Over the Easter holiday weekend the weather was brilliant, so we wanted to make the most of it.
We decided to take a trip to Balmoral Castle which is approximately 50 miles from Aberdeen.
It was no hardship taking a drive over the Bank Holiday as there were very few cars on the road and driving through the magnificent valley of the River Dee, towards the Cairngorm Mountains the scenery is spectacular.
I've wanted to enter the gates to Balmoral on numerous occasions but Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has always beaten me to it. Well Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, having been first leased in 1848, so I suppose she should have first choice.
(The gates are the main entrance to Balmoral Castle and Estate in Royal Deeside.
The featured initials G R (George Rex) along with a Royal Crown; the second belonged to Her Majesty Queen Mary and displays the initials M R (Mary Regina) and the date is 1925)
The Castle is located on the large Balmoral Estate, a working estate which aims to protect the environment while contributing to the local economy. The original Balmoral Castle was built in the fifteenth century but it was considered too small. A new castle was constructed on the site about 90 metres (100 yards) north from the old building. Prince Albert planned the grounds and helped with the design of the castle itself, which was completed in 1856.
The castle has been handed down through their descendants, and today is the traditional holiday home for The Queen and members of her family during the summer vacation period.
The Castle is built in granite from neighbouring quarries of Glen Gelder, which produced a near white stone. It sparkles in the right light. Unfortunately the sun didn't shine during our visit, but I plan to revisit over the summer months.
On the impressive front lawn, at a point opposite the tower and about 100 yards from the path, a stone marks the position of the front door of the earlier house which was demolished in 1856.
It is easy to be transported back in time in your mind to days gone by, when you look around you on this estate.
If you visit the castle there are brilliant audio tours which guides you through the grounds, gardens and exhibitions at Balmoral. This fascinating tour details the story of Balmoral and the workings of the Estate and is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
I wanted to spend more time listening to all of the amazing details, but then I became aware that I'd stopped so many times to take photos and to listen to the audio, that my family had moved on...
So let's get a little closer...
Don't worry the castle's foundations are solid... it's just the quirky angle that I took this photo.
Sometimes people just get in the way!
The centre windows in the above photo have a fantastic view over the rose gardens and beyond towards the mountains (snow capped at the moment) This was another reason that the house was rebuilt and moved so that these views could be enjoyed.
If you look closely to the centre of the photo below you can just see the snow on the mountain.
The roses are all timed to bloom when the Queen and the Royal Family visit in August.
All of the rooms will be decorated with posies and flower arrangements for their visit.
That's one of the reasons why I want to return... to see the gardens in all of their glory, but I'll have to make sure it's before August.
Obviously, when Her Majesty is in residence the castle is closed to the public but at this time of year we can enter into the largest room in the house.
It is still much used by the Royal Family today and dances such as the Ghillies Ball take place every year since Queen Victoria's reign.
Unfortunately, no photograph's are allowed to be taken by the public in this room, which has fascinating exhibits of photo's, toys and treasures plus amazing art work on the walls.
One incredible treasure was found in the tower of the castle and has been restored.
It is an elaborate cot which they think might have been used for Queen Victoria's nine children.
There is also the fantastic electric car, built in the late 1920s and used by The Queen and Princess Margaret when children. The car was renovated in 1953 and the Citroen radiator was changed for that of a Daimler. The car was then given to Prince Charles and so the registration number was appropriately changed to PC 1953.
There's lots of video footed showing the car in use.
Also some great footage of Prince Philip having fun with Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
If you'd like to see more then click here
to enter the Balmoral Castle and Estate website.
The exhibitions extend into the Carriage Hall Courtyard where there are a number of other fascinating displays.
This Daimler has been to Australia House in Australia and back again... just imagine how many miles that would have put on the clock
The castle has it's own fire station too... but they have moved on from the old equipment on display to the left of this photo below.
I mean wooden ladders!
I think my favourite car on display was this little blue cutie... it was tiny.
If I remember rightly (sorry I didn't take notes) it used to be a delivery van.
Now here's something you don't see every day.
The antlers give it away slightly.
It's the building where the deer and vension were butchered and hung.
Thankfully the door was locked.
So wandering further in the 50,000 acre Highland Estate we visited the greenhouses and vegetable garden.
This greenhouse was stunning and another one was packed with seedlings all getting ready to be harvested in August and September during the Royal Family's visit.
I didn't take a photo of the veg plot on this occasion because they are just clear beds all ready for planting out, so not much to see at the moment.
The Duke of Edinburgh has enlarged the flower and vegetable garden and created the water garden.
This photo isn't of the water garden... it's the River Dee from the bridge.
Fast flowing and looking rather chilly today.
As many of my regular visitors will know... I love trees and as you can imagine I was completely enamoured by the majestic trees and woodland on the estate.
To think that the specimen below was planted by Prince Albert himself.
And so this visit comes to an end... for today anyway but I'll be back to listen to more facts and details on the audio tour and to see the gardens in full bloom especially the rose and herbaceous borders.
I would like to take the safari tour too. It takes you through the manicured parkland and out through the Estate farm and into the old Caledonian Pine Forest.
Who knows we might even see the elusive capercaillie?
No wonder Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family like to come here for their summer holiday.
It's easy to imagine them wandering around the grounds and estate, or fishing in the River Dee.
It has a wonderful friendly but peaceful ambiance.
I nearly forgot to say we did have lunch in the cafeteria and I can highly recommend the soup and scones. There's also a gift shop that has unique and high quality souvenir's.
All in all there's something for everyone... so if you're up this way then pop in to see for yourself.
On the way home, we visited the Bridge of Feugh (another beauty spot) to see if we could spot some salmon climbing the rock ladder to their spawning grounds to breed, but unfortunately we didn't spot one.
Maybe next time?
I hope you enjoyed our little trip and will pop back again soon.
Meanwhile, I'm heading out into the garden... it's woken up and the sun's shining!
Enjoy your week