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.