King Charles summer Balmoral trip was tinged with sadness as Queens death fully hit
For almost a century, Balmoral Castle held a special place in the heart of Queen Elizabeth ll. From childhood, she would spend several weeks at the grand turreted property in Royal Deeside, surrounded by close family.
The Scottish Highland estate was the place where the late monarch felt happiest and most at peace and many observers felt it fitting that she died there, peacefully, last September.
But for King Charles, Queen Camilla and the rest of Elizabeth ll’s family, returning to Aberdeenshire this summer is likely to have been tinged with sadness.
"They have all been so busy, what with the coronation and other commitments, that when they did get up there, I think that yes, it will have hit them," says royal expert Hugo Vickers.
"Her absence will have been felt and I’m sure it’s been very poignant for them. No one will have been in those rooms since she died.
"But as Proust said, the pain of loss eventually becomes the joy of remembering. If you’ve lost somebody and you go to their house and you see their raincoat and their wellington boots in the hall, it gives you a pang at the beginning.
"But as time goes on, it’s a great pleasure and joy to come across something you remember. That’s the whole process of grief.”
Balmoral was a much-loved and, possibly, much-needed retreat for the late monarch during the summer months.
It provided her with a rural bolthole where she could relax and live with some form of normality away from many – if not all – of the duties and demands of royal life in London.
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Royal experts reveal how the family's summer in Balmoral will have been tinged with sadness as they continue to adjust to life without her, and we share rarely seen images from her remarkable reign.
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Set in 50,000 acres of glorious countryside, the estate includes ponds, a large kitchen garden created by her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh, and extensive gardens on the north side of the castle.
Queen Elizabeth’s great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, referred to Balmoral as "my dear paradise in the Highlands", while her granddaughter, Princess Eugenie, has described it as "the most beautiful place in the world".
As well as affording the monarch a chance to escape from the public gaze, its setting allowed her to indulge in many of her favourite outdoor pursuits, not least horse riding, deer stalking and fishing.
And like Queen Victoria, Elizabeth II found solace in the tranquil setting, where she would while away her days sketching the landscape.
"I suppose Balmoral is a place one looks forward to very much," she said in 1992. "It is rather nice to hibernate when one leads such a movable life."
Balmoral has a staggering 52 bedrooms and endless corridors adorned with antlers and tartan rugs.
There are also 150 other buildings on the estate, including Birkhall, the grand hunting lodge occupied by King Charles and Queen Camilla before the coronation, Craigowan Lodge, a seven bedroom property often used by the late Queen while Balmoral Castle was being prepared for her longer visits, and several cottages.
But for Elizabeth ll, it wasn’t the grandeur of Balmoral that mattered. What she cared about was being surrounded by nature – and her loved ones.
"She said in the Elizabeth R documentary in 1992 that one of the joys about it was that she was able to sleep in the same bed for several weeks on end, instead of forever moving from one place to another.
"And she could have her family around her," says Hugo. "They all used to come and they could go out and go stalking or riding. She taught the little children to ride ponies there. It was a much more relaxed time for her. She wasn’t one for going on a yacht, or anything like that."
Queen Elizabeth went to Balmoral on 21 July, 2022, and although her health was deteriorating, Hugo says she enjoyed her final weeks there.
"Even in that last summer she entertained a lot of people there," he says. "Obviously, it was much more organised and not so spontaneous, but I think she had a dinner party for 18 at one point, not long before she died. When people came they dressed for dinner. That went on right up to the end."
The late Queen’s links to Balmoral, which was bought by her great-great grandfather Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, date from her childhood.
She and her sister, Princess Margaret, spent idyllic, carefree summers with their parents, George Vl and Queen Elizabeth, riding ponies, playing in the grounds and enjoying picnics on the estate’s manicured lawns.
"They looked forward to it all the year round," royal nanny Marion Crawford, known to the Queen and her sister as "Crawfie", wrote in her book The Little Princesses.
"It tended to be the chief landmark in their calendar. Things were apt to date from ‘before we went to Scotland’ or ‘when we got back from Scotland’."
It is also where, in the summer of 1946, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark proposed to the 20-year-old Princess Elizabeth.
So beloved was Balmoral that, in 1947, they chose to spend part of their honeymoon there.
In later years, the late Queen and Duke of Edinburgh hosted barbecues on the estate, with the Duke doing the cooking and the Queen taking charge of the washing-up.
Her love of Balmoral is shared by other members of her family, not least King Charles, who also spent many of his childhood summers on the estate, where, perhaps he saw a different, more relaxed, side to his parents than he was accustomed to seeing in London.
Photographs from the era depict the Windsors enjoying family time together as parents sprawled on the lawn with their young children and exploring the grounds with them, or taking them on visits to the farms that make up part of the estate.
The late Queen’s final days in a place she so dearly loved will ensure it continues to be cherished by her family for many years to come, but the memories are likely to be bittersweet as the first anniversary of her death approaches.
This year more than any other, King Charles, Queen Camilla and their relatives will no doubt have spent a reflective first summer at Balmoral, with the lynchpin of the royal family notably absent.
"It’s one of these periods when you celebrate, but there’s also something that’s missing, which you grieve," says royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams.
"It causes you to think back on all those shared memories and the royal family must have had it while at Balmoral."
While Balmoral without Queen Elizabeth will never be the same, for the royal family, it will continue to provide a place of rest and relaxation.
A place to which they can escape to recharge their batteries away from the pressures of public life, just as the late Queen did for so many years.
Princess Eugenie once described the appeal of Balmoral to Elizabeth II, saying it is a place "where you just have room to breathe and run".
Perhaps, as the royal family’s grief subsides, the Ballater estate will provide a haven in which her descendants, and particularly King Charles, will be able to catch their breath, too.
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