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The Bermuda Forts

By far the most impressive of the forts that were built in Bermuda is Fort St Catherine, near St George's where construction first began in 1614, with upgrades during the centuries since then. The small beach below the Fort is where Sir George Somers, his crew and passengers first landed in 1609. There is a great museum here to see too with tunnels, the massive walls of the Fort and battlements and close by there is the Martello Tower built in 1822-23 – one of a number of Martello towers built by the British in key strategic locations around the world when the British Empire was at its height. For example there is one built in the middle of Sydney Harbour in Australia – called Fort Denison – also known as 'Pinchgut' – a name given to it by convict prisoners due to the amount of rations they were given when held there.

The Martello Tower on Ferry Beach Road near St George's has 9 to 11 feet limestone walls. The circular ovoid shape of the tower was designed for a Cannon to be positioned on top of the tower and rotated 360 degrees as needed to fire directly at an enemy without obstruction. The Martello Tower is located inside a circular ditch channel (metres wide) with outside walls with the only access to the tower being by a small walkway across the Channel to the entrance to the tower. This made the Martello Tower virtually impregnable from any enemy that might try to conquer those inside.

The Martello Tower is also on this end of the Bermuda Walking Trail that follows along where the original Bermuda Rail line that was built and used between 1931 and 1948. It is a walkway trail that is about 18 miles (29km) long, and walking the trail is a great way to get a feel for nature on the island.

Great Head Battery is also located near St George's too on the eastern point of St David's Island overlooking the Narrows Channel. It was built in 1910 and it is located within a large park area.

Fort Hamilton – is located on Happy Valley Road in Hamilton off King Street on the hill overlooking Hamilton Port. First construction of the Fort began in 1868 and continued in the 1870's under the orders of the British Duke of Wellington, hoping to thwart any American attack should this occur. This was in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War (War of Independence). The cannons never fired a shot, and today the Fort, with its ramparts, underground tunnels, cannons and original Moat now form the structure for a great garden and grass area. During the months between November and May on Monday  afternoons the Bermuda Isles Bagpipe Band perform a "Skirling Ceremony" in full kilt regalia (like their ancestors in Scotland).

The Royal Dockyard was built by the British Royal Engineers in the 1860's on Ireland Island where the Kings Wharf and Heritage Wharf are both located and now used by Cruise Liners. The Royal Dockyard buildings have all been converted into retail space and here you will find lots of shops, restaurants, the Clocktower Shopping Mall and the Bermuda Arts Centre and Bermuda Craft Market. The Commissioner's House and National Museum of Bermuda (worth seeing for an insight into the days of slavery in Bermuda) are here too and there are also Ferries to take you across Great Sound to Hamilton. There are Visitor Centres in the Royal Dockyard area and also the Snorkel Park Beach is a short walk away too – where you can go snorkelling off the beach. Dolphin Quest (a marine park) is here too.

Fort Scaur is located in Fort Scaur Hill Park (and gardens) about 4 miles from the Royal Dockyard. The Fort was built in the 1860's just after the American Civil War by the British Navy forces. While the British claimed Neutrality during the Civil War, ships and 'blockade runners' based in Bermuda were seen to be shipping supplies and supporting the Confederate Southerners, running the risk of being captured by Northern United forces that were maintaining a blockade of southern ports. The Fort was built by the British Navy fearing reprisal attacks from the triumphant United Forces following the war. The Americans would ultimately land here but that was in World War II, when American Marines were stationed here.

The Fort surrounded by a moat (now a garden) has great views over Ely's Harbour and the waterways of Bermuda and is located at Sandys near the village of Somerset next to Somerset Road and Middle Road. You can get here by bus. Also in Somerset there is the tiny Somerset Drawbridge, built in 1620 where the drawbridge just opens wide enough for a mast of a sailing boat to pass through.

There are about eleven fortifications on different islands and locations in Bermuda – all designed and built by the British Army or British Navy when they were stationed here over the centuries. There are also small historic cemeteries too with graves dating back to the 1700's and 1800's with inscriptions that tell the story of those who died here in Bermuda due to Yellow Fever, accident or other causes. In the early days of settlement only those people of rank or stature in the community would be buried with a headstone. Almost all slaves and servants would be buried without a headstone and mostly with no records even of their existence, though if you head to St Peter's Church in St George's – located at 33 Duke of York Street, you will see one of the oldest Anglican Churches in the world, dating back to 1612, though most of the church was constructed in 1713. Here you will see a walled graveyard of African slaves who were buried here in their own cemetery, and if you go inside the church you will see the area of the church and the separate door that was used by slaves attending church.

Behind the church you will also be able to see a 500 year old Cedar tree – cedar being the timber that was used to make the boats used by Sir George Somers to make his way on to Jamestown and return in 1610. 

If you want to read more about the British Military and their forts in Bermuda – see www.bermuda-online.org/forts  Also in St George's look for the National Trust Museum – located at 32 Duke of York Street in the Globe Hotel building.

About 60 percent of Bermuda's permanent population today are of African heritage, and besides the National Museum records there are some other museums that offer an insight into African history here in Bermuda. In St George's, look for the Bermudian Heritage Museum on the corner of Duke of York Street and West Water Street. Also in St George's look for Tucker House at 5 Water Street and Barber's Alley, where the story of Joseph Hayne Rainey (1832-1887) is told. Rainey was of mixed French and African heritage, his parents buying the family's freedom from slavery in South Carolina, with Joseph and his wife moving to St George's where he worked as a Barber between 1862 and 1866, before returning to South Carolina and becoming a Republican member in the US House of Representatives.

In Hamilton at 105 Front Street, near the Ferry Terminal there is also a statue of Sally Bassett, a slave who claimed innocence but was burnt at the stake in 1730 accused of plotting to kill her masters by poisoning them.

In Warwick, look for the Cobbs Hill Methodist Church at 5 Moonlit Lane. The church which is still operating was built in the 'moonlight' by slaves in 1827, after they had finished their daily work for their masters.

Also in Warwick at 96 Middle Road there is Christ Church, a Presbyterian Church that dates back to its first construction in 1719. This church is has a small number of gravestones that date back to its early history.

There are many churches in Bermuda but perhaps one of the most interesting ones is the Gothic Unfinished Church in St George's on Government Hill Road. Grand archways and columns constructed in stone and towering stone walls with window openings but no windows were all built in 1874, but due to lack of funds at the time and other Church priorities, no further work was undertaken. The Unfinished Church takes on the feel of an ancient temple with a grass floor and a view to the heavens.

Getting around

Cruise Liners can dock at Hamilton (the main City), at the Royal Dockyard or in old St George – and all three locations are worth seeing. There are also the Marinas too at different locations on the islands.

Ferries take you across from the Royal Navy Dockyard to Hamilton – using Tokens or exact change. Ferries also travel to Warwick and some months also to St George.

There are tours you can take to see the main sights on the island, and also you can hire a moped/scooter (helmets required) but no rental cars. Cars drive on the left side – as in Britain. Taxis can also be hired to take you to your hotels or other destination or for tours too with a Meter reading, hour rate or day rate. Taxis marked with a Blue Flag can take you on tours. You can also catch buses – with fares based on the number of Zones (there are 14 Zones) that you travel through. Cash (coins) or tokens are used to pay the fares. Get these tokens from a Visitor Centre or buy a 1 day or up to 7 day Bus Pass. Bus stops can be recognized as either Blue Poles (outbound from Hamilton) or Red Poles (inbound to Hamilton). There are no trains on the island.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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