Donna Dailey - 2008-04-28
Land Rover safaris, guided ranger walks, and painting and photography breaks are just some of the activities available to visitors at Balmoral, the Queen's beautiful estate in the Scottish Highlands. You can even stay on the grounds.
As the summer residence of the Royal Family, Balmoral is one of the country's most famous castles. Set in picturesque landscape beside the River Dee, it is surrounded by a working estate of more than 260 square kilometers.
Balmoral dates back to the 14th century. King Robert II had a hunting lodge there and ten years after falling in love with the Highlands on her first visit to Scotland with Prince Albert, Queen Victoria purchased the Balmoral property in 1852.
The original castle, too small for the family's needs, was demolished once the present castle, built from white granite mined from nearby quarries, was completed in 1856. Unlike Buckingham Palace and other royal residences belonging to the state, Balmoral is the private property of the Queen and her heirs.
Balmoral lies within the Cairngorms National Park, the largest national park in the country. The park's landscape encompasses forests, rivers, lochs and moorlands and is surrounded by rugged mountains and arctic terrain. One quarter of Britain's threatened plant, animal and bird species are protected within its boundaries.
Each August, the Queen spends her summer holidays here. Outside this time, Balmoral Castle is open to the public for several weeks each year. An audio tour is included in the admission fee and visitors are only allowed in the ballroom and exhibition room, which this year features an exhibit on the Braemar Gathering, the famous Highland Games held in the nearby village of Braemar on the first Saturday in September and regularly attended by the Royal Family.
The gardens and grounds which include both formal and vegetable gardens, as well as wildlife, are the real highlights at Balmoral. Theatre productions are held in the gardens each year in mid-July.
On Wednesdays at 2pm from April through July, rangers provide free 2-hour guided walks of the grounds, focusing on woodland plants and wildlife as well as the monuments and history of the estate. There are also special children's events that take place on the first Monday of these months and weekend pony-trekking for riders age 12 and above.
Themed guided nature walks also take place throughout the year and details are listed on the official Balmoral website. Most of these are free but booking is essential.
Luxury land rover safaris are another way to experience Balmoral's scenic beauty. Rangers lead these 3-hour excursions across the estate through old Caledonian pine forest to the slopes of the Cairngorms in search of elusive wildlife.
You can even stay overnight in one of Balmoral's holiday cottages. Accommodation options range from cosy cottages to a stone-built lodge to the old schoolhouse.
If you want to follow in Prince Charles's footsteps and learn to paint Mount Lochnagar, week-long residential painting holidays are offered in the spring and autumn. A digital photography holiday will also be held in November.
Balmoral is also a popular spot for vintage car rallies, wildlife watching, fishing and the Run Balmoral races that will be held this year on the 26th April.
In 2008 Balmoral Castle is open daily from 29 March to 31 July, 10am -5pm (last admission 4pm). ₤7 adults, ₤3 children age 5-16.
For more information about events, accommodations, activity holidays or to book guided walks, Land Rover safaris and pony trekking, tel: 01339 742534 or visit www.balmoralcastle.com