Loch Ness and Inverness are steeped in history, aside from the Loch Ness Monster. This vast Highland Loch lies along a natural geographic fault line that stretches across the breadth of Scotland. Geographically, it has always been an important site for military, political and commercial reasons – and almost certainly had settlers as long ago as 2000 BC.
In the first millennium, the Great Glen was populated by Pictish tribes who gradually converted to Christianity following the pilgrimages of figures such as St Columba. By the 1200s, the area was in considerable turmoil following revolts against the monarchy and the loss of Urquhart Castle to the English. Following the coronation of Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland in 1306, ownership of the castle passed back to the Scottish Crown – although Urquhart was to fall time and again to the Clan MacDonald. In the 1600s, the castle was abandoned, but the ruins still stand today – and provide an evocative reminder of Scotland’s violent past.
There have been civilisations in Inverness for at least 4000 years. You can visit an extremely well-preserved burial ground from around this time, just 6 miles out of Inverness. The Clava Cairns is a Bronze Age cemetery containing ancient tombs and stone circles. There is evidence that farm land and even houses existed on the land before the burial ground was built.
During the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages, the Picts ruled much of Scotland. Craig Phadrig, near Inverness, was a major stronghold for them. And many historians believe it was here that St Columba met the Pictish King Brude in the 6th century. We know very little about the Picts, as few records have survived from this time. However, there are many sites in and around Inverness, where their carvings and sculptures still stand. Several Pictish stones are on display in Inverness Museum, including the Ardross Wolf and Deer, sandstone fragments with images of a deer and a wolf carved into them. And there is a whole Highland Pictish Trail, which you can follow to discover more about this ancient civilisation.
In the Middle Ages, Inverness was granted Royal Burgh status. The town became a flourishing economic centre, which was developing rapidly. It exported fur, wool, hides and timber and had thriving fishing and shipbuilding industries. But this was also a very violent and unsettled time in Scottish history. Scots Kings had to fight to defend the throne from both domestic and foreign enemies at this time, so there were many battles and wars.
One very famous domestic battle for the throne took place between the legendary MacBeth and King Duncan I in 1040. MacBeth defeated Duncan and declared himself King of Scotland. He was eventually challenged and killed by Duncan’s son Malcolm, who reclaimed the throne in 1057. In Shakespeare’s version of the story, MacBeth killed Duncan at Inverness Castle, although this is not historically accurate. You can visit Cawdor Castle too, which also has links with the story, although it was not built until after MacBeth’s death.
The Inverness Castle building we see today on the banks of the River Ness was built in 1836, but there has been a castle in some form on that site since 1057. It has been destroyed and re-built many times. For example, during the early 14th century, King Robert The Bruce burned the castle to the ground, as it was owned at the time, by a rival to the throne. There were several violent sieges on the castle throughout the middle ages and right up until the 18th century.
The Kingdom of Scotland was at war with the neighbouring Kingdom of England for many centuries. In 1707, the kingdoms joined together to form the union of Great Britain. Queen Anne, belonging to the Catholic house of Stuart, became the first monarch of Great Britain. Following an act passed by the English Parliament, Catholics were excluded from succession to the throne. So, when she died leaving no surviving children, the throne went to her closest non-Catholic heir, a Hanoverian who became King George I.
The act of union that created Great Britain, and the new Hanoverian Monarchy, were hugely unpopular in Scotland. The Jacobites were a group of Scots, who wanted to restore the throne to the Stuarts. They led a series of rebellions against the British, but were eventually defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Here, up to 2000 men were slain in less than an hour, in one of the most tragic events in Scottish history.
Today, you can visit Culloden Battlefield in Inverness, where the harrowing battle took place. Learn more about the Jacobite Risings in the Visitor Centre, and how this harrowing battle changed Scotland forever.
Fort George was built in the wake of the Battle of Culloden to defend the King’s army from further attacks. By the time it was completed, the threat from the Jacobites was over. But the huge fortification has served the British Army ever since. Visit Fort George and the nearby Highlanders’ Museum to explore more of the area’s military history.Follow the East Heritage Trail
Loch Ness has also been the home to many colourful characters and dramatic incidents from more recent history. Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist, lived at Boleskine House during the early twentieth century. Rumours of black magic ceremonies and secret tunnels still persist to this day.
During World War Two, a Wellington bomber was forced to ditch into the Loch when an engine failed. Almost 40 years later, the aircraft was discovered by divers and raised from the waters in surprisingly good condition. After restoration, the bomber made one final journey to Brooklands Motorsport and Aviation Museum, where it can still be seen today.
Loch Ness was also the location for John Cobb’s water speed record attempt in 1952. Although he broke the record in his speedboat ‘Crusader’, becoming the first man to travel at over 200mph on water, tragedy struck when the vessel lost control and disintegrated, killing its pilot. A memorial has been placed at the edge of the Loch to commemorate Cobb’s achievement.
Today Scotland is a peaceful and safe country, shaped by its past, but always moving forward. The Inverness and Loch Ness region is popular with tourists, eager to experience its breath-taking beauty and learn about its fascinating history.
So, why not visit the magnificent Highlands and discover the history of Inverness and Loch Ness for yourself?
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