Prince Albert, the consort to Queen Victoria, was a canny chap.
He had an eye for property and in 1852, he bought a hunting lodge in Scotland.
It was soon apparent that this was not big enough for Royal needs.
The demolition men were brought in and an architect engaged to create a new property.
By 1856, the Balmoral we know today was finished and was built in the Scottish Baronial style. It is now privately owned by Queen Elizabeth, though run by a Trust.
The present Royal Family use it as their summer home.
The estate now comprises 50,000 acres of grouse moor, forestry, farmland and managed deer and Highland cattle herds. There are many cottages around the estate to house the estate workers and their families, though the extensive forestry makes them unobtrusive.
The castle is in the Cairngorms National Park on Royal Deeside and is overlooked by the magnificent Lochnagar mountain. The peak and slopes were covered in snow on my visit and looked wonderful in the sunshine. The River Dee flows down the valley not far from the entrance to the castle grounds. This is a very peaceful place.
The grounds are open to the public from the end of March to the end of July, when the Royal Family take up residence for the summer.
A steady ride on a tractor-trailer from the main entrance takes visitors to the farm buildings adjacent to the castle itself. For the full experience, use one of the portable audio tour guide machines to follow a numbered trail around the grounds. It is not a long trail so no difficulties will be encountered.
The path takes you around the building displays of vehicles and machinery before heading off around the grounds, passing other farm buildings and through the pines to the gardens and greenhouses. Here the aromas of the hundreds of colourful plants assault the senses.
Finally, the castle itself comes into view, fronted by manicured lawns.
The only part of the castle open to the public is the Castle Ballroom. Here paintings by Landseer and Minton china collections can be seen.
As well as formal dining occasions for the Royal family, the ballroom is used for the annual ghillies dinner. Historical photographs of the events can be viewed.
If you have more time, each Wednesday at 2pm there are ranger walks through the forestry.
These are 2-3 miles in length and last around 2hrs. The knowledgeable rangers give very interesting details of the castle, it’s grounds, workers and wildlife.
These tours are included in the admission price.
For the more adventurous, a Balmoral Safari can be taken by Land Rover.
These tours last around 3hrs and take in much more of the estate’s land.
Not cheap at £60 per head however.
You are likely to see deer, cattle, grouse or maybe the elusive capercaillie.
We saw red squirrels roaming the grounds and delighted in their antics. Children were especially thrilled to see these creatures rather than the ubiquitous greys.
At the conclusion of your tour you can relax in the lovely coffee shop with home-made cakes or buy a souvenir from the gift shop.
There are six holiday cottages for rent within the estate for relaxing, longer stays.
Prices for 2016 for entry to the grounds and ballroom are: £11.50 Adult, £10.50 Seniors/Students and £5 for children 5-16yrs., though a Family Ticket can be better value.
For further details go to “www.balmoralcastle.com”:http://www.balmoralcastle.com
Just down the road, if you wish to make a full day of it, is Royal Lochnagar whisky distillery. This is one of my favourite whiskies and well worth a visit to see how it is made.
For me, this was a dram come true.
If you take a sample of this superb product of the distiller’s art and if driving, you need to be mindful of the lower drink/drive limit of 50mg applicable now in Scotland, as opposed to the 80mg limit in England and Wales.