15 OCTOBER 2007

After their romantic holiday in the Seychelles this summer, Kate Middleton and Prince William have upped the stakes in their relationship with a family holiday in Balmoral. The 25-year-old fashion buyer and her royal beau spent the weekend with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Highlands estate, enjoying country walks together.

The couple are believed to have stayed in the 25-year-old Prince's cottage, while his father and step-mother - who are said to be delighted that Wills and Kate are back together after a brief break in their four-year relationship earlier this year - stayed at their nearby Highlands home, Birkhall. The intimate weekend is the first time Kate has attended a family gathering since she and William decided to give their relationship a second chance.

A small group of the couple's friends are understood to have joined the royal party. "This is how things tend to be done in the royal family," says an insider. "They enjoy these house parties together." They will all be staying at Wills' 120-year-old home on the estate, which insiders say is the ideal place for the couple to enjoy some time together away from the glare of the public eye.

The former gamekeeper's cottage, which underwent an £80,000 renovation last June, is situated on a secluded part of Balmoral and features stunning views over the Highlands.

While the intimate gathering suggests the pair's relationship is going from strength-to-strength and is sure to have royal watchers eagerly anticipating news of an engagement, sources close to the pair have said that may not happen for a year or so yet.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
The couple, who recently rekindled their four-year romance, spent the weekend with Prince Charles and the Duchess of CornwallPhoto: © Getty Images
Photo: © Alphapress.com
They stayed in a secluded cottage on the Balmoral estate, which boasts fantastic views of the Scottish Highlands