Balmoral Castle is a large estate house in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. It was never a castle in the true sense of term. King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390) had a hunting lodge in the area. Historical records also indicate that a house at Balmoral was built by Sir William Drummond in 1390. The estate is recorded in 1451 as "Bouchmorale", and later was tenanted by Alexander Gordon, second son of the 1st Earl of Huntly. A tower house was built on the estate by the Gordons. Tower houses often are referred to as castles because of their formidable construction. In 1662 the estate passed to Charles Farquharson of Inverey, brother of John Farquharson, the "Black Colonel". The Farquharsons were Jacobite sympathisers, and James Farquharson of Balmoral was involved in both the 1715 and 1745 rebellions. He was wounded at the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. The Farquharson estates were forfeit, and passed to the Farquharsons of Auchendryne. In 1798, James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife, acquired Balmoral and leased the castle. Sir Robert Gordon, a younger brother of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, acquired the lease in 1830. He made major alterations to the original castle at Balmoral, including baronial-style extensions that were designed by John Smith of Aberdeen.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited Scotland in 1842, five years after her accession to the throne and two years after their marriage. During this first visit they stayed at Edinburgh, and at Taymouth Castle in Perthshire, the home of the Marquess of Breadalbane. They returned in 1844 to stay at Blair Castle and, in 1847, when they rented Ardverikie by Loch Laggan. During the latter trip they encountered weather that was extremely rainy, which led Sir James Clark, the queen's physician, to recommend Deeside instead, for its more healthy climate. Sir Robert Gordon died in 1847 and his lease on Balmoral reverted to Lord Aberdeen. In February 1848 an arrangement was made—that Prince Albert would acquire the remaining part of the lease on Balmoral, together with its furniture and staff—without having seen the property first.
The royal couple arrived for their first visit on 8 September 1848. Victoria found the house "small but pretty", and recorded in her diary that: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils". The surrounding hilly landscape reminded them of Thuringia, Albert's homeland in Germany. Quickly, the house was confirmed to be too small and, in 1848, John and William Smith were commissioned to design new offices, cottages, and other ancillary buildings. Improvements to the woodlands, gardens, and estate buildings also were being made, with the assistance of the landscape gardener, James Beattie, and possibly by the painter, James Giles. Major additions to the old house were considered in 1849, but by then negotiations were under way to purchase the estate from the trustees of the deceased Earl Fife. After seeing a corrugated iron cottage at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert ordered a pre-fabricated iron building for Balmoral from E. T. Bellhouse & Co., to serve as a temporary ballroom and dining room. It was in use by 1 October 1851, and would serve as a ballroom until 1856.
Balmoral Castle is built from granite quarried at Invergelder on the estate. It consists of two main blocks, each arranged around a courtyard. The southwestern block contains the main rooms, while the northeastern contains the service wings. At the southeast is an 80-foot tall clock tower topped with turrets, one of which has a balustrade similar to a feature at Castle Fraser. Being similar in style to the demolished castle of the 1830s, the architecture of the new house is considered to be somewhat dated for its time when contrasted with the richer forms of Scots Baronial being developed by William Burn and others during the 1850s. As an exercise in Scots Baronial, it sometimes is described as being too ordered, pedantic, and even, Germanic — as a consequence of Prince Albert's influence on the design.
Even before the completion of the new house, the pattern of the life of the royal couple in the Highlands was soon established. Victoria took long walks of up to four hours daily and Albert spent many days hunting deer and game. In 1849, diarist Charles Greville described their life at Balmoral as resembling that of gentry rather than royalty. Victoria began a policy of commissioning artists to record Balmoral, its surroundings, and its staff. Over the years, numerous painters were employed at Balmoral, including Edwin and Charles Landseer, Carl Haag, William Wyld, William Henry Fisk, and many others. The royal couple took great interest in their staff. They established a lending library. During the 1850s, new plantations were established near the house and exotic conifers were planted on the grounds. Prince Albert had an active role in these improvements, overseeing the design of parterres, the diversion of the main road north of the river via a new bridge, and plans for farm buildings. These buildings included a model dairy that he developed during 1861, the year of his death. The dairy was completed by Victoria. Subsequently, she also built several monuments to her husband on the estate. These include a pyramid-shaped cairn built a year after Albert's death, on top of Craig Lurachain.
Since 1987 an illustration of the castle has been featured on the reverse side of £100 notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The admission charges include the audio handset tour, which is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The audio tour is only available for admissions before 4.30 p.m. All the facilities for visitors to Balmoral are suitable for disabled access, with clear signposting where one entrance is preferable to another. Parking facilities for disabled and elderly visitors are available within the grounds of Balmoral, near the Estates Office. If required hearing loops can be supplied with the handsets for the audio tour. Electric battricars and normal wheelchairs are available from the Carriage Hall Exhibition. No charges are made for these facilities and staff are always on hand should you require any assistance. Accessible toilet facilities are available in the foyer of The Queen's Buildings, where the cafe and gift shop are located. Assistance dogs are welcome. Safari Tours are available at 09:00 and 13:00
Location : Balmoral Estates, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB
Transport: Aberdeen (National Rail) then bus (50 miles). Bus Routes : Stagecoach 201.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00 - through 31st July
Tickets : Adults £11.50; Seniors/Students £10.50; Children (5 - 16) £5.00.
Tel: 013397 42534