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    Balmoral Castle: A Royal Holiday

    8 min read

    Balmoral Castle: The Queen loves to spend her summer holidays in the beautiful countryside of Balmoral – whether that be riding horses or taking the wheel of her Range Rover.

    Balmoral has seen its history of Royalty – learn more below.

    Image Credit: Visit Scotland

    By Neil Irvine, Content Editor
    More by Neil

    A Royal Holiday

    Balmoral Castle

    Balmoral Castle – Photo Credit: Visit Scotland

    Balmoral Castle has long been of interest to visitors to Scotland. Many people will know it as the Queen’s holiday home in Scotland, and prior to that, the backdrop to Queen Victoria and Albert’s famous romance. Some may have seen it on screen recently on TV show the Crown, where Ardverikie House stands in for the Royal residence. Learn more about the castle and the Royal history that’s taken place here.

    Where is Balmoral?

    Balmoral Castle is located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire near the village of Crathie. It is situated within the stunning scenery of The Cairngorms National Park, which is the United Kingdom’s largest National Park. The castle is equal in distance from both the Victorian village of Ballater and the Aberdeenshire village of Braemar, approximately 50 miles to the West of Aberdeen.

    Balmoral Castle History

    Balmoral Castle has been around since the 15th century but it has seen many transformations throughout the centuries. These changes have shaped the building into the different entity we see in today’s modern age.

    The castle at Balmoral was originally built in 1390 by Sir William Drummond. It was later altered by Sir Robert Gordon after he acquired the lease for the castle in 1830. This is when the baronial extensions (where Renaissance elements were introduced into buildings) were added to the construction of the castle.

    Take a closer look at the clock face on Balmoral Castle. Click and drag left or right to look around this 360 view.

    Balmoral Royal Connections

    As with many things in life, Balmoral Castle became a home for royalty much by chance. In 1847, during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s third visit to Scotland, the royal couple’s trip was interrupted by heavy rainfall. This then led the Queen’s physician to recommend Deeside. It was recommended to the Royals because the physician’s opinion was that the weather in Deeside was more palatable.

    Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had fallen in love with Scotland through their previous trips. They thought that Deeside would be an incredible place to create their Scottish home. Soon after the death of Sir Robert Gordon in 1847, they managed to acquire the lease for Balmoral Castle and thus, began the journey towards living in their dream Scottish home at Balmoral.

    Interesting fact: On previous visits to Scotland Queen Victoria and Prince Albert occupied Blair Castle in the stunning area of Perthshire

    Blair Castle

    Blair Castle, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would stay in Scotland before the castle at Balmoral became their Scottish home.

    In 1852 the purchase of the Balmoral estate was completed by Prince Albert who had bought Balmoral as a gift for his wife, Queen Victoria. Despite being a dream location for Queen Victoria, the building was deemed to be too small to house the royal couple’s growing family. They needed extra staff and room for official visitors requiring to meet and stay on the premises.

    In 1856 a new castle building was finished and designed by William Smith (no, not the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!) an architect of Aberdeen City. The new castle is the very building we now know as Balmoral Castle. The old castle which was very close to the current castle was demolished around the time that the new building was completed.

    Later, after Balmoral Castle, had been completed Prince Albert had plans to build a number of properties among the castle grounds but he, unfortunately, died before work had begun. Queen Victoria decided to continue Albert’s plans by ensuring that several cottages were created in the vicinity of the Balmoral castle. A garden cottage was constructed and located in the garden for children, Karim Cottage for her Indian secretary and Baile na coille for her servant John Brown.

    Glas Allt Shiel lodge

    Glas Allt Shiel lodge in Glen Muick, Balmoral Estate. Queen Victoria and future generations had a stunning view of Loch Muick. Photo Credit: Visit Scotland

    Glas Allt Shiel lodge was constructed in 1868, after the death of Albert, beside Loch Muick on the Balmoral estate for Queen Victoria. It would become a place for her to escape from the outside world.

    If you find yourself wandering the grounds of Balmoral Castle then lookout for a statue depicting a Collie dog proudly guarding the grounds. The statue was placed in the memory of Queen Victoria’s faithful dog named ‘Nobel.’

    Balmoral Pyramid

    1861 was the year of Prince Albert’s death and soon after Queen Victoria had a number of monuments constructed around the Balmoral Castle grounds in his honour. Many cairns and statues were scattered throughout the Balmoral Castle gardens in memory of Prince Albert.

    Probably the most impressive monument build in Albert’s memory is the Balmoral Pyramid, also referred to as Prince Albert’s Cairn.

    Prince Albert’s Balmoral Pyramid is a magnificent cairn shaped like a pyramid and is surrounded by an array of lush green trees. In total there are 11 stone cairns that decorate the Balmoral Estate gardens commemorating members of the royal family. The majority of the cairns were constructed by Queen Victoria. Prince Albert’s Pyramid is the largest out of all the cairns in the area and stands high on a hill overlooking the forest.

    On the walk to Albert’s monument lookout for the all the other cairns which have been built to honour other members of the royal family.

    Royal Cairns

    Princess Helena's Cairn Read More

    Located on Craig Gowan, Helena’s Cairn was built to celebrate the marriage between Princess Helena (Queen Victoria’s third daughter) and Prince Christian.

    Princess Louise's Cairn Read More

    This cairn was also constructed to honour another marriage in the family. The structure was dedicated to the marriage of Princess Louise (the Duchess of Fife) and Marquess of Macduff in 1871.

    The Purchase Cairn Read More

    The Purchase Cairn was created to celebrate the purchase of Balmoral Castle and the estate by Prince Albert on the 11th of October 1852. According to the history books Queen Victoria was given the honour of laying the first stone while Prince Albert placed the second stone before their children and estate members placed more stones into position.

    Prince Leopold's Cairn Read More

    This monument was created to mark the marriage of Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany and Queen Victoria’s fourth son) and Princess Helena of Waldeck in 1882. The Cairn was actually bought by Queen Victoria in 1848 and remodelled by Prince Albert. Prince Leopold’s structure hosts a marvellous view of the majestic forest and directly overlooks the castle.

    Prince Arthur's Cairn Read More

    This cairn, overlooking Deeside, was created to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arthur (Duke of Connaught and Queen Victoria’s third son) and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia in 1870. This Cairn is surrounded by many lush Pine trees circling the monument – stand here for a few moments and gaze at the beautiful green hills that adorn the blue skies.

    Princess Alice's Cairn Read More

    Southwest of the castle stands Princess Alice’s Cairn which was created to commemorate the marriage between Princess Alice (Queen Victoria’s second daughter) and Prince Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1862. Prince Albert’s cairn can actually be reached from here after heading up a steep hill.

    Princess Alice’s story is a rather sad one as she experienced many a tragedy during her life. She died (1878) in her mid-thirties from Diphtheria after contracting the illness from kissing her son who was mourning the death of his sister. The date of her death was another cruel twist of fate as it was also the anniversary of the death of her father – 14th December.

    Princess Beatrice's Cairn Read More

    A path southeast from Prince Albert’s Pyramid Cairn leads to Princess Beatrice’s monument. As with many of the other cairn monuments this was built to celebrate a marriage in the family of royalty. In 1865 Princess Beatrice (Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter) and Prince Henry of Battenberg married and to honour the event this structure was created.

    Two Modern Cairns Read More

    It may surprise you that not all the cairns that decorate the Balmoral area are actually quite as old as they may seem. The majority of cairn monuments were built in the 1800s, but a couple of the cairns were actually constructed in the 21st century.

    In 2012, 7 miles from Balmoral, a cairn containing 60 stones was constructed in the village of Ballater to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Each stone represented one year of her reign.

    Diamond Jubilee Monument

    The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee monument at Balmoral Castle. Photo Credit: Visit Scotland.

    Later in August of 2012, another cairn was constructed, but this monument was situated closer to the historical cairns of Balmoral. This second 21st-century cairn shares the Balmoral estate with the older structures. The cairn was a gift to the Queen from her Scottish Warrant Holders along with current and past Balmoral employees.

    Remnants of a Carin Read More

    After the death of Queen Victoria’s servant, John Brown, she had a cairn built in his remembrance. After Prince Albert’s death, John Brown became a close friend to Queen Victoria.

    It is reported that a number of statues and private memorials were built and dedicated to John Brown, but they were ordered to be destroyed by Queen Victoria’s son Edward VII. It is said that Edward VII often resented Brown for the amount of influence he had on Queen Victoria. Although one statue did manage to avoid destruction, which was a life-size sculpture of John Brown.  Edward did not take kindly to the statue and it was moved to a less visible spot in the Balmoral gardens.

    There does seem to be some conflicting information on who actually moved the statue. Some report that the statue was moved by Edward because he was not able to destroy it, while other information suggests it was moved to hide it from Edward. Whatever the reason, thankfully this statue of John Brown survived and can still be viewed to this day at Balmoral.

    The Queen's Summer Home

    While you could say that the Queen treats Buckingham Palace as her office, and Windsor Castle as her home (where she can relax after a long day’s work), then the castle at Balmoral could be considered her holiday house.

    The Queen actually has a number of different holiday homes to choose from when she wants to rest from her busy schedule. As of 2019, she has the choice of visiting Wales at the Lywynywermod Estate, staying at the English country house of Sandringham in Norfolk or retreating to the Scottish Castle of Mey in Caithness.

    Castle of Mey

    An Overhead view – Castle of Mey in Caithness. Photo Credit: Visit Scotland

    Balmoral Estate has become somewhat of an annual tradition for the Queen and she tends to visit every summer for a holiday. As well as Balmoral Castle the Queen actually has another holiday property on the Balmoral Estate:

    Craigowan Lodge

    This lodge houses an impressive seven bedrooms. Craigowan Lodge is mainly used by the Queen and Prince Phillip for the first two weeks of their summer holiday while the castle at Balmoral is still open to the public. When the Queen has moved into the castle the lodge tends to be used for royal guests. In total there are around a staggering 150 buildings on the estate including Birkhill, which is used by Prince Charles, and 6 smaller buildings that are used as holiday cottages to let.

    The Queen’s Balmoral Adventures

    It has been said that Balmoral is the Queen’s favourite place in the world to visit and it is no wonder that she loves Balmoral. With acres of ground to explore in the stunning scenic area it is a chance for her to feel like an everyday person and an opportunity for her to unwind on the sort of holiday activities that everyone enjoys.

    The Queen, even in her 90s, enjoys exploring the Balmoral grounds on horseback, riding along the banks of river Dee, and, sometimes she likes to take the wheel of a vehicle with a little bit more horsepower – her trusty Range Rover. In public, you would normally see the Queen driven around by a chauffeur, but during her holiday at Balmoral, you can guarantee she will be battling the roads with her four-wheeled vehicle.

    Banks of River Dee

    The banks of River Dee. The Queen enjoys riding her horse alongside this River.

    As many dog owners will agree there is nothing quite like exploring the countryside with your loyal canine companion. The Queen is no different from other dog owners, as when she has the chance to explore the area by foot, then it is an opportunity to take her ‘many’ dogs for a good old fashioned ‘walk’. The Queen is famous for having a soft spot for ‘Corgi’ dogs, (she has owned as many as 30 Corgis during her reign) but it more recently she has been known to own a couple of ‘Dorgi’ dogs, which are apparently a crossbreed type of dog between a Dachshund and a Corgi.

    Red Squirrel

    Sadly Red Squirrels are declining, but the Balmoral area is one of the best places to find these delightful furry creatures. A squirrel cam has even been set up in the gardens of Balmoral castle where you can check on them 24 hours a day from wherever in the world you may be!

    Just like non-royal families, the royals enjoy taking advantage of the open fresh air and eating outside together, whether that be by having a picnic amongst the lively red squirrels that scurry the trees or hosting a barbeque party and grilling their own food!

    Visit Balmoral Castle on a Wilderness Scotland Holiday


    Meet the Author: Neil Irvine

    “Neil has enjoyed a stint in city life but that flirtation soon ended and he's returned to the Highlands of Scotland for the peace, tranquility and closeness to nature that he loves.”

    View profileMore by Neil

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