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PICTURES: Behind-the-scenes as multi-million pound Inverness Castle project makes good progress

By Val Sweeney

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A massive steel frame will hold the Rose Window. Pictures: Callum MacKay.
A massive steel frame will hold the Rose Window. Pictures: Callum MacKay.

Amid towers of scaffolding and stacks of construction materials, work is gathering pace at the very heart of Inverness Castle as it is transformed into a visitor attraction.

Behind the hoardings and unseen to the public, a new link building connecting the castle’s North and South Towers is taking shape while across the entire site, all areas are a scene of busy activity.

The multimillion-pound Inverness Castle Experience project, set to open in 2025, will celebrate the spirit of the Highlands’ past, present and future and promises to provide visitors with an immersive and educational experience.

The castle is set to reopen to the public next year.
The castle is set to reopen to the public next year.

Work began in April 2022 and during a tour of the site it becomes apparent why it will take three years to come to fruition, such is the enormity of the transformation.

Jason Kelman, the principal project manager with Highland Council, says no "horror stories" have been uncovered but acknowledges there have been challenges and delays to some elements but that overall the project is target.

"The Inverness Castle Experience transformation project is making good progress, as we continue to meet construction milestones," he said.

"We are on time and on track to completion."

But there is no denying the complexities of the work with each section being carefully choreographed.

"It is a complicated project," Mr Kelman said.

"Basically we are going back to the stone walls.

"We are working in a listed building. We have to be careful and keep a lot of the original."

The confined spaces also limit the size of the workforce.

"The castle looks big but it is not – it is a lot of small rooms," Mr Kelman explained.

"If it was a bigger castle like Edinburgh or Stirling, or if you are building a big project, you could get in a labour force of 200 or 300.

"With a building like this, you are probably limited to 50, 80, 90 people at a time."

One of the more complex elements is the installation of the link building connecting the former courthouse and prison.

The space, which will house the new restaurant and bar, has an intricate roof structure featuring a Scottish Saltire grid of interwoven roof beams and glass roof lights,

"It is a complicated structure and it has taken quite a bit of time," Mr Kelman said.

It has involved working with Historic Scotland and conservation officers and the aim is for it complement the older buildings but to have the appearance of a modern addition.

Carrying out work has also involved taking down walls which will then be rebuilt while elsewhere stonework will be repaired and renovated.

Outside on the west terrace, a landscaped seating area will be created after workers dug out and refilled two metres of steep bank.

Work in the North Tower, which originally served as a prison, is well advanced.

Walls have been plastered, painting carried out and the plumbing work is done.

A space which once housed prison cells will display the 56 panels of the Tapestry of the Highlands and Islands.

It has been created by more than 600 stitchers across the region who volunteered to take part in the community-led project.

In another area, preparations are under way to install the toilets – with the men's urinals providing views towards the River Ness!

The Highland Music Experience and Bar is also being created in one of the former court rooms.

It will highlight and acknowledge the contribution of musicians to the culture of the Highlands.

The opening exhibition will feature the music and stories of legendary band, Runrig, which marked the 50th anniversary of its formation last year.

A significant milestone in the South Tower was removing part of the roof to install a new accessible viewing platform.

It also enabled a massive circular steel frame to be craned in.

This will hold the restored Rose Window, once a famous Inverness landmark in Inglis Street.

Dating back to 1867, it was created for a Methodist church but has sat in storage for decades.

The restored art work will be able to be enjoyed by visitors after they have climbed the impressive staircase from the original formal entrance with original flagged floor and stone steps.

In order to make the building accessible, a ramp has been created and an a doorway created by cutting through a solid stone wall with a depth of between 600mm and 800mm.

A lift to the upper floor is also being installed.

Work is continuing inside and outside the castle.
Work is continuing inside and outside the castle.

The construction work is expected to be completed by the end of this year and will be followed by fitting out the interior before the attraction opens next summer.

As the work continues behind her, the statue of Flora MacDonald looks towards the Great Glen.

One of the final pieces of work will be to clean her up to reveal her in her resplendent glory.

The redevelopment will benefit from £30 million investment from the Scottish and UK governments, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and partners.

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