The “best view in the Highlands” is to be opened up to the public for the first time – 174 years after it was built.
The famous North Tower at Inverness Castle is set to become a major tourist attraction if ambitious plans by the local authority are given the go-ahead.
The looming lookout tower sits above one of the city’s three sheriff courts, which are sited at the castle.
The emergence of the plans follows continued calls for the Scottish Court Service to vacate the building so it can be transformed into a major attraction.
Thousands of tourists who visit each year are left disappointed to discover it is operated as the city’s court and is not, actually, a real castle.
But now Highland Council is leading a feasibility study looking at opening up the lookout tower to the public.
The North Tower commands panoramic views over the city of Inverness and the surrounding countryside. It offers a bird’s eye view over the city, down the Great Glen, across to Ben Wyvis and out to the Black Isle and the Moray Firth.
Early plans suggest the tower could feature an open-air viewing area, visitor centre and shop.
The main castle building was built in 1836 as a court, with the North Tower added four years later as a prison. The tower part is owned by Highland Council and could be opened in advance of any proposed relocation by the Scottish Court Service.
The council’s chief executive, Steve Barron, believes the tower would be an additional draw to tourists coming to the Highlands and could generate significant extra income. He said: “Tourism is currently worth £88 million per annum to the city of Inverness. Around one million tourists come to Inverness every year and we could increase those figures if we could offer more attractions and keep visitors here longer.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“Set against a backdrop of stunning scenery and with many attractions in the Highlands, it is a fantastic base for people to stay.”
A castle working group was set up this year to look at the future of the site, and make it a major tourist attraction. It is working with the Scottish Government and partners including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Historic Scotland, VisitScotland, the Scottish Court Service and various Inverness-based organisations.
Mr Barron added: “The opening of the lookout tower would be a really good attraction, and we would aim to maximise access for those with disabilities, but it would be even better if the whole castle could be opened up.”
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is an innovative and exciting proposal which will provide a significant boost to the tourism-offering for the city of Inverness.”
Tourism minister and local MSP Fergus Ewing also welcomed the plans, saying: “The man who designed the building said the view offered from the tower was the finest in the whole of the Highlands.
“I think that is a wonderful quote and people will be able to take in the vista from the highest point in Inverness. There will be views in every direction.”
Mike Smith, of Inverness Business Improvement District, said they were “right behind” the effort to make the castle publicly accessible. He said: “All year round, tourists are up at the castle because it is a focal point, but aren’t allowed in. The sooner they’re able to do it, the better.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS