In the coming days Queen Elizabeth II is being expected at Balmoral Castle. Balmoral Castle is one of the two personal and private residences of the British Royal Family (the other being Sandringham). The castle is located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. While Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh is the official residence of the family in Scotland, Balmoral is their real Scottish home.
I remember my first and thus far only trip in July 2006. I took the bus from Aberdeen, which to nearby Ballater to spend the night and remember it still took about two hours to get there. The next day the trip to Balmoral was rather short. I had planned to travel on to Inverness later that day, and unfortunately therefore I didn’t have much more time than seeing the castle itself, the outer buildings and Crathie Kirk.
In the 14th century King Robert II of Scotland had a hunting lodge in the area, while in 1390 the first house on the side seems to have been built by Sir William Drummond. The original castle built on this site was built in the 15th century and was a tower house. In 1662 it became the possession of the Farquharson of Inverey family and by 1746 a house had been added. The house was passed to the Farquharson of Auchendryne family, and in 1798 James Duff, the 2nd Earl of Fife acquired Balmoral. That family leased it to Sir Robrt Gordon in 1830. He altered the building extensively and had a small castle in the Scottish Baronial Style built.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert discovered the place in 1847 when they visited the Highlands and rented Ardverikie. They were told by their physician Sir James Clark that the climate at Deeside was much healthier. The same year Sir Robert Gordon died and in February 1848 Prince Albert acquired the remaining part of the lease of Balmoral (27 years) from Lord Aberdeen. They hadn’t even seen the estate until they first visited in September 1848. They eventually bought the castle in 1852 for £32,000, and also bought Birkhall.
As the existing house was too small for their growing family and all the staff and visitors a new house was needed. The architect William Smith designed a new castle, and construction began in the Summer of 1853, about 91 metres northwest of the original building. The foundation stone – the castle is built of granite – was being laid by Victoria on 28 September 1853. The first time the family occupied the new house was in the autumn of 1855, when the building wasn’t fully finished yet. It was completed in 1856, after which the old castle was demolished. Albert himself was responsible for landscaping the area and had the main work completed by 1859. A new bridge across the River Dee was added in 1857. It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and linked Crathie and Balmoral.
The couple used to stay at Balmoral in the autumn. After Albert had died Victoria sometimes even spent more than four months a year at the estate, in the early summer and autumn. The last time she visited was in 1900, a few months before her death. Her descendants kept on visiting. Under King George V the castle was improved and the formal gardens were added. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip love to stay at Balmoral and are often joined by family members. Birkhall is now in use by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during their summer holidays. There are several other buildings on the estate. Craigowan Lodge is used to house important guests, or by the Queen when the castle is still open to the public upon her arrival.
The castle, or rather the garden, first opened its doors in 1931. They are nowadays open daily between April and late July, when Queen Elizabeth arrives. Only the ballroom can be viewed by the public.