Ambitious plans have been unveiled to transform a landmark in the Highland capital into a major tourist magnet.
The local authority has revealed it wants to make the historic lookout tower at Inverness Castle an exciting visitor attraction.
The development would offer visitors a bird’s eye view over the city, down the Great Glen, across to Ben Wyvis and out to the Black Isle and Moray Firth.
The proposals to breathe new life into the North Tower were welcomed by city leaders last night.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said it was “an innovative and exciting” scheme, while Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron said it would help to attract more holidaymakers and boost the economy as a whole.
The emergence of the plans follows recent calls for the Scottish Court Service to vacate Inverness Castle and allow it to be transformed into a tourism venue.
A scheme on that scale would take years to complete, and would require the building of a replacement sheriff court.
However, the North Tower, which is owned by the council and includes the lookout tower, is a separate wing of the castle, built in the 1840s as a prison.
Campaigners believe this means it could be opened to the public before the end of next year.
Early plans released by the local authority suggest the tower could feature an open-air camera viewing area and a small visitor centre and shop.
Councillor Thomas Prag, chairman of the council’s planning, development and infrastructure committee, said: “We’ve been trying to think of ways we can make the castle more accessible to people and this is one of the ideas which could be progressed relatively quickly.
“It’s a quick win situation, which can be achieved while discussions continue about the rest of the castle.
“The tower has remarkable views. I was chairman of Highland Festivals, which had an office in the tower, and on a good day you could look at Ben Wyvis in one direction and down the Great Glen over Loch Ness in the other.”
Tourism is currently worth £88million a year to Inverness.
Mr Barron said the numbers could increase if more attractions were provided to keep people in the area for longer.
He added: “The recent opening of the Flybe route to the heart of London increases our opportunities to attract visitors for short city breaks.
“However, a greater range of attractions and activities would help to keep people in Inverness itself for longer and also help to bring more tourists and boost the economy as a whole.
“The opening of the lookout tower would be a really good attraction.”
Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Bid, said: “We’re right behind the effort to make the castle publicly accessible.
“All year round tourists are up at the castle, because it’s a focal point, but they aren’t allowed in.
“The sooner they are able to do it the better.”
Mr Nicol said: “This is an innovative and exciting proposal which will provide a significant boost to the tourism offering for Inverness.
“In addition to providing a unique tourism experience for both visitors and locals, this opens up Inverness Castle to tourists within an early timescale, something which is long overdue.”
A working group was set up earlier this year, involving the council, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Court Service and other agencies to discuss the future of the castle building.
Suggestions include transforming the main courthouse into a museum or art gallery.
City centre councillor Richard Laird said: “There’s been considerable pressure from the public for some time now to make better use of the castle, and I think this move shows that the work of Highland Council and the Scottish Government is paying off.”