Inverness is city that feels more like a market town, set beside the River Ness, and gateway to the Scottish Highlands. I visited in September and found that there’s plenty to enjoy for those who love the beautiful scenery and want to dip into the history and culture of Scotland – here’s what I enjoyed when I was there;
To get my bearings, I decided to start with a self-guided walk around Inverness and picked up a leaflet for the Inverness City Centre Trail from the visitor’s centre on Bridge Street. With blue skies overhead (Scotland is beautiful to visit in autumn) my walk first took me up to the castle, which sits on the hill overlooking the town and the river valley. The 16th century stone tower house was left in ruins after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and was rebuilt as the court house in the 19th century, although I heard that there are plans to open the building to the public.
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I gazed up at the statue of Flora Macdonald, the Jacobite heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye after the battle of Culloden, dressed as her maidservant. From the terrace there are stunning views over the River Ness, towards St Andrew’s Cathedral on the opposite bank of the river.
Walking back down from the castle, I continued along Bridge Street past the Tolbooth steeple, an Inverness landmark and the old Caledonian Bank, with classical columns and pediments.
I crossed over the Ness Bridge which replaced the original 17th stone bridge that was swept away in a flood. The colourful floral displays were still blooming at the end of summer and I admired some of the old stone townhouses and warehouses along the river bank on the other side.
The final part of my walk through Inverness took me along Church Street to look at some of the old buildings like the Aberstarff House, a 16th century lodging house that is run by the National Trust for Scotland, and the charming Victorian Market Arcade. I also enjoyed a visit to The Old High Church that overlooks the modern suspension bridge across the river.
If you go: More information about Inverness on the Visit Inverness & Loch Ness website | The tourist Information Centre in Inverness is on Bridge Street, just below the castle.
Need a hotel to stay? The Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel is well located in the heart of Inverness, close to the river and has a stylish but informal atmosphere.
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Visit Cawdor Castle near Inverness
Half an hour’s drive from Inverness is the beautiful Cawdor Castle, which is well known as the setting of Shakespeare’s play about Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth was crowned King of the Scots in 1040 after killing King Duncan in battle, but since Cawdor Castle was not built until the 14th century, the real Macbeth never lived here. Still, there’s a romantic look about the castle, with its gatehouse, drawbridge, stone battlements and canons guarding the entrance.
The gardens around the house were looking especially beautiful when I visited, with yellow lillies and autumn foliage surrounding the water feature in the garden. The Dowager Countess Cawdor is a lover of the arts and there were many beautiful pieces of sculpture around the gardens. The water feature at the centre of the slate garden was commissioned by Countess Cawdor using 18th century roof slates that were left over when the castle was reroofed in 2009. The ball of slate represents the sun and sits on a dish of lead that was also taken from the roof, representing the earth, with a curved bench shaped as the moon.
The story goes that Cawdor Castle was built by the Thane of Cawdor in the 14th century, to replace another castle that was becoming unstable, as it was built on marshy ground. The Thane received instructions in a dream that he should put his wealth into bags on the back of a donkey and wherever the donkey came to rest under a tree, that was where the new castle should be built. Sure enough, you can see the wood of that very holly tree (or so the story goes) in the basement of the castle. The castle was originally a fortified tower house, with only one entrance halfway up the tower, which could be reached by a wooden ladder, but of course it was enlarged and improved by the Cawdor family over the years.
Cawdor Castle is very much a family home and the residence of Countess Cawdor, although she moves into another house on the estate during the summer months, when the castle is open to visitors. Although full of exquisite antiques, paintings and tapestries, there are also books, family photos and personal ornaments around the castle, which gives a warm and welcoming feeling when you visit.
As we had a guided tour I enjoyed hearing the stories behind some of the furnishings; the Venetian nobleman’s gondola seat in the drawing room; the portrait of Scottie the dog that was commissioned as a gift by Queen Victoria for her lady in waiting; the ostrich feathers over the marriage bed of Lady Caroline Howard who is reputed to haunt the castle after the death of her husband.
If you go: Cawdor Castle Website | Open daily May to end September, 10am – 5pm | Adults £11.20, child £7, Family £32
Need somewhere to stay? Boath House Hotel is a luxurious country house hotel close to Cawdor Castle, known for its fine dining restaurant and gardens.
Visit Culloden battlefield
In April 1746, the battle lines were drawn at Culloden between the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart and the Redcoat army of the Hanoverian King of England, George I. In just an hour the battle that could have changed the course of English history was over, leaving over 1000 of the Scottish Jacobites dead on the battlefield. It was the last battle fought on English soil and the final challenge to the English throne.
The Culloden battlefield and visitor’s centre is just a 15 minute drive from Inverness and well worth a visit. Today of course, things are a lot more peaceful and you might be forgiven for thinking the battlefield looks a bit like a golf course. The field is covered with turf, heather and shrubs with grassy paths leading across it and jaunty red and blue flags flying, that mark the positions of the two sides in the battle. I’d recommend visiting the battlefield with a guide, as our guide Ian really brought the battle to life, explaining how the Jacobite advance was delayed when the rider sent by Bonnie Prince Charlie was killed before he had given the orders to all the clans. The boggy ground made the battleground less than ideal since it caused the Jacobites to bunch together and be cut down by the Redcoat muskets and grapeshot from the canons.
Weeks after the battle, the Jacobite dead were finally buried in mass graves according to their clan, marked with a headstone. In the 19th century a road was built through the burial ground, but has since been moved to the edge of the battlefield. The Culloden Battlefield is also a popular visit for fans of the film series Outlander, which dramatises the life and love of Claire, a woman who has travelled across time to meet Jamie Fraser, a member Fraser clan at the time of the Jacobite rebellion. Although Jamie Fraser is a fictional character, fans often leave flowers and mementos at the clan gravestones.
In the centre of the battlefield is a stone cairn, that was constructed in 1881 to commemorate the battle of Culloden and all who died there. At the same time, the road across the burial ground was moved and stone burial markers that had originally been at each clan’s grave were replaced. After visiting the battlefield, we were able to look around the modern visitor centre which was completed in 2008 and brings to life the story of the battle and the political landscape at the time. It was especially memorable to step into the rooms where a film re-enacting the battle was being projected on all four walls, allowing you to experience the fighting, noise, confusion and gunsmoke all around you.
If you go: Culloden Battlefield Website | Battlefield open daily, Visitor centre 9am – 5pm (10am – 4pm in winter) | Adult £11 Family £26
Need somewhere to stay?: Culloden House Hotel is an elegant country house hotel set in 40 acres of gardens, where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed the night before the battle of Culloden
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Visitor Information for Inverness
For more information about things to do in Inverness, visit the Visit Inverness & Loch Ness website
For more ideas on holidays in Scotland, have a look at the Visit Scotland Website
Check prices and availability for Hotels in Inverness here
Thanks to Visit Inverness who provided some of the experiences mentioned in this article. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links which support this blog at no extra cost to you.