Fort Augustus emerged as a major military base due to its position at the south-west end of Loch Ness near the intersection of key military roads. Kiliwhimen Barracks was built immediately after the 1715 Jacobite Rising but this was followed by a major fortress in 1729. Despite being a state of the art facility, it was captured by rebels in 1745.
The Great Glen
Northern Scotland is crossed from coast to coast by the Great Glen of Albyn which has for thousands of years served as a main line of communications through otherwise mountainous terrain. During the medieval era, significant military installations were built at either end with Inverlochy Castle (replaced with Fort William) in the south-west and Inverness Castle (later Fort George) in the north-east. Fort Augustus, which was originally called Kiliwhimen (derived from the inability of English soldiers to pronounce the Gaelic name, Cill Chuimein), was not the site of a medieval fortress as Loch Ness was dominated by Urquhart Castle further to the north. However, in the early eighteenth century, the Jacobite rebellions led to northern Scotland effectively being brought under military occupation.
The Jacobite Rebellions
On 5 November 1688, William of Orange landed an army at Brixham starting a popular uprising against the Catholic James VII (II of England) that resulted in his overthrow. Known as the Glorious Revolution William and his wife, Mary Stuart (daughter of James VII), were invited to become joint monarchs subject to constitutional limitations. Protestant England embraced the new rulers but reaction in Scotland to the new regime was mixed. Although the Scottish Government supported William and Mary, amongst both Protestant and Catholic circles there was reluctance to displace the Stuart dynasty which had ruled Scotland for over 300 years. Almost immediately the first Jacobite rebellion ignited (April 1689) led by John Graham, Viscount Dundee. Supported by Irish troops and Highland Clans, he had military success at the Battle of Killiecrankie but was killed during that engagement. A number of further battles were fought but the uprising was ultimately defused by the offer of a general amnesty to any clans who had participated provided they took an oath of allegiance. However, with the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Act of Union (1707) - which respectively barred Catholics from the throne and merged the English/Scottish Governments - the Highland Clans once again became disaffected. With the succession (in 1714) of the first of the Hanoverian monarchs, George I, discontent turned into rebellion in the form of the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
Known as ‘the fifteen’, the rebellion was swiftly dealt with but to prevent re-occurrence, as well as to enforce the new Disarming Act (1716) - which banned broadswords, muskets and other weapons of war being held by the Highland clans - the Government commissioned a number of infantry barracks with the intention of augmenting the main Governmental fortresses at Fort William, Fort George (formerly Inverness Castle) plus those at Edinburgh and Stirling castles. Due to its strategic position at the intersection of the new military roads between Fort William/Inverness and Ruthven/Glenelg, Kiliwhimen was chosen to host one of these new barracks.
Kiliwhimen Barracks was constructed in 1716 as one of four purpose built facilities. Although little remains today, the structure originally consisted of two three-storey barrack buildings each capable of accommodating 60 soldiers (each block had two rooms on each floor with 10 men in each). A defensive curtain wall enclosed a rectangular area and was provided with musket-loops for defensive purposes. Two angled bastions enabled covering fire and supported additional domestic functions. The site of the barracks is now occupied by the Lovat Hotel although a small portion of the curtain wall still survives.
The appointment of General George Wade as Commander in Chief of the army in North Britain in July 1724 led to a change in policy. Wade was unimpressed by the infantry barracks which he regarded as poorly located and too small. Furthermore he sought to improve military lines of communication through the Highlands with an extensive network of military roads to facilitate unrestricted movement. He constructed the Fort William to Kilwhimen road in 1726 and extended this to Inverness in 1727. Located at the heart of the troublesome Highland region, Kilwhimen was key to effective control of the area and in 1729 Wade commenced construction of a substantial fortification capable of holding up to 1,000 men in an emergency. At this time the settlement was renamed Fort Augustus after Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
The new fort was built on a different location to the barracks. Rather than occupying the high ground overlooking the settlement, it was built on a peninsula of land surrounded by Loch Ness and the Rivers Oich and Tarff. The fort was square in plan with angled bastions on each corner, all armed with twelve 6-pounder guns. A substantial earth bank, a glacis, was raised outside the fort to absorb the impact of any direct fire on the walls. A gap was left between the fort's ramparts and the glacis effectively creating a ditch which provided further defence. The original intent was to retain the infantry barracks and connect them with the new facility via a road defended by an earthwork bank. However, this plan was abandoned and the fort was fully fitted out with its own accommodation that routinely garrisoned 300 men. An armed Galley capable of holding 80 soldiers was moved onto Loch Ness to patrol the area and operated from a small harbour facility adjacent to the fort.
In July 1745 the final Jacobite rebellion started led by Prince Charles Stuart. Although Fort Augustus was not attacked in the opening months of the uprising, Wade's faith in the forts along the Great Glen proved to be flawed. The rebels made effective use of the military roads hastening their advance and, when they turned their attention to Fort Augustus, the facility proved vulnerable to attacks from the subsidiary glens. The attack came in March 1746 and after a two day siege the Jacobites targeted the gunpowder store. The subsequent explosion breached the defences and the garrison surrendered. Taken as prisoners to Inverness Castle, which had also been taken by the Jacobites, they were released after the Government victory at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746. The British army had re-occupied Fort Augustus by May 1746 and was subsequently used as one of the bases for depopulating the Highlands; the vengeful acts of the fort's namesake - the Duke of Cumberland - as he suppressed the rebellion.
There were no further Jacobite uprisings after 1746 and by the early-nineteenth century Fort Augustus was regarded as militarily redundant. The fort was disarmed and the garrison removed in 1818. The abandoned site was sold to Thomas Alexander, Lord Lovat in 1867 who leased it to Benedictine Monks in 1876. They built Fort Augustus Abbey on the site which remained in use until 1998. Thereafter the site was sold and converted into luxury apartments.
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Fort Augustus Fort has been partially demolished but one of four bastions of the 1729 fortress survives alongside the Abbey buildings that were built over the site. All have now been converted into private apartments and accordingly there is no internal access. One wall from the earlier barracks is visible in the grounds of the Lovat Hotel.
Fort Augustus Layout. The barracks were built in 1716 on the high ground overlooking the settlement. The military road was directly adjacent and then continued south-east before running on towards Inverness along the southern shores of Loch Ness (note the modern road runs along the northern side). The fort itself was built in 1729 following General Wade’s appointment and took the form of a square fortification with bastions on each corner. An earthwork glacis protected the walls from direct fire and created a ditch in front of the ramparts. A small harbour provided facilities for an 80-man galley used to patrol the 23 mile long Loch Ness.
Kiliwhimen Barracks. These barracks were constructed in 1716 as one of four purpose built facilities (the others were at Glenelg, Inversnaid and Ruthven). The facility originally consisted of two, three-storey barrack blocks enclosed by a curtain wall. A small segment survives behind the Lovat Hotel.
Fort Augustus Fort. Only one bastion of the fort survives and even that has been modified as the site was converted first to an Abbey and now to private apartments.
Fort Augustus. Work started on the fort in 1729 and this is when Kiliwhimen/Cill Chuimein was renamed Fort Augustus after Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
Military Occupation. Following the Jacobite rebellions northern Scotland effectively became subject to a military occupation. Three major facilities along the Great Glen - Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George - were the lynch-pin of the occupation whilst there were also smaller garrisons at other locations including Braemar, Corgarff, Glenelg and Ruthven. The facilities were linked by a series of military roads largely built by George Wade and William Caulfield.
Fort Augustus is found on the A82 just over 25 miles north-east of Fort William. Neither the fort nor barracks are sign-posted but are both easy to find. The fort is now private accommodation but there is normally public access as there is a restaurant in the grounds. The remains of the barracks can be seen from the A82 to the rear (west) of the Lovat Hotel. There is a pay and display car park nearby.
Fort Augustus Fort / Abbey