TRANSFORMING Inverness Castle into a dedicated base for the promotion of clan culture could allow the city to tap into more of the multimillion-pound heritage tourism market.
That is the claim of the Highland Clans Partnership Group (HCPG) which believes the castle is the perfect base for an International Clans and Heritage Centre which would attract more tourists to the city and act as a gateway to the rest of the region.
A steering group bringing together VisitScotland, the Scottish Government and clan representatives HCPG say heritage tourism is worth around £400 million annually to the Scottish economy, with visitors keen to learn about the country’s unique history.
HCPG finance group co-ordinator John Graham said the attraction would have broad appeal.
“We see a modern interactive visitor attraction telling not only the story of the Clan system, but of the Picts and Celts, the Clearances, the drovers, the kelpers and herring industry, even the hydro and what made our landscape,” he said, adding that it could act as a “portal” to other museums and places of interest including Fort George and Culloden.
He added: “It is often considered, erroneously, that the Clans only interest the diaspora: the Macdonalds of Connecticut or the Mackenzies of Nova Scotia.
“The history of the clans, the tartan and the musical culture attracts peoples from all over the world, from Finland to China to Brazil.
“At a Highland gathering, interest from visitors in the origins and wearing of the kilt, the origins of the tartans, the feudal system and the Jacobites comes thick and fast from all nationalities.
“It is this wider tourist base that needs to be drawn in and educated in those areas that are unique to our culture.”
In terms of making the centre economically viable, Mr Graham said it could be classed as a visitor attraction rather than a museum, so people could be charged to enter.
He added the castle would be the perfect base for a large scale restaurant or cafe, where weddings or other functions could be held out of hours. It could also provide a base for traditional craftspeople and even host live music events.
And he said it was something the wider Highlands could benefit from as much as Inverness itself.
“Essentially we see the castle as a building of international importance as a gateway to the beauties and experiences of the Highlands,” he said.
“Not as a one-stop shop, but as a source of information at the start of a number of heritage trails.”
Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird said he broadly welcomed the proposals as part of a mix of views about what the castle could become when the court service – which uses the premises – eventually moves out.
“Given how important this is going to be for the city, we’ve got one chance to get this right and whatever we do with the castle needs to be considered carefully,” he said.
“I think every organisation and individual who has a view needs to feed that into the process so it can be examined and thought about and I would welcome this contribution.”
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, was less convinced that clan history should be the main focus at a revitalised castle.
As a member of the steering group looking at the future of the castle, he said:
“The idea of clan heritage was very much part of discussions and thinking and I think there would certainly be a role for that in whatever the castle becomes, but I think it would be good to have it as one of the features of a wider offering and a bigger experience for visitors.”
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