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Scotland Scotland the Brave


1000+ Posts
Around Elgin - Ballindalloch Castle

This isn't on the usual tourist route although it is popular with locals. It has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546 and is very much a loved family home with the owners taking a hands on approach.

Set off the A96, the castle is reached along a long wooded drive and past the field of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle. The breed was founded here.

The castle is reached through a laburnum tunnel which would be a glorious sight in the spring. It is an attractive white harled building dating from the 16thC when a tower house was built and was extended in the 18thC.

The castle is set in grassland with specimen trees. There are attractive herbaceous borders along the wings of the house and a rock garden with arches of roses to the front. This is a most attractive place.

There is a splendid armorial panel above the main door. The entrance hall is unusual as it has a vaulted ceiling supported by a central pillar. The grand staircase leads off from a corner of the room.

The tour begins on the ground floor with the drawing room, an attractive room with plain green carpet and green damask wall paper. This theme continues through all the ground floor rooms. Sofas and easy chairs are covered with cream upholstery. There are occasional tables with lots of family photographs.

Next is the Laird's smoking room, used by the gentlemen after dinner with tobacco boxes and cigarette cases on the table. It is a very masculine room apart from the two long thin mirrors with gilded carvings of flowers which may be by Grinling Gibbons on either side of the fireplace.

Spiral stairs lead to the first floor and a long corridor with portraits by Murillo and Velaquez on the walls as well as Royal portraits and signed photographs of Royal visitors.

The first room visited is the library, a lovely wood panelled room containing one of the best country house libraries in Scotland.

Next is Lady Macpherson Grant's bedroom, a delightful room with pale blue carpet and watered silk wallpaper. The white fitted cupboards have blue watered silk panels similar to the wallpaper. The 19thC dressing case on display was discovered in the attic, still with its contents including silver backed brushes, mirror, tray with jars, button hook and other essential items (of unspecified use).

The next room is the dining room which is the largest room in the castle as it was originally the 16thC great hall. It is panelled in American pine and has a splendid plaster cast ceiling. Furnished with dark red curtains and a tartan carpet this is a warm and friendly room. The fireplace has the coat of arms of the Macphersons and the Grants with their family mottos. 'Touch not the Cat Bot a Glove' is the Macpherson motto and is roughly translated as "don't mess with us without your gloves on."

Off it is the china room with cupboards containing glassware and dinner service. On the walls are pictures of game birds as well as of the estate.

The tour continues up the grand staircase. Down a side corridor, the first room is the brass bedroom with turquoise and pink floral curtains and drapes above a half tester brass bed. There is a huge bathroom off.

Next is the pink bedroom, one of the original bedrooms in the castle and the stone lintel above the fireplace is dated 1546. This has a hip bath, warming pan, washstand with bowls and jugs.

The tour continues up the highland staircase with a iron yett (metal grille door) across the bottom. This is very narrow and downward traffic has priority. There is a bell at the top to ring to warn others that you are about to descend.

At the top is the nursery, with small white dresses, crib, high chair, lots of teddy bears, dolls house, rocking horse, farm… Next to it is the servant's bedroom, a sparsely furnished room. In a corner is a privy with a wooden seat above a bucket and a basket containing heather and moss, which predated toilet paper.

Back down the spiral staircase, the tour ends in the Dungeon passage which is supposed to be haunted by General James Grant who reviews the estate every evening on the way to the wine cellars. The lower dungeon is below the wine cellar.

The walled garden is about five minutes walk from the house. It is now an ornamental rose garden although there are a few apple trees in a corner. In the centre is a small fountain with water lilies and four bronze herons. This is surrounded by a paved area with stone seats, climbing roses and catnip. It is a lovely place to sit.

One of the highlights of a visit to Ballindalloch Castle is the Tea Room off the courtyard at the back of the castle. This serves some of the best (and cheapest) cakes in north east Scotland. If you can't make up your mind, they also wrap up cakes to take home.


Ballindalloch Castle


1000+ Posts
To Inverness - Dallas Dhu Distillery

Northeast Scotland is big whisky country and there are dozens of distilleries. We decided we ought to visit a distillery during our trip to Scotland and chose Dallas Dhu, a small Victorian distillery which closed in 1983 after a prolonged drought caused water supply problems. Now owned by Historic Scotland, it is possible to wander round by yourself with the audio guide and get into places not normally visited on the guided tours.

The distillery was built in 1898/9 to supply malt whisky for the Roderick Dhu blend. It employed around 15 men, including maltman, mashman, stillman, warehouseman and the cooper. The men were expected to turn their hand to anything from unloading barley and shoveling peat to rolling out the barrels. The exciseman was employed by Customs and Excise not the distillery, although the latter had to provide him with a house and office.

The tour begins on the malting floor in a large barn with the barley loft above. Although the audio guide begins in the malting floor and goes up to the barley loft, it makes more sense to start upstairs in the barley loft, as this is where it all begins...

The barley loft is a long building with a wood beam roof. Barley in sacks was brought in by rail or road and stored here in heaps. Openings in the floor lead to a conveyor and hoist which took the grain to a dressing machine on the malting floor which removed impurities and the outer husk. It was then taken back to the barley loft and put into two large steel tanks at the end of the shed where it was soaked for sixty hours to begin germination.

The grain was then shoveled through doors in the bottom of the tanks to the malting floor below. The soaked barley was spread out and left to sprout. Raking and shoveling helped break up the grain and aerate it. This process took a week and starches began to break down into sugars. The grain was now referred to as green malt.

Two elevators with chains and buckets took the green malt to the drying kiln in an adjacent building. The green malt was tipped from the elevator and down a pipe in the roof of the kiln and onto the drying floor. A fire of peat or coke was used to dry the grain and the moist air escaped through the ventilators in the pagoda roof above. Dampers controlled the temperature and a deflector above the drying floor helped spread out the hot air.

Next door is the meter room with the electrical controls for the distillery. This was originally the stationery steam engine house, in the days when steam power was used to drive the machinery.

Next to it is the mill room. The dried malt was weighed and then crushed between steam rollers to form grist. This was raised by another elevator to the top of the mash house.

This has a large copper tun where grist and water were mixed to complete the conversion of starch to sugars. The spent husks were rinsed twice with water to remove all traces of sugars. The husks were removed through the bottom of the mash tun and were sold to local farmers as cattle feed.

The hot sweet liquid, known as worts, was pumped through a cooler made of metal plates and then into one of the six big wooden wash backs in the tun room. Yeast from the yeast store was mixed with warm water in a stainless steel tank before being pumped into the cooled worts to start fermentation. Alcohol and carbon dioxide were produced and the surface became very frothy. Fermentation stopped after two days and the alcoholic liquid, the wash, was ready to distill.

The still house contains two copper stills. A stationery boiler produced steam to heat the stills. The alcoholic wash was pumped into the first still or wash charger and heated. The vapor of alcohol and water was cooled by passing through spiral copper pipes called the worm, in a large wooden vat of cold water outside the still room. The resulting product called 'low wines' was collected in a tank in the receiver room. The spirit safe is here where the still man could test the percentage of alcohol in the 'low wine' and decide when to stop distilling.

This was then pumped into the second still and distilled a second time. This produced the raw whisky which was called 'Plain British Spirits'. This was collected in another vat in the receiving room.

From the receiving room the 'Plain British Spirit' was pumped into a large wooden vat in the filling store at the end of the still room. The brewer's office was in here. The whisky was run into casks. The amount in each was measured and recorded. The casks were then taken to the bonded warehouse, a series of long white rectangular buildings. These provided a cool, dark space where the casks were stacked and matured for a minimum of three years.


Stills, Dallas Ddu Distillery


1000+ Posts
A Day to the North of Inverness - Dornoch

Dornoch is set off the A9, the main road from Inverness to the north of Scotland. It used to be a sleepy small town by-passed by the tourists until Madonna put it on the map when her son Rocco was christened in Dornoch Cathedral in 2000. Now it is very much on the tourist trail with large car parks around the town. Even at 9am it was busy with groups of tourists wandering around.

It is an attractive town of grey stone buildings around the 13thC cathedral set in a walled grassy kirkyard (churchyard) in the centre of Dornoch. This is a cross shaped building of red sandstone with steep roofs and a small central tower with a short stumpy spire. The building was started by Gilbert de Moravia, Bishop of Caithness who decided to move the bishoprick from Halkirk in the north of Sutherland to Dornoch. He was buried under the crossing.

The cathedral was set on fire in 1570 during a clan feud between the Murrays of Dornoch and the MacKays of Strathnaver. This destroyed the nave, the roof of the rest of the building and Gilbert's tomb was desecrated. The choir and transepts were repaired and reroofed in 1616 and a wall was built to shut off the remains of the nave. The nave was finally rebuilt in 1835-7, funded by Elizabeth, Duchess-Countess of Sutherland.

Inside it is a rather plain and uninspiring building. The walls are bare stone as the lath and plaster of the Victorians has been removed so revealing two of the original pillars in the wall to the west of crossing. There are stone wall pillars and pointed stone arches above the transept crossing. The pale cream plaster ceiling was repainted for the christening of Madonna's son and still looks very smart with its carved bosses.

The tall lancet windows contain 19thC glass. In the choir, three windows on the north wall commemorate Andrew Carnegie who stayed at nearby Skibo Castle every year. He paid for the renovation of the large organ in the north transept.

At the back of the nave is the sarcophagus of St Richard de Moravia, brother of Gilbert, who was killed in battle about 1240.

In the square opposite the cathedral is the Castle Hotel, a tall tower house with crow step gables which was originally the Bishop's Palace. Next to it is the Sheriff's Court, now Tourist Information and the old jail, now a shop. There is a good range of shops including butcher, baker, Spar, small Co-op, florist, bookshop, soft furnishings, radio and TV and a bank. There is a Masonic Hall and a Carnegie Free library.

The Dornoch Patisserie and Cafe on High Street was a good choice for a cup of tea serving excellent homemade cakes as well as savory items.

Tourist Information has a leaflet with details of a heritage walk and there are a series of information boards around the town. We followed the walk to Littletown, on the south east edge of the town. This grew up in the early 19thC when evicted tenants arrived and built temporary turf huts. These were gradually replaced by stone walls with a thatched roof. In 1820, the settlement was made official by the signing of leases and rents were agreed. These were negotiated on behalf of the Duke of Sutherland and rents were paid to him. Not only had he evicted the people from their crofts, he was still getting rent from them.

Littletown is now an attractive settlement of low, single storey houses built along the road with narrow flower borders and gardens across the road.


Castle Hotel, Dornoch


1000+ Posts
A Day to the North of Inverness - Tain

We liked Tain which is a busy small town and the main service town for the area. Even though there is an ASDA on the edge of town, it has avoided the blight of the supermarket so often seen in England and has a good range of small family owned shops. Owners take a pride in the town and shop fronts were bright with hanging baskets. Unlike nearby Dornoch, it is not a touristy place and we were the only obvious tourists.

Tain is Scotland's oldest Royal Burgh, being granted a charter in 1066 by King Malcolm III. This confirmed Tain as a sanctuary, where people could claim the protection of the church, and an "immunity", whose resident merchants and traders were exempt from certain types of taxes. Over the years it has thrived and there are many large and splendid 19thC houses.

The tollbooth at the west end of the High Street is early 18thC. As well as being a place of safe keeping for the burgh's charters and arms, it was also the prison. Entry was by an external staircase to the first floor. The ground floor served as a pit prison for the worst criminals, reached by trapdoor through the floor. The adjoining Council House was built in 1849.

At the opposite end of High Street is the Rose Garden planted with 900 roses in 1966 to mark the 900th anniversary of the charter.

Tain was an important place of pilgrimage in the middle ages. St Duthac was born here about 1000AD. He was educated in Ireland and became a Celtic missionary. He died in 1065 and in 1253, his relics were returned to Tain and buried in a small chapel on the north east side of the town. Tales of miracles soon grew up round him and St Duthac's chapel. It rapidly became one of the most important places of pilgrimage and sanctuary in Scotland. In 1427 the chapel was burnt down and his remains were transferred to the Collegiate Church in the centre of town. They disappeared during the reformation. The Collegiate church was abandoned in 1815 when a larger church was built to replace it. This is now the Duthac Centre after the present splendid classical church was built in Queen Street.

We set out to find the Collegiate Church of St Duthac set in a grassy kirkyard at the back of High Street. It is a long rectangular building with a small bell cot, built between 1370-1460. After the Reformation the saying of masses ceased, the trappings of pilgrimage were removed as well as the altar and it became the parish church. A large pulpit was installed on the south wall. As the population of Tain increased, additional lofts (galleries) reached by outside stairs, were added round the walls. Eventually the church became too small and was abandoned after a larger church was built.

The galleries have been removed and the building restored. Inside it is a big barn of a place with a wood beam roof and bare stone walls. The nave is bare apart from two old benches against the walls and some stacked chairs. The pulpit is a 19thC reconstruction of the original, with steps and a massive canopy. There are the remains of a sedilia on the south wall and ambries on the north wall, survivors of the medieval building.

Hanging up on the north wall is the front of the 17thC guild's loft which was used by the different craftsmen and their guild emblems were painted along the front. The loft has long gone but the front remains, a rare survival and the only complete example in Scotland.

Below it is a brass memorial with a long list of names of those who died in the First World War with a smaller plate below to those who died in the Second World War. Beneath this and hidden behind stacked chairs is the remains of a wall tomb with the carving of a bishop.

There are other stone and marble memorials round the walls including one to William Matheson Cameron a soldier in the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, who died in German South West Africa in 1915. You learn a lot of geography and history from these memorials...

There is a large stained glass window at the east end. Below are two decorated arches surrounding marble memorial stones. One is for Patrick Hamilton, Abbot, who was the first preacher of the Reformation in Scotland and burnt at the stake in St Andrews in 1528. The other is to Thomas Hoc who was removed as minister for his "loyalty to Christ's Crown and the Covenant" in 1662. He became a friend and supporter of William of Orange and was eventually restored to the parish in 1690, dying two years later. I do love these old memorial stones and their history.


Memorial, Collegiate Church of St Duthac, Tain


1000+ Posts
A Day to the North of Inverness - Fearn Abbey and the Seaboard villages

Fearn Abbey is the most northerly abbey in Scotland, which seemed a good reason to visit it. It is signed off the B9156 road to Balintore in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by fertile farmland. There is little left of the abbey, although the church is still used.

The original abbey was built at Edderton, about 15 miles away but after a few years was moved here in 1238, possibly because it was better agricultural land. It was a small community of seven or eight canons ruled over by an abbot. The abbey was rebuilt in the 14thC when St Michael's aisle was added on the south side of the church. After the Reformation, the abbey buildings fell into disrepair while the church became the parish church.

In 1742, the church was struck by lightning during a service and the roof collapsed killing many of the congregation. The minister had been saved by the pulpit and insisted a new church be built to the south using stone from the remains of the dormitory and cloisters as well as the west end of the church. This was in a very poor state by 1770 and had to be rebuilt in 1772. This is the church we see today.

The church is surrounded by a walled kirkyard with many old grave slabs as well as table graves. It is a long, low stone building with a small bell cot at the west end. On the south wall is the remains of St Michael's aisle, looking more like a lean-to than a chapel as sometime in the 1790s, a stone 'skin' was wrapped round the outside, either for protection against the elements or to keep it standing. On the north wall is the mausoleum chapel built after the Reformation as the burial place for the Ross family and still with their memorial slabs on the walls.

Entry is through a door at the back of the church. This leads into a narrow corridor with two doors into the church. It is unusual as the wooden pews are in the centre of the church, accessed down the sides of the nave. The pews are divided by a wooden bar running down the centre, presumably separating men and women.

There is a small free standing altar at the east end, wooden pulpit, organ and small stone font. On the east wall is a splendid collection of old memorial stones including one with a sailing ship on the top.

The Seaboard Villages is the collective name given to the three villages of Hilton of Cadboll, Balintore and Shandwick, set on the east coast of that isolated patch of land between the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths. They are well off the tourist beat and have a forgotten feel to them. This is a place to come to drop out and do nothing. The three run into each other and are a collection of small single storey stone buildings with dormer windows. There are few shops or facilities apart from the sandy beach. They do, however have two carved Pictish stones.

The Hilton of Cadboll Pictish stone dating from 800AD is now in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and a modern replica has been erected to the north of the village, close to the grass covered bumps of a long ruined chapel.

Clach a' Charridh or the Shandwick Stone is at the other end of the settlement and still stands in its original position, on a slight rise in the middle of a field. This must be one of the most elaborately carved stones with interlaced borders and intricately decorated crescents and double discs as well as a hunting scene.

The stone dates from 780AD and served as a beacon to fishermen until it blew down and broke in half. It is now restored and protected in glass box. It is a cross slab and on the seawards side is a cross with raised bosses. Below the arms are angels with outspread wings. Below are animals.

The reverse is more impressive and has eight panels. There is a splendid elephant like creature with a long carved head which has smaller animals carved round it. The third panel could be a hunting scene with mounted horsemen and a figure with a bow. Below are scroll patterns.


View of the Seaboard villages


1000+ Posts
Around Inverness - Cawdor Castle

If you arrive expecting this to be the Cawdor Castle of Shakespeare's Macbeth you will be disappointed. The Cawdor Castle Website is at great pains to explain Macbeth died in 1057 and was never Thane of Cawdor. The present building dates from the 14thC.

In fact there is a much more interesting story about the castle. The present castle was built by the 3rd Thane of Cawdor who wanted to build a new castle on a less marshy site than the existing one. Following instructions in a dream, he loaded panniers of gold on the back of a donkey which he followed as it roamed. When evening came, the donkey lay down under a hawthorn tree on a rocky site close to the steep sided valley of Allt Dearg. William built his castle here round the tree. You can still see the tree in the base of the central tower. It has been dated to about 1372 supporting the story, although it is a holly tree rather than a hawthorn. Legend has it that the tree has magical qualities which have on more than one occasion saved the castle from disaster.

It is a real Disney style castle with a large tower house with battlements and small corner towers, surrounded by lower buildings with crow step gables and dormer windows. The most attractive views are from the flower gardens.

Across a drawbridge, steps lead down to the entrance with its iron yett protecting the heavy wooden door. On the left of the doorway is a cellar complete with a pretend cauldron of boiling oil. Fortunately our welcome was warmer.

The first room is the drawing room, a large room with a wooden beam ceiling and fireplace with the family emblem of stag's head and buckle above and comfy chairs and a settee around the fire. At the opposite end is a small minstrel's gallery. It has a lived in feel with family portraits and lots of family clutter and photos.

Stone steps lead up to the tapestry room with a plaster ceiling and walls lined with tapestries. In pride of place is a 17thC four poster bed with red velvet drapes. The gilded and silvered headboard is the original. This was the marriage bed of Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart in 1662.

This leads into the yellow sitting room with walls painted in a rather unattractive shade of deep rather dirty yellow with a white ceiling. There is a grandfather clock quietly ticking and large heavily carved cupboards of dark wood. There is a large sofa and two easy chairs with pink upholstery. There are more family portraits on the walls as well as landscape paintings and 18thC watercolors.

The next room on the list is the woodcock room, named after the painting of a woodcock over the door. This is in the 17thC part of the castle and was originally the dining room before it was partitioned off to form two smaller bedrooms. It has green ivy design wallpaper and a four poster bed with pink drapes. Known as the Sheraton bed, this was the marriage bed of Lady Carolyn Campbell of Cawdor in 1789.

Beyond is the pink bedroom with two single four poster beds with pink and cream drapes and cream patterned bolsters. The tapestries are 1680 and part of the Don Quixote set seen downstairs in the family dining room.

Beyond is the pink dressing room containing a single bed and large wardrobe. Curtains and bedspreads are modern copies of a 1725s design.

You then return down the corridor lined with modern paintings (an acquired taste), worn tapestry and long display case with a model of a man o' war.

Steps on your right lead to the tower room, on the first floor of the old tower house. There is a large fireplace with arm chairs and sofa round it. In winter, this is the warmest room in the house as the 63 foot chimney makes the fire burn well. Tapestries line the walls and there are piles of books lying everywhere and family photos. The doorway on the right leads to a toilet in what would have been a garderobe.

A stone spiral staircase leads down to the thorn room with the remains of the original holly tree. An iron yett guards entry to what is a rather dark and depressing room. In one wall is a secret dungeon, now lit by an electric light bulb. The history of this room is somewhat confused as it seems to have been both a prison and also a hideout for women and children. In a window recess is a display of finds which includes pieces of china, needles, thimble, bits of clay pipes and broken glass. The central tower was gutted in 1819 by a fire started by a spark in a jackdaw's nest in the chimney. The damage was repaired and this room/prison was blocked off.

From the thorn room, the tour continues to the dining room, a very elegant room with a late Victorian plaster ceiling and tapestries from the Don Quixote set. The splendid stone mantelpiece commemorates the marriage in 1510 of Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor. The Latin doggerel can either be interpreted as 'In the morning remember your creator' or more popularly 'if you stay too long in the evening, you will remember it is the morning...' Plates above the fireplace have the Cawdor coat of arms. On a wall is a 9thC hand bell which looks like a gigantic cow bell and was used at the family church and burial ground at Barevan. This was hammered out of a single sheet of iron. The extending table can seat up to 24 and is set with china, glassware and silver candlesticks.

Next is the kitchen, a large airy room which was originally the school room and converted into a kitchen in 1971. It is a very stylish room with larch panelled walls and a big copper extractor fan connected to the old chimney. In the centre is a huge square working table with pale cream cupboards below. On one wall are huge display cabinets with the family china. There are two big sinks and draining boards under the windows. On the opposite wall is a long work surface with more pale cream cupboards below. There is a huge hob surrounded by white tiles and a double oven on the wall next to it.

Steps lead down into the 17thC kitchen near the great hall which was used from 1640-1938. It has a huge 19thC cast iron range with a spit mechanism above. Workbenches along the walls have copper pans. On the floor are large earthenware crocks and metal storage bins. In the centre is a long table with old fashioned cooking equipment including a small hand worked glass butter churn, preserving pans, scales, knife sharpener. On the floor is a large pestle and mortar and a wooden butter churn.

The rooms beyond include vaulted storage areas, cellars and a bake house.

The shop is in the old stables and sells a range of china, jewelry, woolen rugs, tapestry cushion covers. scarves. It is very much aimed at the coach parties. The cafe in the courtyard is disorganized and expensive for what is on offer. Read the menu outside before entering as there are few prices on display inside and no menus. Service is slow and not very good. We weren't impressed by the selection of cakes etc either. The flower and wild flower garden is very attractive with trimmed yew hedges dividing up the garden, archways with clematis and honeysuckle and flower beds set in grass. It is a very irregular garden with no obvious pattern apart from the large central herbaceous borders. A few of the old fruit trees survive. There is a small square enclosed garden with a central water feature.

Cawdor was mainly used by the family during the shooting season and flower beds were designed to be at their best from August- October. It was a mass of color with tobacco, dahlias, nasturtium, ageratum, aster, campanula, tradescantia, montbretia, golden rod, flox, day lilies, Turk's cap lilies, Sedum specabile... Rose beds are now very unkempt and overgrown with straggling rose bushes and lavender.


Cawdor Castle and gardens


1000+ Posts
Around Inverness - Fort George, History and Layout

We have been wanting to visit Fort George for more years than I care to remember, so expectations were high. We were impressed before we'd gone in and it got better and better.

It is a marvelous 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. On the landward side it is surrounded by low, flat ground which is used for rifle ranges.

The first Fort George was built in 1727 in Inverness on the site of (and incorporating portions of) the 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 was also destroyed.

The military 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 Corgarff Castle which was refortified.

Fort George was built 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 ramparts.

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 it never saw action. There is a story, maybe 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.

The fort is still used by the military and soldiers are seen around the site. Visitors are allowed access to the ramparts and all outside areas of the site, chapel, the Highlanders' Museum, the restored and recreated barrack block and the Red Hackle Cafe in the Seaforth's Regimental Institute.

The first view of Fort George, as you walk towards it, is the large grassy bank of the glacis, designed to absorb the impact of hostile cannon fire. We could just see the fortifications peeping over the top with the corner sentry turrets.

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 onto the ravelin, the isolated arrow head at the head of the inland defenses. This is surrounded by stone lined ditches with steps down into them. You could easily get lost 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, but is now the Visitor Centre with a small shop.

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. On either side of the end of the passageway are the guard rooms and prison cell.

The soldiers guard room is furnished as it would have been in the 18thC with eight iron beds that fold up against the wall during the day. Above are pegs to hang belongings and a shelf to store bedding, a thin hessian mattress and rough blanket. A small cast iron stove provided warmth and was used for cooking as the soldiers had to cook all their own food as they were on call for 24hours. The only other furniture was a small folding table with benches, laid with earthenware dishes, cutlery and enamel mugs.

Beyond 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 of each 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, providing accommodation for staff and store keepers. The larger houses at the ends were for the Lieutenant Governor and the Fort Major. The Highland Museum is in one of these. It covers the story of the Highland Regiments from the Napoleonic Wars to Afghanistan.

Behind these are the large barrack blocks built round three sides of a square, and still occupied by army personnel. At 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 opposite the great magazine is open and is furnished to show life of the ordinary soldier and an officer in the 18th and 19thC.

Behind the barrack square are the two buildings of the ordinance stores, with a walled courtyard with metal storage sheds behind.

Behind the northern block is the Seaforth Regimental Institute, which contains the Red Hackle Cafe run by the military but which is open to visitors for lunch.

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, 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).

Inside it is a simple building with a three-decker pulpit, small reading desk, small covered font and free standing altar. There is a large gallery round three sides of the church with standards hanging from it. On the walls of the nave are 18th and 19thC 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 Battalions of the Black Watch; a sobering list.


Main gateway, Fort George


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Around Inverness - Fort George, Ramparts and the Grand Magazine

The ramparts are one of the best places for photographs as well as giving a feel of the geography and layout of the fort. We began at the Prince of Wales Bastion which has excellent views of the ravelin and associated ditches. We began to understand just how clever the design was and how effective it would have been if attacked. Gun embrasures with small cannons covered the ditches, ravelin and outside walls.

Prince William Henry's Bastion, named after the third grandson of George II, 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, separated from the main fort by a wall with a small gateway through it. This is a large rectangular stone building with copper shutters over the windows, which provide ventilation. The doors are wood and copper with sliding catches. It could hold up to 2500 barrels of gunpowder. It now has a display of muskets, bayonets, swords and pikes; the Seafield Collection of Arms.

The Living History presentations are held here. The shows last about 20minutes and the presenter was excellent. They were informative and entertaining, covering a brief history of the fort and life of the soldiers. 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. 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.

Soldiers spent eight hour shifts locked in the magazine. 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.

The seaward tip of the fort is protected by three smaller bastions, which commanded the sea channel. This is a good place to watch for Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth. At their base, and protected by a wall, is a small powder magazine.

Prince Henry Frederick's Bastion, named after the fourth grandson of George II and the adjacent Duke of Cumberland's Bastion were modified in response to a threat of French invasion in 1859 after Emperor Napoleon III's rapid buildup of forces. Three large canon on swivel bases replaced older and smaller canons. On either side of the rampart are doorways leading to the shot and shell recesses. Stone steps lead down to a magazine.

Below them are the 1762 workshops which included a carpenter, blacksmith and wheelwright, as well as shot pounds to store iron shot and shells. These now contain the Historic Scotland Fort Cafe. This is a rather soulless building serving unexciting sandwiches and cakes but excellent soup.

On the flat piece of land on the seaward side of these bastions is the dog's cemetery, one of only two in Scotland, with graves marked by small carved headstones.


Ramparts, Fort George


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South of Inverness- Ruthven Barracks

We've long admired these standing against the skyline as we've driven along the A9. They stand isolated on a natural mound of sand and gravel deposited by melting ice. The barracks are the smallest but best preserved of the four barracks built in 1719 after the 1715 Jacobite rising.

The site has a checkered history. A wooden castle was built on top of the mound by the Comyns in the 1200s and it was the chief seat of the Badenoch lordship as it controlled passageway through the glen. In 1306, John Comyn was killed by Robert the Bruce, which triggered a civil war and led to the fall of the Comyns. In 1371 the castle became the property and power base of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and grandson of Robert the Bruce. He was better known as the "Wolf of Badenoch." There is a story that one night a lone horseman dressed in black approached the castle and challenged the Wolf of Baddenoch to a game of cards (or chess). The devil won and the following morning the castle was a smoking ruin and no-one was left alive. More prosaically, the castle was seized and destroyed by the Earl of Ross in 1451.

The castle was rebuilt in the late 1500s by the Earls of Huntly. It was a centre of military activity in the 17thC and during the Civil War was garrisoned first by Cromwellian troops and later by Royalists. The castle was besieged and burnt down again by Viscount Dundee in 1689. It was left as a ruin.

After the 1715 Jacobite uprising, the castle was demolished and two new barrack blocks were built. It was designed to house 120 troops with separate officers' accommodation. In 1724 General Wade began building a network of military roads throughout the highlands and used the barracks as a centre for troop movements. A stable block was added to house 28 horses of the dragoons who patrolled the military roads.

In August 1745, about 200 Jacobites attacked the barracks. They were seen off by Sergeant Molloy with a force of 12 Redcoats. The Jacobites returned in force in February 1746 on their way back north from Derby with artillery and the garrison surrendered.

The Jacobites regrouped at Ruthven after their defeat at the Battle of Culloden, where they had a message from Prince Charles Edward Stewart saying he was fleeing the country and they should disperse and save themselves as best they could. Before leaving, they torched the barracks. The remains are pretty much as the Jacobites left them. The exterior walls remain, but little of the interior structure, flooring or roofing survives.

It is a steep climb up from the car park to the gateway into the parade ground surround by a stone wall. There were no heavy guns and the barracks were defended by soldiers either firing through ground floor gun loops or from the top of the parapet.

On either side of the parade ground are the two large barrack blocks, now open to the sky. These were three stories high and had a central doorway leading to a passageway. Low archways lead into the storage rooms on ground floor level. The barrack rooms were above. There are no internal structures left. Holes in the walls mark where floors were and there are the remains of fireplaces. There were six rooms each accommodating ten men sleeping two to a bed. All cooking was done in the barrack room and stores were kept either in the basement or in the lofts.

The latrines were in a separate building outside. External stairs on the sides of the barracks led to the parapet. The well was in a corner of the parade ground.

In opposing corners are two tower houses which provided accommodation for the officers. The bakery was beneath one and the prison cell and guard room beneath the other.

A postern gate was added in 1743 to give access to the stable block. This was divided into two by an internal wall and had four entrances. A stair led to the hay loft and tack room.

It was a cold morning and the barracks are on an exposed site. It was time to head back to Kingussie to the Potting Shed Tea Room for a welcome cup of tea and an excellent choice of homemade cakes. Suitably fortified, it was time to head south and back home.


Ruthven Barracks


Historic Houses Association
Historic Scotland
National Trust for Scotland
Undiscovered Scotland

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