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A Highland Fortress

Created as the ultimate Highland stronghold by a wary British government, Fort George now offers fascinating insights into the past.


I first saw Fort George from a small boat when I was a teen-aged girl. Ignorant though I was, it seemed to me even then to be an awe-inspiring fortress, standing so proudly on the Ardersier promontory on the southern shore of the Moray Firth, frequently lashed by gales and stormy seas: imposing and invincible. I can remember thinking, huddled into my oilskins, struggling with tiller, ropes, sails and a mutinous crew, how glad I was that I had not come a couple of hundred years earlier in a hostile craft. Surely nothing larger than a walnut shell could have slipped past those formidable walls without being blasted out of the water. We didn't land on that occasion -- perhaps it was just as well. Tiny as our craft was, "they" might have been in the midst of a training exercise and decided to treat us as the outrider from an invading fleet -- the first ever to come in enmity -- and our only weapons were a marlin spike, a boat hook and a corkscrew.

Since that first wondrous sighting by sea, I have been into its enclave many, many times: for happy weddings and christenings and sad funerals in the church; for numerous visits to the memorable museum; for Beating the Retreat, with Pipes and Drums on the big lawn, called The Parade; for walking my dog around the ramparts while my husband has attended meetings inside. Always I have felt a lift of the heart to be privileged to go through the South Sally Port tunnel through the ramparts and see the whole layout of this magnificent edifice.

Open to the public, this is a place where your imagination can run riot. Today, modern regiments are based here so there is always a genuine military atmosphere, but in my mind I see those first alien troops, garrisoned far from home, possibly reluctant Redcoats, thoroughly unhappy at having to live in this wild, cruel environment, surrounded by savages who hated them and would happily skewer them on pikes if they had the chance. Walking through the huge complex of barrack buildings I hear the bugle calls and stamping feet; the shouted commands and the scents and smells of barrack life in the late 18th century.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2006 issue of Scottish Life.

Click to preview our feature article on the Isle of Sanda by John Darnton.

Photos: © Crown Copyright 2006, Historic Scotland