On Monday 10th August, Queen Elizabeth II arrived for her annual summer holiday at the Scottish retreat of Balmoral Castle. For the next two months, she will reside at this 50,000-acre estate in Aberdeenshire. Originally purchased in 1852 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the castle has been a treasured getaway for multiple generations of The Royal Family. Queen Victoria remarked in her diary that Balmoral was “my dear paradise in the Highlands.” Victoria would withdraw to Balmoral for long stretches during her widowhood after Prince Albert’s death, and the estate has been enjoyed by successive generations of monarchs ever since.
The current Queen has known Balmoral since her early life. She spent many a day as a small child here, playing in the outdoors and riding ponies. The Queen’s cousin, the Hon. Margaret Rhodes has said “we had blissfully happy times up in Scotland.” Birkhall [one of the small homes on the estate, where Prince Charles and Princess Diana honeymooned] was a very special place in the lives of all the family.”
In her adult life, The Queen continues to employ Balmoral as a well-deserved place of respite. Its remoteness affords a degree of privacy Her Majesty rarely experiences. She spends her days fly-fishing in the River Dee, golfing on her private course, strolling the grounds with her corgis, enjoying outdoor barbecues, and, of course, riding her beloved horses. Queen Victoria wrote of Balmoral that “all seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils.” The Queen follows suit and uses her time during the summer to rest, recharge her batteries, and prepare for the upcoming year of royal events and engagements.
Her Majesty is always on duty, even when she’s on holiday. Her private secretary (or one of his deputies) is always present to assist her with the red boxes. Her Ladies-in-Waiting are also there to receive honoured guests (including the Prime Minister and his wife), attend to correspondence, and assist The Queen with other aspects of her constitutional duties. Her time at Balmoral also includes her attendance at the annual Braemar Gathering, held on the first Saturday in September, the classic pipe-and-drum clad celebration of Scottish pride, athletic skill, and general revelry and merriment.
One of the most poignant portraits of The Queen at Balmoral was relayed by the Rt. Hon. Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada, whom The Queen invited to the estate shortly before she began her term as viceroy. Jean, who decided to bring her husband and daughter on the visit, steeled herself for a protocol-driven weekend of intense formality. She was pleasantly surprised when her car pulled up to Balmoral and she saw The Queen and Prince Philip standing at the door ready to welcome them personally. Prince Philip even pulled Jean’s daughter aside and asked if she wanted a Coca-Cola. When the 6-year-old responded she wasn’t permitted to drink fizzy drinks, Prince Philip responded “It’ll just be between you and me.”
Jean and her family were led to their rooms by The Queen herself, with Her Majesty even showing them how to use the newly-installed faucets in their bathtub. They dined at a cottage on the estate, to which The Queen drove them in her Range Rover. Prince Philip barbecued the meat, The Earl of Wessex cooked the appetizers, and The Queen prepared the salad dressing. That day was also Jean’s 48th birthday, which she hadn’t told The Queen. She was pleasantly surprised when, at the conclusion of the dinner, a cake bearing the words “21 Forever” appeared in her honour. Jean later remarked “it was probably the best birthday of my life.”
The Queen’s warm welcome to Jean and her family demonstrates the magic of holidaying with the Sovereign. Her warmth and generosity soar to new heights during these tranquil, unceremonious holidays. Balmoral Castle will forever remain a peaceful sanctuary where The Queen can kick back and relax and recuperate from the many trials of her very public life.