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Mystery continues over future of historic Old High Church in Inverness 5 months after sale approved

By Val Sweeney

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The sale of the Old High Church was approved in November 2023.
The sale of the Old High Church was approved in November 2023.

The future of a historic Inverness building remains a mystery five months after its sale was approved.

An offer for the Old High Church - the oldest building in Inverness - was accepted by the Church of Scotland in November.

But it has emerged the sale has yet to be concluded while concerns have been voiced about the building’s possible deterioration as it remains empty and unused.

Who is the potential new owner of the historic Old High Church

Historic Old High under offer

Tears as last regular service takes place

The A-listed building, which has important links with the Battle of Culloden, Highland regiments and the globally-popular historic drama series Outlander, held its last regular service in February 2022 after the Church of Scotland said it was no longer financially viable to maintain both the Old High and the B-listed St Stephen’s in the Crown neighbourhood.

It was placed on the market in July 2022 for offers of over £150,000 and with the sales schedule describing it as a once-in-a-lifetime purchase opportunity for the right buyer.

After a closing date was subsequently set for last November, the Church of Scotland confirmed that a sale had been approved by its property holding arm, the General Trustees, and that transfer of the building could move forward.

It also said at the time that a number of offers had been received.

But the five months on, the sale has still to be concluded.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “The process is ongoing to sell the church and so we cannot comment further.”

The would-be buyer and future use remains a mystery to the Friends of the Old High Church whose own bid to buy the building and keep it the community was unsuccessful.

In pursuing its bid, the group felt the church had potential as a multi-use space for community events, as well as a hub for multi-cultural entertainment, educational, social and tourism activity and had set up a crowdfunding campaign.

The steering group chairwoman Jean Slater, said: “To be quite honest I have no idea what it is happening with the sale now.

“We have tried to reach out via a letter to whoever is in the process of purchasing it, saying that we were willing to work with them and to help them but we have heard nothing.

“We don’t know who it is who made the bid.

“We are as much in the dark as anyone.

“We assume it isn’t something we could be involved with but we don’t know.

“We have reached out saying we are here and are quite willing to open up a dialogue but that might not be possible depending on who the purchaser is and what the plans are.”

She acknowledged that the sales process could be quite complicated and lengthy but was concerned about the length of time the building was remaining empty.

“The fear is it will start to deteriorate and will start to look unkempt,” she said.

The church, overlooking the River Ness, stands on St Michael’s Mound where St Columba reputedly converted the Pictish King Brude to Christianity in 565

The present building dates from 1769/1772 with a late 16th century tower with lower structure dating from 14th century.

The church was requisitioned by Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite forces ahead of the battle in 1746 and used to imprison government forces. When the Jacobites were defeated the roles were reversed and prisoners were executed within the churchyard itself.

From the late 19th century, the Old High served as the regimental kirk of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

The building, which requires considerable internal redecoration, houses a Victorian Henry Willis organ.

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