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Fort Bullen, Gambia
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Fort Bullen is on the beach, at the estuary of the River Gambia, and the Atlantic Ocean, in the northwest periphery of Barra town, known as Barra Point, in the Lower Niumi District of the North Bank Region. It was built by the British in 1826 to thwart the efforts of some European slave traders. In the early 1970s it was declared a National Monument, and in 2003, along with the Six-Gun Battery in Banjul, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Bullen is basically an open rectangular courtyard, fenced in by low, thick walls of brick or laterite-block, cemented with seashell lime and patched up with concrete mortar. On each corner of the walls are circular bastions and embrasures. You can still see a WWII anti-aircraft gun emplacement in one of the bastions, while an improvised lighthouse is atop another, and various rusting cannons litter the beach, while a few are aimed across the river, empty. There is a dilapidated, stilted former government rest house outside the fortress, along with a few baobab trees and scrub.

The construction of Fort Bullen began in 1926, and most historians believe the present fort was completed around 1833 / 1834. Initially it was just a few mud huts around a couple of cannons, and a handful of soldiers.  It was built by the British with the specific aim of preventing the trade in slaves after the passing of the Abolition Act of 1807 made the slave trade illegal in the British Empire. The Six-Gun Battery in Banjul could not cover the 5 kilometre expanse of the River Gambia, and this allowed Portuguese and French slave traders, who were still trading with Albreda village, to slip through further north of the estuary, thus necessitating its construction by Commodore Charles Bullen.

Initially the rulers of Niumi were opposed to the building of the anti-slaving fort, due to their suspicion that its cannons could be fired against their stronghold in Essau. However, in 1823 Burungai Sonko, a troublesome Mandinka, became king, and in 1826 'HMS Maidstone', together with the steamship the 'HMS African', made an intimidating presence; the British governor suggested a yearly payment of 100 and Burungai finally relented, and agreed to the north bank's one mile wide strip of land, ('Ceded Mile') and Barra Point's fortification on behalf of George IV of England. Two cannons from Bathurst were installed to begin law enforcement. After 1870 Fort Bullen appears to have been abandoned, however during World War 2, the 1st Coast Battery took up their positions against a possible threat from Vichy-allied Senegal. They positioned a 12-pounder and a 4-inch Vickers and also used the place as a military observation platform.


 Bird Watching
Because the military structure is located on the river mouth and the Atlantic, with a marine delta to the north, it is a good spot for birdwatching, where you might see various migratory, and Palearctic bird species, such as Whimbrels, African Darters, Royal Terns, Oystercatchers, Sandpipers, Caspian Terns and Sanderlings.

 Jinack Island
At low-tide you can stroll from Barra Point across the nearby stream called the Niji Bolon, and onto Jinack Island, which has miles of unspoilt beach, and is part of the Niumi National Park. While here there are plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities as well as just relaxing on the 10 kilometre long strand.

The fortifications at Barra town can best be reached by boarding the Banjul to Barra ferry at the port terminal. Before you go do try and pick up a leaflet from the NCAC offices at the National Museum of Gambia on Independence Drive.

See also Banjul History

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[Geographical coordinates 13.4733 N, 16.5600 W / Lower Niumi District, North Bank Region]

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