“She says it’s the only place that she can really relax, enjoy her freedom and be herself away from prying eyes.
“She can clear her mind and have a think without being bothered by the niceties of court life,” says royal expert Ingrid Seward of the Cairngorms estate where Her Majesty has traditionally upped sticks to in the summer months.
“The Summer Court moves to Balmoral and the boxes of paperwork continue to be sent to the Queen,” explains Ingrid. “But she can sit at her desk, looking out at the mountains while she works.”
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The estate is the largest, and most remote, of the Queen’s homes.
There are 150 buildings scattered across the 50,000 acres, including Charles and Camilla’s Scottish home, Birkhall. It was gifted to the Prince by the Queen Mother – she famously called it “the big little house”.
Ingrid says the Queen often stays at Craigowan, a seven-bedroom home on the estate usually reserved for esteemed guests. Life there is more down-to-earth.
Prince Philip loved to throw a barbecue, serving drinks the strength of “true rocket fuel” according to ex-PM Tony Blair.
The Queen meanwhile would get busy with the dishes. “She loves to do the washing up with her rubber gloves on,” confirms Ingrid.
“There are endless picnics, too. When the staff have their night off, the royals trundle off in the Range Rover for a candlelit picnic dinner in the wooden hut built for Queen Victoria.
“The picnic is transported in Philip’s self-designed picnic carrier.”
Balmoral is far from an ancient dwelling and, although it’s called a castle, and looks like a castle, it’s technically a rather fancy Victorian house, built in 1856 after Queen Victoria had the original property demolished.
The seven-storey tower, the crow-stepped gables and the porte-couchére (the entry porch) were influenced by the look of defensive tower houses from medieval times, and the pepper-pot turrets are in Scottish baronial style.
Situated near the village of Crathie, where the Windsors attend church on Sundays, it was Victoria’s “dear paradise in the Highlands”.
She spent much of her year there after the death of Albert, growing close to her servant John Brown.
Albert had filled the castle with tartan and chintz fabrics, lining the walls with weapons, trophies and framed oil paintings of local landscape scenes, in true Highland castle style.
Carpets were plaid, chairs were covered in tartan upholstery and patterned wallpaper ruled. His study featured a green wallpaper covered in white blossoms. Very little has changed.
The famous gold flock wallpaper – featuring the Victoria Regina insignia with a Scottish thistle – in the entrance hallway remains.
There are still plaid carpets in the Queen’s study, chairs wearing box-pleated skirts, and thick floral curtains at grand bay windows.
But there are also modern additions – the electric heaters in front of the fireplace, flat screen TVs and a fluffy corgi teddy – it wouldn’t be the Queen’s home without one!
Balmoral estate is mostly rugged land, but some areas have been fancified.
Prince Albert had exotic conifers put in and parterres (formal gardens with symmetrical flower beds).
Queen Mary added a flower garden, and Prince Philip planted oak trees and created a vegetable garden, water garden and floral walkway.
This special collector’s edition of OK! looks inside the hidden tunnels at Buckingham Palace, the spectacular gardens at Highgrove, the Cambridges’ town and country retreats and the cosy Welsh bolthole loved by Charles and Camilla.
It explores exactly what it takes to run a royal household, with experts and former staff revealing how they prepare to host state dinners and celebrations.
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Queen Victoria’s contributions to the gardens were mostly in the form of memorials to Albert, including a cairn shaped as a pyramid and a statue of him with a dog and a gun on top of Craig Lurachain.
There’s also a statue of her beloved collie, Noble.
The grounds are inhabited by grouse, deer, Highland cattle and ponies.
But the cutest of animal residents are the red squirrels, who are stars of their very own squirrel cam on the official Balmoral website.
Prince Charles keeps nuts on his desk to feed them.
And Prince William goes so far as to say his father is “infatuated” with the squirrels, even letting them have the run of the house.
“I take enormous pleasure in having them around – and in! – the house,” says Charles.
“They’re such inquisitive and delightful characters. They’ve even been known to hunt down a few of their favourite nuts left out in an unguarded jacket pocket!”
Balmoral is also home to a colony of pipistrelle bats, nestling in the rafters of the ballroom where the Queen has held her annual Ghillies ball.
Content taken from Secrets Of The Royal Residences, a special Royal edition of OK! magazine on sale here for £4.99
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