Inveraray enjoys a picturesque setting on the shores of Loch Fyne, where it meets Loch Shira. It was built on the site of an earlier fishing village in the mid 1700s by the 3rd Duke of Argyll, Chief of the powerful Clan Campbell. He demolished the original village to give his rebuilt castle more space, and rehoused the population in a new town that is one of the most attractive in Scotland.
The original village of Inveraray stood in the parkland that now extends south east from Inveraray Castle to the main A83. It had grown following the move of the Campbells to "old" Inveraray Castle in the mid 1400s from their previous stronghold at Innis Chonnell Castle on an island in Loch Awe.
Inveraray was well enough established to become a burgh of barony in 1472 and a royal burgh in 1648. With a good natural harbour and lying at a key focal point in the limited road network across Argyll, it had effectively become the legal and administrative centre for the county by the early 1700s. Its development went hand in hand with the growing power of the Campbells and the importance of their seat at Inveraray Castle.
The idea of replacing the 1400s tower house with a modern residence befitting the status and power of the Dukes of Argyll first occurred to the 2nd Duke in 1720. When the 3rd Duke of Argyll succeeded to his title in 1743 he commissioned an architect, and work began in 1745. As part of the project he created open parkland by demolishing the existing village of Inveraray, which stood between the castle and the sea.
The new town of Inveraray was built on a site to the south than its predecessor, out of sight of the castle. What emerged was an exceptionally attractive town. This had two main elements. Firstly, Front Street ran almost west from the harbour to a large inn placed near the gates to the park for Inveraray Castle. And secondly, the very grand Main Street ran parallel with the shore of Loch Fyne and at right angles to Front Street.
This comprised large white-harled buildings on both sides while in its centre it bulged out into Church Square to accommodate the classical bulk of the Glenaray and Inveraray Parish Church, built between 1792 and 1802 by Robert Mylne. This was originally built as a double church, with one half worshipping in Gaelic while the other half worshipped in Scots.
Because of the size and grandeur of the buildings lining its main streets, Inveraray can appear to be a much larger settlement than it actually is. In practice it is little larger than what you see as you drive through. The area between Main Street and Loch Fyne is a warren of small streets, but a large part of it is occupied by Inveraray Jail. To the west, Main Street backs onto The Avenue, now the village's main car park.
To the west again is a scatter of more recent housing, but the original vision of Inveraray is still obvious on the ground, and it is probably one of the most original, complete and unaltered settlements you are likely to find anywhere in Scotland. Also to the west of The Avenue is All Saints Church, built in 1886. Between 1923 and 1931 this had added to it the freestanding 38m high Duke's Tower, or Inveraray Bell Tower. This was built as a war memorial and accommodates the second heaviest ring of bells hung for change ringing in the world. The views from the top of the Tower are outstanding.
Inveraray Jail dates back to the 1820. The Georgian courthouse and grim prison blocks closed in the 1889, but in more recent times have re-opened as an imaginative visitor centre and museum. Not far to the south of Inveraray Jail and on the shore is the unassuming Para Handy Cottage, the birthplace of the author (of, amongst other things, the Para Handy stories) Neil Munro.
Inveraray's Front Street and harbourside are both fascinating and unusually attractive. On the harbourside is Inveraray Cross, a tall and beautifully carved stone cross dating back to the 1300s or 1400s that once serving as the market cross of the original village (albeit in a different location). When originally written, this page went on at this point to discuss the vessels moored at the town pier which formed the Inveraray Maritime Museum. The pier is no longer open to the public, but plans are afoot to redevelop it.