Like so many other experiences on this trip, visiting Balmoral Castle exceeded even my greatest expectations. Ever since we planned this trip, close to a year ago, visiting Balmoral Castle was at the top of my list. Twenty years ago, when I was in London, I had the privilege of visiting Buckingham Palace, which still remains a special memory. On this trip, we visited both Holyrood House Palace and the Royal Yacht Brittania, both of which are in Edinburgh, and left indelible memories.
Balmoral Castle was in a different league for me, however. Balmoral was not only The Queen's favorite residence but also the place where she passed away.
I had expected our access to be very limited, as it was at Buckingham Palace. That was not the case at all. We roamed freely on the sprawling estate. We wandered down paths going in every direction, even meandering along the River Dee, which borders the estate, finding the most wonderful things as we explored. I felt The Queen's presence everywhere. On our audio tour, the upper-crust British gentleman announced, "Guests are invited to the Castle to spend a lovely day out." This was not meant to be a rushed or harried experience.
Although photos were not allowed inside the castle, the ballroom (where The Queen had lay in state last year when she passed), was filled with an incredible collection of photos, dating back to the days when Victoria resided in the castle. The photos of The Queen, through the years, at the estate, were magnificent.
We have had so many lovely days on our trip, but for me, this day meant the most.
Graham and Miles bunked together in the cozy twin room off my room, which I shared with Catherine (Garin had his own room at the Dunmurray Guest House). Each slept with their newly acquired stuffed animals. Miles chose a highland cow (or coo as they seem to call them in The Highlands) with a red tartan ribbon tied around his neck, while Graham chose a teddy bear dressed in a woolen Scottish sweater and coordinating tartan hat and scarf set.
Before heading out on our fairly long drive (about 90 minutes) to Ballater, where Balmoral Castle is, we stopped at a gem of a bakery in Pitlochry, funnily enough, called The Bakery, and picked up some homemade pastries and bread to take in the car for the journey. Most of our scenic drive up to the castle was spent discussing how delicious the bread was and how we could never find anything like it back at home. Everything was so fresh out of the oven that it was still warm.
I was so filled with anticipation when we finally pulled up to the car park for the castle. I have wanted to visit here for as long as I can remember. When we first booked our tickets for this trip, last July, The Queen was still alive. In my mind, we would visit the castle and she would be there. When she passed away, in September, the day after my birthday, I was heartbroken that I hadn't made it in time to visit this place, that was special to her, while she was still with us.
After parking the car, you cross over a bridge, with the River Dee running underneath, before even getting near to the property. It was a typical brisk summer day at the castle, at 52 degrees.
Upon arriving at the first set of gates, we were met by a strapping young man who greeted u and checked our tickets (which we booked months ago to assure our entrance). He then gave each of the kids their activity book to fill out while touring the grounds. It was none other than a Corgie Challenge, a scavenger hunt of sorts to find the names of many of The Queen's favorite Corgis.
Next, we were let into the beautiful wrought iron gates which were made by a local blacksmith for King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, and bore their initials.
After a long walk up the driveway which was lined with the most magnificent trees of every variety, all planted by Prince Albert when he and Queen Victoria purchased the castle, we came up to the Kitchen Garden. Filled with flowers as well as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, all of which they use to prepare meals for the royal family when they arrive in early August for their yearly holidays at the castle.
After finishing up in the garden, we walked a bit further and caught our first glimpse of the castle. It was so beautiful it took my breath away.
As we grew closer, the castle became more stunning.
Graham wore his new scarf that we purchased in Scotland made of the Graham Clan tartan plaid.
Our next stop was to visit The Queen's exquisite collection of Highland Cows. We saw two calves nursing from their mothers. There were about ten cows in total. The sight of cows, resting peacefully in the pasture with the castle in the background felt like a fairytale.
After visiting the cows we headed further out on the property to see some of The Queen's horses. They were absolutely stunning animals, just as you expect. Catherine wove a few braids into one of the horse's manes. The Queen was a real horsewoman so we felt privileged to be able to see and pet her horses, for whom she cared so deeply.
As we continued on our walk throughout the estate we found so many wonderful treasures. There was a monument erected for Princess Alice, who predeceased, her mother, Queen Victoria. There were various monuments to royal pets, including a very special garden where many of The Queen's beloved Corgies, through the years, were buried.
As we started approaching the castle again, after having explored the estate for a few hours, we had some fun taking photos of it (and us) from a different, but equally stunning. angle.
We were finally reunited with Garin (who got lost, on purpose, early into our visit) after a few hours. I took this shot so that it wouldn't appear when looking back on the day, as though he hadn't accompanied us at all!
Having to finally leave, after spending five hours at the castle was sad for me. I wish I could have stayed forever.
We then headed about four miles up the road to stop in the charming town center of Ballater. The royals are known to make frequent visits to the town when they are summering at Balmoral. It was most charming.
After our long drive back from Ballater (on very narrow and windy roads), we had a wee afternoon tea party in our room at the Dunmurray. Miles' highland cow and new Corgie (which we bought at the Balmoral Castle gift shop) joined us as well. The Corgie did not come with the sunglasses, but rather Miles affixed them to the Corgie during tea time because he thought the afternoon sun was too bright for him.
Our final stop of the day was dinner at Cidsin, a fabulous Indian restaurant in Pitlochry that came highly recommended by our innkeepers. It was just wee walk from our B and B. Cidsin is so popular that we had to make reservations weeks in advance. The food was just scrumptious!