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Scotland Fort George, Inverness-shire

Possibly the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain

Fort George is the most amazing military construction built after the Battle of Culloden to control the Highlands and crush any future Jacobite rebellions. The first view of the ramparts takes your breath away. We were impressed before we’d gone in and it got better and better. This is somewhere that should be on every tourist itinerary tick list!

Fort George ramparts.jpg

It is a marvellous setting on a promontory jutting out into the Moray Firth, with superb views across to the Black Isle and the white lighthouse at Chanonry Point. Keep your eyes open as this is one of the best places to spot the bottle nose dolphins that live in the Moray Firth. On the landward side it is surrounded by low, flat ground, hence the need for all the ramparts and ditches.

The first Fort George was built in 1727 in Inverness on a hill beside the River Ness, on the site of (and incorporating portions of) a medieval castle which had been rebuilt as a citadel by Oliver Cromwell, but then abandoned. During the 1745 rising the fort was seized by the Jacobites, who blew it up in 1746 to prevent the Hanoverians from using it as a base. Fort Augustus at the other end of Loch Ness had also been destroyed.

The military and British Government, were determined this should not happen again. After the Battle of Culloden, a string of forts was built in and around the Great Glen to control the Highlands of Scotland and crush future Jacobite rebellions. As well as Fort George, these include Ruthven Barracks and Corgaff Castle which was refortified.

Fort George was built on an isolated promontory jutting into the Moray Firth between 1748-1769 and controlled the sea approaches to Inverness. With its own harbour, it could be supplied by sea in times of siege. Anticipating any attack would come from the landward side, it was protected by a series of ditches which could be flooded and outer works including a ravelin and adjacent lunettes.


Fort George Plan.jpg

1&2 entrance, 3 prison Cell, 4 guard room, 5 ramparts, 6 casemates, 7 historic barracks, 8 Grand magazine, 10 Stables

It was intended to house two field battalions and their officers (about 2000 men) and over 80 heavy guns. It was planned using the latest ideas in defensive military architecture with stone faced walls and projecting bastions and redoubts.


Underground bunkers were designed to protect the garrison from artillery fire. The fort spreads over 42 acres with houses for the governor, deputy-governor and fort-major, blocks for the staff officers and the gunners, two enormous barrack blocks, ordnance and provision stores, powder magazines, workshops, bake house, brew house and – as an afterthought – a chapel.

Fort George was finally completed, well behind schedule, in 1769. It was also well over budget. The original estimates for construction had been a remarkably precise £92,673 19s 1d. The final cost was more than £200,000, a figure larger than the Gross National Product of Scotland in 1750.

The scale of Fort George is impressive and it is virtually unchanged since it was built. It remains one of the largest and most impregnable fortifications in Europe.

However, by the time it was finished, the Highlands were relatively calm and no action was ever required from Fort George. There is a story, may be apocryphal, that one shot was fired by a jittery soldier on night duty who thought he saw a Jacobite soldier creeping up to the fort and fired at him. Next morning the guards found the dead body of a cow....

Although the property is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, the fort is still used by the military and soldiers are seen around the site. Watch out for red flags flying as the area around the fort is used for rifle practice.

Visitors are allowed access to the ramparts and all outside areas of the site, chapel, the Highlanders’ Museum, the restored and recreated barrack block. There is a small cafe in the workshops under the Prince Henry Frederick’s Bastion. Access to the rest of the buildings is restricted to army staff. There is no restriction on taking photographs around the site, although they are not allowed in the museum.

Plan a visit for a fine day as the site is very exposed. Allow plenty of time for a visit as there is a lot to see. It is worth starting by walking round the ramparts to get a feel for the geography of the site. Check if there is a living history presentation. This is excellent - informative and funny. And last of all keep your eyes open for sightings of the bottle nose dolphins.

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Fort George cont - the ramparts and the guard room

First impressions of Fort George is the large grassy bank of the glacis, designed to absorb the impact of hostile cannon fire. The rest of the fortifications can be seen peeping over the top with their corner sentry turrets.

Fort George 1.jpg

A paved pathway cuts through the bank of the glacis and over a wooden bridge across the outer ditch, which is lined with bricks.


A covered passageway leads through the lunette onto the RAVELIN, the isolated arrow head at the head of the inland defences. This is surrounded by stone lined ditches with steps down into them. You could get lost easily down here. These are overlooked by gun emplacements on the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cumberland bastions.


The back of the ravelin is open. If the enemy managed to capture it, they would have no protection against cannon fire from the two bastions. It would be a killing ground.

In the centre of the ravelin is a long low stone building which was the guard house. This the Visitor Centre which has plans of the fort.


A wooden drawbridge, a reconstruction of the original, crosses the last ditch and leads into the fort through an archway with the Royal Coat of arms above. You are left in no doubt as to who is in charge here....




Beyond is another covered passageway with a brick vaulted ceiling, which goes through the ramparts and into the fort. The passageway has a heavy wooden door painted deep sage green and heavily studded at either end.

On either side of the end of the passageway are the GUARD ROOMS. There is no entry into the officers guard room on the right. Beyond it is the prison cell, a white painted vaulted room with the only light through a small iron grille in the door. Referred to as the ‘Black Hole’, this was used as a prison from 1753 to the C19th.


On the left is the soldiers' guard room. This is furnished as it would have been in the C18th with eight iron beds that fold up against the wall during the day. Above are pegs to hang belongings and above is a shelf to store bedding, a thin hessian mattress and rough blanket. A small cast iron stove in the far corner provided warmth and was used for cooking as the soldiers had to cook all their own food as they were on call for 24hours. There was a kettle and supply of wood. The only other furniture was a small folding table with benches, laid with earthenware dishes, cutlery and enamel mugs. On the wall is a stand which was used to hold rifles. In a corner is a model of a soldier of the Seaforth Highlanders about 1883 with kilt, heavy grey wool coat and black fur helmet.



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Fort George cont - inside the Fort

Beyond the guard house is a large grassed courtyard used for ceremonial parades. The normal drill was carried out in the barrack square.

Grassed ramps lead up to the ramparts and bastions. Beneath the ramparts are the CASEMATES. Twenty seven barrack rooms are built into the rampart walls. They could provide temporary blast proof accommodation for 700 men at times of siege. In the centre is a sally port which lead to a flat area which could be used as a mustering point for sorties.

A central road runs through the fort to the Point Battery at the far end. Immediately facing the entrance is a long STAFF BLOCK, built between 1761-6.

Staff Block.jpg

This provided accommodation for staff and store keepers. This has an open arcade with two bells and a gong. At the ends are larger houses built for the Lieutenant Governor and the Fort Major.


Behind is a yard with a row of outbuildings. The HIGHLANDERS’ MUSEUM is in one of the end houses. It covers the story of the Highland Regiments from the Napoleonic Wars to the present day.

Behind these are the large BARRACK BLOCKS built round three sides of a square. These are still occupied by army personnel. In the centre of each block is a GR monogram and crown with the date 1757.


These were the first buildings to be erected and are carefully constructed with large dressed stones with narrow rows of four smaller stones on either side. In the centre is the drill square. Part of the barrack block, the HISTORIC BARRACKS, opposite the great magazine is open and is furnished to show life of the ordinary soldier and an officer in the C18th and C19th.

Behind the barrack square are the two buildings of the ORDINANCE STORES, with a walled courtyard with metal storage sheds. The SEAFORTH REGIMENTAL INSTITUTE is behind the northern block. This was built in 1934 to house the NAFFI.

To the south of the barrack blocks, behind a brick wall is the GRAND MAGAZINE building, separated from the main fort by a wall with a small entry through it. There is no external entry into the smaller building with square windows. The main magazine is in the large rectangular stone building and has copper shutters over the windows, which provide ventilation. It was designed to be strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a mortar. The doors are wood and copper with sliding catches.



Inside it is a white vaulted room which could hold up to 2500 barrels of gunpowder. It also has a display of muskets, bayonets, swords and pikes; the Seafield Collection of Arms.


Behind this is a long building, the PROVISION STORE and BREWERY, which has a central archway with a clock tower.


At the back are the stables, still with the horses stalls. Behind this is the well.


At the end of the fort is the CHAPEL, a cruciform building with a small battlemented tower at the west end, an angular chancel and semi-circular towers on either side which contain a spiral staircase giving access to the galleries.

This is the regimental chapel of the Seaforth Highlanders and the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons).


There is a small free standing bell in front. Outside is a brass memorial from the Dutch town of Waalwuk to commemorate its liberation by the 2nd and 5th Seaforth Highlanders and Queen’s Own cameron Highlanders of the 51st division on 20th October 1944.

Inside it is a simple building with a three decker pulpit, small reading desk, small covered font and free standing altar. The chancel arch is inscribed in gold GEORGIUS III DC.M.BRI.FRA.ET.HIB.REX MDDCCLXVII. On the walls of the chancel are old standards.




There is a large gallery round three sides of the church with more standards hanging from it. On the walls of the nave are 18th and C19th marble memorials. At the back are two wooden boards with the names of those who have lost their lives since 1954 serving with the 1st and 3rd batalions of the Black Watch; a sobering list.


Fort George cont - a walk around the ramparts

The ramparts are about a mile long and walking round them is one of the best ways to get an impression of Fort George and how it was designed to resist attack.

Steep grassed ramps lead up to the ramparts. These were made of earth and rubble and lined with bricks. They are very wide with steep drops.

Grass ramps.jpg

The walk begins at the PRINCE OF WALES BASTION which has excellent views of the ravelin and associated ditches. It gives an understanding of just how clever the design was and how effective it would have been if attacked.


Ditches .jpg

Gun embrasures with small cannons covered the ditches, ravelin and outside walls. At the corners are small round guard houses.



The rampart continues above the casement to the PRINCE WILLIAM HENRY’S BASTION, named after the third grandson of George II. This overlooks the pier which was used to bring stores ashore. A ferry to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle carried soldiers between the fort and the mainland. At the base of the bastion is the GRAND MAGAZINE building.

The seaward tip of the fort is protected by three smaller bastions. At their base and protected by a wall is a small powder magazine and casement for four 32 pounder guns.

On the south side is PRINCE FREDERICK WILLIAM’S DEMI-BASTION, named after the youngest grandson of GeorgeII. Along with Prince William Henry’s Bastion, it protects the pier.

In the Centre is the POINT BATTERY with DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH’S DEMI-BASTION to the north. These three bastions with their flanking guns, commanded the sea channel. This is a good place to watch for Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.


Continuing round the ramparts, next is PRINCE HENRY FREDERICK’S BASTION, named after the fourth grandson of George II. This was modified along with the adjacent Duke of Cumberland’s bastion in response to a threat of French invasion in 1859 after Emperor Napoleon III’s rapid build up of forces. Three large canon on swivel bases replaced the older and smaller canon. On either side of the rampart are doorways leading to the shot and shell recesses. Stone steps lead down to a magazine.



Below the bastion were the 1762 workshops which included a carpenter, blacksmith and wheelwright. There were shot pounds to store iron shot and shells. These now contain the Fort Cafe.

Between Prince Henry Frederick’s and the Duke of Cumberland Bastion is the north casement. The Place of Arms outside the Sally Port is now the DOG’S CEMETERY, one of only two in Scotland, with graves marked by small carved headstones.



The final bastion is The DUKE OF CUMBERLAND’S BASTION where the original eight gun embrasures were replaced for use by heavier cannon in 1859.

Fort George cont - living history presentation

Fort George runs Living History presentations during the summer months, lasting for about 20 minutes. The interpreter was dressed in the uniform of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch, and was informative and entertaining. It began with a brief description of the history of the fort.


The fort had taken 24 years to build by which time the Highlands had settled down and the threat of a Jacobite rebellion had lessened. The defences were never tested, although there is story of a twitchy guard on night duty who thought he heard a Jacobite in the undergrowth and shot it. Next morning a dead cow was found.... This isn’t in the history books and may be apocryphal, but it makes a good story. We settled down to enjoy the rest of the presentation.

The 1st Battalion of the Black Watch stationed here were armed with a brown bess musket which weighed 11lb 2oz. It fired a lead bullet in a cartridge with gunpowder. The soldiers carried 20 in a cartridge belt worn round the waist. They had to bite off the end of the cartridge with their teeth and put the powder in the pan. The rest of the cartridge and lead bullet was put in the barrel and pushed down with a ram rod. When the trigger was puled, a piece of flint knocked the pan which produced a spark which ignited the powder and the gun went off. The soldiers were trained to fire three times a minute. In battle they were lined up in rows and the first row shot their 20 cartridges, followed by the second row, third row... There was no system to replace fired cartridges.

Firing a musket resulted in a burn to the side of the face. Soldiers were not allowed to grow beards but often grew side burns to protect the side of the face from the flash in the pan. Another apocryphal tale?


The rifles had a 17” bayonet which could be fixed to the barrel. When not in use this could be turned upside down and used as a candle holder in the camp. The ordinary soldiers were also supplied with a brass handled sword, although they were not trained in the use of this and there are stories that it was used to spear food to cook over an open fire. Apparently there is also a record of a soldier holding the sword by the blade and using the hilt as a club.


Soldiers lived in cramped condition is the barrack blocks, with eight men in a room, sleeping two to a bed. One soldier in every hundred was allowed to have his wife with him, but there was no explanation how this was decided. The women received half rations in exchange for doing chores for the soldiers. Their only privacy was a blanket hung up in a corner over a bed. If the husband was sent to war, his wife and any children had to accompany him, otherwise she would lose her allowance. If her husband was killed, the wife was allowed to live in the barracks for three months before she had to leave, or found another husband.

The day began at 5am with bread and cheese for breakfast at 6.30am. Soldiers were given a pewter plate, tankard and a wooden spoon. They were allowed a ration of beer a day. The barracks had a brewery and soldiers could buy extra beer at 6d a gallon. Whisky was charged at 1d a gill. Troops were often drunk.

There were strict rules about being drunk on guard duty and soldiers were supplied with a water bottle. If an officer suspected a soldier of having beer rather than water in his bottle, the soldier was made to run up and down the parade ground. If it was beer, the exercise made it froth. Punishment was either being put in the ‘black hole’ (prison) or being whipped five times with the cat of nine tails.

Any leisure time, the soldiers would play cards or dice, often gambling their wages. These were 1/- a week. If a man accepted the King’s shilling he was automatically enlisted into the army. If the army were short of men, recruiting officers would visit the pubs in Inverness and drop a shilling into a tankard of beer. The unsuspecting drinker was deemed to have accepted the King’s shilling and signed up. This upset the pub landlords as locals left as soon as soldiers entered the pub. This led to the glass bottom tankard so a drinker could check there was no shilling in the bottom of his glass,

The great magazine contained 2500 barrels of gunpowder and soldiers spent eight hour shifts locked in there. They had to wear wooden clogs and a special uniform with no metal buttons to avoid sparks. If they needed to work, one person would hold a lamp with a guard round the flame. Most of their time was spent in the pitch dark, so they often ended up sleeping for most of the shift. The relieving soldiers had to knock on the door with their rifle butts to wake them up and the marks made can still be seen on the door.


A powder cat spent all its life in the magazine to kill mice. The cartridges were sealed with animal fat and if the mice ate it, the powder leaked out.

Fort George cont - the historic barracks

Entry to the HISTORIC BARRACKS is opposite the great magazine. A wooden door with ventilation slats at the top leads into a long corridor with dark sage paint along the bottom of the walls and cream above. There are barrack rooms off on either side. Three of these have been furnished to represent life of C18th or C19thC soldiers and an officer. Each is based on a real soldier and there are information boards with details of his service record.

Room One represents the period 1780-1868 of Private John Anderson, a rank and file soldier and his wife. They used an army blanket to corner off part of the room for some privacy. There was no separate mess room so the soldiers ate and slept in this room using a small peat fire for cooking and heating. There is a small table with bench seats for meals. Beds were made of solid wood and have a thin mattress and a single blanket. Two men shared a bed. Above each bed is a slate with their names. Above the beds are pegs to hang kit and belongings. The ceiling is covered with graffiti. The room was cramped and it was estimated the soldiers had less space than the inmates of the workhouse.


Room Two is Major Andrew Coglan’s room from about 1813. It is a spacious room. The windows have wooden shutters and there is a mantle over the fireplace for his personal belongings. He still had a peat fire. The bed was a half tester with blanket drapes to help stop draughts. He was supplied with a cupboard and chest of drawers, table and sloping writing desk and two wooden chairs. Light was provided by a candlestick on the chest of drawers.


Room Three is a rank and file room from 1868 with Private George Moffat. There was now a communal mess room, so soldiers no longer needed to cook in the barracks. A small peat fire provided heating and some wag has drawn a mantle piece round it. Lighting was by a gas light hanging from the ceiling. Couples now had separate married quarters.


The room has five single beds. These were metal and folded in half during the day. The mattress and bedding was folded and placed on a shelf above the bed. There are pegs above the bed for water bottle and clothes. The room was furnished with wood table with eathenware plate, bowl and mug. There was also a zinc bucket and scrubbing brush. Above one of the beds was a small case with brushes and a red duster.


The soldier’s prayer....

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