Fort George

Article and pictures by John Cartwright, all rights reserved.

Fort George is a bastioned'defence built on an isolated promontory jutting in to the Moray Firth, just a short bus ride from Inverness Town Centre.

The Fort is one of a chain of fortifications in and around the Great Glen, intended to subjugate the Highlands of Scotland. Surrounded on three sides by water, the Eastern defences were built to resist land attack.

Fort George was planned after the Jacobite Rising of 1745 to 1746 to provide a secure base for British forces in the event of another uprising in the Highlands of Scotland. Actual building started in June 1748 but work was not completed until 1769.

The first part built was the Eastern Land Defences and these are probably the most interesting part of the whole complex. By the time Fort George was completed peace had returned to the Highlands, so it never saw a shot fired in anger.

The Fort was intended for a garrison of 2,000 men and covers an area of approximately 40 acres. There is about one kilometre of ramparts, with the most elaborate defences facing towards the land side in the East.

The Fort has been continuously occupied by the British Army, and I believe that this accounts for the excellent state of preservation.

Despite the military presence in the fort, most of it is now fully open to the public. The Fort itself has undergone only minor modifications over the years and is a superb example of 18th Century Military Architecture.

I would suggest that Tilbury Fort is the only comparable fortification within the UK, although it is not as imposing or as complete as Fort George. Interestingly, Tilbury has a Jacobite link with Fort George.

In 1746, 268 Jacobite prisoners were transported from Inverness to Tilbury Fort, where they were held in the Main Magazine before being executed, died of sickness or were deported to the Caribbean as prison labour.

The basic design of Fort George is shown in the original plan above (image 1). The building in red is a fisherman’s home which was the only building on the site before construction began.

As can be seen from this original layout, the Eastern Defences incorporate two large bastions, with a large ravelin'and two lunettes. The entrance to the fort is over a bridge that goes from the glacis to the ravelin and then from the ravelin on to the main gate.

There is a guard house on the ravelin which is now used as the visitors centre and shop. This is where you can collect an audio tour and guide book. On the original plan the guard house is shown on the south side, but it was eventually built on the north side as shown on the later plan.

The 1769 plan above (image 2) shows Fort George as completed and nearly everything shown on it can still be seen today. The only major changes are that the place of arms covering the southern sally port has been largely removed to allow vehicle access to the parade ground and staff parking.

Entry to the fort is along the southern passage to the lunette and then onto the ravelin. The covered way'and glacis are all in a good state of repair, and the palisade has been partially reconstructed as shown in the photograph above.

The photograph above shows Prince of Wales Bastion with the Main Gate and wooden bridge in the right background. In the foreground are the covered way and the dams'and sluices used to control seawater in the moat.

The photograph to the right shows the eastern tip of the ravelin with its lookout post. In the right background one can see the Duke of Cumberland’s Bastion. On the covered way in the foreground it is possible to see three traverses and the corner of the northern lunette.

The traverses are in an excellent condition and clearly illustrate how the defenders would have tried to contain any breakthrough on to the covered way by an attacker.

The northern place of arms (which is shown in the image on the left) is in many ways a lunette with a fire step and slots for a palisade to be inserted. There is a covered way from the main trace.

Visiting Fort George

Today Fort George is operated by Historic Scotland (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk) but is still occupied by the British Military. This joint use of the site seems to work, with visitors able to use the staff canteen etc.

However, the use of the site by the Military does restrict access to some of the interior buildings.

However, one is able to walk all round the bastion trace, and explore the more elaborate defences on the east side without restriction. The Grand Arsenal is also open with a display on the fort's development and a collection of small arms and equipment from the 18th century.

The small garrison chapel is open to the public and one of the barracks has been furnished to reflect the occupants throughout the year. Also well worth a half-hour or so is the Regimental Museum of the Highlanders which is in the old officers' quarters.

You can drive to the Fort with ease if you have a car, with ample parking on site. There is also a bus from Inverness town centre, which stops off at the small Inverness Airport on the way. You can get good accommodation in the small village of Ardersier if you want to stay locally.

When planning you visit it is worthwhile keeping in mind two points, check the opening hours (which are seasonal) and prepare for rain.

Article and pictures by John Cartwright, all rights reserved.

Back to the "Fortresses" page