Royal memories forged over the years at Balmoral

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·5-min read

Balmoral in the Highlands, one of the royals’ favourite places, held many memories for the Duke of Edinburgh.

Each summer, the Queen and Philip and various members of their family would head to the private castle on Royal Deeside for some down-time away from busy public life in London.

Even the coronavirus pandemic did not stop the couple’s annual retreat to Scotland, with the monarch and the duke managing to leave Windsor Castle in August 2020 to make the annual pilgrimage after months in lockdown.

The Queen was once said to never be happier than when she was at Balmoral, where the family spent their time riding, fishing or walking.

Silver wedding anniversary
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Balmoral to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary (PA)

It is her private home, handed down through generations of royals after being bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852.

Philip, too, loved the outdoor life that was synonymous with their annual break, which stretched from the end of July into October.

Princess Eugenie, the Queen and the duke’s granddaughter, once described Balmoral as the most beautiful place on earth.

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“Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time,” she said.

“It’s a lovely base for granny and grandpa, for us to come and see them up there; where you just have room to breathe and run.”

Years of royals memories were forged at Balmoral, including family barbecues, where Philip did the cooking and the Queen the washing-up.

The royal family
On the lawns at Balmoral, the Queen, Philip and Anne, Charles and baby Andrew (PA)

Friends and family were invited to join them throughout the summer months for walks and picnics and events such as the annual Ghillies Ball, hosted by the Queen in the castle ballroom.

At the sawmill
Charles and Anne play on a see-saw made from a log and a plank of wood with Philip and the Queen at a sawmill on the Balmoral estate (PA)

Each morning residents were woken by a lone piper playing below the Queen’s bedroom window.

The royal couple also attended the annual Highland Games, the Braemar Gathering, and were usually pictured in fits of laughter, watching the caber tossing and the tug of war.

Braemar Royal Highland Gathering
The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen and the Prince of Wales, at the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Prime ministers would also be invited to stay for the weekend, with Tony Blair’s wife Cherie once revealing that their youngest son Leo was conceived there.

She left her contraceptives behind out of worry they would be unpacked by royal servants.

After the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Elizabeth married in 1947, they spent part of their honeymoon at Birkhall, a grand hunting lodge on the Balmoral estate.

The Prince of Wales inherited Birkhall in 2002 from the Queen Mother.

Birkhall
Birkhall on the Queen’s Balmoral estate (PA)

Philip took an active role in managing the Balmoral estate.

He created a large vegetable garden adjoining Queen Mary’s flower garden, a flowered paved walk along the terrace on the north side of the castle, and a water garden to the south west.

He also started a plantation of oak along the bank, south of the cricket pitch.

The Queen and the duke
The Queen and Philip during a visit to a farm on the Balmoral estate (PA)

At the start of their summer break, the Queen and the duke used to stay for a week at the much more private Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroom guesthouse about a mile from the castle.

In July 2018, the year after Philip retired, it was reported that the Queen headed to Balmoral without the duke, then 97, while he spent a few extra weeks in the sanctuary of Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate.

The 50,000 acre Balmoral estate, with its breathtaking landscapes, is situated around 50 miles from Aberdeen.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built themselves the turreted grey stone castle by the River Dee and surrounded by fir-clad hills, lochs and grouse moors, after deciding the original building was too small.

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Balmoral was described by Victoria as “this dear paradise” and it was where she retreated after Albert’s death.

The glen and estate have been immortalised by heir to the throne Charles, known to love the misty landscape for watercolour painting, in his children’s book The Old Man Of Lochnagar.

Balmoral, like Sandringham, is a private residence of the Queen, rather than a royal residence belonging to the Crown.

The Balmoral sitting room
The Queen in her cosy Balmoral sitting room with David Cameron (Oxford Film and Television/PA)

The duke was also educated in Scotland as a teenager.

He went to Gordonstoun, near Elgin, Morayshire, in the Scottish Highlands.

It was set up by his mentor Dr Kurt Hahn.

Philip thrived at the school which placed an emphasis on outdoor activities.

He was a skilled sportsman and was made guardian, head boy, in his final term.

Balmoral is also where the Queen was staying with her grandchildren Princes William and Harry when their mother Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash in 1997.