Fort George

(image from www.cairngormmountain.co.uk)

During my second visit to Inverness a few weeks ago I took some time out to visit Fort George, a Georgian military fortress which is still used as an army barracks but which is also open to the public care of Historic Scotland, the Scottish equivalent of English Heritage.

The Fort was built just after the battle of Culloden, when the Government forces defeated “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s” army of Jacobin rebels, to replace the original Fort George in inverness. It formed the eastern end of the triad of forts built along the Great Glen to help keep control over the Highlands (Fort William and Fort Augustus being the other two). By the time it was finished in 1769 it was already a “white elephant” as the expected threat from the Highlands never materialised as the Scots settled into being part of the British Empire. So rather than being a bulwark against the savage Highland clans ended up being used as a garrison and training post for Scottish regiments. It’s still used for that purpose today.

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It would be a pretty grim place to be based. Miles away from anywhere, stuck out on a peninsula projecting out into the Moray Firth so that its surrounded on three sides by water. However, it’s a very interesting, completely intact18th century military structure, which, never having seen a shot fired in anger, is in excellent condition. It reminded me of the town walls of Berwick upon Tweed which we visited last year. Although the Berwick defences were originally Elizabethan, the same principles of construction and design were applied to the walls and fortifications of Fort George. The Fort was designed by William Skinner and the construction was supervised by William Adam, the father of the well known architects John and Robert Adam. The defences surrounding the garrison are typical of the period and consist of complex ramparts, massive bastions, ditches and firing steps.

To get into the Fort you first have to pass through a series of outworks before passing over a drawbridge, built over a deep ditch, overlooked by gun ports located in projecting bastions to both sides.

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Once through the main gate the garrison had the appearance of a model Georgian new town, only with the rows of buildings surrounding parade grounds rather than elegant squares. The larger houses, build for the officers, looked like typical grand Georgian town houses.

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One thing that fascinated me about the buildings was the unusual way the walls were constructed. They were build from irregular stone blocks with rows of smaller stones used to fill the gaps.

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During the visit I got talking with a couple of local Scout leaders, who were there to help supervise a gathering of Beavers being held at the fort. They told me that the stone used to construct the fort was recycled or “robbed” from the original Fort George in Inverness and from other local buildings. I think that explains this unusual style as rather than redress the stone to size (which would waste material and require addition stone) they used the original blocks, infilling with the smaller pieces.

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Like Berwick, the defensive walls of the fort were constructed of earth with a stone outer facing, the earth being better able to absorb the impact of any projectiles that hit the walls. It was possible to make a complete circuit, which gave good views over the garrison buildings and out over the Moray Firth, across to Inverness, the Black Isle and the mountains beyond.

There were a number of artillery pieces located around the walls, including cannon and mortars. None were originally from the fort but were typical examples of armaments that would have been used in the fort that had been brought in from elsewhere by Historic Scotland.

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The small chapel at the north end of the garrison was fairly simple in style, both in terms of its architecture and interior fittings and decoration.

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One interesting feature was the angel playing the bagpipes which formed one of the panels in one of the stain glass windows behind the altar.

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I ended up staying about 3 1/2 hours exploring the fort, much longer than I’d expected.