While Britain is still cooing over Prince George and Princess Charlotte, you can have a right royal time in Scotland oohing and aahing at the residences of the British royal family that are open to the public.
The royal why: Built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1850s, Balmoral is now the holiday home of Queen Elizabeth II and her family from September to November. Though the castle is not as ostentatious as you might expect, Queen Victoria described Balmoral as “my dear paradise in the Highlands”.
Common ground: Woe betide any weed that infiltrates the royal vegie patch, but the public is welcome to traipse around the neat plantings of mollycoddled carrots and beets.
The ballroom is the only room open to the public. Here, watch video footage of Prince Charles’ balding royal pate doing the dosey doe (thanks to the unfortunate camera angle) around the ballroom; and the Queen showing her lighter side while she takes her then young grandchildren Zara, Beatrice, William and Harry for a pony ride around the grounds.
Royal scandals: In autumn 2012, Prince Harry sought refuge at Balmoral from his nude-in-Vegas photo scandal, no doubt receiving a different kind of dressing-down from his grandmother.
John Brown, Queen Victoria’s rumoured lover, is buried in the old graveyard across the road from nearby Crathie parish church, where the holidaying royals attend Sunday services.
We are not amused: In the nearby town of Ballater, royal warrants are proudly displayed by stores that supply goods to the Queen and Prince Charles. Note the Queen’s royal warrant on the Chinese takeaway, which really belongs to Chalmers Bakery next door.
The royal why: Glamis Castle (pictured) is the fictional residence of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the real-world childhood home of then commoner Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mother) and the birthplace of the late Princess Margaret. The castle is on lands granted to the Bowes-Lyon family in 1372 by King Robert II. When Elizabeth was four her father inherited Glamis Castle with the title of 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The fairytale-like building with its lofty turrets is reportedly the most haunted castle in Scotland.
Common ground: The 50-minute guided tour of the castle includes the family chapel, where a particular seat is always reserved for ‘the Grey Lady’, the ghost of Lady Janet Douglas of Glamis, who was burned at the stake in 1537 by King James V of Scotland on trumped-up charges of witchcraft. The castle is also said to be haunted by the spirit of ‘Earl Beardie’, who declared that he would play cards with the Devil himself into the wee small hours of Sunday when he could find no-one else in the castle who would violate the Sabbath.
Safely beyond the castle walls, members of the public may stroll at their leisure through the picturesque grounds, keeping an eye out for red squirrels and Highland coos.
Royal scandal: In Victorian times Glamis Castle was plagued by rumours of a resident ‘monster’ who, some speculate, may have been the first-born son and rightful heir of the 11th Earl. According to the theory, in 1821 the child was born so severely deformed that he was registered as deceased and then concealed in a secret apartment within the castle walls, where he unexpectedly survived infancy and lived to about 100.
We are not amused: When the current Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne married commoner Karen Baxter in August 2012, the Daily Mail couldn’t let sleeping corgis lie, reporting “Twice-divorced Queen’s cousin with ‘taste for drinking and prostitutes’ weds shop manager.”
The royal why: Located at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, this relatively small palace is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, and where she receives guests in the Royal Apartments during ‘Holyrood Week’ in June/July. Maintaining a tradition dating back to King George V and Queen Mary, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertain 8,000 guests at a Garden Party in the grounds of the palace each summer.
Common ground: The palace’s Royal Apartments and Historic Apartments and the adjacent ruins of Holyrood Abbey are open to the public, aided by an audio tour.
Mary, Queen of Scots’ Bedchamber and Outer Chamber are a treasure-trove of the bedevilled 16th-century monarch’s personal possessions, including a lock of her hair, delicate needlework she completed in exile in England and a perfume pomander.
Royal scandal: Arguably the most famous room in Scotland, the Outer Chamber is where David Rizzio, Mary’s secretary, was dragged from the small supper room off the Bedchamber and stabbed 56 times by the queen’s jealous husband, Lord Darnley, and his henchmen.
We are most amused: In 2011, when Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall held their wedding reception at the palace, wannabe karaoke king Prince William performed Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer. Aye, Britain’s got talent.
[Post updated 30 May 2015]