The Queen is enjoying her summer break in Scotland, undoubtedly one of her favourite places on Earth. Over the weekend, she was spotted attending Sunday church on the estate with her son Prince Andrew, her granddaughter Princess Beatrice, her son Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. The 93-year-old monarch has been visiting her Scottish residence, Balmoral Castle, for decades; she and Prince Philip even spent part of their honeymoon at Birkhall hunting lodge, located on the estate, in 1947.
Her granddaughter Princess Eugenie has declared that 'Granny' is most happy in the Highlands, saying: "Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there's always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time. 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." Speaking on ITV's Our Queen At Ninety, she added: "It's the most beautiful place on earth. I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands."
The Queen has been visiting Balmoral Castle for decades
Where is Balmoral?
The Queen's summer residence is located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. Her Majesty usually takes her private helicopter from England to Scotland, and in the past, she has been pictured boarding the jet with her clan of corgis. The magnificent estate turreted grey stone castle is set amid mountains, lochs, glens and grouse moors.
It is the Queen's private home and was handed down to her through generations of royals after being bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852. Victoria described Balmoral as her "Heaven on Earth" and it is where she sought solace after Albert's death.
The Queen travels everywhere with her corgis
What does the Queen do in Balmoral?
Balmoral is where the monarch and her family can truly relax and be themselves. Each morning a lone piper plays below the Queen's bedroom window. It's quite usual for visitors to see Prince Philip grilling sausages over a barbeque or Her Majesty washing up; Margaret Thatcher was so baffled by the monarch's habit of washing up with bare hands, she sent her a pair of gloves. Picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks are all laid on.
And despite being on their summer holiday, the royals will occasionally attend official engagements, namely the Braemar Gathering, where the Queen is Chieftain of the Highland games. The sovereign and her husband Prince Philip are always pictured having a laugh as they watch the annual tug-of-war and the sack race. Royal watchers can also catch a glimpse of the family when they attend Sunday church at Crathie Kirk, located on the Queen's estate.
The Queen spends every summer at Balmoral
When does the Queen visit Balmoral?
The Queen usually starts her summer holiday in mid-July, but while the main castle is officially open to tourists until house' August, she stays in a seven-bedroom stone house on her estate, Craigowan Lodge. She then moves into the big house in August and stays in Scotland until September/October time.
The royals take part in outdoor pursuits
Which royals visit the Queen at Balmoral?
The royal family take it in turns to visit the monarch in Scotland, quietly jetting in on their private helicopters. This month so far, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York, and Andrew's elder daughter Princess Beatrice have all been spotted in Scotland. Others royals who are expected to travel up to Balmoral include the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with baby Archie, who will be making his first visit to the summer retreat, and the Wessex family.
Prince William and Kate have been visiting Balmoral since their university days. The parents-of-three have had some of their most romantic moments at the residence, staying at a cottage called Tam-na-Ghar during their breaks at St Andrews University. William also surprised his then-girlfriend in 2009, arranging a candle-lit in a remote log cabin on the banks of the River Dee. Since then, the Duke and Duchess regularly drop in for short summer visits, now with their young children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks are all laid on
Which high-profile visitors have stayed at Balmoral?
In past years, non-royals have also been invited to Balmoral. Kate's parents Carole and Michael Middleton have been guests of Prince Charles at his Scottish hunting lodge, Birkhall. Prime ministers and first ministers have also stayed for short periods; David Cameron once said there was not much "chillaxing" at Balmoral, with the royals spending their time on outdoor pursuits. Tony Blair's wife Cherie also revealed in her autobiography how her son Leo was conceived at Balmoral when she left her contraception at home out of embarrassment, during her annual weekend stay there with husband. Cherie knew that royal household staff would unpack her luggage, as is customary at the Queen's residences.
"In 1998 I had been extremely disconcerted to discover that everything of mine had been unpacked," she wrote. "Not only my clothes, but the entire contents of my distinctly ancient toilet bag with its range of unmentionables. This year I had been a little more circumspect, and had not packed my contraceptive equipment out of sheer embarrassment. As usual up there, it had been bitterly cold, and what with one thing and another..."
Balmoral is privately owned by the royals
What is Balmoral's history?
Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert first visited the Highlands in 1842 and were so struck by its beauty they resolved to return. The monarch famously called Balmoral a "paradise in the Highlands" and wrote in her diary: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils."
The magnificent estate, set amid mountains, lochs and glens, held a special place for Victoria, so much so that in 1852 her husband Albert bought it for her. The original house was deemed "small but pretty", which led to the commission of Balmoral Castle. Unlike other properties such as Buckingham Palace, it is privately owned.