Grouse shoots, barbecues and picnics: How the royal family spends summer at Balmoral

Danielle Fowler
Freelance Writer
What exactly do the royals get up to when they head to Balmoral every summer? [Photo: Getty]

Queen Elizabeth II is currently enjoying her summer holidays with the Duke of Edinburgh at Balmoral Castle where she is expected to stay until early October.

Over the past few months, several members of the royal family have travelled up to Aberdeenshire to spend some quality time with Her Majesty – most recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid a visit with their eldest son Prince George.

But what exactly do the royal family get up to on their Scottish holidays?

From family barbecues to controversial grouse shoots, here’s what the Windsor clan have been doing this summer.

When did the royal family start going to Balmoral Castle?

The Scottish castle has been in the royal family for over 160 years and was purchased by Prince Albert as a seriously lavish gift for Queen Victoria back in 1852. The royal residence cost just £32,000 back in the day and they soon snapped it up after falling love with the countryside.

Queen Elizabeth II has been visiting Balmoral Castle every summer since 1952 [Photo: Getty]

Ever since, the royal retreat has been passed on down the generations and has been Queen’s beloved holiday home since 1952. The property remains privately owned and is not part of the Crown Estate.

What’s it like at Balmoral?

Balmoral is undoubtedly grand boasting over 50,000 acres of countryside and 150 separate buildings on the estate. For instance, Birkhall belongs to Prince Charles and is his go-to holiday home.

Balmoral Castle was first purchased back in 1852 by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria [Photo: Getty]

When Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Balmoral for their summer holidays, they tend to stay at the even more private Craigowan Lodge for the first week. With seven bedrooms and located a mile away from the castle, talk about a rather splendid mini break.

Who bags an invite to Balmoral?

When the Queen flees Buckingham Palace for a well-deserved break from the media spotlight, she is joined by several members of the royal family throughout the summer months.

The Birkhall residence is Prince Charles’ private holiday home tucked away in the grounds of Balmoral Castle [Photo: Getty]

The Duke of Duchess of Cambridge for instance first started holidaying at a cottage known as Tam-na-Ghar during their breaks from St Andrew’s University. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles are also regulars at the Scottish hideaway, often residing at Birkhall.

What do the royal family get up to at Balmoral Castle?

When the royal family reside at Balmoral Castle, they can let their media-proof barriers down and enjoy some time away from the camera shutters.

In an interview aired on the recent documentary ‘Our Queen At Ninety’, Her Majesty’s granddaughter Princess Eugenie described the royal residence as “the most beautiful place on earth” and revealed that it’s where “granny is the most happy”.

The Queen and Prince Philip relax at Balmoral Castle in 1975 [Photo: Getty]

But what’s on the itinerary during the Queen’s holidays? The 28-year-old revealed: “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.”

She added, “Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time.

The Ghillies Ball

Every year, the Queen also hosts a Scottish dance in Balmoral’s now-famous ballroom known as the Ghillies Ball.

The tradition was first introduced by Queen Victoria and is designed as a ‘thank you’ get-together for members of staff.

The royal family’s summer barbecues

Some of the most relatable photographs taken at Balmoral are those which depict Prince Philip-turned-makeshift-chef tending to the barbecue, prodding sausages with a tong.

Far from their Buckingham Palace personas, the royals all pitch in when it comes to the family bash. Balmoral’s housekeeper, Sheena Stuart, previously revealed: “The Duke, he cooks, the Queen sets up the table. There are no staff that come out to serve.

But due to this summer’s heatwave, Her Majesty reportedly banned barbecues through fear of spreading wild fires. We wonder what Prince Philip had to say about that…

Controversial grouse shoots

On August 26 2018, the royal family sparked controversy after Prince George reached a divisive royal milestone.

The five-year-old was photographed heading to a grouse shoot at Balmoral alongside the Queen, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Charles, Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Princess Anne, Zara and Mike Tindall.

Prince Philip enjoys a spot of fishing at Balmoral [Photo: Getty]

A long-running family tradition, the activity is a usual holiday pastime for the royals which Charlotte and Louis will no doubt eventually participate in. And with 50,000 acres of rolling countryside and streams, fishing and horse riding is also a favourite pastime for guests.

Can I stay at Balmoral?

Self-confessed royal fans will be pleased to learn that a handful of quaint cottages are available to rent on a weekly basis in the grounds of Balmoral.

Connachat Cottage for instance, offers accommodation for up to six people and boasts a traditional decor from a stand-alone bathtub to a log fire fit for a Queen. Book now

For those of you who simply wish to have a wander, the grounds are open from April until July every year.

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