Inverness / Inbhir Nis

The capital of the Scottish Highlands

enjoys its monstrous publicity 

By Nancy Lyon

Log Ness Monster

Inverness Log Ness Monster

In Inverness, history and memory live long and the sense of humour and love of sport and play runs strong. Locals tell how the Irish St. Columba, who came here to Christianize the Pictish King Brude and his pagan kinsmen, made the sign of the cross when the sea beastie appeared in the River Ness, and bade it retreat. King Brude, impressed with this new magic, converted to Christianity.

On the lush and shady Ness Islands, filled with cyclists and picnickers, Saint Columba would laugh to see the Log Ness Monster, an eel-shaped fallen log painted with a silly face - looking like it just crawled ashore where Columba spotted its nasty ancestor.

Saint Columba wouldn’t recognize the River Ness today, with its towering church steeples and Castle, grand Victorian hotels, lacey metal pedestrian bridges and glittering Eden Court Theatre. But King Brude's Pictish fort and the fairy hill of Tomnahurich are still here, and the gobsmacking scenery of the Moray Firth and Cairngorm Mountains.

Loch Ness gets the all monster publicity, but the first siting of Nessiteras rhombopteryx - the Latin name given to this invisible creature they call Nessie - was was actually on the River Ness way back in 565 A.D. Centuries later it was here that King David I founded the Royal Burgh that grew into the city of Inbhir Nis, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Inverness enjoys a beautiful riverine setting in the Great Glen, the geological fault splitting Scotland from East to West.

Inverness is an outdoor recreation gateway all year long - attracting hill walkers, bird watchers, mountain bikers, kayakers, and rock and mountain climbers. Seasonal extremes in Inverness are not so much between wet vs. dry, as between dark vs. light. Winter brings 18 hours or more of darkness, and summer brings 18 or more hours of energising daylight. In summer you can pack two days' outdoor activity into one, but in winter Invernessians compensate for the short days and long nights with social and cultural events.

Aye, King David I knew a prime location when he saw one. He'd salute this trading hub buzzing with caffein and traffic - latte bars, wine bistros, music pubs, classy restaurants, tapas bars and tartan shops crammed with kilts and crafts; whisky emporiums and pedestrians brandishing mobile phones instead of broadswords as they scout the Victorian Market and Eastgate Shopping Centre for cool gear.


Today King David would see Highlanders in kilts, mums with prams and tourists with backpacks in all seasons and weathers. A great view of it all can be seen from the Inverness Castle Viewpoint. Invernessians love to soak up the low Northern sunlight, but a bit of rain never stops the action, even golfing at the city's three courses, kayaking and boating on the Caledonian Canal and angling for salmon in the River Ness. In Inverness, the Highland sense of fun and humour weathers all. 

Palms and Monkey Puzzle Trees


Surprising for its northern latitude, Inverness benefits from the tempering effect of Gulf Stream and the sheltering effect of the Great Glen. Palms and Monkey Puzzle trees thrive here along with roses abloom in February. The presence or absence of wind, and its direction and force determine how warm or cold it feels. The mercury can drop as low as -30C in winter and reach as high as 30C in summer - but that's very rare indeed!  An exotic haven of peace is the Inverness Botanical Garden where, on a dreich day, you can luxuriate in tropical humidity.  Another rainy day option is a browse through the Inverness Museum and Gallery.

Nessie or no Nessie, Loch Ness and the City of Inverness into which its waters flow get more press about this beastie than they'd like, considering all the other things there are to do around here, like hiking The Great Glen Way, or cycling along the Caledonian Canal - or taking a scenic cruise along it. And there are ceilis, and Highland games and dancing, and informal sessions of traditional Scottish music.

Scottish weather is the butt of many Scottish jokes, but as comedian Billy Connolly points out, there's nae bad weather here in Scotland, only bad clothing. This is even truer in the Highlands. A gorgeous sunny moment in Inverness can turn into a blustery one, with hailstones even in July. If you come in summer, pack a warm sweater, jacket, hat and raingear with your shorts and sandals. Don't expect a suntan, but fascinating ancient history, Gaelic culture, theatre, traditional music, fine dining, and more shopping, of course.

Inverness' peak tourist season starts at Easter and wraps up after Samhain, the Celtic New Year. November is quiet but mid-December lures shoppers from all over the Highlands. Christmas and Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year) attract celebrants from around the world. The low season from January to late March is good for independent travels and lower accomodation prices, but many small local museums are closed at this time of year.

In summer tourist shops and certain restaurants stay open later, but prices for tartan goods, jewelry and crafts and dining remain about the same throughout year. Summer highlights are Inverness Highland Games in July, with pipe bands, and Caber Toss and other heavy events, and the Tartan Heart Festival, and of course, boat life whirls all up and down the Cally Canal. Autumn is a great time for hiking and berry-picking along Canal, savoring the offerings at the Highland Food and Wine Festival although in Inverness, every day is a festival of food and drink.