Prince Albert oversaw the construction of a new, much larger castle on the highland grounds after the purchase. He also made significant improvements to the other estate houses and grounds around, adding a large ballroom, modern gardens and updating the interiors. Queen Victoria favored the estate and always spoke very highly of it, calling it her "dear paradise in the highlands." In another diary entry Victoria writes "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils" at Balmoral. This is exactly how we feel when we escape to the Scottish highlands for some blogging and R&R. Fresh air, peace, relaxation, and a royal function or two, no big deal.
Aside from the draw of the GORGEOUS main house - with its magnificent medieval keep and its ivy-covered limestone facade - the 49,000 acre (holy cow!) estate is unique in that it is actually a working estate with forestry, farmland, and herds of deer! We won't be doing any hunting during our stay, but we do plan to bring our cameras for some winter deer-watching. We will also have to check out the model dairy that Prince Albert had built on the grounds. So much to do, so much history to uncover! Before I ramble on too long, here are the scores:
Location: 10 - I am feeling rather generous with the scores today. Why a 10, you may ask? Isn't Scotland cold and dark in the winter? Ah, yes it is. But it is also the most magical place I have ever been. And this particular house set in this particular landscape (what with the mountain Lochnagar looming over the stoic estate) is nothing more than breathtakingly perfect. Did I mention that I love Scotland?
Exterior/Landscape: 8 - I love a traditional English garden as much as the next person. These are just a little bit special given the fact that Prince Albert designed and tended most of them himself during the last half of the 19th century. The beautiful conifers planted around the estate were his choice as was some of the design of the exterior of the main house. The Queen and Prince hired architect William Smith to build their home and what resulted is nothing less than one of the most quintessentially royal castles I have ever seen. The traditional keep surrounded by the expansive limestone house with its many turrets is beautiful and well balanced with the landscape. I also love the ivy covered facade and the gigantic medieval-style wooden front doors. So classy.
Interior: 7 - Victoria and Albert were quite the cultured pair. They began an art collection at Balmoral that has been maintained by successive monarchs. The collection of paintings in this house is terribly swoon worthy and earns most of the interior points for itself. Unfortunately, as much as I love plaid, the Tartan carpets that cover most of the floors and the mounted deer heads that line the walls are not completely to my taste. However, Balmoral is far more comfortable and inhabitable than most of the castles we stay in. We might just have to look into updating the interiors again.
Overall Design: 8 - Like I said, the exterior pretty much makes us feel as if we are living in a fairytale while the interior makes us feel like we've moved in with the Huntsman from Snow White. Whatever our feelings are on the style, one this is for sure, staying in Queen Victoria's favorite house is a dream come true.
Creativity/Originality: 8 - I love the fact that Prince Albert built himself a real CASTLE. One fit for royal engagements and country living in the Scottish highlands. This castle was made for a country family who loves the outdoors just as much as it was made for state dinners, cigars, and fine brandy. It's a hard balance to achieve but they managed it at Balmoral.
Party Hostability Factor: 10 - Seriously, this place was built for Royal functions. Prince Albert had the old place torn down and an entire new castle built to accommodate the Royal Family and all of their luxurious balls. Queen Victoria actually hosted Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia in 1896. I would have killed to be at that party! Add to this the fact that the castle is still used to host the Ghillies Ball - a dance hosted by Her Majesty twice every year since the reign of Queen Victoria - and you have earned a perfect score. We are looking forward to hosting or maybe just attending something while we are here. I just hope I can remember which fork I am supposed to use when and maybe we ought to brush up on our waltzing skills.
If you want to know more about Balmoral Castle or maybe even plan a visit (Oh, me! Pick me!), just click here.