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Spirit of the Highlands to be captured in major Inverness castle transformation project

Inverness Castle in the 1920s
Inverness Castle in the 1920s

Plans to turn Inverness Castle and its surroundings into a major attraction capturing the spirit of the Highlands have been unveiled.

The concept involves transforming the castle, building a new museum and gallery, and down the line, transforming Bridge Street with hotel, leisure and retail offerings.

The castle will be first to be tackled, joining the two towers for the first time in its history, simplifying the interior and creating a multi-purpose space for culture, heritage and the arts.

This work will start when the courts currently occupying the castle decamp to the new Justice Centre in the Longman, due to be in spring next year.

A new museum and gallery, housing national collections, will follow in the grounds of the current Town House car park.

The steep grass covered slopes below Inverness Castle.

The final phase will see the the transformation of Bridge Street.

Funding will come from the Inverness and Highland City-Region deal, Highland Council and a range of other partners.

Stuart Black, the council’s director of development and infrastructure said the project would create a top quality attraction encouraging people to stay, return and visit further afield.

He said he wanted it to be a place locals would use and be proud of.

Mr Black said: “Urquhart Castle attracts more than 500,000 visitors, so Inverness castle should attract a significant number of visitors, including the higher spending overseas visitors.

“It will have a strong online, virtual presence as well, making Inverness somewhere people want to visit, possibly come back to live and invest in.”

Creative Services Scotland has the internal redesign brief.

Director Bryan Beattie said : “The question is how to define the spirit of the Highlands and this is a fantastic opportunity.

“There are so many stories to tell.

“We’re thinking of seminal influences like Runrig and Julie Fowlis, the pop art sculptor Gerald Laing of the Black Isle, the Tailor of Inverness as told by Matthew Zajac and international father of geology, Hugh Miller of Cromarty.

Ground floor diagram of the Inverness Castle plans

“We are all custodians of the spirit of the Highlands and the castle will be a conduit for people to connect with the city, the region and its spirit.”

Councillors at the City of Inverness Committee gave the concept a cautious welcome, warning of the need to get the transformation right.

Councillor Jimmy Gray said it would be very difficult to interpret what the castle is.

He said: “The last thing we want is stuffed grouse all over the place, we need an imaginative use of space making the most of the great views.”

Councillor Roddy Balfour said: “It’s potentially impressive, but I’m not all that sure it is impressive. Unless the right people are consulted it will dumb down culture. There’s nothing about the Gaelic Society of Inverness and the piping heritage for example.”

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Councillor Ron MacWilliam said: “This is a golden opportunity for Inverness to reclaim its own premier building and to put it to a relevant modern use.

“That is why I am calling for maximum public inclusion in the discussion about what that building is used for.

“If the cultural brief is to capture the ‘spirit of the Highlands’ that cannot be allowed to be interpreted by a small group of familiar faces.”

The plans described are subject to receiving the necessary permissions

  • Reinstate the original front door of the South Tower as the formal entrance to Inverness Castle
  • Introduce a single-storey infill in the courtyard between the South and North Towers, linking the buildings for the first time
  • Improve the external spaces around the buildings
  • Protect the volume and proportions of the original Court Room
  • Remove later addition partitions from the South and North Towers, restoring the plan to a series of fewer, larger, spaces
  • Improve universal access throughout the buildings
  • Rationalise support facilities, such as plant and toilets, into one or two places in both building

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