Inverness – Gateway to the Highlands

Inverness, capital of the Highlands and one of Scotland’s seven major cities, lies at the mouth of the River Ness where it meets the Beauly Firth just to the south of the famous Moray Firth. With Inverness sitting 903km from London, the UK capital is just 1km closer to the Highland city than the Norwegian capital of Oslo, and having arrived into the city of the Caledonian Sleeper (read about that here), I certainly felt I was in a completely different world to the one I left behind in England.

My train upon arrival at Inverness

Despite having three nights in the city, I was only planning on spending one full day in Inverness as I wanted to travel on some more of Scotland’s beautiful railways during the rest of my stay. With not being able to check into my hotel until 1600, I actually headed straight from the sleeper to a ScotRail Sprinter and headed west to Kyle of Lochalsh (you can read about that next week, so click here to subscribe!)   

The following day, after some sleep in a bed that wasn’t rocking, I was up relatively early and ready to go for my day discovering the Gateway of the Highlands but prior to any exploring, a hearty breakfast was required. A bit of research led me to Rendezvous Café, located on Church Street, just down from the Town House. For under a tenner, I had a filling cooked Scottish breakfast with Coffee and an orange juice, setting me up for a day of exploring.

The wonderful breakfast at Rendezvous Café

My main destination for the morning was the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery but this didn’t open until 1030 and so with over an hour to waste, I decided to walk to a local viewpoint, Carnac Point, which sits at the mouth of the River Ness where is flows into the Beauly Firth. Carnac Point is about a mile and a half from the museum, with the first mile following the banks of the Ness, until just after where the Kyle of Lochalsh & Far North railway lines cross the river.

The walk then takes you through the South Kessock neighbourhood, this section of which has an odd mix of maritime industry and housing and eventually a rather inconspicuous entrance to the small park area where Carnac Point sits. From the point there are beautiful views out over the firth, with the Kessock Bridge in the foreground marking the boundary between the Beauly and Moray firths.

Some of the view from Carnac Point, with the River Ness to the right

Thankfully the weather held out for most of my walk to Carnac Point and back, however as I approached the city centre again, the rain started to fall, and I was glad to soon be able to shelter outside the Museum. Whilst the Museum & Art Gallery is open through Covid, it is limiting the number of people visiting at any one time and a slot must be booked prior to visiting.

The museum had a large area explaining the geological history of the Highlands before moving on to the history of the area’s people and settlements. There are also collections on The Jacobites and the associated uprising, as well as more recent history and how people have adapted to live and work within the remote expanse of the Scottish Highlands. The museum is completely free and only takes an hour or two depending on how in-depth you look at the collections.

Swords are sure to grab my attention in museums

During my visit, Coronavirus restrictions in Scotland meant that restaurants had to close by 6pm each day whilst also not being able to serve alcohol. With these restrictions in mind, I decided to eat out at lunchtime, and so had made a reservation ahead of time at The Mustard Seed, a restaurant on the banks of the River Ness which turned out to be extremely popular.

Clearly a lot of people had had similar ideas about eating at lunchtime as when I arrived around half 12, the main dining area and mezzanine were full (at the limited social distancing capacity) and I was glad that I had booked in advance. The Mustard Seed has a set lunch menu that is £12.95 for a starter and a main (with a couple of supplements), which they update regularly to rotate the offering.

My main course at The Mustard Seed

Whilst stupidly I didn’t note down my choices and I can’t remember exactly what I had, looking back at my photos it would seem I had a haggis starter, pan fried Sea Bass with creamy potatoes for my main and apple crumble with custard as a desert. What I do remember about all of it is that it is some of the best food I have ever had and each mouthful left me hungry for more! I also remember that whether I had desert was touch and go after how filling the first two courses were but the crumble was just too tempting to miss.

After a filling lunch, I decided a wander to walk off the calories was in order and so I set off upstream along the River Ness, initially to the striking building that is St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Whilst the design of the building itself is probably better described as imposing than beautiful, the red Tarradle stone add a warmth and makes it feel more welcoming. St. Andrews’ is Britain’s most northerly cathedral and when it was constructed in the late 1860s it was the first new Protestant cathedral since the reformation.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral from across the river

No matter how beautiful the exterior of a church, I nearly always find the inside even more so, especially due to the coloured illuminations from the stained-glass windows. St. Andrews’ was no different with some beautiful window designs, and it was lovely to spend 15-minutes just walking around exploring the peaceful church before continuing my stroll along the river on the way back to my hotel.

The weather held for the rest of my walk, although the wind was starting to pick up and by the time, I’d had a break and headed to my final destination for the day it was obvious a storm was coming. Perhaps, given the weather, the Castle Viewpoint wasn’t the best place to visit, however having booked my slot and paid my money ahead of time, I was making sure to enjoy the views! From the Beauly & Moray firths to Culloden battlefield, the views from the top of the castle were stunning and thankfully it was only the wind of the storm that had arrived whilst I was up there. Entry was £5 and had to be booked in advance (Covid), but the climb up the hill and four flights of stairs was worth it.

Some of the amazing view from the top of Inverness Castle, with the Moray Firth in the distance

Whilst I still had two nights in Inverness before catching the Highland Chieftain back to London (more content for you to watch out for!), my day for exploring the city ended with me snug in my hotel room watching the storm outside. Whilst I was, and am still, glad that I had planned to travel the Kyle line and visit Aberdeen during my stay, I was disappointed that I only had the one day to explore Inverness. With historic sights such as Fort George & Culloden Battlefield as well as the more generic tourist boat trips and North Coast 500 still to visit/do, Inverness is already booked in for a few days next year where hopefully I’ll be able to tick some of these off.

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