There are only 7 cities in Scotland and I’d been to and worked in all of them apart from the the city 'up there.” Inverness is a place I'd thought about going to for a while and just hadn’t gotten around to but that all changed when I found myself having a surprise 8 hours to kill in Inversnecky.
We had approximately 8 hours of time to fill from arriving into the city at 8 AM to leaving at 4PM so I decided to put out calls on Facebook, Twitter and people I know in the real world for suggestions of what to do. The suggestions varied from "Acuadome has some cracking flumes" to "don’t go at all.” However, the Scottish attitude of 'its rubbish here' wasn't what I needed. Along with the suggestions to go somewhere else, I got plenty of actual tips and ideas and the day before I narrowed the list down to 9 potential places to visit.
The morning of the tip arrived and we set off from the central belt early. The drive up was quiet and it only took around 3 hours including a brief comfort stop. At 8 am we sat down in a coffee shop and looked at the list, whittling it down by distance, cost and if we actually wanted to do them. With the activities decided upon and the hot chocolate drank, we set off to out first stop of the day: Inverness railway station. Well, it wasn't the actual first stop. We stopped by because I wanted to get a postcard and a local paper. Why a local paper? The same reason I listen to the local radio station wherever I am. Local knowledge and news might spark an idea or tell us if there was something going on in the city that day.
The first stop, Culloden
It takes under 15 minutes to get from the city center of Inverness to the site of the 1746 battlefield and there’s regular busses to take you out from the city if you don’t have a car. Using interactive exhibits and clever immersion cinema new visitor center takes you through the history of the Jacobite uprising and how it lead to the infamous battle on Culloden moor. The entry price is £11 for adults with cheaper prices for concessions and families or free if you have a National Trust for Scotland (NTFS) membership card. The tour is self guided but you do get an audio guide to use both inside and out (that was actual really useful for the outside portion, you can also get a guided tour that lasts around 40 minutes for an extra £2 but this is optional.
Without a doubt the best thing about the experience was standing outside on the moor, on a windy day with hills in the distance. There are lines of blue and red flags to denote where the two opposing army stood and it gives you an idea of the scale of the battlefield. The most chilling part of the tour was the memorial cairn and surrounding approximate* grave stones. Erie and sobering, I couldn’t help but be moved by a combination of the scenery and historical relevance of the site.
*While it’s known the stones stand on the site of a mass grave at Culloden they were placed there over 100 years after the battle and the inscribed clan names are general notes of remembrance not specific markers.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
I’ve never been inside a postcard before. This medieval castle is over 500 years old and gives you panoramic views of Loch Ness and it is simply stunning. The castle itself plays a prominent role in Scotland’s history and between the 12th-17th century it yo-yod between Scottish and English rule and at one point was under control of Robert the Bruce. It’s run as a tourist attraction and like Culloden has a flashy visitor center but as the castle has been around for many historic events it’s less focused but does house artifacts recovered from the excavation of the castle. It’s £9 for adults will concession and group prices.
We zoomed, floored it and legged it from the castle back up to the City city centre, parked up and made our way to our next location.
Leakey's Second-hand Bookshop
According to its owner, people have been known to literally gasp when they walk into Leakey’s Bookshop. It’s the second-largest second-hand bookshop in all of Scotland and it’s an impressive sight. The building is an old Gaelic Church dating back to the 1700’ and it’s constantly compared to ‘like something out of Harry Potter’. Towering bookcases and a steel mezzanine balcony surround the room and in the middle you’ll find a fireplace and chimney leading up to the roof a necessity for the Inverness winters.
You’re spoiled for choice in the city and if you ask a local there’s a 60% chance they’ll recommend that no matter what you do you have to get a cake from Harry Gow’s. However, we were starving and fancied a sit down meal when maybe a stop into Harrys to get a snack for the trip home.
We settled on Scotch and Rye Cocktail and Kitchen a fun place that offered a decent selection of drinks and US style bar food with a few surprises thrown in. For example you could settle for a beef burger or maybe go left field and try and ostrich or Kangaroo burger. Perfect pub grub at a reasonable price.
The Victorian Market
Built but the town council in the late 1800’s, the Victorian Market has a unique range of shops that you ‘won’t find on the high street’ as they’re all smaller, privately owned and operated businesses. It’s a fun walk around and looks nothing like any shopping center I’ve ever seen before. I’m also reliably informed that there is an excellent mask shop for all your mask needs.
Obviously 8 hours isn’t enough time to properly experience a place, especially a historical city like Inverness. If you find yourself there at short notice like me, these are few things you can do to get a flavour of the area. I definitely want to go back and see more. It’s a growing city both economically and socially that is home to great pieces of history and friendly people- highland hospitality is real. Oh, and there’s a statue of a unicorn on a plinth, I should have mentioned that at the start.