AS CAPITAL of the Highlands, Inverness is a great destination for a short break or day trip at any time of the year but it’s also the perfect base from which to explore the wider area. Not only does it offer the drama of ancient battles and the mystery of a mythological creature, it is also a thriving city with a cultural community developing work in English and Gaelic.

HeraldScotland:

There can be few more rousing Scottish activities than striding across a windswept battlefield, recalling the sacrifice of fallen forefathers. Throughout the country we can revisit these battles for land and crown but few can be more emotional than Drumossie Moor and Culloden. Just five miles east of Inverness, this is the site of the last battle of the Jacobites on April 16, 1746, said to have been the most horrific pitched battle on this island even though it lasted no more than an hour. The visitor centre, which has been designed to blend into the landscape with sensitivity, handles the interpretation in a respectful way, always remembering that 1,500 men, 1,000 of them Jacobites, lost their lives here.

Thank goodness a recent application to develop part of the battlefield was rejected and the area duly been preserved for future generations. The Jacobites who fell are remembered by headstones and a cairn while the centre displays artefacts and allows children to learn more through play. However, there is nothing more moving than standing and looking across the moor to the blue flags of the Jacobite lines.

There can be few more tantalising destinations than the deep, dark waters of Loch Ness. With Inverness as a base, it is easy to explore the length – 23 miles – and magnificent depths of this monster body of water. Of course, Nessie is its shy star but at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, which opened at Drumnadrochit more than 30 years ago, the mysteries of the loch are shown to be more multi-faceted than the big beastie that we all hope thrives below the surface.

HeraldScotland:

The shoreline is dominated by the presence of Urquhart Castle, looming high above the water. It has a rich history of its own and is one of the largest castles in the country. Connected with the Lord of the Isles, it was passed back and forward between Scottish and English hands during the Wars of Independence. Then, of course, to prevent it becoming a Jacobite stronghold, it was destroyed by government forces. Explore Urquhart Castle on land then take a boat tour of Loch Ness where can be admired, and the vastness of the loch is experienced.

Who knows what lies beneath? A cuddly Nessie makes a great souvenir anyway …

TOP THREE OUTDOORS

NESS ISLANDS These islands in the River Ness are a short stroll from the centre and connected to the banks by footbridges – and just a short stroll from the city centre. Even so you will see wildlife and places to sit and ponder.

SOUTH LOCH NESS TRAIL It runs 36 miles from Inverness to Fort Augustus but for weekend hikes it can be broken into manageable sections. Idyllic woodland, farmland and waterfalls await.

CRAIG PHADRIG In the west of the city, the hill of Craig Phadrig can be seen from most areas. Make it to the summit and the views of the Beauly Firth and an Iron Age hill fort are the reward.