The Royal Locations of Scotland
“The romance and the wild loveliness… beloved Scotland the proudest, finest country in the world.” – Queen Victoria
It seems that people can’t get enough of our Royals. Love it or hate it, the grandiose pageantry associated with British royalty, whether trooping the colour or Diamond Jubilees, are rarely found elsewhere, and these public ceremonies attract tourists in their thousands. In 2011, research by VisitBritain showed that more than 60% of overseas visitors who come to Britain are “likely” to visit places associated with the royal family. In the past year alone, links to the royals bought in £550 million for British tourism according to a report from BrandFinance. Whether you are a royalist or not, the royal family undeniably attracts public interest both around the UK and internationally. Visits, tours, weddings, christenings all generate extensive media attention as well as tourists. The royal wedding of 2018 alone drew an international audience of 11.5 million people and the number of people lining the streets of Windsor in celebration peaked at over 100,000. And it’s not just the living, breathing Royals, it’s also where they live or have lived, with the Queen’s official residences (Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse) attracting 2.8m people in 2016. Because let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a snoop around someone else’s abode, especially one as grand as the Queens?
But what about when they need to escape? Surely they, as much as we, desire a quiet bolthole where they can unwind and relax away from the responsibilities and daily grind of the relentlessly busy and scheduled society we all keep these days? And where might that be – well, only the best will do, and so it is, of course, Scotland. Scattered throughout Scotland there are castles, keeps, small countryside boltholes that have been and still are frequented by the royal family. Scotland has been the chosen holiday destination of the Windsors for years, started by Queen Victoria who made frequent visits north of the border during her reign. So great was Victoria and Albert’s love for Scotland, in 1848 they took out a long-term lease on Balmoral Castle in Deeside, and in 1852 permanently purchased the property, extending it significantly. From this point on, Victoria and Albert spent time each summer in Balmoral. And it seems to have become somewhat of a family tradition, with the call of the remote highland air and breathtaking wildlands too much to resist. At the end of every summer, Queen Elizabeth II makes her annual pilgrimage north to Scotland for multiple week-long holidays at Balmoral Castle, widely thought to be the monarch’s favourite residence. In the recent documentary Our Queen At Ninety, Princess Eugenie said “I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands. Walks, picnics, dogs—a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs—and people coming in and out all the time. It’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there, where you just have room to breathe and run.”
Turns out the Queen’s ideal holiday is not a million miles from our own – but with perhaps more armed guards! So, come with us as we take a look at some of the properties dotted throughout Scotland linked to our Royals that deserve a visit…
Holyrood Palace – Midlothian
At the top of our Royal Series, standing in its majestic baroque decoration and bloody history, is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Her Majesty The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Located at the end of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, this fine palace is the home of Scottish royal history and The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. An architectural gem, it is best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots and the setting for many dramatic episodes during her reign. Before the first palace was built by James IV in 1503, The Holyrood Abbey stood alone in this spot. Built during the twelfth century, the abbey played host when the monarchy left the cold, damp Edinburgh Castle and moved into the guesthouse. In ruins since the eighteenth century it still preserves its charm and romanticism, standing in disrepair adjacent to the palace. Many years after the palace’s initial construction, James V built a tower where Mary, Queen of Scots lived between 1561 and 1567 which can be climbed and visited (look out for the bloodstained floorboards). There have also been reports of a ghostly figure in these rooms in the dead of night, and palace guards have been unnerved by unexplained sounds. It wasn’t until 1671 and within the following seven years that the palace we recognize today was built, and due to its impressive rooms and beautifully decorated interiors, is it is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Scotland. A visit to Holyrood will take you around the royal apartments, beautifully decorated with tapestries, portraits of the Royal Family and antiques. The Queen’s Bedchamber, which is still in use, is simply magnificent. One of the most important highlights of the Palace is the Great Gallery. Measuring 144 feet long (44 m) it is the largest room in the Palace and is decorated with 96 paintings of the Royal House – it is quite a remarkable sight!
The Queens View – Perthshire
In Highland Perthshire, you will find something truly remarkable which showcases Scotland at its best. Not a castle or a palace, but equally as breathtaking, commit to a short drive along a winding tree-lined road alongside the River Tummel, and you will find The Queen’s View. Perhaps the most famous vantage point for one of the most iconic panoramas in Scotland, The Queens View overlooks Loch Tummel and on a clear day, allows a glimpse of the mountains surrounding Glencoe by the West Coast – a view fit for a Queen indeed! A popular destination since Victorian times, it is often thought that the location was named after Queen Victoria, who also assumed the same thing when she visited in 1866, as one would. However, she was wrong and it is more widely believed to have been named after Queen Isabella, the wife of Robert the Bruce who used the spot as a resting place on her travels some 550 years earlier. Surrounded by part of the Tay Forest Park, the area offers a range of woodland walks suitable for all abilities. The Queen’s View Visitor Centre has an excellent tea room which serves delicious lunches, teas and cakes from April until the end of October. Pop across the courtyard and the visitor centre has information on local wildlife and history, as well as a shop stocked with a wide range of guide books covering the flora and fauna of Highland Perthshire, maps and lots of gifts ideas for those left behind at home! The Queen’s View truly offers a magnificent view of Loch Tummel. It’s hard to imagine a better view in Perthshire, the beautiful loch merging with the lush, green the farmland showcasing the best the Heart of Scotland has to offer.
Balmoral Castle – Ballater
Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1852, and for over 150 years later, Balmoral Estates have been more than just a favourite home to successive generations of the Royal Family. Although it remains largely the same as it was in Queen Victoria’s reign, successive Royal owners have made improvements to the estate, with The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales taking a close interest in running and improving the Estates. The Castle itself is a wonderful example of Scots Baronial architecture and is classified by Historic Scotland as a category A listed building. The 50,000-acre Balmoral Estate is situated within the Cairngorms National Park and is partly within the Deeside and Lochnagar National Scenic Area and contains a wide variety of landscapes, from the luscious Dee river valley to dramatic open mountains. Still very much a working estate, it includes grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle, and ponies. In 1931, the castle gardens were opened to the public for the first time. The gardens were started by Prince Albert, and have been expanded and improved by successive members of the Royal Family – look carefully for a set of gates bearing the monograms GR and MR, Queen Mary instructed the build of this lovely garden, with its semi-circular wall of rocks surrounding a fountain, between 1923 and 1925. The Duke of Edinburgh extended to incorporate a large kitchen garden which is harvested between August and October during the Royal Family’s summer holiday. There is also a range of Victorian glasshouses and the conservatory displaying flowering pot plants throughout the year, and delightfully a water garden has been formed to the West of the main garden. In short, the gardens are magnificent! Although the Castle is not open to the public (they are after all Her Majesty The Queen’s private rooms) the highlight for every visit to Balmoral is the Castle Ballroom, the largest room in the Castle. Adorned by works of art by Landseer and Carl Haag, silver statues by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm together with Minton China and artefacts from within the Castle, it is a wonderful collection of history.
Castle of Mey
The most northerly castle in mainland Scotland, Castle of Mey faces out over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands. A turreted delight in soft sandy stone surrounded by panoramic vistas of the dramatic northern coastline, the Castle of Mey is a real delight. But what makes it most intriguing is its history and how it rose from disrepair to become the most loved castle it is today. In June 1952, after being on the market for months, the Castle of Mey caught the eye of the Queen Mother, and so far in love did she fall that in August 1952 she bought it, with the Castle being the only property she ever personally owned. In a poor state of repair, with no bathrooms and no electricity, major restorations and improvements were made, with The Queen Mother personally overseeing the development of the gardens at Castle of Mey. The personality of the castle reflects the personality of The Queen Mother, and the eclectic taste in items of furniture and decorative objects merge to produce a quirky residence you could almost imagine yourself living in, it feels homey, loved, bringing it to life for visitors today. Viewed as a deeply personal retreat for the Queen Mother and other visiting members of the Royal Family, The Queen Mother holidayed at the Castle of Mey every year for nearly 50 years, her last visit being in October 2001 at the age of 101. Exploring the castle and the beautiful gardens, the animal centre and the superb new visitor centre, complete with tearoom and shop is not to be missed – this should be viewed as an essential port of call for anyone visiting northern Scotland.
Mary Queen of Scots is probably the most famous Scottish queen. Her story is one of mystery, intrigue, love, betrayal and her fateful family feud resulted in her beheading at the hands of Elizabeth I. Although never to have the throne herself, on the death of Good Queen Bess the crown went to Mary’s son, James I of England and VI of Scotland, the first King of both England and Scotland, and the first of the Stuart House. Today, Queen Elizabeth II is a great-granddaughter 11 times over of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s presence is noted all over Scotland, but nowhere more so than at Lochleven Castle, the tower house where Mary was held a prisoner for a year before dramatically escaping. Lochleven Castle is one of Scotland’s oldest, built in the 1300s and it was here that Mary suffered a miscarriage and was forced to abdicate in favour of her son, James VI. Mary Queen of Scots first visited Lochleven in 1561 as a guest of its owner, Sir William Douglas. Her last stay, in 1567–8, was as his prisoner. In May 1568, Mary escaped across the loch and was in exile in England – she never saw her native land again. A trip to this haunting site starts with a crossing of the loch by boat to reach the island, just as Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots once did. Stand in the tower house rooms where Mary was held against her will, and be transported back across time. Take time to glance at the Glassin Tower, a circular residence built in the 1500s that projects from the enclosure wall added to provide additional accommodation and to give the castle a more imposing appearance. Roam the quiet island at your leisure to soak up the now peaceful setting, reliving the steps that Mary would have taken to flee her stone prison. By the 18th Century, Loch Leven Castle had fallen into ruin by the 18th century and is now managed by Historic Scotland with the remains of the castle protected. The Castle is still impressive, and as you leave, steal a backwards glance and imagine how it would feel to escape, just as Mary did.
So, there you have it. Our choices of places to visit relating to our Monarch and her family. Scotland’s history has been carved by the movements of dynasties and royal uprisings, land and power changing hands more often than the Queen changes her hats. Great Britain has the oldest and most established royal lineage and is easily the most popular one in the world, and it is not hard to see why. Britain invaded and conquered many countries, so their Royal family was the Royal family of many, even today the Commonwealth countries recognize the Queen as their monarch. Whether the monarchy it as an old-fashioned concept and a waste of taxpayer money, or representative of the spirit of the country whose role is very important, by all accounts, be it outdated and antiquated, it is fascinating – why do we remain so intrigued?
If you want to explore any of these locations and experience them for yourselves remember we have plenty of self catering holiday homes dotted all over the country – some of which are within easy distance from these wonderful spots.