Today was Balmoral day! (I know, this is all out of order and I never did catch up to last summer’s Scotland trip, but better late than never.) Luckily there was only a drizzle here and there and by the end of the afternoon there was blue sky and sunshine. We booked a “safari” on the estate in a Range Rover with a real ranger. It was worth every penny, truly a highlight.
George, our guide for the five of us, was very entertaining. Here he is explaining about stags and their antlers. You’ll have to excuse the noise from the car engine, but at least you can get a bit of his accent.
Clearly he (a 19-year veteran of the castle) has a high regard for the Queen and Prince Philip. (He did mutter that no one likes Prince Andrew.) He emphasized how the royals like to relax at Balmoral and that the queen and one of her people like to work together to scrub down one of the houses on the estate at the end of the season. During the high season, July through early September, they all live in the castle. But when they come up for a weekend or a couple of weeks, they stay in a house that is smaller and more manageable. The takeaway message is that it’s easy and comfortable for them while they are there.
He traversed, as he said, only a corner of the estate, but we saw a great variety of habitats. Roe deer, red deer, moors, heather, Scots pines, highland cattle, stags, but sadly no capercaillies or red squirrels. Here are a few glimpses of what we saw.
Scottish highland ponies are big at Balmoral. We saw several as we traversed the grounds. Here’s a close-up view of the special dorsal stripe typical of this variety. And here are some trainers taking the ponies for a constitutional.
We stopped to see the Finnish cottage, described by CNN as the “Honka Hut (a pine summer cottage that was a gift from the Finnish government and is one of the queen’s favorite spots on the estate.” But who should pull up but – not the royals, rather three cars of local police. They were quite friendly and showed us a photo they’d just taken of a stag. George advised us that some royals might be coming up for the weekend and that the police were likely doing a recce in advance. We never did see any royals, but it was fun to think that we might.
After the safari we toured the castle, which means only that they let you see the ballroom with several exhibits of Landseer portraits, regalia, and photos of the family (no photos allowed, sorry). Then on to the gardens: a glasshouse with plants arrayed on wooden shelves in such abundance that the shelves are invisible.Extensive vegetable gardens that feed the estate, all planned to peak during July and August when the Queen is in residence.
And here it is in a border. I love it!