Inveraray, at the head of Loch Fyne, owes its prominence to the rebuilding of Inveraray Castle, seat of the Duke of Argyll, in the 18th century. The town's history, however, goes back much further, since it was made a Royal Burgh in 1638 by Charles I. The Argyll family, who hold the chieftainship of the Clan Campbell, have been important players in Scottish history, with a happy knack of usually picking the winning side during centuries of bloody inter-clan feuding and bitter political in-fighting. The Campbells' contentious massacre at Glencoe of their rival MacDonalds in 1692 is long remembered, but their positive role in shaping modern Scotland cannot be overstated.
In 1744 the third Duke of Argyll decided to demolish the existing castle and start from scratch with a new building. The castle was 40 years in construction, and the work was largely supervised by the Adam family, renowned to this day as gifted architects and designers. The end product was not a castle in the traditional sense, but a classic Georgian mansion house on a grand scale. Over the years the castle has played host to numerous luminaries; Queen Victoria visited it in 1847, and the Royal connection was further cemented when her daughter, Princess Louise, married the heir to the Campbell chieftainship, the Marquis of Lorne, in 1875, illustrating the elevated position of the Argyll family in the social pecking order of the times.
The town prior to the reconstruction of the castle was little more than a collection of humble cottages, but as early as 1747 William Adam had drawn up plans for the creation of a new Inveraray. As part of this project the Duke built an inn on Front Street at the entrance to his castle grounds which was known as “The Inveraray Inn” (Historic Scotland). The Inveraray Inn opened for business in 1755 on the same day as Inveraray’s new court house (the Town House) and the inn was described at that time as being “not exceeded by any Thing of this Kind in North Britain” in contemporaneous reports. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, various famous figures stayed at and in some cases wrote about The Inveraray Inn including Robert Burns, Johnson & Boswell and Dorothy Wordsworth. At that time Inveraray was so isolated that the nearest road fit for a carriage was forty miles away. This was to change, however, for military rather than social reasons. Following the rebellion of 1745-6, it had become obvious that to control the clans, it was vital that troops should be able to move quickly throughout the Highlands. General Wade was sent north to undertake the task, and set about creating a network of roads and bridges which would ensure that troops could be rushed from strategic bases in Fort William, Fort Augustus or Fort George to tackle any insurrection. As a result, the approach to Inveraray along Loch Fyne on the A83 actually follows one of Wade's old military roads; Aray Bridge, just below the castle, dates back to 1775.
The architecture of the town was largely the work of two men: this hotel and the neighbouring Town House are by John Adam while most of the rest of the “new” Inveraray was the creation of Robert Mylne, a celebrated architect of the period. The end product was an attractive town which included houses for estate workers, a woollen mill, and a pier to exploit herring fishing, an industry which was to mushroom in later years to play a major role in the town's economy. The finished product is one of the best examples of an 18th century new town in Scotland, and the vast majority of the properties in the centre of Inveraray are considered worthy of protection because of the town's architectural significance. The celebrated essayist Doctor Johnson, himself no fan of Scotland, was moved to comment on the new Inveraray: “What I admire here is the total defiance of expense”.
Inveraray today is much more accessible, both by land and by sea, for like many towns on the Clyde it was a popular destination for passengers after the coming of the steamship. Although regular shipping services have long since ceased, rendered extinct by the coming of the motor car, the paddle steamer Waverley still makes occasional calls.