Posted by: christinelaennec | July 19, 2011

We’ve been to Balmoral to visit the Queen (sort of)

As you may know, Aberdeen is just down the road from the Queen’s summer residence, Balmoral Castle.  We had been there once before, about 17 years ago, and we thought we might go again.  This time we were accompanied by the teenage Dafter and her friend B.  It was a very fun day out to Royal Deeside.  (I always think of the man downstairs, in his 90s, proudly telling me he was from RRRRRRRRoyal Deeside, with the most rolled Scottish R I’d ever heard!)   This area gets its nickname from the fact that Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert fell in love with the Scottish Highlands, and built Balmoral Castle next to the River Dee in the 1850s.  The Royals have been coming here ever since.  In our younger days, pre-children, Michael and I used to go hillwalking on Deeside, and more than once we passed a trio of ultra posh cars, the Rolls Royce in the middle between the security men’s Land Rovers.  People out here tend to be (or pretend to be) very nonchalant about the Royals, either not wanting to embarrass them or not wanting to give any hint of ingratiation.

To get to the castle, you walk over a bridge crossing the River Dee:

Crossing the River Dee, in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

At the end of the bridge, you see the gatehouse next to the castle gates.  The Balmoral Estate includes some exquisite mixed forest, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come back to visit.  I’ve heard tell that whereas many of the forests in Scotland were cut down during World War II (for the war effort), the Royal Family’s forests at Balmoral were protected.  I don’t know if this story is true, but certainly you see beautiful old growth and a lot of Scots pines around the castle.

Crossing the bridge: towards the gatehouse of Balmoral Castle

From the gatehouse you get a lift from a tractor-trailer (with seat belts!) through the gates and down the long drive, to the castle.  The castle is only open between Easter and the end of July, because in August the Queen and her family come for their six-week summer holiday.

Balmoral Castle, the Queen's Highland Hame. 18 July 2011

The views from the Castle certainly are magnificent.  I can see why “wee Queenie,” as one (British) friend of mine refers to Her Majesty, likes to come here for a break:

View West from the front of Balmoral Castle.

You can’t walk through the Castle (except for the Ballroom, about which a bit more below), but there’s still a lot to see.  Michael and I were very interested in the enormous gardens:

One section of the extensive vegetable garden at Balmoral Castle. 18 July 2011.

The amount and variety of produce they were growing was amazing to us, as temperatures up here will still get pretty low at night.  Another visitor, a lady from Winnipeg, told me that their gardens at home were far more lush than these.  I didn’t say anything, but I’m sure that the summers in Winnipeg are a great deal warmer than ours here!  I think we’ve had about four days in Aberdeen that have been above 70 degrees so far this year.  Anyway – have a look at these cabbages!

The Queen's Cabbages

We presume that there must be very high deer fences further out from the castle, to protect all these lovely vegetables.

Near the garden is a “Summer Cottage,” which you can peer into and which has been furnished in Victorian style.  This was one of the few rooms that didn’t sport a commode:

Photo through the window of the Summer Cottage, Balmoral Castle. 18 July 2011.

The one room in the Castle that is open to the public – but photography is strictly forbidden! – is the Ballroom.  However, there is a photograph on the side of the tractor-trailer, so I snapped that to give you some idea:

The best photo I could get of the Ballroom at Balmoral Castle.

The Dafter and her friend were very taken by the oil portraits of younger members of Queen Victoria’s family, and they were literally oohing and aahing over the five ballgowns on display (on the right).  The gowns were from the 50s, 60s and 70s, worn by the Queen at various important functions, and were heavily embroidered and beaded.  I explained to the girls that when you have a gown designed for you – not that I would know, except for my own attempts at dressmaking – the designer can shape the dress to your exact size, and work quite a bit of magic in the process of lining and boning the understructure.  They paid attention to this insofar as they’d just been discussing the tyranny and inexactitude of clothes sizes in shops.

There was a short video playing, narrated by the Queen herself.  She spoke of how nice it is to come to Balmoral, where they stay for six weeks in a row.  The rest of the year she is moving about from place to place – though not such bad places, granted!  She said that whereas other people can change careers and try out different things, she always knows what she will be doing next month, next year, and forevermore.  She talked of how she has had to accept this.  She said she particularly remembered giving a medal to a young soldier.  She’d commented on how brave he’d been, and he’d dismissed that with “Oh no, it was just the training.”  She said it was the same in her job, it was a matter of training.  It was an interesting peek into a very unusual and strange life.  I would far rather be able to stay up late blogging if that’s what I feel like!



  1. What a wonderful commentary you’ve provided us with here, Christine. I’ve been to Scotland several times, but never to Balmoral. I honestly wouldn’t swap places with the Queen, though. A strange life, indeed.

  2. ah Balmoral .. some day I must go and see it. We made it as far as the gates one year but were frightened off by the prices to get in. Balmoral always makes me think of the Queen Mother, who I thought was rather great. Which in turn makes me think of the movie the King’s Speech, one of my personal favorites. Glad you had a good day for it and I appreciate the pictures.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful Balmoral tour Christine.I’m lucky to say I have visited Balmoral several times as Glamis Castle, (The Queen-Mum’s but I’m so sure you know that hahaha ).I love castles …

  4. It is obvious why ‘wee Queenie’ loves it there so much, truly magnificent!! I have wanted to visit Balmoral for a long time, it is the only residence of HRH I haven’t been to…maybe I’ll come and stay with you one day and then you and I can have a ‘wee’ trip together. 😉

    PS: I have a chaise longue very similar to the one in the cottage in my drawing room.

  5. I was pleased to read that you can only walk through the ballroom….I wouldn’t want anyone traipsing through my home while I wasn’t there. But I had to laugh at the way everyone is so nonchalant…here in the states many people would be waving and shouting and making fools of themselves if the president would drive by while they were on their walk. I would love to see this castle and its gardens…..just wonderful. thanks again for sharing….

  6. Christine this is another wonderful entry in your travel / Scotland journal. Youve included some really interesting facts and thoughts, eg the queen’s account of her career and I love how you labelled the cabbages!!!! Looks beautiful there. We would love to visit the csirngorms, didn’t quite get that far but ventured into the beautiful trossachs in jan. Scotland is amazing, love it!

  7. I love the pictures!
    A commode in every room but one! 🙂
    I’d love to venture a visit to Scotland one day. The scenery always looks so beautiful and green.
    Thank you for the virtual tour.
    Enjoy the rest of your week.

  8. Thank you, Christine, for the wonderful tour! The countryside is so lovely and the castle….sigh…I wish we had castles here! I love the peek inside the little cottage and the amazing gardens. You live in a beautiful area of the world. It’s so nice to get a glimpse with a very informative narration. xx

  9. Wonderful post! Past my bedtime but I’ve just been treated to a view of the Queen’s Balmoral Castle! How cool is that! I’ll come back in the morning with a cup of coffee for a closer look. Lovely photos. I hope to see this someday in person…

  10. Beautiful!

    I wonder if the movie The Queen was actually filmed at Balmoral? I remember stunning scenery that reminds me of your pics.

  11. Hi Kelly!

    A quick bit of research thanks to Mr. Google shows that The Queen was partly filmed at our very own Crathes Castle, not too many miles downriver from Balmoral. They also filmed at the Glenfeshie Estate in the Highlands, which is on the other side of the Cairngorm Mountains from Balmoral, and the same kind of landscape.

  12. Christine, thank you so much on the advice on planting poppies. I’ll try your planting them earlier next year. Oh, Balmoral is beautiful! What a veggie garden they have. Everything looks so yummy. Thanks for the tour!

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