Welcome to Inverness
Three hundred and eighty million years ago the collision of North-American and European tectonic plates created the Scottish Highlands. In Scotland the fault line that marks the collision has been called the Great Glen and runs across Scotland, southwest to northeast, from coast to coast. At the north-easternmost end of the Great Glen lies the Capital of the Highlands: Inverness. Inverness means "mouth of the Ness" as it is situated at the head of the River Ness, the river which drains Scotland's most famous loch and one of the world's most famous lakes. For more than a thousand years Inverness has been the cultural centre of this vast and sparsely populated region: the tales and fables that men brought down from the mountains became, in Inverness, myths and legends which have contributed greatly to the richness of Scottish culture.
Moray Firth at Inverness
Amongst the first evidence of settlement in the Inverness area are the Clava Cairns, situated around 6 miles southeast of the city. These tombs are some of the best preserved neolithic burial sites in Scotland, dating from some time in between 1500 and 2000 BC. Two of the tombs contain passages aligned to the mid-winter sun and all are ringed by stone circles. They are believed to have been built for members of the region's Neolithic elite, possibly members of a ruling caste or priesthood. Certainly they provide a valuable insight into a culture whose religion revered the changing seasons and the elements.
By the time Christianity came to Invernesshire, in the 6th century AD, the area had fallen under the the control of Pictish Kings. King Brude had built a major fortress, most probably on Craig Padriag, a stone's throw west of today's city. He is said to have refused entry to St Columba who came there as a missionary. However, when Columba knocked at the castle's gates and they opened of their own accord, Brude was quick to convert. Columba's journey to Invernesshire also provides us with the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. While preaching to Picts by the Loch side the monster appeared and was only repelled when the Saint, making the sign of the cross, invoked the power of God to drive the beast away. Needless to say, he converted many a skeptical Pict that day.
Even when, in 843, the Pictish Kingdom was absorbed into the Scottish Kingdom of Kenneth MacAlpin, Inverness continued to be an important centre and residence of Scottish Kings. MacBeth, immortilised by Shakespeare's play, resided in a castle on Auld Castlehill. It is here that he is said to have murdered King Duncan and seized the Scottish throne in 1040. MacBeth's successor, Malcolm Canmore, destroyed this castle in 1070. There has been a castle on the site of today's Inverness Castle since the 11th century, although the present building was constructed in the 19th century.
Inverness grew as an important economic centre and port throughout the middle ages. From the 12th century Inverness was a Royal Burgh and granted the right to trade oversees. Its main exports were fur, wool and hides. It had a significant fishing community and thus developed as a shipbuilding centre. However, Inverness suffered some serious setbacks. In 1411 Donald, Lord of the Isles, burned part of the town on his way to the Battle of Harlaw and confrontation with the crown. The crown won this battle but it was far from decisive. Not until 1428 did the crown get to grips with this independently minded noble: the Lords of the Isles, now Alexander MacDonald, and his chieftains were summoned to parliament in Inverness where they were arrested, three of the chieftains were executed. Unfortunately for Inverness Alexander was not: after his release he almost completely destroyed the town, in revenge against the town folk who he believed had conspired against him. Nonetheless, Inverness would continue to grow and prosper in the centuries that followed.
Inverness Town Hall
Invernesshire's distance from the political centre in the south gave the region its distinctiveness but it also created friction with the crown. Mary Queen of Scots was given rough treatment in Inverness in 1562 when the governor of the castle refused her entry. She was forced to live in small house in Bridge Street during her stay. Consequently the governor was hanged. With the Act of Union (with England) in 1707 Inverness would be even more remote from the centres of power. When Bonnie Prince Charlie (Christened Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart), the young pretender to the British throne, whose dynasty had been usurped by the Hanoverians, landed on the Isle of Eriskay in 1745, he did not find it too difficult to whip up support amongst the Highland clans. Inverness was captured in March, 1746 by his Jacobite army. However, by April the Jacobite fortunes had changed and they met the government forces on Culloden Moor, just five miles southeast of Inverness. This, the last battle fought on British soil, was a crushing defeat for the Jacobites and the end to Bonnie Prince Charlie's aspirations of claming the British throne.
In recent years Inverness has begun to draw in visitors not just from the Highlands but also from around the world. There are obvious reasons for this: the city offers picturesque views in every direction; it is an ideal base for hill walking, skiing, climbing, fishing, golfing and monster spotting holidays; cruises down the Caledonian Canal (built in 1822, the canal links the lochs of the Great Glen) and walks along the Great Glen Way (Scotland's newest footpath which follows the Great Glen for 73 miles) start and end in Inverness; its fine museums, galleries and restaurants. However, underneath the playful laughter of the ever rushing river, Inverness has an old and mysterious heart which can be heard beating if one is willing to listen.