Known as the 'capital' of the Highlands, Inverness stands at the entrance of the man-made Caledonian Canal, connecting Scotland's east and west coasts. It is one of the oldest settlements in Scotland, as the many prehistoric burial cairns, carved stones and other ancient memorials testify. Inverness is a Gaelic word meaning 'river mouth of the Ness', the river upon which the town stands.
The earliest known record of Inverness is in a contemporary biography of St Colomba, who is believed to have visited the Pictish King Brude in AD565, at his fortress beside the River Ness.
In the old castle of Inverness, now a ruin at Auld Castlehill, Macbeth murdered King Duncan in 1039, a crime dramatised by Shakespeare. King David I created Inverness a Royal burgh, built the first stone castle on the site that stood for six centuries, and made the town a seat of justice. After the Jacobite rising of 1715, General Wade enlarged and strengthened the old castle, calling it Fort George in honour of George I. In the 1745 Rising, the troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie occupied Inverness, and after a two-day siege the castle was also captured and blown up. The following year the Prince's Jacobite army was annihilated on Culloden Moor, and the victorious English army under the command of the Duke of Cumberland, nicknamed 'the butcher', descended upon Inverness and wreaked vengeance upon the town. Many houses were looted and burnt, churches desecrated or destroyed, and prisoners murdered.
Little of this past can be seen today, for the present castle replacing two former buildings on the same site, dates only from 1834-46; its role now is that of courthouse and administration centre. On the castle esplanade is a memorial to Flora Macdonald, who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Syke after his bloody defeat at Culloden.
The most fascinating of the older buildings in Inverness is Abertarff House, built in the late 16th cent. It contains the last remaining example of the old turnpike stair, an ancient spiral staircase once fashionable amongst the wealthy. The house is now the headquarters of An Comunn Gaidhealach, the Highland Association that preserves Gaelic language and culture. The Gothic-style Town House, built between 1878-82, was the scene of the first Cabinet meeting ever held outside London; it was called in 1921 by Lloyd George, whilst holidaying in Scotland, to deal with a letter received from Eamon de Valera. A document in the council chambers bears the signature of the ministers who attended. In front of the Town House, and partly sunk below ground, is the Clach-na-Cudainn, or Stone of Tubs, on which women rested their tubs on their way from the river. Nearby, in Castle Wynd, is an art gallery and town museum, containing Jacobite relics belonging to clan followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The Clock Tower is all that remains of a fort or sconce, erected by Cromwell's army between 1652/7; it was demolished in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II. The parish church has a 14th cent. vaulted tower; outside in the churchyard there are bullet marks on a stone, grim reminders of the prisoners executed after the Battle of Culloden. St Andrew's Cathedral, built between 1866/9, has a richly decorated interior, with illuminated windows and carved pillars; the font is a copy of one in Copenhagen Cathedral, Denmark.
At Craig Phadrig, 1.5 miles west of Inverness, are the remains of a vitrified Iron Age fort, atop a 556ft hill, said to be the stronghold of the Pictish King Brude. From Inverness there are many attractive walks along wooded riverbanks, especially those leading to the Ness Islands, less than a mile upriver from the town centre. The islands are linked to the shore by bridges, illuminated on summer evenings.
Six miles to the east of Inverness lies the evocative site of the last pitched battle fought on Scottish soil, Culloden Muir. Here, in 1746, superior English forces ruthlessly destroyed Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army, and graves hauntingly mark the 1200 fallen clansmen - there were only 76 English casualties. A memorial cairn was erected in 1881, and the battlefield has been movingly restored to its 1746 appearance. There is a visitor centre and a farmhouse museum, with displays of historical maps and relics.