Nestled in the green Scottish countryside, Balmoral Castle towers over the surrounding evergreens and open courtyards, a relic of a grander era, invoking daydreams of Cinderella or King Arthur.
But rather than knights or dragons, it was not too long ago that a passerby might catch a glimpse of the 90-something Queen Mother Elizabeth, waist deep in a river, fishing in waders. It was at Balmoral that the queen would take a reprieve from the pressure of leading the strongest family in the United Kingdom and fishing was just one of her passions.
"Now it's one place where the royal family can all relax together and be a family and go on picnics together, go fishing together, have barbecue's together, and free from the interference from the outside world," William Shawcross who penned the new official royal biography, "The Queen Mother," told ABC News.
Granted unprecedented access to royal documents, including her private letters, Shawcross' behind-the-scenes research spanned the Queen Mother's 101-year life and captured a side of the royal rarely seen except by those who knew her best.
Secrets about Balmoral's friendly, intimate gatherings and how the queen left her mark -- she was the one to invite a younger crowd of friends than ever into the house -- are just a fraction of the royal life revealed in Shawcross' biography, which hits bookshelves in the U.S. next week.
"She had from childhood and extraordinary bubbly, effervescent, joyful personality. And one of the wonderful things for me as her biographer was to read her letters from age 10 to 100 because they all overflowed with jubilant love of life," Shawcross said.
Elizabeth Bowes Lyon never expected to be the queen, but when she was crowned, Scotland rejoiced. For the first time since the 17th century, one of their own had become part of the British monarchy.
Born into Scottish nobility as the ninth of ten children, the future queen was raised in several grand homes, including the famous -- some say haunted -- Glamis Castle.
"She had from childhood an extraordinary bubbly, effervescent, joyful personality," Shawcross said.
According to Glamis Castle's current manager, Gil Crawford, early stories about the future queen tell of "a lot of mischief in the early years."
As a teenager during World War I, Elizabeth learned some hard lessons at the castle when it became a home for wounded soldiers.
"Those four years of getting to know men from all walks of life gave her an experience of relating to people which she wouldn't have had if she'd grown up in the royal family," Shawcross said.
She wasn't anxious to marry into the royal family. Prince Albert proposed three times before she said yes. But their love shines through in letters she wrote during their engagement.