COTE DE TEXAS: Balmoral: Scotland’s Most Famous House

Balmoral: Scotland’s Most Famous House



The Scottish Highlands

After recently looking at so much of Scotland through the lens of the novel and the Starz series Outlander, I kept thinking of Balmoral, the Royal Estate in the Scottish Highlands.

Certainly the most famous house in Scotland, Balmoral,  unlike most of the Royals’ other residences like Buckingham Palace, is privately owned by the family.  Queen Elizabeth spends much of August through October in the Highlands, as did her mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother (Queen Victoria.)   For generations the Windsors have loved the cool, clean air of Balmoral which stands besides the River Dee on the vast Cairngorm National Park.

The history of the Royal Family and Scotland is a long one, going back to Victoria and Albert’s childhood when each read the books of Sir Walter Scott, a novelist who greatly romanticized the Highlands with his Waverely book series.



Ardverikie on Loch Loggan, where Victoria and Albert stayed in 1840s.

In the 1840s Victoria and Albert traveled to Scotland several times, once staying with friends at Ardverikie, a house borrowed from the Duke of Abercorn.   While there, Victoria’s physician suggested they next stay on the River Dee for its more restorative airs and better climate.

Balmoral is 600 miles from London and back then it was quite a trek to reach, first by boat and then by carriage.   The search for clean air was valid as London was a cholera infected cesspool, with the Thames overloaded with human waste.  By 1856, London was suffering from what was called The Great Stink, and surely Balmoral was a most welcome relief to the royal family.




Victoria commissioned this painting by Sir Edwin Landseer as a Christmas present for Prince Albert to commemorate an early visit to Scotland.  It shows Victoria and her son, the Prince of Wales, at Loch Lanner, with a gillie and a dead stag.

   Prince Albert took the doctor’s advice and leased Balmoral as it was located on the River Dee.  Balmoral has a long connection to Royalty.   In 1390, King Robert II of Scotland, the founder of the Stuart Dynasty, built a hunting lodge there.  Next, the Gordon family built a tower house on the property where they lived until the 17th century.  The land was leased back and forth between several families until Prince Albert acquired the lease from Lord Aberdeen in 1848.  He bought it outright in 1852 for 32,000 pounds, also purchasing Birkhall, and leasing Abergeldie Castle at the same time.



The original Balmoral, before any additions, shown on the River Dee.

Albert was later able to buy the estate after Victoria was bequeathed a sum of 500,000 pounds (today worth 50 million pounds) by John Neild, a miserly subject, totally unknown to her.     She reluctantly (sure!) accepted the money after no heirs of Neild’s could be found and then graciously (sure!) gave some of the money to his long suffering housekeeper.   At the time Victoria said she felt Neild gave her the money because he knew she would not “squander it.” 



The original Balmoral from the River Dee.

  Today, the estate costs 3 million pounds a year in upkeep and recently Prince Charles announced that when he ascends to the throne, he will turn over ownership of Balmoral to Scotland.   Charles and Camilla currently live in Birkhall, which they had updated by renowned interior designer Robert Kime, who also updated their London residence, Clarence House.    The couple are known as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay when they stay in Scotland.  



1850:  Prince Albert added on to the old Balmoral.  New rooms were built over the conservatory including a dressing-room for the Prince and a room for Princess Helena and her governess. New offices are seen on right.


Over the many years,  Balmoral had been added on to several times, but it was still much too small for the Royals who had nine children, many servants, and an endless parade of visitors.   In 1856 the old castle was demolished after the new one, which was designed by William Smith and the Prince himself, was erected.   Room was made to accommodate a total of 120 guests and staff!  

The architectural style is called Scots Baronial and it is quite regal and romantic at the same time with its large keep and the attached turreted country house.  Critics thought the castle looked like it belonged more in Albert’s German homeland than in Scotland.

Along with the new Balmoral, Albert erected several guest houses and buildings on the estate and he had a bridge built over the River Dee linking Balmoral to Crathie.   Additionally, he handled the interiors, created new tartans for Balmoral, and designed the uniforms for assorted staff, amongst other things.



So that  the family had a place to stay, the old house was kept standing while the new house was built.  Once it was completed, the centuries old Balmoral was razed.   Here you can see the old Balmoral in front and the new Balmoral being built behind it.  Beyond the new house is the River Dee.   The views of the rivers and mountains were taken into consideration when the new house was designed.  The Queen’s sitting room is on the second floor giving it the best views of the expansive estate. 



And here is the new Balmoral, after the old one was demolished.



Balmoral today with its distinctive clock tower.  Each side of the tower has its own clock.



The original plan – built around two center courts.  The ballroom can be seen on the right portion, where the kitchen court is.   Later, at the upper right by the kitchen court, the house was expanded.


Balmoral was built with granite from the estate,  its 80 ft turreted clock tower is the focal point.  Since the new estate was designed to look like the older one, critics considered it already outdated when completed. 



Red Deer Stags on Balmoral estate, a hunter’s paradise.

The 50,000 acre estate has been updated by each successive royal.   It’s a working farm where they raise the distinctive looking Highland cattle or Coos.  The estate is known for excellent fly fishing and shooting.



The adorable Highland Coos which are raised on Balmoral. 

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert loved Balmoral and everything Scottish.  Together,  they helped to revive Scotland nationalism, attending the Highland games at Braemar and decorating Balmoral with tartans, which were of course once banned by Victoria’s ancestors.  Victoria even considered herself a Jacobite although it was her own great-great uncle who was the “Butcher”  Cumberland who slaughtered untold Scots at Culloden!    In fact, one of the Stuart Jacobites even stayed at Balmoral after the Culloden massacre.  

Time spent at Balmoral consisted of hunting and fishing, Victoria herself walked four hours a day.   Since it is on the same latitude as Alaska, the sun doesn’t set until 10 pm during the summers, making for long days.   Albert was kept busy with shooting and improving the property up until his death.  Afterwards, Victoria added little except for monuments and statues in Albert’s memory.   She spent four months a year there, mostly in the company of John Brown, a local gillie and then later, with her Indian servant Karim, whom the new King immediately ordered home to India after her funeral.   Victoria’s last visit to Balmoral was in 1900, three months before her death.  

After her death, her son, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra continued to visit, as did their son, George V, who made many improvements to the estate, adding its formal gardens.   During WWII, the family did not visit at all.   The current Queen and her husband added more gardens, including a water garden.   Today, there are over 150 buildings on the estate, including several guest houses which are rented out.  The gardens, the carriage house, and the ballroom at Balmoral are open to the public.



Balmoral – the red mark in the Highlands of Scotland.



Balmoral – seen here on the River Dee which forms a U shape around the estate.



  The river Dee.



  Early Balmoral



Painted from across the Dee.





Balmoral in the spring.



And in the summer.   At the very left is the front entrance.



  The fall.  The royals visit from August to October.



And the winter.



A close look at the beautiful clock tower.



The view from another side.  Can you find the heater/ac unit in one window?



At the very left of the castle is the front door which is actually a porte cochere with wood garage doors that open on both sides.



The courtyard with the fountain.



The ballroom is at the very left. 



The grand staircase.



The back of the house near the kitchen court.  Later, on each side, two story extensions were added to the house.



Another view of Balmoral which looks straight onto the public and private rooms.   Usually pictures of Balmoral are taken from the front and this side is rarely ever photographed.   Prince Albert placed the house on this spot so that the Queen could look out of her second floor study and see the best view. 


On Visitor Day – you can see the scale of the house.  This is the public rooms and the Queen’s private rooms above.  The sunken garden is off this side.


The lawn, past the sunken garden that leads down to the River Dee.



This is the ONLY picture I could find of the view from the inside!  The vista goes all the way down to the River Dee and is at its best advantage here, from the Queen’s second floor sitting room.



The entry opens to let in cars or carriages in Victoria’s time. 



The summer ivy.


The Families:    


A painting shows Victoria looking over the stags the Albert proudly shot.



Queen Victoria with her grandson, the doomed heir - Prince Albert Victor, her grandaughter the future Tsarina of Russia - Princess Alix, her daughter, Princess Beatrice and her granddaughter Princess Irene, pose along with her pug Bosco in 1887.

After Prince Albert died of typhus in 1861, Victoria only wore widow weeds black until her death in 1901.




Queen Victoria’s daughters - Victoria, Princess Royal, later Queen of Prussia and mother of Wilhelm II and Princess Alice, mother of the Alix, the Empress of Russia at Balmoral, 1856.

Her nine children married into almost every European royal family making Queen Victoria called The Mother of Europe.  It is amazing when you realize how many Queens and Kings she produced through her children and grandchildren.

Kings of England, Prussia, German Emperor, Tsarina of Russia, Queens of Spain, Greece, Norway, Denmark and Romania



1896, just four years before her death, Queen Victoria with Tsar Nicholas II, her granddaughters Princess Louise of Wales, The Tsarina Princess Alix, and her Daughter in Law Princess Louise of Prussia with her daughters - Princess Margaret of Connaught, later Crown Princess of Sweden, and Princess Patricia of Connaught, who is in foreground seated on the pony carriage step holding a dog. 




A donkey drawn carriage!



Today, all of the Queen’s carriages are on display for visitors.



1896.  The last Tsar of Russia and his wife who was Queen Victoria’s granddaughter arrive at Balmoral with grand fanfare.  Driving with them is the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Connaught,  two of Victoria’s sons.   The Queen is seen waiting in the doorway.  Another painting depicts them departing Balmoral.  

Later, in 1917, the Tsar, his wife, and their five children were all shot to death during the Russian revolution. 



  After Albert’s death, the building and renovations at Balmoral came to a halt.  Queen Victoria mostly built only statues and memorials for Albert, like this cairn.  uh, what’s a cairn?  



In her widow weeds, along with her constant companion the gillie John Brown.




And here, in his Scottish finery, with his tartan around his shoulder like Jamie from the Outlander!  Brown was Victoria’s companion for years until he died.  She built him a house on Balmoral and erected statues in his memory.  She was even buried with his picture in her hand, although it was hidden from view to avoid the scandal.  After her death, the King took down most of the statues, except for one, which he moved to a more secluded spot.



After John Brown died, Victoria made an even closer friend of her Indian servant Karim.  She was extremely dependent on him and also built him a house on Balmoral which is now one of the guest houses for rent.  He was not a servant for long, he actually had his own servants!  Google Abdul Karim to read about their friendship which he detailed in his recently rediscovered diary. 




After Victoria’s death – her son, King Edward VII, at Balmoral, wearing the traditional kilt.  1908.



And here Edward VII with his grandchildren.  The King was not like his mother and didn’t care much for Balmoral.  His life was spent with a series of mistresses (55 in all!) including his favorite, Alice Keppel, the great grandmother of Prince Charles’ wife Camilla! 



The next generation:  King George V and Queen Mary and their six children:  Princess Mary, Prince John, Prince Henry, Prince George, later the King Edward VIII, and Prince Albert, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s father. 




Three Queens:  Mary, Elizabeth and Elizabeth




King Edward VIII brought Wallis Simpson to Balmoral – only once.




The next generation:  King George VI with his with Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mum,  Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth with Prince Philip and Prince Charles and Princess Anne.  I love those carriages!



General Eisenhower was a guest of King George VI.


And finally, the current Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip and Charles and Anne.



Every Prime Minister is invited to Balmoral.  Elizabeth’s first PM was Churchill shown here with his wife and a big piece of driftwood that he joked was going to kill the Loch Ness monster.  When seeing the home movie of this,  Prince Charles remarked on Churchill’s decidedly unScottish-like hat!



The Queen fly fishing – in the woodie.  Charles said this car used to creak, actually being made all of wood.



The younger generation – Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.



“ She’s just like us!”   The Queen’s Lady in Waiting wrote a book showing the Queen as an every day woman.  The Lady in Waiting just happened to be her first cousin – their mothers are sisters – she is her Bowes-Lyon cousin Margaret Rhode.



Yes, she is just like everyone’s great grandmother, peering over the Range Rover’s steering wheel wearing a hoodie with bobby pins.  I’ll wager she actually has curls on under that hoodie.




The new generation:  Prince Charles on his honeymoon with Diana.  Diana, it was rumored, loathed Balmoral, although that might not have been true.  There are varying accounts told.  



And today.   The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, as they are known in Scotland.  Charles will never move into Balmoral since this great estate will become property of Scotland during his reign.   He and Camilla will continue to live in nearby Birkhall and I assume that William will one day live there when he is King.

It’s sad to imagine these are the last few years of the royal family at Balmoral!  Since the 1850s, the Royal Family has lived at Balmoral, coming every late summer, except for a few years during WWII.   While Birkhall is technically on the same estate, the days of the Royals living in the house that their great-great-great-grandparents – Queen Victoria and King Albert built are numbered!


The Braemar Highlands Games


Each year, the Royals attend the Highland games at Braemar, which are said to be deadly, deadly boring, but you wouldn’t know it from the royals.  Here in 1932 the then Duke and Duchess of York with Princess Elizabeth.  At this time, since the Duke was the second son, he was not meant to be King.  His brother changed all that when he fell in love with the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson.



Here in 1954, now the Queen with her mother and their bouquets of heather.



Princess Diana  - not too happy at the games.



But nobody was ever as bored as Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Cherie hated Balmoral but had to go each year while Tony was in office.  She is an avowed anti-royalist and refused to bow to the Queen, much to Prince Phillip’s ire.  She finally relented and agreed to bow in public only, never in private.  In her autobiography, she wrote that on her first visit to the Scottish home, she was humiliated when she reached her guest room to discover that all her bags had been unpacked, including her ancient toiletry bag, along with her “contraceptive equipment.”  The next year, she wrote, she left her contraceptives at home.  Because Balmoral is always so freezing – and Tony was so warm – (hey!!!  SHE wrote this, not  me!) – Cherie was shocked to later discover she was pregnant at age 45 from her Balmoral holiday!

When her book was released, all the gossip papers were asking – exactly what IS “contraceptive equipment?”



Contrary to the “boring games” - the Queen and Prince Charles seem to love them and each year they are caught laughing uproariously at the events.



I mean, honestly!  What IS so funny?  She cracks me up!!!!



And again, belly laughs.  I just noticed Charles is wearing the same exact outfit each year!  Down to the tie even.



What is so funny??  Apparently, this event cracks them up each year.  Yes, I kid you not.



Maybe Diana had the right idea, after all?



The Queen of Scots.  

The Queen was supposed to wear Scotland’s crown jewels for this official portrait, but they can only be removed from Edinburgh by the Duke of Hamilton, who wasn’t available.    Instead, the Queen wore the emerald-covered Vladimir Tiara, once owned by the aunt of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II, which was smuggled out of Russia during the Revolution.



Queen Victoria loved the cold, but her guests complained bitterly about it, especially since she kept the windows flung wide open.  There was talk of frostbit feet because the fires were rarely stoked and, this was during the summer months!   

Other visitors complained about the Victorian schedule:  “It is the funniest life conceivable.  Like a convent. We meet at meals, breakfast at 9.45, lunch 2, dinner 9 and when we have finished each is off to his cell.”   The guest rooms were notoriously tiny and everyone criticized them, especially the politicians who said there wasn’t even room for a desk so they could work.



Here, you can see the scale of the castle against the visitors walking.



Again - the original floor plan.  The public rooms are at the very left – the entry, library, drawing room and billiard room, then dining room.  Above on the second floor, the Queen’s study is right above the drawing room and is the same exact size. 



The public room side of the castle that is rarely photographed.  In front is a sunken garden.  On the first floor, from right is the entry, the library, the drawing room, the billiard room and around the corner is the dining room.  On the second floor is, from the right, the Queen’s dressing room, her bedroom, her sitting room, and finally, the King’s sitting room.




The Entry Hall:


I apologize because some of the photographs are very old and are in terrible condition.  Here is the entry hall, which is my favorite space.  It is decorated with a black and white stone floor in a wonderful star pattern.  There is a large fireplace and the walls are decorated with stags that Albert himself shot.



Here is a painting depicting the arrival of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.  The Tsarina is Victoria’s granddaughter.  The painter reversed the floor pattern since the stars are black, not white.



Here the Queen feeds her Corgi dogs.  At the right is the grand fireplace.  The walls are block paneled.  Not seen is a rack on the right by the door that holds dozens of afghans.



And here, the corgis are cleaned by the guards.  The queen used to have a pack of around five to seven corgis at all time.   Now she has two corgis and mostly dorgis – a mix of dachshunds and corgis.    I sometimes feel guilty for the mess my dogs make, then I think – if it’s good enough for the Queen of England….!!!



A close look at the ceiling and paneling in the entry hall.  The wood in this house is all the same – from the furniture to the molding to the doors.  It’s all this color.  And it’s either maple or ash or birch.  All three woods were referenced in books.



The entry hall leads to the gallery, or main hall.  The grand staircase is at the right.  On the left are all the public rooms with the dining room at the end of the hall on the right.   In 1858, Queen Victoria paid 129 pounds for 11 watercolours of the Balmoral interiors. 



And the landing.  The Queen’s sitting room is to the right.  Originally there was a faux marble wallcovering and the iron was bronzed.



Today, there are few changes almost 165 years later.  The iron is now white and the wallpaper is white and gold with a crown motif.  The bookcase is now filled up with books, collected over all the long years.




Looking down the hall, all the light fixtures have been changed too.



A large oil is now hanging in the stairs.



I assume the marble statue is of Prince Albert commissioned by Victoria after his death. 



Prince Charles walks down the main hall.  You can see the large oil of Queen Victoria at the right.  

Ahhh – to redecorate!   Plain white walls, stone floors – highly edited, just simple without the red rugs and gold paper.



A view of the main hall on the second level.



The dining room in 1850s.  Green walls and red curtains and table cloth.   The red leather chairs are still being used in here!



Now the room has white striped paper and  the Balmoral tartan curtains, which looks so much better than the green paper.  There is a now an oil painting hanging.



And here, on the opposite end is a beautiful oil of Victoria.  After all, this is her home.  Most of the wood furniture was commissioned by the Prince.


The Drawing Room:


The main drawing room once had blue and gold paper, red Royal Stuart tartan carpet and tartan covered furniture and Balmoral tartan curtains.   The Green Stuart tartan is also used.   The Billiard Room is through the door.  The hardware is silver throughout the castle.  The original decorator was Holland who worked closely with Albert.  Notice all the matching furniture with matching marble and bronze candelabra placed around the room. 

When heating was installed in the house, Prince Albert was afraid the heated air would harm oil paintings so he insisted only prints by Landseer be hung.  Later this rule was relaxed as you can see by all the oils that are now hanging.



Here is a photograph from 1860s.  Not much change.



And the view towards the other side looking into the Library.



Here, Queen Victoria poses in the Drawing Room with her daughters Princesses Louise and Alice in 1863.  Victoria would often pose with portraits of Albert so it would seem as if he was there.




The Christening of Victoria’s granddaughter Victoria Eugenie in 1887 in the Drawing Room.



Hmmm.   Today.  OK, the blue/gold paper is long gone – now it’s a white stripe throughout the first floor public rooms.   All the tartan is now gone, replaced with green.  This was probably redecorated in 1950s when Queen Elizabeth inherited the crown. 

How to redecorate?  I would probably strip and distress the wood.  Call Segreto, of course.  Put wood floor down – stone in the hall  Layer seagrass and Oriental rugs.  Edit, edit.  It just needs all new furniture.  Slips can’t even save this.  The profiles are so low.  It needs a variation of heights.  Disaster. 



Green on green.  I love all the oils, I would definitely keep those, of course!  haha!  I am talking as if this was my home.



The flowers!!   In this picture you can see the paper that now is in all the rooms downstairs.  Not so terrible.



Aw.  Three generations, actually four. 



Recently.  A tartan covers the piano and the chairs.   That’s a nice antique table.  Kind of.  Antiques Roadshow is coming to Balmoral this July and I can’t wait!  They will probably concentrate on the art work.



Recently, in this view you can see the beautiful marble fireplace. 



And most recently.  Here you can see the prints against the wall.




In the 1850s, the library had the same wallpaper as the drawing room.  It was filled with leather furniture that is still in the room, although the tartan fabric is now gone.



The library now.



Tartan curtains.



And here, Prince Charles looks at old home movies for a special about “My ma-ma” as he calls her.  You can see it’s the same red leather chair from the 1850s.  Wow.



Prince Charles has quite a funny bone.  He cracked himself up watching old home movies of them rolling on the lawn and pushing toy cars.  Yawn.



Here, the page takes the official red box down the back corridor where the dining room is.  The runner is the same carpet as in the dinning room.



The Queen’s Sitting Room:


It took me forever to figure out that the two floors were identical – that the Drawing Room was the same size as the Sitting Room.  After many days, I realized the only way I could tell the difference between the rooms were the mantels.   In this room, it was decorated in the 1850s with a chintz and thistle pattern, which is STILL being used 165 years later!!  Tartan carpet and a pretty roundabout mixes with a set of Ash furniture. 




Over the years, this room became very cluttered.  Prince Albert portraits ensure his presence is felt.  Originally two ash desks were placed in the center of the room, later one was moved to the bay window.   This room was designed for the Queen to have the best view, on the second floor, overlooking the estate.



Later, an electric light was installed.  This must be after Queen Victoria passed because the portrait was removed.



Today.   Not much has changed.  Not even sure the carpet has been replaced!  Hopefully it was, and those are new slips – with just an identical fabric.  But maybe not.  It looks very faded.



1972.   One of the desks now sits in the window, which makes good sense. 



Another view of the birch/ash/maple wood.  I’m not sure exactly what wood it all is – it’s been described as all three.



Recently – the Queen opened her sitting room to the cameras when both the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and PM David Cameron came to visit.  The round table is filled with all the papers and gossip magazines – like Hello! and Majesty!  The Majesty magazine is a huge shock.    There’s a grand piano in this room, just as there is one below in the Drawing Room.



Here – you can see she has a cheap space heater in the fireplace which has a thistle  design.  Glad she kept her handbag close to her.  The Prime Minister might want to steal some money from her!



Yes, everyone carries their purse around in the their own house!   And yes, she is just like everyone’s great grandmother.  Exactly! 



Everyone got a kick out of these pictures being publicized.  This newspaper made a note of every humorous item.



This shows the scale of the height of the room.  You can see the two desks here, in the window and in the middle of the room.  Is that a TV???? 



The video camera caught this shot – of the upper hallway overlooking the stairs.  I just want to wipe all these surfaces clean.  You know all this junk are presents from family who have no clue what to the buy the Queen of England.  “I know!  A mug!”



Here, a shot from the movie “The Queen” showing Helen Mirren reading the papers after Diana’s death.  After seeing all those papers and magazines in her sitting room, this rings so true.  In fact, this movie seems more true to life after seeing these pictures.  The movie was filmed in another country house in Scotland.  Great movie if you have never seen it!



And of course she dragged the PM and his wife to the Braemar games where she laughed – at the bagpipers.




Albert’s study which is over the Billiards Room.  (I think!)



An extremely rare glimpse into the Queen’s secretary’s office which I think is by the back hall on the second floor.  Tartan carpet for him too.  And he has his own tiny fireplace which looks like it is never used. 



The Red Dispatch boxes taken from the Queen to the waiting page.  Again, a very rare look at the back spiral staircase in the Clock Tower.  This spiral stair has probably never been seen before.  I screencapped it off a video about the Queen’s life.  Shhh!!



Queen Victoria’s bedroom, 1857.   Her room is over the Library – and connected to her sitting room and dressing room.  Originally they used the same blue/gold paper as they did downstairs.  Additionally, they used the same tartan carpet and thistle chintz found in every room. 



After Albert’s death, a wreath was placed over his side of the bed, along with other mementoes.



The Queen’s bedroom today.  More of the ancient thistle chintz.  New wallpaper and the canopy was taken down.   I can’t imagine how cluttered this room is today!!!


Queen Victoria’s dressing room, 1857:


The Queen’s Dressing Room – with the Balmoral Tartan tablecloth, designed by Prince Albert.  Only the Queen is allowed to wear this tartan, unless she gives her permission:




Duke and Duchess of Rothesay obviously received royal permission to wear the Balmoral tartan.



An early order of the tartan.  Prince Albert designed the tartans in gray to resemble the gray granite found on the estate.




1983.  The Queen’s sitting room which matches her bedroom. 




1857.  The original plans for the ballroom.



The Ball Room is used each year for the gillies ball.    The royals sit on the stage at the left.  The entrance is at the back where the stairs are. 



Here the gillie is doing the traditional Highland sword dance.  If you watch Outlander, you will remember that Murtagh was performing this dance around the towns.




1859.  And here, the gillies are really dancing!   It’s a shame these fixtures are now gone.  I suppose it was too expensive to convert them to electricity from gas?





The ballroom photographed in the late 1800s.  Here are the original chandeliers.



The gallery on the opposite side of the ballroom.



A  very rare picture of Diana shown dancing at the gillies ball.  She looks so happy in the video, despite it being said she loathed Balmoral.



Today, the Ballroom is open to the public.  Here are the new lanterns.   This could be a really beautiful room with prettier light fixtures and a stone floor.   I almost hate to bring your attention to this – but the curtains are the same thistle chintz found in the upstairs rooms.  How many yards of this fabric did they order???




Some of the Queen’s dresses are on display in the ballroom, along with the dining room red leather chairs!



Around Balmoral there are many houses, one of which is Garden House, originally built for the gardeners to live in.  The original wood house was destroyed and rebuilt in the late 1890s.  Visitors to Balmoral can look through its windows to see its unaltered interiors.



This most amazing house, Glassalt Shiel, was used as a summer vacation spot for Victoria.  Located on the estate across from Loch Muick, the house was used by Victoria and her gillie John Brown.  More scandalous she once spent the night here with her next companion, the Indian servant Abdul Karim.



  Here Charles is at the house with the boys after his split from Diana. 



Glassalt Shiel as it is today.





There is even a log cabin on the estate where the family has cookouts that they – get this – cook themselves!  Prince Phillip would BBQ and Elizabeth would fix the salad.   One night William invited Kate here for a private dinner.  When they arrived, the candles were already lit and the meal was waiting – apparently it is a very romantic setting.


Would you like to vacation at Balmoral?  You can.  The family has made several houses on the estate available for rent.  What’s especially interesting is the history behind many of these guest houses.  Some have recently been refurbished.



Imagine, you could stay in this house with the same royal tartan carpet and the same maple furniture!



While this house actually looks more like a suburban ranchburger you might be trying to sell, this was the house Queen Victoria built for her Indian servant Karim.    This house has been completely renovated for guests.



It does like rather nice.   


Beautiful floors and a farm sink.



  Even the bathroom is all new.  Very nice!

If you want to visit Balmoral – go HERE.



I hope you have enjoyed this visit to Balmoral.  I had no clue it would get this involved!!  Sorry!!





  1. I had no idea about Charles's intention to give Balmoral to the nation after he succeeds, but I googled and although it's not official, the story would seem to ring true. It makes a lot of sense, as Birkhall is a much more beautiful and older property, and Balmoral (to me) is all that is worst about Victoriana, and especially Scottish kitsch; the exorbitant upkeep would certainly jusitify the move on the part of the royal family, but it's a bit of a poisoned chalice. And Charles has very good taste in interior design, (which I have no doubt has been applied to Birkhall), and would be completely unjustifiable on Balmoral. I expect he might want to keep the land for the sport. I rather suspect Sandringham might get the same treatment too; not quite as bad as the Victoriana, but excessive Edwardiania, some of which has already been demolished, because vast retinues of servants are no longer required or affordable.

    1. there are so few pictures of Highland interiors - but I saw a youtube video and he is sitting on a chair in Highgrove with the most gorgeous red/cream/blue chintz ala Pierre Frey. Not sure but it looks like one. Gorgeous. He has incredible taste and that's probably why he never wants to move to Windsor or to Balmoral.

  2. Joni was a marvelous & very thorough post about incredible Balmoral. Thank you! You taught me much that I had not known or seen. It truly is a magical place in a magical setting. The photo you chose of the Queen at the Braemar Gathering in her lavender coat and white hat, I was there. Her Range Rover drove onto the grounds directly in front of us no more than 5 feet from our seats. I was able to get the best photos of her and the family. Last Sept. we were able to attend again and it's true, the family is always amused. They don't stay for long (less than two hours) so that is likely why they are smiling! One of my all time favorite experiences is that Gathering and marching through the town behind the mass of the (pipe) bands. I have such admiration and respect for Queen Elizabeth II. She is one remarkable woman. OH..a cairn is a monument usually built out of rough stones..ha! Thanks again for the great read this afternoon! Cheers to you from bonny Scotland xx

    1. omg! you were there?! omg! i had SO much fun looking those photos of her laughing. belly laughing. It was so cute. I love the way Charles and his mum make each other laugh. It was so natural. Love that!!! you are so lucky!

  3. Wonderful post Joni full of delicious details! I remember when I was researching Balmoral during the Cambridge Royal Wedding season. I had read that it was the one place where Queen Elizabeth could go and just be herself. The estate is so secluded and she rarely allows photographers. (Hence the lack of interior shots.) I agree that it seems sad that it will no longer be a Royal residence once Charles asends the throne but can understand his reasoning due to the cost of upkeep. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria preferred the German dachshund as their breed of choice and the Queen does keep a few that are descended from the original dogs. I would LOVE to have one. I mean why not, I have two doxies already that rule the house. :)

  4. Not being a Royalist and favoring Scottish independence, I suspect there is more than cost alone behind Charles' plan for Balmoral.Quite frankly, I enjoy the scene in my head where the English royals were given the strong Scottish boot from the halls of this Scottish castle.

  5. Wow Joni I am glad I was up early today!!
    It is too bad these grand estates are so costly to keep up to standards year after year. I can understand Prince Charles not wanting to foot that huge amount.
    I would love to visit sometime and will be sure to take very warm clothing!!

    The Arts by Karena

  6. This was amazing...YOU are amazing...Spot On!! franki

  7. That was the most exhaustive, informative and hugely enjoyable post!! I can't thank you enough for giving me such a treat this morning..Balmoral is a wonderful beautiful place, full of history and I love that the interiors haven't changed al that much.
    Tell me one thing? You can't be serious about re-decorating Balmoral in the Houston style? That would be soo..American :-)

    1. yes dahling! Liz called me - she loves white slips and seagrass - so I"m going over the tidy the place up a bit. Oh to dream!!!!!

    2. Having just returned last night from a holiday in Scotland, this post was fun and interesting to see. However, I'd like to respond to one of your design comments, Joni, about stripping back the red broadloom in the hall. Please remember that their climate is noted for regularly being grey, wet and brisk and stone holds the chill. We were there for late May and into June and I was very glad that I'd taken my double lined wool coat with me. You'd likely reconsider your comment about stripping back the broadloom once you've felt that pervasive, bone piercing chill which stone walls and floors tend to hold. Broadloom may not be currently fashionable, but it's a very practical solution given their location in Northern Scotland and the red is very cheering on a grizzly day. It's a gloriously beautiful country with a great sense of history and tradition. Oh, and three cheers for Outlander reminding us how sexy kilts can be!

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing time travel experience through this royal estate!! xo Leslie

  9. ABSOLUTELY wonderful post. I went to Scotland last year on an "Outlander" tour; I have pictures of some of the towns/sets you posted in your Outlander series including a door that is really not a door; I met the set designer as I was taking a picture of it and he told me it really wasn't real...could have fooled me! i didn' get up to Balmoral time!! And there will be a next time.

  10. Of course they were enjoying themselves -notice the flask in Prince Charles sock!! haha..... booze makes the most dull sporting events possible ;-) No wonder why they're always laughing -drunk!

    1. As much as a drop of whiskey might be welcome on such an occasion I m sure the bulge in his sock is his Sgian Dubhs

  11. I am willing to say, " JONI FOR PRESIDENT".
    Great job, thanks.

  12. Joni,
    Another fabulous post! I believe Wallis Simpson was at Balmoral more than once. King Edward VIII even had his motorcar fitted with silk curtains that could be drawn for sneaking her in and out of Bal-moral. The name is fitting. Of course I'm a big fan of Wallis Simpson. The American who saved the British Monarchy.

  13. I really wouldn't want to be a "fly" on the wall, but what would I give to maybe be a "witch" and check out those rooms in person! I watch way too much Bewitched." : - ) This post could let your imagination run wild.

  14. Joni,
    Thanks so much for another wonderful post! I can tell you have fun researching them and I enjoy each and every one! A cairn is a manmade stack of rocks used as a monument or to mark and important spot. In Highland folklore it is believed that the Highland Clans, before they fought in a battle, each man would place a stone in a pile. Those who survived the battle returned and removed a stone from the pile. The stones that remained were built into a cairn to honour the dead. There is a huge cairn on Culloden Moor to honor the highlanders who fell in 1743. It's beautiful, you should go sometime!
    Sarah K

    1. wow. honestly i was so tired from this post that i just couldn't go research cairn. i added that question on the last edit. i just had to stop. i had no clue that was what it was! how beautiful. Culloden Moor - I want to go one day.

  15. Lovely post! Thank you very much. I love your posts on Royal homes. -- Beth

  16. I really enjoyed this post. Loved the photos and all the information to go with them. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us!

  17. Loved this post! And not to detract from all your research but....LOL on the handbag, made me laugh so much. She's like Estelle Getty on Golden Girls. Hilarious.

  18. This was a great article! Thank you for all the research you did and all the history you dug through!

  19. Great tour. We didn't make it to Balmoral last year, but did see Holyrood - actually the Palace of Holyroodhouse. They were getting ready for the Queen's visit the following week. Flowers everywhere, and beautifully decorated. I kept thinking "it's good to be Queen".

  20. this anglophile was fascinated and actually wanted your post to keep going! i can onlimagine the opportunity to sit with the royals at the highland games and being nothing but overjoyed. oh to be in scotland
    thank you for the tour joni

  21. Thank you everyone! Glad you enjoyed it. I was really worried it was way too long. But there were so many great photos. I was hard to know when to stop!!

  22. thanks to posting about Balmoral's castle. It's very interesting.
    Have a good day.

  23. ...joni...I have so enjoyed your scotland series!...the houses especially...for I have never watched or read the outlander series/books...if you are not familiar with the old bbc series "monarch of the glen"...I suggest you rent is so wonderful...funny...and there is a house to be discussed......blessings laney

    1. I wish i could see that! Maybe it's on Amazon? thanks!!!

    2. ...try Netflix...blessings laney

    3. google see if you might be interested....

  24. Thank you for a well-researched and even better-written account of this magnificent landmark. I learned a lot by reading this, enjoyed the photos, but most of all, your sense of humor! I laughed over your redecorating ideas, the photos of the Royals laughing hysterically, and the purse comment! The Queen is adorable and you did her proud by this excellent and thoughtful article.


  25. Thank you so much for all the effort you put into this post. It is fascinating.

  26. Fantastic post, Joni! I've always been curious about Balmoral. I almost feel like it visited in person now. Thank you!

  27. Joni, thank you for such a detailed post. Loved it. I have learnt more about the Royals through you than all my history lessons. As an Australian we are still under the British Queen (like Canada).

  28. Joni
    You always have the "skinny" on everything including the Royals! Your humor livened up what could be a very dry subject.

  29. I can assure you Her Majesty does NOT wear a "hoodie", she wears silk head scarves!!

  30. Fascinating read! Thank you! Now I want to visit Balmoral.

  31. Good lord. What a baleful decor. We REALLY need to send Ralph Lauren over there to show how how it's done. Great bones, tattered duds. Fascinating read, You really do the best research, Joni.

  32. Thank you so much for this website. In the USA we have the view of the royal family (perhaps "slanted") as presented by our media. Your website humanizes the royal family and reminds us they are just people the same as everyone else! The pic of the queen in her Land Rover was my favorite! :)

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