Queen was ‘never happier’ than when at Balmoral

·3-min read
The Queen in the drawing room at Balmoral Castle (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)
The Queen in the drawing room at Balmoral Castle (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Scotland was a special place for the Queen over the decades, both for holidays and royal duties.

She spent part of her honeymoon at Birkhall on the rural Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire and the estate was her favoured residence in Scotland.

Queen Victoria described Balmoral as her “Heaven on Earth” when it was redeveloped in the 1850s and the Queen was said to be “never happier” than when spending her summer break at the north-east estate.

It has been the Scottish holiday home of the royal family since it was bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852 and has been handed down through generations.

The usual stay in August and September, stretching into October, traditionally included a visit to the nearby Braemar Gathering, where the Queen was Chieftain of the Highland Games event.

She also regularly visited Crathie Kirk during Balmoral stays and the small church memorably became a focus of the Scottish independence debate days before the 2014 poll when the Queen reportedly told people outside a Sunday service to “think very carefully about the future” before casting their vote.

Prime ministers and first ministers visited the Queen at Balmoral and stayed for short periods.

David Cameron once said there was not much “chillaxing” – chilling out and relaxing – at Balmoral, with the royals spending their time riding, fishing or walking.

The Queen spent so much time at Balmoral Castle that she perfected the Aberdeenshire accent, according to her cousin.

Margaret Rhodes told BBC Radio 4 the monarch was a “very, very good mimic” who could “do the Norfolk and Scottish – Aberdeenshire – accents beautifully”.

The Queen used to begin her annual holiday with a cruise around the Western Isles on the Royal Yacht Britannia before heading to Balmoral.

The tradition was set aside after the yacht was decommissioned in 1997 but in 2006 she chartered a luxury ship, the Hebridean Princess, to celebrate her 80th birthday with her family on a cruise around the Western Isles.

She repeated the experience in 2010.

The Queen also spent a week visiting regions around Scotland each summer during so-called “Royal Week” or Holyrood Week.

The week always began on the forecourt of Holyrood Palace with the Ceremony of the Keys when the Queen was welcomed into Edinburgh by the Lord Provost, who offered her the keys of the city.

During Royal Week, the Queen hosted an annual garden party, welcoming around 8,000 guests into the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

An investiture ceremony also took place during the week, which usually ran from the end of June to the beginning of July.

During her reign, the Queen visited almost every part of Scotland, launching ships and opening important developments such as the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

As head of the Commonwealth, she attended the Glasgow 2014 Games opening ceremony before she led the rest of her family in a series of visits to venues during the event.

One of her first official tasks on becoming Queen after the death of her father, King George VI, was to plant a cherry tree at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, the parish church for the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

After her coronation – the first to be televised live – crowds lined the streets of the Scottish capital as the Queen received the Honours of Scotland – the Scottish crown, sceptre and sword of state.

In 2015, the Queen and Philip marked the day she became the UK’s longest-reigning monarch with a steam train ride from Edinburgh for the opening of the new Borders Railway.

In 2022, the Queen appointed a new Prime Minister at Balmoral Castle rather than Buckingham Palace for the first time in her reign.

Her age and mobility problems led to outgoing Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson and incoming PM Liz Truss making the journey from London to see the monarch in the Highlands instead while she was on her summer break.