Welcome to Inveraray
Those who sail up Loch Fyne cannot help but notice Inveraray. Lying on the western banks of this Loch Fyne, the sheer whiteness of the town’s buildings are quite eye-catching. You would also be struck by the beauty of the town’s setting: at the water’s edge with hills, mountains and woods all around. This is the historic ‘Capital of Argyll’ and remains the gateway to this famous part of Scotland.
Human beings have been exploring the northern shores of Loch Fyne for millennia. While the legacy of prehistoric man is most obvious at Kilmartin Glen, near Lochgilphead, where 150 prehistoric monuments are amongst over 350 ancient sites (see articles on Oban and Lochgilphead), there are other sites closer to hand.
Just ten miles south of Inveraray lie Crarae Forest Gardens. The Gardens are remarkable in many ways. Situated on the northern shores of Loch Fyne in what has been likened to a Himalayan ravine, the Gardens host a variety of rare flowers and subtropical trees. What is more, it is home to the ruins of a 4000 year old cairn. Excavations at the site in the 1950s uncovered various artefacts such as fragments of broken pottery and a flint arrowhead, which are now exhibits at Glasgow’s Art Gallery and Museum. Inveraray itself has an ancient solitary standing stone (2,8 meters high) which lies on the approach road to Inveraray Castle.
Situated on a sea loch renowned for its fishing, Inveraray unsurprisingly developed as a fishing settlement throughout the middle ages. In 1474 its development was recognised when James III made the town a burgh. Charles I enhanced its status when he proclaimed it a Royal Burgh in 1648.
Such accolades and attention no doubt had something to do with the influence enjoyed by the powerful clan Campbell who called Argyll home. Inveraray was the ancient seat of the Earls of Argyll, who were also the Campbell chieftains.
In the late 17th century Campbell influence at the court of the new Hanoverian dynasty ensured that prominent Campbells found positions in the administration and in the military. This put them in a stronger position regarding their centuries old feud with the unpopular MacDonalds of Glencoe. When clan chief Alistair MacDonald of Glencoe arrived in Inveraray to sign an oath of allegiance to the new regime in 1692 he left convinced that it had been accepted even though he had arrived five days late. For this reason he thought nothing of it when government troops arrived in Glencoe the following month, even though they were led by Captain Campbell of Glengoyne. He should have been less welcoming: the troops had come to slaughter the Macdonalds in what has gone down in history as The Massacre of Glencoe (see article, Glencoe).
Sunset over Loch Fyne at Furnace
Even though the government blamed the Campbells for what was essentially a government sponsored atrocity, tellingly it did not adversely effect the Campbells prosperity or favour at court. On the contrary, the Campbells went from strength to strength. The Duke of Argyll’s prosperity and confidence was such by the mid 18th century that he decided to radically redevelop Inveraray. The motive for the change was to replace the aging fort with the stately mansion which now takes the name of Inveraray Castle. The area between the castle and the shore was where medieval Inveraray once stood. However, to make way for a landscaped garden the town was demolished and a new town was constructed across the bay.
This Inveraray is one of the oldest and amongst the most successful examples of town planning in the British Isles. Its fine whitewashed Georgian buildings, such as All Saints church, were designed by some of the most prominent architects of the day.
The inhabitants of Inveraray at the end of the 18th century would notice few differences in today’s town. They would probably be bemused that the old jail has now been converted into an award winning museum using virtual reality and actors to tell the story of the history of Scottish prisons. They would notice the addition of the oddly named schooner, the Arctic Penguin, in Inveraray Bay. The schooner was built in 1910 in Dublin and after a varied life is now the centre piece of the Inveraray Maritime Museum. Nonetheless, Inveraray and its surrounds have a kind of enchanting timelessness which makes it a great place to both live and visit.