Inverness Castle may be one of the most beautiful urban castles still actively used for government purposes. While the current building is relatively young, the fame of Inverness’ predeccesors is extensive. Inverness draws many visitors every year, but a surprisingly large number come not for the castle, but for a mystery that has been closely tied to the area for centuries. Loch Ness, home to the world’s most famous and elusive sea monster, lies but a few miles away. A visit to Inverness, which stands on the banks of the River Ness, is now almost synonymous with the chance to catch a glimpse of Nessie.
While the current structure only dates back to 1836, there have been castles on the site of Inverness for nearly a thousand years. The earliest known castle was built here in 1057 AD. According to popular belief, Cawdor Castle of MacBeth fame may have been one and the same with the original Inverness Castle. If true, this would have been the site of a number of events related to MacBeth’s life, including the assassination of King Duncan I. An area by the river is said to be haunted by the ghost of the wronged king.
Inverness Castle was caught up in many other violent moments in Scottish history, and is connected to a number of famous figures. Early in the 14th century, and again in the 15th century, Inverness Castle was sacked and destroyed during the internecine clan warfare of the highlands. The first incident involved the army of Robert the Bruce. A new castle was built in 1548, shortly after the arrival of the Protestant Reformation in the British Isles. For the ensuing decades Inverness was a central point of contention both between the English and the Scotts as well as between the Catholics and the Protestants.
In 1562, Inverness Castle was seized by forces loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots. Thereafter it was a major rallying point for ant-English and anti-protestant sentiment. It was held by the Munro and Fraser clans, who used it to safely harbor Mary for a time during the 1560s. Inverness entered its most tumultuous period yet during the reign of the Stuarts and during the Commonwealth period. Possession of the strategic castle changed several times over several decades, including being retaken by the Munros and Frasers in 1649. Inverness was assaulted and taken during both the English Civil War and the Jacobite War. In the end, the ancient castle was seized by the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, who subsequently destroyed it.
It was almost another century before a new castle was constructed on the site. However, the latest incarnation was less of a traditional castle and more of a late Scottish baronial manor. In addition to all of its other rich history, Inverness Castle is also associated with that near-mythical creature known as the Loch Ness Monster. The legend of the monster, which dates as far back as the 6th century, has been a major tourist draw to the castle, which stands on the banks of the River Ness. A visit to the castle is now incomplete without a brief visit to the famous Loch.
Although Inverness Castle appears from a distance as a medieval period fortification, up close it is evident from the quality and style that Inverness dates from a much later period. It is, in fact, less than two centuries old, dating from 1835. The relatively young castle is perched majestically on a hill overlooking the Ness River, directly across from the main town. The brown-brick construction is the epitome of 19th century Scottish manors architecture. The outer structure is dominated by a half-dozen large towers.
The grounds around Inverness Castle are classic Highland countryside despite the fact that the place essentially stands inside the city. Small copses of trees dot the hillside and line the river. While there is little in the way of gardens or ornamentals, the lawn and surroundings are immaculately kept. The unfathomable depths of Loch Ness are less than three miles away to the south west. Unlike most of the entries in this book, Inverness Castle is neither a simple residence nor a restored tourist attraction. It is currently in active use as a governmental building. Specifically, it houses the regional Sherrif’s Court, where local criminal preceedings are heard. As such it is not considered primarily to be a tourist attraction, despite the fact that it is a popular one. In general only the drum tower is open to the public.
Inverness lies close to the extreme northern end of inhabited Scotland, on the small strip of land separating Loch Ness from the North Sea approximately 100 miles north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Inverness Castle is open during the tourist season (varies annually, but generally in late Spring, Summer and early Autumn) from 10:30am-5:30pm. Web: www.visit-inverness.com (official website).
The Scottish Highlands boast a wealth of famous and infamous castles. While the original Inverness Castle was the likely true home of MacBeth’s Cawdors, the current Cawdor Castle, which dates back to the 14th century, is now home to their descendents, and makes a considerable effort to tie its history to Shakespeare-minded tourists. Also in the Highlands is Skibo Castle, now a hotel, famous for celebrity sitings. The ruins of the area’s oldest castle, Urquhart Castle, may date as far back as the 6th century. Also in the area are Braemar Castle and Eilean Donan Castle.