Inverness Castle 'set to amaze' visitors
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
Former courtroom one at Inverness Castle is being prepared for a new role, hosting a dramatic immersive experience at the very heart of a new world-class visitor attraction.
Newly-unveiled initial concept designs for the castle’s South Tower and gardens released earlier this week depict a spectacular and imaginative attraction which is due to open in 2025 and expected to attract 500,000 visitors a year.
Using the latest technology combined with traditional Scottish storytelling, visitors will be taken on a journey through a series of themed immersive rooms.
They can walk through forests, gather round the fire for story time, join in a cèilidh, and witness key moments of Highland history.
It will feature portraits of Highlanders telling their own stories, digital bubbles containing messages by the castle’s ancient well and a glowing standing stone.
The designs have been put together by Mather & Co which has been involved in some of the world’s most successful exhibitions, visitor attractions, tours and museums including the Gretna Green Experience, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, the Ultimate Lap at the Silverstone Experience, the Royal Mint Experience; and the R&A World of Golf Museum in St Andrews.
Chief executive Chris Mather said: “We want visitors to be amazed and surprised by the incredible stories collected and to be inspired to step out into the Highlands to find and create their own stories.”
The visitor experience will feature full 360-degree immersion through audio, interactive and digital means.
Stories crowdsourced from across the Highlands will be showcased under the themes of Landscape (Cruth-tìre), Heritage (Dualchas), Culture (Cèilidh) and Community (Coimhearsnachd).
The aim is to capture the spirit of the region’s past, present and future,
The visitor journey is expected to last about 45 minutes while the former courtroom – which will be designated the Spirit Room – will be its culmination, bringing together all the stories in one grand show lasting four to five minutes.
Mr Mather cited this as one of his favourite spaces in the project.
“I think we are going to have some fun in there and crick some necks with a spectacular show!” he said.
Another favourite area is the South Tower entrance staircase where visitors embark on their journey after collecting an interactive device which contains technologies allowing them to trigger and collect stories throughout the experience.
“People will walk through that portal with minimal expectations and they are immersed in that first show that will set up their expectations for the rest of the visit,” he said.
The visitor experience – along with gardens featuring interactive elements – is designed to appeal to all ages.
“There is something for everyone here,” Mr Mather said.
“We are trying to look at the gardens in terms of school parties getting something from it but for anyone with a passion for gardeing there will be elements there.
“We don’t want to use technology for technology’s sake.
“We can use artefacts and real objects.
“This will appeal to all ages and I know everyone says that but I genuinely believe it.
“We can pick stories which appeal to younger audiences but we can pick stories which appeal to more adult audiences. We can pick themes of stories.”
The A-listed castle – built in the 19th century as a court and prison – is a warren of rooms and nooks and crannies and has presented challenges for the design team although Mr Mather says the space has also presented opportunities.
“One minute you can be in a smaller place close together with other people, the next minute you are out in a narrow space,” he said.
“There are dark places. There are light places. The variety of space has been an opportunity.
“The challenge is at peak times when it is very busy to make sure we give people the best experience possible.”
The team is also conscious that the castle has its own story to tell.
“We are preserving lots of original features in the castle,” he said.
“That is very much a part of the project to relate the history of the castle and the use of the castle.”
Director of the Inverness Castle project Fiona Hampton said Mather & Co had brought their creativity, experience and innovation to the project.
“Their approach will consider the whole experience of the visitor, including what people see and interact with before, during and after their visit, to make sure that everyone who visits the castle has an incredible time and can’t wait to return,” she said.
She is particularly struck by the use of the rose window saved from the former Methodist church in Inglis Street when the Eastgate Shopping Centre was built.
It will form part of the backdrop for the Seanchaidh – or storyteller – who will appear as an audio-visual projection or live actor, weaving their storytelling magic.
The entire castle attraction – which will also include the transformation of the North Tower – is expected to provide a half-day visit and is aimed at local people as well as visitors. The aim is that entry to the visitor experience will be less than £10 for adults and £5 for juniors and there are also plans to offer discounts to locals, schools and tour groups – but with the caveat the opening is three years away.
The project will benefit from £30 million investment to support its re-development from the Scottish and UK governments, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other partners.
Related article: Initial concept designs revealed for castle transformation