Balmoral Through the Years

It is fittingly majestic: the crystal clear rivers, rolling meadows, nature everywhere, all the makings of a fairy tale castle.

Balmoral Castle in Scotland is where the royals come to relax, a tradition passed down through generations.

More than 150 years ago, Queen Victoria fell in love with the Scottish highlands and snapped up a castle. But it wasn't big enough for the whole family so her husband designed a bigger place on the same Balmoral estate. The royal family has been vacationing there ever since.

"Family life here is mostly outdoor life," William Shawcross, author of the queen mother's official royal biography, said. "Picnics, fishing, shooting, hunting."

Back when Queen Victoria roamed the castle, there was tartan plaid in every room -- a bit more toned down today. But the private rooms actually haven't changed that much.

One of Victoria's favorite rooms was the monarch's study.

"Queen Victoria chose that room for her study for the view, the wonderful view of the mountains," Shawcross said. "It's been a study for every monarch since."

In the Balmoral of Queen Victoria, guests had to wear kilts to dinner. Kilts are optional these days, and most dinners are picnics outdoors.

And the royal family gets in on the preparations.

Prince Phillip grills the sausage and beef, which comes from the estate's own highland cattle, and fresh venison.

Queen Elizabeth makes the salad and helps with the dishes. At 83, she goes horseback riding and roams around Balmoral estate in a green Range Rover. She has also been known to pull up a few weeds in the gardens.

"We know if the queen wants the weeding done, because she will pull some weeds herself and put little piles for us," said Morag Hood, who tends the public gardens at Balmoral. "And then you say, 'Oh, she's noticed we are not keeping up with it.'"

The queen mother, Elizabeth's mother, called Balmoral a "happy house." She retreated to Balmoral when London was bombed in World War II.

"And I remember thinking when we came up those awful days of 1941 and 1942, how clean it felt, in a way pure, and I still feel that now," the queen mother wrote.

Royals Can Be Like Any Other Family

It was here that a shy young lady Diana was first spotted.

But it was also here, in 1997, that her sons learned of her death.

As depicted in the movie "The Queen," the royal family was criticized for hiding out at Balmoral while its nation grieved.

Eventually, the queen appeared at Balmoral's gates, and Prince Harry held his father's hand as they read the notes and tributes.

The family had always said it wanted the princes to be here at Balmoral to mourn, where they were surrounded by loving family.

It's a private place where they can be like any other family, Queen Victoria's "dear paradise in the highlands."

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