoration of the monarchy the citadel was abandoned, but many English troops based there settled in Inverness.
In 1727 the remains of the citadel and earlier castle were developed into the first Fort George, a large fortress capable of housing 400 troops. Fort George surrendered to the Jacobites when they took Inverness in February 1746 before their eventual demise at the Battle of Culloden in April that year. After the garrison had surrendered the Jacobites laid mines under the fortress. This operation was carried out under the direction of a French officer called L'Epine, who was amongst those killed when the mines exploded prematurely, completely destroying Fort George.
After Culloden the Government decided to build a new Fort George in Inverness. At a late stage the Burgh Council increased its demands for compensation for the land and the new Fort George was instead built at Ardersier, some miles to the east of Inverness and close to the rather more recent development of Inverness Airport. Close to the airport is the Highland Aviation Museum, which is well worth a visit.
The red stone Inverness Castle you see today was built in the 1830s to house courts and administrative buildings. Its arrival was part of a boom in the 1800s that saw Inverness truly establish itself as the capital of the Highlands. The Caledonian Canal may never have been a huge commercial success, but it did add to the importance of the town and to its already thriving harbour. By the 1870s railways were in place linking Inverness to Perth, Aberdeen, Kyle of Lochalsh, Wick and Thurso. All of these still operate as Inverness moves further into the third millennium.
Inverness is also the focal point for the road network in northern Scotland. Main roads from Aberdeen, Perth and Fort William all meet here, while the Kessock Bridge, opened in 1982 across the Beauly Firth, forms the gateway to the far north and the north-west. Inverness has become the northern end of the 73 mile Great Glen Way long distance footpath linking it to Fort William. The city is also the starting and finishing point for the increasingly popular North Coast 500 circular driving tour.
Today's Inverness is a diverse and bustling city with a compact and attractive centre. The River Ness still provides a key focus, and attractions like the castle, Inverness Cathedral and the Eden Court Theatre can all be found on its banks. Close to the castle is the excellent Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
Inverness is home to a number of fine hotels. Three miles to the west of the city on the south shore of the Beauly Firth is the extremely charming Bunchrew House Hotel. Another fine country house hotel, this time to the east of Inverness, is Culloden House Hotel. Those looking for accommodation within the city should consider the stylish Rocpool Reserve. As an alternative to the traditional hotel, we can also highly recommend Highland Apartments by Mansley, right in the heart of the city.
Inverness In Fiction
A Tangled Web by Ken Lussey (15 November 2023).
A fast-paced thriller set in northern Scotland. Callum Anderson returns to Sutherland to help Jenny Mackay investigate the death of her
husband. The authorities say he committed suicide but she’s convinced he was murdered. If she's right then they're both in danger.
Inverness features several times as the story develops.