Confession time – I love a map. I have almost the full set of OS maps of Scotland and there are quite a few doubles in my collection too. My favourites (if such a thing is allowed) are the local Inverness and Nairn ones (I’ve drawn in my usual cycle routes in highlighter pen) and Sheet 15, the one that covers Lochinver and the Assynt mountains. That’s where I was taught to read a map – the connection is sentimental.
I love old, historical maps, too, especially those of the places I know best. It’s fascinating to see which houses in our neighbourhood were built first, and to measure how quickly and irretrievably our towns and cities are spreading into the countryside. At the risk of poorly paraphrasing a Joni Mitchell (or Talking Heads) song, where once there were fields and woods, there are now houses and car parks. I know that with our expanding population we all need places to live, but I also know that with rainfall like we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, that water needs to be able to seep back into the ground somehow.
Given my fondness for maps I was keen to see the hand-drawn sketch of Inverness which is currently on display at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Drawn over a period of about five months by self-taught artist Carl Lavia, it’s the only Highland part of a larger art project, called – and depicting – ‘69 Cities of The UK’. Having read about it in last week’s Inverness Courier and seen a tiny reproduction of it online, I wanted to study it in detail. I’d read that artistic license had brought Fort George much closer to the city centre than it is, to reflect its importance over the centuries, but most of all I was curious to see if my house would be in it…
Sunday afternoon at the Gallery? Thwarted.
Sunday afternoon has always seemed to me to be the perfect time for gallery visiting. My grass needed cut, but it was raining (again!) so I put my hood up and set off, only to be mightily disappointed. I had forgotten. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is emphatically closed on Sundays and Mondays, even during the height of the tourist season.
Apart from a few groups of tourists in colourful waterproofs wandering from the whisky shop to the tartan shop and back again, the city centre was almost deserted. Because apart from shopping, eating or drinking, or going to see what’s happening at Eden Court, there is – unless I was missing something – nothing to do in Inverness city centre on a wet weekend.
Looking for inspiration, I popped into the Tourist Information Centre. But I didn’t need accommodation, nor did I want to book a day trip to Skye or to Orkney or to look for Nessie. I logged on to Tripadviser. Under ‘Things to do’ there were entries galore, but like the attractions suggested in the I-centre, few of those things were encouraging me to stay in the Highland Capital. There were good reviews for Inverness Botanic Gardens and the Castle Viewpoint, and I could have cruised Loch Ness or the Moray Firth, but there was nothing that I hadn’t recently visited that would keep me both interested and dry. And anyway, I’d wanted to see that map. I walked home through the beautiful, damp Ness Islands, and got on with my ironing instead.
We need more to do than to eat, drink and shop
My Sunday experience echoes the arguments that have been made so eloquently since we heard that The Ironworks is under threat. Yes, there is a shortage of hotel accommodation in the city, but we can’t be knocking down one of Inverness’s few attractions just to build more bedrooms. That’s a totally counter-productive move if there’s nothing for visitors to do when they get here, especially if the weather is unkind. For outdoor enthusiasts, the north of Scotland is second to none. But not everyone wants to be out in the wilderness all the time. There must be more for both locals and visitors to do than simply shop, eat, drink and admire the scenery.
Eden Court is tremendous. We should be proud to have it – I know I am. MacGregor’s Bar does popular Sunday Sessions with good craic and traditional music. And there’s the Sports Centre – I bet (hope) the pool was busy on Sunday afternoon. But good as those venues are, they are not enough – they don’t add up to a whole city’s worth of attractions. What’s happening with the redevelopment of Inverness Castle? Plans seem to have ground to a halt.
Our beautiful wee city deserves much, much more. We at least deserve for our Museum and Art Gallery to be open on a Sunday. I’ll need to pop back during the week – see you there?