Explore this monumental fortification with us, one of the most outstanding in Europe
Many things come to mind when thinking of Scotland, like war and magnificent structures. Being Scotland, you would typically think of castles as they would usually be involved in those categories. We love our castles, architecture, and history, especially military history. Not a castle; however, Fort George is one of the most impressive locations we have been to. Fort George is the finest example of 18th-century military engineering anywhere in the British Isles; the scale is monumental. Because of this, it is one of the most outstanding fortifications in Europe.
Strategically located on a peninsula jutting into the Moray Firth, the army base was designed to evade capture. Fort George is not a structure to be messed with because of the sophisticated defense standards, with heavy guns covering every angle. Today, the Fort would cost nearly £1 billion to build and equip. The funny part is that the army base never fired a shot in anger and was virtually obsolete when it was completed.
Our visit to this impressive fortress was one of pure joy and excitement. It was a typically crisp and windy day in Scotland during May. The weather broke, and we had the welcome of the sun and even a lovely rainbow. The biggest treat: we were the only visitors on the entire Fort. Besides the few workers and military personnel there, we had it all to ourselves. Being void of people showed off the scale and beauty of this complex.
Where Is Fort George in Scotland?
Address: Near Ardersier, Inverness, IV2 7TDUK
Travel times from the major cities in Scotland are:
Inverness is 20 minutes away from Fort George
Edinburgh/Glasgow 3 hours and 15 minutes
Are you planning a trip to Scotland? Check out our Scotland Travel Guide for great tips and essential information.
The architecture of the Fort
Lieutenant-General William Skinner and the Adam family of architects built the Fort. Skinner was the designer and first governor of Fort George. Fort George took 22 years to complete; the Jacobite threat had subsided by then. But it has served the British Army for 250 years since.
The complex layout includes:
- massive bastions
- firing steps
The boundary walls and what they housed
- accommodation for a governor, officers, an artillery detachment, and a 1,600-strong infantry garrison
- more than 80 guns
- a magazine for 2,672 gunpowder barrels
- ordnance and provision stores
- a brewhouse
- a chapel
Defenses were heavily concentrated on the landward side of the peninsula as Jacobite assault was expected from this direction. Furthermore, long stretches of the rampart and smaller bastions protected the remaining seaward sides with little worry of a ship making it to shore.
The History of the Fort George
The first Fort George was built in 1727 in Inverness; it was a large fortress capable of housing 400 troops on a hill beside the River Ness on the site of (and incorporating portions of) the medieval castle that had been rebuilt as a citadel by Oliver Cromwell but later abandoned. During the 1745 rising, the Jacobites seized the Fort, which they had blown up in 1746 to prevent the Hanoverians from using it as a base.
The threat of the Jacobites
Between 1745–1746, the Jacobite Rising was the last attempt by the Stuart dynasty to regain the thrones of Scotland, England, and Wales from the Hanoverians. Fort George was intended to be the main garrison fortress in the Scottish Highlands and was named after George II. It was one of the ruthless measures by the government to suppress Jacobite ambitions after the nearby Battle of Culloden. In 1747, Colonel William Skinner, the King’s Military Engineer for North Britain, let a contract to rebuild the fortress at a new location.
Still an active army base
When the Jacobite threat was over, the Fort became a recruiting base and training camp for the rapidly expanding British Army in the late 1700s. Many Highland lads passed through Fort George’s gates to fight for the British Empire across the globe.
Between 1881 and 1964, the Fort served as the depot of the Seaforth Highlanders.
Is Fort George still in use?
Fort George is currently the home of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS). During our visit, we saw some young soldiers out and about the base. No formations or exercises were going on during our time at the fort.
An overview of what to see and do during your visit
What makes visiting Fort George exceptional is while it is still an active military base in use, the public is welcome.
- Walk around the main rampart, more than 1km in length, which encloses an area the size of five football pitches.
- Explore the Fort’s history in the Highlanders Museum, Scotland’s largest regimental museum outside Edinburgh (The Highlanders’ Museum at Fort George has limited access at the moment due to essential maintenance work.)
- Enter the grand magazine, designed to hold 2,672 gunpowder barrels and now home to a superb collection of weapons.
- Visit the historic barrack rooms to see a graphic recreation of soldiers’ living conditions in centuries gone by.
- Enjoy the peace of the garrison chapel, probably designed by Robert Adam.
- Don’t miss the dog cemetery – one of only two in Scotland – the resting place of regimental mascots and officers’ dogs.
- Look out from the ramparts for dolphins hunting and playing off the point
- Take their fun fact-finding quiz (also in Scots.)
- Tour through the Fort with our audio guide using your mobile phone with internet access – included in the ticket price.
- The view across the Moray Firth from the cannon platform is stunning. Keep an eye open for the resident dolphins. Bring along a pair of binoculars if you have them.
While in the area, check out these sites
- Cawdor Castle. 17-minute drive. 14th-century castle with expansive grounds that is supposedly the inspiration for the story of Macbeth. Visitors can enjoy a nine-hole golf course, a walled garden, and ‘the big wood’ – a remnant of an ancient Caledonian forest with several footpaths running through it.
- Inverness Castle. 26-minute drive. A red sandstone castle that overlooks the River Ness in the city center. The castle is not open to the public, but you can visit the grounds for photo opportunities of Inverness from the elevated hilltop position.
- Clava Cairns. 22-minute drive. It is one of the oldest historic sites in Britain. Clava Cairns is a prehistoric burial cairn around 4,000 years old. There are several standing stones and the remains of an ancient cemetery.
- Nairn Beach. 19-minute drive. A wide golden sand beach that is several miles in length. Nairn Beach opens up to a large estuary to the west, a haven for waterfowl. The area towards Nairn offers easy access to cafés and public toilets.
- Culloden Battlefield. 23-minute drive. The site of the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil was when British government soldiers brought the Jacobite uprising to a bloody finale. The centerpiece is a large memorial and markers for each clan that died in the battle. The site has a visitor center with a museum, a café, and a gift shop.
Things to Do in the Fort George Area
- Inverness is a city on Scotland’s northeast coast, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. It’s the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Its Old Town features 19th-century Inverness Cathedral, the mostly 18th-century Old High Church, and an indoor Victorian Market selling food, clothing, and crafts. The Contemporary Inverness Museum and Art Gallery trace local and Highland history. 20 min drive to the city center.
- Explore the famous Loch in an attempt to find the Loch Ness Monster. We don’t know if you will find it, but we know you will find endless natural beauty to photograph and stunning castles like the beautiful Urquhart Castle ruins. 30 min drive to the northern end.
- Closer to the East is a substantial distillery concentration. There is no better way to experience something authentically Scottish than to taste whisky. We enjoyed Glen Moray Distillery during our visit.
- Everything from Inverness to the West is the Highlands. Due to this, it is the largest local government area in the United Kingdom. These intense, rugged, and mountainous landscapes will have you exploring for days.
Check out our post on one of our favorite places in Scotland; Edinburgh Castle.
When To Visit Fort George
Like most of Scotland, it has a temperate maritime climate with cold and humid winters and mild summers. The annual average temperature is 48°F (9°C), and it rains throughout the year. In Scotland, you always need to plan for chilly temps and rain. Bring an umbrella or rain jacket. The area also can get quite windy. Snow is uncommon but possible.
Scotland doesn’t have extremes, so plan accordingly, and no time of year should be a deterrent.
Opening Hours and Entry Costs
1 April to 30 September
Daily 9:30 to 5:30 (Last entry 4:30)
1 October to 31 March
Daily, 10:00 to 4:00 (Last entry 3:00)
Average Length of Visit: 1.5 – 2 hours
All visitors must have a ticket
Adult: (aged 16-64) £10.00
Concession (aged 65+) £8.00
Child (aged 7-15) £6.00
Children must be accompanied by an adult aged 16+
Child Under 7 (aged 0-6) £0.00
Entry is free, but a ticket is required. Please add any Child Under 7 tickets to your booking.
Children must be accompanied by an adult aged 16
Family Ticket Packages are available
To book your tickets online, click here
There is a way to keep the cost down
Get the HES Explorer Pass
It’s a wee bit expensive if you’re not a Historic Environment Scotland member, but you can save money by joining before you visit. Membership of HES allows unlimited free entry to all their sites across Scotland, and there are a ton! To learn more about purchasing a HES Explorer pass, click here.
Visitors with disabilities are treated on an equal basis with all other visitors, and entry is charged at the appropriate admission category rate – Adult/Concession/Child. Proof of disability is not required.
For disabled visitors who need help visiting the sites, they offer free entry for accompanying carers. These can be added when making your booking. Please note this is limited to two carers per transaction.
Toilets, mobility scooters, a restaurant/cafe, a shop, and water bottle refills are available on-site.
Ear Defenders: A limited number of adult and children’s ear defenders are available at this site. Please ask a member of staff if you want to borrow them.
Dogs: Assistance dogs are permitted at all our sites and within roofed areas.
Visitors’ dogs are allowed at Fort George but not in roofed areas. Dogs must be kept on a lead and not left unattended at any time. Owners must pick up after their dogs.
Where to stay when visiting
The largest city nearest to Fort George is Inverness, and it would be an ideal location to stay to visit the whole area. This part of Scotland deserves at least one night. We spent one night in Inverness during our travels and wished we allowed for more.
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If you are in Scotland, especially northern Scotland, Fort George is one of those can’t-miss places. It is historical, massive, and beautiful. The setting alone is worth a visit. You can learn its history or just take a relaxing walk around the grounds. This place has a little something for everyone; nature, history, military, architecture, and more. We have no doubt when visiting one of the largest and most historic Forts in all of Europe; you will be impressed.
You may even be as lucky as we were and catch a rainbow.
© 2024 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved
Check out the official website for Fort George for more information.
Fort George Photo Gallery
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