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Gaelic: Siorrachd Inbhir Nis
United Kingdom
Ben Nevis
Air son Math na Siorrachd
(For the good of the county)
[Interactive map]
Area: 4,211 square miles
Population: 118,077
County town: Inverness
County flower: Twinflower [1]

The County of Inverness is a shire in the heart of the Highlands. It stretches includes from the east coast to the west coast and includes many of the isles of the Hebrides, including most of the Outer Hebrides.

Inverness-shire is the largest county in the British Isles after Yorkshire, swallowing the heart of the Highlands. It is 4,211 square miles in area, of which more than one-third belongs to the Hebrides.

This is truly a highland county, one of the few which can be said to be wholly of the Highlands, and Inverness-shire contains the most famous of the mountains, of the glens, the lochs and the falls for which the Highlands are rightly eulogised. Inverness-shire also extends to encompass much of the Inner Hebrides and the whole of the Outer Hebrides excepting the Isle of Lewis.

Inverness-shire bounded to the north by Ross-shire and to the west by the rolling Atlantic Ocean. The Beauly and Moray Firths divide it from Ross on the east coast; and on the north-east and east, between the mountains and the Moray Firth, are Nairnshire, Morayshire. Banffshire and Aberdeenshire. On Inverness-shire's south-eastern bounds is Perthshire; and the south Argyllshire. In the Outer Hebrides, the border with Ross-shire is that between Harris (Inverness-shire) and Lewis (Ross-shire).

Districts of Inverness-shire

The mountainous terrain of the shire naturally divides its mainland part into several districts which have developed their own characters:


The county's islands are too many to list in a mere summary, but major islands are:

See Category:Islands of Inverness-shire for a more comprehensive list.


Excepting comparatively small and fertile tracts in the north on both sides of the river Ness, in several of the glens and on the shores of some of the sea lochs, the county is wild and mountainous in the extreme and characterised by beautiful scenery and harsh mountainsides.

Through the midst of the county runs the Great Glen, in a straight line from coast to coast in which is a series of lochs, with mountains rising behind. It serves a the main route across the county, but to north and south of it the mountains rises both the same.


In the days when Johnson and Boswell came this way, there were no roads in the county much outside Inverness, except for the military road down the Great Glen. The physical character of Inverness-shire greatly impedes transport links; road and rail (which have come on somewhat since Johnson's day) must follow mountain passes or else be blasted through.

The Great Glen provides the major route across the county from Inverness to Fort William, bearing road and rail. The lochs of the Great Glen have also been linked by the Caledonian Canal to provide a waterway through the Highlands.


Ben Alder

In Inverness-shire there are more than fifty "munros", which is to say mountains exceeding 3,000 feet in height. Amongst these some of the best known are:

The mountain ranges in Inverness-shire include the extraordinary assemblage of peaks forming the Monadhliadh Mountains in the south-east, the grand group of the Cairngorms on the borders of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire and the spectacular Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.


The River Ness in Inverness
The River Enrick

The many rivers of Inverness-shire, mostly beginning as mountainside burns or the issue of the great lochs, tumble across the scenery and ultimately drown themselves in the lochs or the sea. Of these:

  • The River Beauly in the north-west (16 miles long) is formed by the joining of the Farrar and the Glass.
  • The Enrick (18 miles) rises in Loch-nan-Eun and takes a north-easterly direction for several miles, and then flowing due east falls into Loch Ness, just beyond Drumnadrochit, close to the ruined keep of Castle Urquhart.
  • The Ness (seven miles) is a fine stream for its length, which emerges from Loch Dochfour and enters the sea to the north of Inverness.
  • The Moriston (19 miles), flows out of Loch Cluanie, and pursuing a course eastwards falls into Loch Ness four miles south of Mealfourvounie (2,284 feet) on the western shore opposite Foyers.
  • The Lochy (nine miles) issues from Loch Lochy and runs parallel with the Caledonian Canal, entering Loch Linnhe at Fort William.
  • The Spean (18 miles), flows westwards from Loch Laggan and joins the Lochy as it leaves Loch Lochy.
  • The Nevis (12 miles), rises at the back of Ben Nevis and flows round the southern base of the mountain and then running north-westwards enters Loch Linnhe at Fort William.
  • The Leven (12 miles), drains a series of small lochs to the north-west of Rannoch and flows westward to Loch Leven, forming during its course the border between the shires of Inverness and Argyll.
  • The Dulnain (28 miles) rises in the Monadhliath Mountains and flows north-eastwards and enters the River Spey near Grantown on Spey, falling in its course nearly 2,000 feet.
  • The Truim (153 miles), rising close to the Perthshire frontier, flows northward into the Spey.

Three great rivers spring in Inverness-shire, but finish their course in other counties:

The two Falls of Foyers, the upper of 40 feet and the lower of 165 feet, are rightly celebrated for their beauty, but their volume is affected, especially in drought, by the withdrawal of water for running the great hydroelectric turbines of Highland industry.

Other noted falls are Moral on the Enrick and Kilmorack on the Beauly.

Lochs and tarns

Loch Ness
Loch Oich
Loch Quoich

The number of hill tarns and little lakes is very great, considerably more than 200 being named.

The lochs of the Great Glen

The Great Glen contains a series of lochs which are, running from north-east to south-west:

  • Loch Ness, the most beautiful and best known of the larger lakes. It is 223 miles long and at its broadest at Urquhart Bay. It has a drainage area of 696 square miles and, owing to its vast depth of 751 feet, its uniformity of temperature, and continual movement of its waters, it never freezes. The loch though landlocked has a small tide. It is the largest body of fresh water in Great Britain, and forms part of the scheme of the Caledonian Canal.
  • Loch Oich a few miles south-west is more modest at four miles long and also forms a link in the Caledonian Canal scheme: the route reaches its summit level of 105 feet in this lake.
  • Loch Lochy, out of which the river Lochy flows south-west to Loch Linnhe and the sea.

Other inland lochs

Loch Quoich (six miles long) lies north-east of Loch Arkaig, and Loch Garry a few miles to the north-east.

Loch Arkaig (12 miles long), lying in the country of the Camerons: Achnacarry House, the seat of Lochiel, the Chief of the clan stands on the river Arkaig near the point where it issues from the lake. The old castle was burnt down by the duke of Cumberland, but a few ruins remain. After Culloden Prince Charles Edward found shelter in a cave in the "Black Mile" as the road between Lochs Arkaig and Lochy is known.

Loch Morar is only about 600 yards from the sea, to which it drains by the river Morar, which falls over a rocky barrier, at the foot of which is a famous salmon pool. The loch is 1,017 feet deep and is thus the deepest lake in the United Kingdom. It contains several islands, on one of which Lord Lovat was captured in 1746.

Loch Laggan (seven miles long) and Loch Treig (55 miles long) in the south of the county are both finely situated in the midst of natural forests.

The principal salt-water lochs on the Atlantic seaboard are Loch Hourn ("Hell's Lake," so named from the wild precipices rising sheer from the water), running inland for 14 miles from the Sound of Sleat and separating Glenelg from Knoydart; and Loch Nevis (14 miles), a few miles farther south.


The parallel roads of Glen Roy, a glen with a north-easterly to south-westerly trend, a few miles east of Loch Lochy, presented a problem that long exercised the minds of geologists. At heights of 1 148 feet, 1067 feet and 835 feet, there run uninterruptedly along each side of the glen terraces of a width varying from 3 feet to 30 feet. Local tradition ascribes them to the Ossianic heroes, and John Playfair (1748-1819) argued that they were aqueducts. The fact that they occur also in the neighbouring Glen Gloy and Glen Spean, however, disposes of an artificial origin. John MacCulloch (1773-1835) propounded the theory that they were lacustrine and not marine, and Agassiz followed him with the suggestion that the water had been held up by a barrier of glacier ice. This view is now generally accepted, and the roads may therefore be regarded as the gently sloping banks of lakes dammed up by glacier ice.

The Great Glen, also Glen More or Glen More-nan-Albin is a vast "fault," or dislocation, 62 miles in length, through which Thomas Telford constructed (1804-1822) the Caledonian Canal connecting Loch Linnhe and the Moray Firth. The Great Glen is said to be liable to shocks of earthquake, and Loch Ness was violently agitated at the time of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Among the glens renowned for beauty are Glen Urquhart and Glen Moriston to the west of Loch Ness, Glen Feshie in the east, and Glen Nevis at the southern base of Ben Nevis. Glen Garry is to the west of Loch Oich, and gave its name to the well-known cap or "bonnet" once worn in the Highlands.

In Glen Finnan, at the head of Loch Shiel, Prince Charles Edward raised his standard in 1745, an incident commemorated by a monument erected in 1815 by Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale. The great straths or valleys are in the north and east, the chief among them being Strathfarrar, Strathglass and Strathnairn, and the heads of Strathearn and Strathspey.


Almost the entire area of this county is occupied by the younger Highland schists and metamorphic rocks. East of Loch Ericht and the rivers Traim and Spey as far as Airemore and between there and Duthel there are quartzites and quartzose schists; on the remaining area the various kinds of schistose and gneissose rock have hardly been worked out in detail. Granite masses occur in numerous isolated patches; the largest is on the eastern boundary and includes the flanks of Cairn Gorm, Cairn Toul, Braeriach, Càrn Bàn and Meall Tionail. Other smaller ones are found at Ben Nevis, where the lower part of the mountain is granite, the upper part porphyritic felsite; between Moy and Ben Buidhe Mhor; east of Foyers, including Whitebridge, Aberchalder and Loch Farraline; at Ben Alder, west of Loch Ericht and another between that loch and the river Pattack; at Banavie on the west of the river Lochy; around the upper end of Loch Clunie and at several other places. The dioritic mass of Rannoch Moor just enters this county between Loch Ericht and Loch Ossian.

The Old Red Sandstone extends into this county from Nairn through Culloden Moor past Inverness and down Loch Ness to a point south of Foyers; it occurs also on the south-east side of Loch Oich, and around Beauly, where it forms the falls of Kilmorach. These rocks consist at the base of coarse breccias and conglomerates passing upwards into chocolate-coloured sandstone and flags, with the shaly series containing limestone nodules known as the fish bed from the abundance and importance of its fossil contents; it is well exposed in the Big Burn ana near Loch Ashie. At a higher horizon come more purple flags and grits. The Great Glen which traverses the county is an old line of earth fracture along which displacements have been produced during more than one geological period.

Evidences of the great Ice Age are abundant, besides the parallel roads of Glen Roy. The lowest of these terraces is prolonged into Glen Spean. At numerous places on the coasts the remains of old marine terraces occur at 100 feet and 25 feet above sea level.

The island of Eigg is the only one of the major Small Isles belonging to Inverness-shire. It is mainly built of great basaltic lava flows with intrusions of doleritic rocks; these were succeeded by more acid intrusions, and again by a more basic series of dikes. Pitchstones occur among the later rocks. The Sgurr is capped by a thick intrusion of pitchstone. Jurassic rocks, including the Estuarine Lower Oolite sandstones, shales and limestones and Middle Oolite Oxfordian rocks are found in the north of this island; there is also a small trace of Upper Cretaceous sandstone. Canna, Sanday and Muck are almost wholly basaltic; a small patch of Jurassic occurs on the south of Muck.

Forests and animals

"The Monarch of the Glen" (Edwin Landseer)

Deer forests occupy an enormous area, particularly in the west, in the centre, in the south and south-east and in Skye. From the number of trees found in peat bogs, the county must once have been thickly covered with wood. Strathspey is still celebrated for its forests, and the natural woods on Loch Arkaig, in Glen Garry, Glen Moriston, Strathglass and Strathfarrar, and at the head of Loch Shiel, are extensive.

The forests consist chiefly of oak, Scotch fir, birch, ash, mountain-ash (rowan), holly, elm, hazel and Scots poplar, but there are also great plantations of larch, spruce, silver fir, beech and plane. Part of the ancient Caledonian forest extends for several miles near the Perthshire border. Red and roe deer, the Alpine and common hare, black game and ptarmigan, grouse and pheasant abound on the moors and woodlands. Foxes and wild cats occur, and otters are met with in the lakes and streams.

There are also eagles, hawks and owls, while great flocks of waterfowl, particularly swans, resort to Loch Inch and other lakes in Badenoch. Many of the rivers and several of the lochs abound with salmon and trout, the salmon fisheries of the Beauly, Ness and Lochy yielding a substantial return.

Language and people

The population of Inverness-shire was counted as 90,104 in 1901 census, which also recorded that 43,281 persons spoke Gaelic and English, and 11,722 Gaelic only. Today the number of Gaelic speakers is much declined but it is still a vigorous language in parts of the shire. The Outer Hebrides in particular remain Gaelic-speaking islands.

Towns and villages



Larger villages

*: situated in a detached part of the county, locally situate in Morayshire.
Additionally, Aviemore, Boat of Garten, Carrbridge and Nethy Bridge are locally situate in Inverness-shire, but within detached parts of Morayshire. A part of the town of Muir of Ord, otherwise in Ross-shire, lies in the county of Inverness.


*: Partly in detached parts of Morayshire.
: On the outer Hebrides.
: On the Isle of Skye.
§: Extends into Nairnshire.
: Remainder in Argyllshire.


The lands to the north of Argyllshire and Perthshire were beyond significant Roman influence: after Agricola's expedition the Romans attempted no occupation so far north and the Picts were left in peace. The territory of "Moray" is believed to have extended from the Spey and Loch Lochy to Caithness and the shire of Inverness stretched that far north until the 17th century, when the pre-existing area of Caithness (in 1617), Sutherland (in 1633) and Ross-shire (in 1661) were successively detached from the sheriffdom and recognised as shires in their own right.

Towards the end of the 6th century Columba undertook the conversion of the Picts, himself baptising their king, Brude, at Inverness; but paganism died hard and tribal wars prevented progress. The legend of Coumba tells of his calming a great monster which dwelt in Loch Ness: the foundation of endless wild tales of the Loch Ness Monster ever since.

In the eleventh century, after the death of Duncan, Scotland was divided between Macbeth and the Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn, who took for his share the land peopled by the northern Picts. Malcolm Canmore, avenging his father, defeated and slew Macbeth (1057), and at a later date reduced the country and annexed it all to the Kingdom of Scotland. In 1107, when the bishopric of Moray was founded, the influence of the Church was beginning to effect some improvement in manners. Nevertheless, a condition of insurrection supervened until the reign of David I, when colonists of noble birth were settled in various parts of the shire.

In 1303, King Edward I's expedition to Scotland passed through the northern districts, his army laying siege to Urquhart and Beaufort castles.

After the plantation the clan system gradually developed and attained in the shire its fullest power and splendour. The Frasers occupied the Aird and the district around Beauly; the Chisholms the Urquhart country; the Grants the Spey; the Camerons the land to the west and south of Loch Lochy (Locheil) ; the Chattan comprising several septs such as the Macphersons, Mackintoshes, Farquharsons and Davidsons Badenoch; the Macdonalds of the Isles Lochaber; the Clanranald Macdonalds Moidart, Knoydart, Morar, Arisaig and Glengarry; and the Macleods Skye. Unfortunately the proud and fiery chieftains were seldom quiet. The clans were constantly fighting each other, occasionally varying their warfare by rebellion against the sovereign.

The Reformation began in the sixteenth century, but in many quarters Protestantism made little headway, the clansmen remaining steadfast to the older creed. At the era of the Covenant, Montrose conducted a vigorous campaign in the interests of the Royalists, gaining a brilliant victory at Inverlochy (1645), but the effects of his crusade were speedily neutralised by the equally masterly strategy of Cromwell. At the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9, the Episcopal party were strong in Inverness-shire, until "Bonnie Dundee" fell at Killiecrankie in Perthshire and thereafter the defeat of the Highland Episcopalians was sealed in battle at Cromdale, Inverness-shire in 1690.

The futile Jacobite rising headed by Mar in 1715 led to an effort to hold the unruly clans in check. Forts were constructed at Inverness, Kilchumin (Fort Augustus) and Kilmallie (Fort William). General Wade's famous roads exhibited at many points notable examples of engineering enabled the King's soldiers rapidly to scour the country, and general disarming was required. Prince Charles Edward's attempt in 1745 had the effect of bringing most of the clans together for a while but his defeat destroyed the clan system forever.

After 1746, the clan system was determinedly broken by order of Parliament. The chiefs' heritable jurisdictions were abolished so that they became mere landowners, and even the wearing of the Highland dress was proscribed. The effects of this policy were soon evident. Many of the chieftains became embarrassed, their estates were sold, and the glensfolk, impoverished but high-spirited, sought homes in the Americas, and the new landlords turned their broad, hillside acres over to sheep, and their tenants off the land. As time passed after the rebellion and passion abated, the vigour of the Highlander was recruited to provide Highland regiments for the British army, among which were the Cameron Highlanders from the heart of Inverness-shire. With the closing of the chapter of the Jacobite romance the shire gradually settled down to peaceful pursuits.

The county in parts is rich in antiquarian remains. Stone axes and other weapons or tools have been dug up in the peat, and prehistoric jewellery has also been found. Lake dwellings occur in Loch Lundy in Glengarry and on Loch Beauly, and stone circles are numerous, as at Inches, Clava, and in the valley of the Ness. Pictish towers or brochs are met with in Glenbeg, and duns (forts) in the Aird and to the west and south-west of Beauly and elsewhere. Among vitrified forts the principal are those on Craig Phadrick, Dundbhairdghall in Glen Nevis, Dun Fionn or Fingal's fort on the Beauly, near Kilmorack, Achterawe in Glengarry and in Arisaig.



  • Cameron Lees, J: History of the County of Inverness (Edinburgh, 1897)
  • Fraser-Mackintosh, C: Letters of Two Centuries (Inverness, 1890)
  • Mackenzie, Alexander: Histories of the Mackenzies, Camerons, &c. (Inverness, 1874-1896)
  • Stewart, A: Nether Lochaber (Edinburgh, 1 883)
  • Carmichael, Alexander: Grazing and Agrestic Customs of the Outer Hebrides (Crofters' Commission Report, 1884)
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