We have stayed in a lot of really cool places. But every now and again, we experience something that we know will stay with us forever. Fortland is a unique glamping experience within historic Fort Scammel, which is located on House Island. Only accessible by boat, it was an adventure from the start.
We knew the second we stepped foot onto the island, we had found something special. Fort Scammel played a significant role as one of the major fortifications of the Federal strategy to protect coastal cities leading up to the war of 1812. It was like stepping into the pages of a history book.
Andrew wants to be a war historian when he grows up, so when I heard of Fortland I knew I had to bring him. This was a surprise trip and the kids had no idea where we were staying. The only clue I gave them was that it was ‘war-y.’ Naturally, the boys came armed with swords and shields, ready to take on whatever was coming at them.
We parked at the boat dock in South Portland right by the adorable Bug Lighthouse. Fortland arranges all of this for you, so it is really easy. We jumped on a boat and were zipped across to the island. It was only a ten minute boat ride, but felt worlds away from the city.
We were greeted by the very friendly Fortland staff who gave us a lay of the land and showed us around the community kitchen, composting bathrooms and the way to our campsite. There is no running water or electricity on the island, which only adds to the feeling of adventure.
Fortland is a family-run business. The idea for a sustainable campground was born as the owners began to contemplate ways to steward and preserve Fort Scammel and the beautiful surrounding ecology while at the same time making the island more accessible to visitors. Their footprint is small. In fact, everything on the island can be packed up and removed.
The family also worked hard to keep the integrity of the fort. A perfect example of this is the use of the circular granite cannon foundations. Instead of removing them, they repurposed them. The circular structure of a yurt fit the blueprint perfectly. There are now three yurts and four tent cabins across the 16 acre campground.
Sleeping in a Yurt at Fortland
We stayed in the honeymoon yurt and when I saw our set up, it was mind blowing to say the least. We had a panoramic view looking out over the Casco Bay, yet the The earthen berns that surround the yurt provided complete privacy.
The yurt was impeccably furnished with a real bed, a bureau and table with chairs. The couch had a trundle that pulled out for extra sleeping space. There were even hardwood floors. We had a cooler with fresh drinking water and lanterns to light our way.
I could have easily spent the entire trip lounging in that yurt, but the kids were ready to explore. I gifted them headlamps for the trip and they were so handy. I highly recommend bringing a headlamp so you can be hands free.
We head down the dark tunnels into the civil war era bastion. A bastion is a structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of a fortification. They enabled soldiers inside the fort to keep an eye on enemy soldiers approaching them from a far distance.
These days, Fortland hosts candle light dinners and wedding receptions in this space. The open slits or windows through which guns and cannons were once aimed now offer visitors a glimpse of the sea.
While we were allowed to explore the west bastion on our own, we needed a guide to show us the maze-like east bastion. The design and architecture were so interesting. We walked down spiral stone staircases that brought back memories of the movie Labyrinth. I will forever have memories of my boys sword fighting through a real fort.
Soon enough it was time to prepare dinner. Fortland does not supply any food, so you have to pack in your own meals. We brought a Yeti cooler with food and ice and it kept perfectly. I wasn’t sure what to make my crew of picky eaters, but decided on a pasta dish with garlic bread.
We had our own designated area of the community kitchen. Fortland supplied our own picnic table, stove and bin of cooking utensils. Even the plates and cutlery were provided.
We fired up the grill and Lizzie helped me cook the whole meal. While we were working on dinner, the boys had fun playing games. Fortland has a variety of board games, art supplies and yard games such as corn hole.
After we ate, the staff had a big bon fire going and brought out s’more fixings. I had a s’more with a peanut butter cup and I can never go back.
James and I sat in the Adirondack chairs overlooking the cliffs beside our yurt. We had a glass of wine and watched the sunset filled with gratitude that we got to experience such an amazing place together. We could see four different lighthouses from our perch on the cliff.
We were lulled to sleep by the ocean. While we lay in bedding which rivaled that of a 5-star hotel, the thought never escaped my mind that we were lying where a 49,000 pound cannon once sat. A cannon that could shoot a 450 pound cannon ball four miles <insert head exploding emoji>!
In the morning, we wandered down to the community kitchen where there was hot coffee waiting. I brought strawberries and muffins for breakfast and set them up for the kiddos.
We had another morning of exploration ahead of us, but this time it was of the three private beaches on the island. Sea Glass Beach was the favorite, as it seemed to have more sea glass than sand! The kids left with pockets filled with treasure.
Lizzie was labeled a snail rights activist, walking ahead to make sure none of the little creatures were stepped on. We also went to the sand beach with a bag of army guys because it seemed fitting to set up a war scene at Fort Scammel.
Our time went by so quickly. I would highly recommend staying at least two nights so you can fully immerse yourself in the retreat that Fortland provides.
Fortland is open seasonally from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend for camping and event rentals. Check out their island take-overs. It would be an incredible location for a family reunion or gathering of friends. Andrew would like to return with friends and play man hunt all over the island.
In case you were wondering, no dogs are allowed at Fortland. House Island is a safe habitat for migratory birds and is a sensitive ecosystem.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Fortland. It is a special place that we will hold near to our hearts. The owners have done right by Forst Scammel, acting more as stewards than owners. It was refreshing to see a piece of land be given the respect it deserves.
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