Inverness seems larger than it is. With a population of only about 70,000, it has the feel of a remote city. Regarded as the capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness is definitely surrounded by outsized natural beauty.
The just 6 mile long River Ness flows through its center on its way to Moray Firth. This swift-flowing stream’s source is Loch Ness, Great Britain’s largest body of fresh water and a lake of unrivaled natural beauty plied by boats full of visitors lured by the hype surrounding Nessie, otherwise known as the Loch Ness Monster. A stroll along River Ness in Inverness is said to be the top tourist activity. That’s OK for, maybe, an hour or so on an atypical warm, sunny summer day.
Inverness Castle sits importantly above downtown, but it’s a working courthouse not opened to visitors. There is a cluster of silent churches sharing downtown streets with boisterous, edgy night spots if you like that kind of thing.
As we wandered, I was totally delighted, therefore, to discover the Victorian Market. An original 19th century shopping mall, VM was built by the Inverness Town Council in 1870. Nineteen years later a fire destroyed it with only one life lost. A dog refused to leave the shop it guarded. Rebuilt the next year, VM looks today like there have been no substantive changes since then. The sandstone archway at Church Street still bears evidence that fish mongers sharpened knives on it. The wood and cast iron Victorian dome still looks sturdy after more than 120 years of service.
What makes VM so different from other urban shopping experiences is its stubborn quaintness. There’s not a recognizable name among its highly independent shops–MacDougall and Hastie Butchers, Cabarfeidh Bagpipe Supplies, Celtic Music Corner, Boarstone Tartans, etc. As I strolled around admiring the uniqueness of the place, I couldn’t help but feel that if I returned in a few years I would find them and the shoe repair shop gone and a Boots, a branch of Harrods, a Pret A Mange, even a Whole Foods in their spaces. But for now, the Victorian Market is a delightful throwback to an entirely different era.
Cecilia was busy getting ready to open the Market’s Cafe Victoria for the day, but she invited Ruth, Trish, John, and me to return in 20 minutes for breakfast. As we ate she was busily shaping and baking scones. Smiling rather weakly, she agreed to have her picture taken. As we left she gave me her address–7-9 Queensgate Arcade. If you visit, stop in for a chat, a coffee, and a treat. And for dinner that night, make a reservation at Kitchen just a stroll across the Ness Bridge on Huntly Street.