Image caption, Until now, the public was only able to view a small exhibition in the castle’s ballroom

  • Author, Louise Hosie
  • Role, BBC Scotland News
  • Reporting from Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle has been the British Royal Family’s Scottish holiday home since the 19th Century.

But it is probably etched on the whole country’s mind as the place where we last saw Queen Elizabeth II.

Who can forget that final public picture of the late Queen, with her warm smile and cosy cardigan in front of the roaring fire in her castle drawing room?

It’s outside this room that it hits me that this is a piece of history.

BBC Scotland has been invited to a preview of the brand new Balmoral Castle tour.

Starting on Monday, members of the public can see areas of the category A listed building that no one outside the family and invited guests have seen before.

Image caption, Balmoral Castle’s new tours open up rooms that have never been seen before by the public

Tickets weren’t cheap at £100 (£150 with afternoon tea) and sold out within 24 hours of going on sale in April.

The tour starts at the castle’s large battlemented porte cochere – a grand entrance wide enough for carriages to pass through.

After a short introduction, we’re taken into the entrance hall.

Its walls are lined with 22 stuffed stag heads and there’s a bronze statue of Malcolm of Canmore, the 11th Century king who is said to have killed Macbeth.

There’s also a bust of Queen Victoria, which is a hint of the monarch’s influence which is felt right through the castle.

But what strikes me immediately is that this is a home.

Image source, Visitor Enterprise for Balmoral Castle/PA Wire

Image caption, The royal coat of arms and Queen Victoria’s cypher in the entrance hall

It’s grand, but smaller than you’d think, and the fishing rods and walking sticks stacked against the walls immediately conjure up images of King Charles walking through the fields and those Lady Diana engagement pictures next to the River Dee.

Our guide takes us through to the red corridor. We pass a life-sized statue of Prince Albert which we are told can rotate.

Apparently the heartbroken Victoria had staff turn the sculpture around so she could see her beloved husband when she was upstairs.

There’s also a large dinner gong, which we’re told has connections going back to The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The flock wallpaper, commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1887, features crowns, thistles, and the initials VRI – Victoria Regina Imperatrix (Victoria, Queen and Empress).

Image source, Visitor Enterprise for Balmoral Castle/PA Wire

Image caption, The flock wallpaper was commissioned by Queen Victoria

Image source, Visitor Enterprise for Balmoral Castle/PA Wire

Image caption, The castle feels like a home but is packed with statues and other artefacts

The main dining room is next. This is where the King holds evening dinners and entertains family and guests.

Almost all the British prime ministers, US President Eisenhower and Florence Nightingale have dined here.

At either end are large portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In keeping with the Scottish theme, the drapes are in Royal Stewart tartan.

We then pass through the page’s lobby, which takes us to the family dining room, which is used for breakfast and afternoon teas for the Royal Family.

Just before we reach the drawing room, the guide explains that this is where the last public photo of the late Queen was taken, as she confirmed Liz Truss as the new prime minister.

Image source, Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Image caption, Queen Elizabeth in her last photo in the drawing room at Balmoral Castle in 2022

Walking in and seeing the fireplace, and the green sofa, the significance of this room struck me.

I was completely conscious I was in a space the royals have lived in, that numerous dignitaries have been in, and that will live on in history.

I remember thinking “this is the room”.

The overwhelming feeling was that this was a family home. I could see the late Queen at the fireplace, the other royals sitting around together.

The floral printed furniture gives it a cosy feel.

Antiques, like the mantlepiece clock and stag head candelabras, sit alongside more modern touches – what used to be two cabinets have been changed into speakers.

On top of a grand piano there are a selection of framed photos, including King Charles and Queen Camilla, and the Queen Mother.

Books in a stand include novels by PD James.

Image source, Visitor Enterprise for Balmoral Castle/PA Wire

Image caption, The library is King Charles’ own working study where he has hosted meetings with dignitaries

The final room on the tour is the library.

This, we’re told, is used by the King as his own working study, and has also hosted meetings with numerous dignitaries.

There’s a wide variety of books, including ones on Scottish history, highland clans, and the speeches of Price Albert.

After the tour we also have the chance to see the grand ballroom.

Perhaps the most famous room at Balmoral, it’s famed for its ghillies ball, held by the Royal Family every year to thank staff for their service.

A selection of watercolours of Royal Deeside painted by King Charles are on display

There’s also a selection of outfits worn by the King and Queen, Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother.

Image caption, The Queen at the writing desk in her study at Balmoral in 1972

Outside, the gardens surrounding the castle, have been updated with hundreds of saplings, planted personally by King Charles.

The monarch has also commissioned a thistle maze, which is in its infancy, but is open to the public.

Balmoral Castle is steeped in Scottish tradition, with numerous nods to its rich royal history.

The tour gives the public a glimpse into the more private side of the Royal Family while they holiday here in Aberdeenshire .

And it’s easy to imagine why this was the place Queen Elizabeth II was said to feel the most at home.

The tours run from Monday 1 July until Sunday 4 August.

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