Fort George is awe inspiring. It's Scotland's most impressive military structure. With guns covering every approach and surrounded by thick walls it was designed to intimidate and impress. Fort George was built in the eighteenth century as a response to the Jacobite threat. It's about 8 miles from Nairn and you can spend the best part of a day exploring its 42 acres.
Get to Fort George by bike
Nairn is the nearest train station. From the station take the B9092 road to get to the fort. It's about 8 miles and the road is not busy.
I cycled to Fort George from Cawdor Castle. There's a guide to this route on my blog.
Entering the fort
You cross a wooden bridge over a moat.
When you are on the bridge have a good look. From here you get a great sense of the strength and power of the architecture. The walls look indestructible. This moat could be flooded with sea water to prevent an enemy getting inside.
Once you cross that bridge there is a gun battery. It's a first line of defence and there is a formidable array of cannons.
From here there is yet another bridge to take you further into the complex. This even has a little drawbridge as an extra defensive feature.
History of the fort
In 1745 the Jacobites destroyed the original Fort George in Inverness. The government decided to rebuild it on a spit of land at Ardresier. It was the biggest building project in Scotland at that time. Over 1000 soldiers and labourers helped to construct the fort. They built it to intimidate and impress. They wanted to send a clear message about who was in charge. The fort was never attacked.
Inside the walls of the fort there are handsome Georgian buildings that housed the barracks. These were designed by Robert Adam, one of Scotland's most renowned architects.
I was amazed by the scale of these buildings. There is row upon row of them. They are all so elegant, not what I pictured a barracks to look like. In fact, they look more like stately homes.
1600 infanty could be accommodated in the barracks. The rooms with the larger windows were for the officers and offered more light and superior interior features, like window shutters. For the regular soldiers Fort George was relative luxury- most would have been used to living in tents.
A soldier's life
A testimonial from a Private Macmullan in 1846 gives an idea of what life was like at Fort George. He got up at 5am and had to make his bed, which "was rather a troublesome job" and took 15 minutes. The day was filled with drills, with breaks for meals, but the meat and potatoes for dinner was "the most wretched quality". He got a little bit of spare time when he would go for a walk. However, soldiers were not allowed to go more than 1 mile from the garrison.
The defensive structures are fascinating and give a sense of how difficult it would have been for an enemy to attack Fort George.
The large number of canons on display shows the immense fire power that this place had. I was amazed by the canons on turntables, so that their positions could be changed to take aim at approaching ships.
Dog cemetery and chapel
Look out for the dog cemetery. There's a pyramid shaped headstone that was for a dog that was taken to Egypt with the regiment.
The chapel has a squat appearance and the tower looks like it has been cut down. It's not the prettiest church, but I assume the design is to make it more robust. I guess that a taller tower would make it easier for enemy ships to target it.
Inside the chapel the architecture is much more refined. I did not feel like I was in a military fort. It could easily be a church in a village or town.
On the upper galleries there are doors that mark the private seating areas for officers. Bold, white lettering on the doors state who can sit here. There is even an area for 'Officers Ladies".
One of the most distinctive features in the chapel is the stained glass window with a bagpipe playing angel.
Exploring Fort George is one of Scotland's top experiences. It is incredible to think that a historic military structure of this vast scale survives to this day. Pretty much everything is how it was in the eighteenth century. This makes it easy to let your mind drift into the world of a government soldier and imagine what life was like here.
If you enjoyed it as much as I did let me know in the comments.
There are many areas of Edinburgh where the urban design almost guarantees that car ownership will be the number one choice for people living there. I have been noticing this more and more as the planet grapples with the climate crisis. I think it is going to require an enormous change in design, planning and culture to reduce car dependency for such areas. I am going to take Spylaw Bank Road and the adjacent streets as an example of this situation.
This opinion is based on my observations and thoughts when walking these streets. I am assuming that:
Here's a map of the area.
And these are the reasons why I think it will be a challenge to get more people to use sustainable and active travel in this area.
Poor state of pavements does not encourage walking
Spylaw Bank Road has some pavements that are poorly maintained. They are gravel and not easy to walk on, particularly if you have a pram or wheelchair. Pavement parking can be common on these streets and that can force pedestrians to walk on the road.
Just where the gravel pavement finishes, around number 48 Spylaw Bank Road, there is no pavement at all! You have to walk on the road here. And there are always parked cars on this part of the road, so you are forced to walk further out onto the road and constantly be aware of any approaching traffic. Luckily it is a quiet road, so the risk is low, but if we want people to walk places they shouldn't have to share the space with moving vehicles.
The worst part of Splaw Bank Road for walking is the downhill section to Colinton Parish Church. There is no pavement, it is a narrow road and it has a blind corner. It feels unsafe to walk here because you are concerned about a vehicle suddenly approaching and not having enough time or space to get out the way.
The design of these streets does not encourage people to walk. The disregard for the maintenance of some of the pavements feels like someone has thought there was no point because everyone who lives here uses a car.
Limited access to safe cycling routes
Streets like Spylaw Bank Road do make for good cycling because the low traffic volume makes them safe. Most people on a bike could feel quite comfortable exploring these streets, but what if you want to use a bike to go from this area to somewhere else? The area is surrounded by main roads that have much higher volumes of traffic and they don't have much in the way of cycling infrastructure. For example, Colinton Road has no cycling infrastructure. Lanark Road does have some protected cycle lanes, but not the full length of the road.
You can get from here to the Water of Leith cycle path that leads to the Union Canal, but I've written previously about the inadequacies of the Union Canal as a cycle route for everyday journeys. You've also got to cycle that blind corner on Spylaw Bank Road to get to this route. It's also not realistic for many people to cycle back up that very steep hill to get home.
Distance to everyday amenities
If you want to get some basic groceries, like a pint of milk you could head to the Co-op on Bridge Road. Depending on where you live and how fast you can walk this can take no more than 15 minutes walking. However, it means you have the gravel pavements, no pavements and blind corners to contend with. You could go via the B701 to avoid walking this way, but this is a really unpleasant walk. Although there is a pavement you are walking alongside fast moving traffic. If you have children you probably wouldn't want to walk here.
If you need a supermarket then walking to a supermarket from here is unlikely as it will take around 30 minutes versus 5 to 10 minutes by car. Cycling to these supermarkets is possible, but the lack of cycling infrastructure to these stores will put off many people even contemplating this.
Inconvenient access to bus and rail services
A long time ago there used to be more stations in this area. Now the closest station to Spylaw Bank Road and the surrounding streets is Kingsknowe. Depending on where you live in this area and your walking speed it could take you up to 18 minutes to get to this station. The train can get you to Edinburgh Waverley in about 13 minutes, but its an inconvenient hourly service.
The 44 bus can get you to Princess Street in about 25 minutes. Depending on where you stay on Spylaw Bank Road or the surrounding streets it's probably a maximum of a 10 minute walk to get to the bus stop. That's a much more realistic prospect than relying on the train service, but if a resident of this area needs transport for an everyday journey like getting to the supermarket will the bus be their choice? If they own a car it means they can drive it straight into a parking space at the supermarket and not have to carry shopping bags for any great distance. The bus offers no such convenience.
Home ownership goes hand in hand with car ownership
On Spylaw Bank the average selling price of a house is around £1.2 million. The houses all appear to have driveways and space for cars. I assume that for most residents there is no financial barrier to car ownership. I don't think that people buy houses in areas like this and choose not to own a car. I might be wrong in these assumptions, but I walk this street and there are a lot of cars here. People who live in areas like this are perhaps more likely to be able to afford an electric vehicle. However, electric vehicles are not a sustainable solution.
Homes are often marketed for their convenient location to major roads and a place to store a vehicle for free (driveway, garage or free on-street parking). In this area, the closeness of the city bypass is used as a selling point for homes. It is assumed that the potential buyer of these homes owns a car. How many people buy a home in areas like this based on convenient access to sustainable and active travel options?
Civic leaders assuming electric vehicles are the answer
At COP26 in Glasgow it was clear that electric vehicles are seen as the solution to reducing transport's contribution to the climate crisis. That's why I assume that areas like this in Edinburgh will not see any changes. I think that civic leaders believe that the residents will eventually switch to electric vehicles. The pavements will not be fixed, there will be no new cycling infrastructure, there will be no new shops and other amenities that can be more easily reached by walking. There will not be any schemes to encourage less car ownership.
This is not the only part of Edinburgh like this
Travel down any residential street in Edinburgh and there are parked cars. Even on streets that have good pavements it is clear that car is the number one choice for everyday journeys. Oxgangs Farm Avenue, is an example of a residential street with good pavements. I use this street frequently and rarely see people walking on these pavements and it is rammed with parked cars. There's a supermarket at 2 minute walk from this street, but I wonder how many people will still use a car for that trip? A colleague told me that they lived a 2 minute walk away from a supermarket, but often used their car because they would have too much shopping to carry.
This blog illustrates the challenges of enabling active and sustainable travel in Edinburgh. If we want people to walk, cycle or take public transport for everyday journeys, like getting food shopping, there will need to be massive changes. Not only to infrastructure, but a total redesign of residential areas so that shops and services can easily be reached by short, safe, walking and cycling journeys. There also needs to be a massive shift away from a culture of car ownership and belief that electric vehicles are the answer to the climate crisis.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.