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Travel: Switch on to Inverness – and switch-off from your worries

A wealth of history, beautiful views and delicious food were all on offer on a short break in Inverness.

The River Ness at Inverness.
The River Ness at Inverness.

For me, a visit to Inverness is always a breath of fresh air – I relax and switch off from any of life’s woes the moment I arrive.

It’s growing all the time but has a compact city centre making it easy to explore, and you’ll not be short of things to do and places to eat and drink.

The surrounding area, with attractions such as Loch Ness and the Cairngorms, are what bring many to the Highlands – and an increasing number now arrive by cruise ship.

But don’t leave Inverness too soon – it has plenty to offer.

I was spending a couple of days in the Highland capital thanks to the team at the luxury four-star Drumossie Hotel, where I enjoyed fantastic hospitality from its attentive and friendly staff.

The Drumossie Hotel, Inverness. Picture by Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

I’d always wanted to stay – there’s just something utterly charming about its appearance – but somehow never quite got here. I’d love to return.

The Drumossie Hotel, Inverness

My well-appointed room – a suite with sofa, window table and office space – was a fantastic place to chill out and rest.

And I enjoyed two fantastic meals in the hotel’s award-winning restaurant – where it was clear many of my fellow diners were familiar with its quality.

The first evening’s highlight was a crab dish with corn panna cotta – something quite special – but the kitchen was really showing off the following night as a colleague and I enjoyed a six-course tasting menu.

I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake the odd review or two, but this was certainly one of the finest meals I’ve enjoyed.

The impressive dining room at The Drumossie Hotel. Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

It kicked-off with venison carpaccio and a stunning smoked salmon dish with avocado, treacle and wild rice, before continuing via a stunning halibut dish with potato and smoked haddock presse and a duck breast with pumpkin, plum and game jus.

And there was still room for an indulgent dark chocolate cremeux with walnut and banana and a selection of Highland cheese.

Each course came with an accompanying wine and the insight of the hotel’s knowledgeable staff, who really do make a stay extra special.

Sit in the impressive lounge with a book and enjoy their warm and friendly service. After a drink or two and some snacks, you might feel there’s no need to venture any further.

But of course you should.

Exploring Inverness

The city itself has lots to recommend it, with an array of excellent restaurants, fine coffee shops – the XOKO Bakehouse with its moreish pastries is a favourite – a busy new food hall in the Victorian Market and an increasing number of new ventures springing-up.

It’s easy to explore – though the title, Capital of the Highlands, does appear to give some cruise ship visitors a distorted view of what to expect.

Sitting in a fairly central bar I overheard one holidaymaker ask for directions to the city centre and then inquire where all the shops were.

Clearly Inverness was not quite the metropolis they were hoping for. They left, rather nonplussed by directions to the Eastgate Shopping Centre.

“Is that it? I’ve been there.”

Some old favourites to visit

For me, it’s not quite a visit to Inverness unless I’ve popped in to Leakey’s second-hand bookstore, with its large selection of history books, and whose wood burner always provide a little respite from the Highland chill.

Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness. Picture by Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Definitely take a stroll over the footbridges that cross the River Ness – I love them, though the bounce isn’t to everyone’s tastes – and visit Eden Court.

The theatre offers an array of top stage shows and musical acts – with Sunset Song one of the May highlights – or venture a little further out and take a stroll along the Caledonian Canal.

I can recommend picking up the canal paths from almost any point.

Clachnaharry, at the eastern entrance to the canal. Picture by Sandy McCook

On a good day, it’s a pleasant, quiet and picturesque walk, whether trying to decide which boat you’d like to own, watching the locks open and close or keeping a wary eye, as I did, on those rather large swans.

Dochgarroch Locks where the Caledonian Canal meets Loch Ness near Inverness. Picture by Sandy McCook

Will you spot Nessie?

But there’s also lots to do within a short distance of the city – and of course you could go Nessie hunting on Loch Ness.

Whether you catch a glimpse of the monster herself, a boat trip will offer stunning scenery and you shouldn’t miss the chance to see Urquhart Castle and its visitor centre – a five-star visitor attraction.

Don’t worry, it’s also accessible by road!

Blessed by fine weather, I decided to do some dolphin spotting a short journey from the city – firstly from the battlements of the stunning and monumentally huge 18th Century Fort George, near Ardersier.

The impressive Fort George sits by the village of Ardersier, a short drive from Inverness.

It was created as a defence against Jacobite unrest and studded with artillery to become one of the greatest fortifications in Europe – though in reality it saw little action.

Unusually for a five-star visitor attraction it’s still a working military base, so you’ll find historically inclined visitors mixing with the odd soldier or two.

An array of interpretation boards guide you round its various buildings and explain its original defensive purpose.

Many years ago now, my grandparents used to work in the Highlanders’ Museum at the fort – yes it also has five stars – but it’s changed beyond recognition, having been given a significant makeover in recent years.

Fort George is still a working military base.

Inverness area is rich with history

If the history of Fort George has whetted your appetite, meanwhile, how about Culloden Battlefield, site of a crushing defeat inflicted on the Jacobite army under Charles Edward Stuart on April 16, 1746 – the last pitched battle on British soil.

A poignant audio tour leads you around the battlefield’s most important locations – upgrades mean it is now suitable for prams and those with access needs – and explains how and why the Jacobite Rising ended so swiftly and devastatingly.

But before stepping out on to the moor, you really should visit the adjacent Culloden Visitor Centre.

It’s a seriously impressive attraction, offering a wealth of rich detail about the Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Scotland’s history.

But, leaning on a canon or two at Fort George and failing to see much in the way of marine life, I decided to get a little closer, first heading back to Inverness and then on and over the Kessock Bridge to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle.

Culloden Battlefield. Picture by Sandy McCook.

The narrow spit of land, with ample parking, is one of the best places from which to spot dolphins – unless you decide to paddle out on the water yourself for an even closer look.

From there, there’s no guarantee you’ll see them leaping, but I’ve rarely visited without seeing some at play.

Travel facts

Macdonald Drumossie Hotel
Old Perth Rd, Inverness IV2 5BE
Call: 01463 236451