09/01/2011

Guns, booze and chills part of Queen's summer retreat

Balmoral_Castle,_Scotland

Green thumbs take notice: The Queen is looking for a new head gardener for her Balmoral Castle estate. But you'd better be quick because applications must arrive no later than Sept. 23. The estate has a long and rich history, and serves as the residence for the Queen and Prince Philip during August and September.

Few insiders get to observe the royal family tradition of a summer jaunt to the castle, but those who do seem to agree on three things: it's cold, there's booze and the the royals like a good BBQ. 

Balmoral was acquired as a royal property after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert fell in love with it during a visit to the Scottish Highlands in 1848. While the original Balmoral castle was built in the 15th century, it was deemed too small for the royals and renovations began with the main house completed in 1856. The most recent improvement to the royal summer castle is a water garden created by The Duke of Edinburgh.

"Family life here is mostly outdoor life," the author of the Queen Mother's official biography, William Shawcross, told ABC. "Picnics, fishing, shooting, hunting."

The Queen has also been known to do a bit of gardening at the estate.

"We know if the Queen wants the weeding done, because she will pull some weeds herself and put little piles for us," Balmoral gardener Morag Hood told ABC. "And then you say, 'Oh, she's noticed we are not keeping up with it.'"

Kate has already been on a few trips to the estate, staying at Birkhall, the cottage on the edge of the Balmoral estate belonging to Prince Charles and Camilla. In 2007, engagement speculations were again fuelled after Kate was seen hunting with Prince Charles on the grounds. The couple spent numerous weekends at the estate while they were dating at St. Andrews University.

But for guests to the main house during the summer break, things can be a little bit more tense. In his autobiography Tony Blair described his weekend stay at the estate as "intriguing, surreal and freaky."

The then-Prime Minister was put off by the personal valet service assigned to each guest to lay out and iron their clothes. "This so disconcerted me that when he then asked if he could ‘'draw the bath,' I lost the thread completely and actually thought for a moment that he wanted to sketch the damn thing," Blair wrote in his autobiography.

In fact, Balmoral's thorough unpacking of guests luggage is the reason for the Blair's fourth child.

"The first year we had stayed - in 1998 - I had been extremely disconcerted to discover that everything of mine had been unpacked," Cherie Blair wrote in her autobiography. "Not only my clothes but the entire contents of my distinctly ancient toilet bag with its range of unmentionables."

The next year she was so embarrassed she didn't pack her contraceptives -- nine months later Leo Blair was born.

Princess Diana was not a fan of Balmoral, citing it as the location where her boughts of bulimia were at their worst.

Guests often complain of the cold in the main house, according to the Daily Mail. While the halls and reception areas are stoked by large wood-burning fires, the guest rooms still rely on two-bar electric heaters.

But the lack of heat may be welcomed at dinner when guests are required to don formal attire, which means black coats and ties for men (change from Queen Victoria's reign when men were required to wear kilts) and full gowns for women.

And if that isn't enough to warm you up, the stiff drinks offered before dinner should do the trick.

"This stuff – I was never quite sure what it was –- was absolutely what was needed. It was rocket fuel," Tony Blair wrote in his biography.

Although Balmoral has undergone redecorating since its original tartan opulent days under Queen Victoria, guests to the castle can still expect to see a lot of the Scottish fabric in drapes, carpets and bed coverings. Paired with heavily patterned wallpaper and frequent antlers and other stuffed hunting trophies hanging from the walls and the effect can be -- well, overwhelming.

While a visit to Balmoral is a family vacation, it is still a formal event, reports the Daily Mail, with guests, including Kate, expected to courtesy in front of the Queen. Being married to William, Kate won't have to courtesy to any one else, apart from Camilla when she is with Charles.

But there is one relaxed moment at Balmoral -- the Saturday BBQ -- where Prince Philip mans the grill (which he reportedly built himself) and the Queen helps make the salad and after the meal stacks up the plates and helps out with washing the dishes.

Only married couples are allowed to attend the grilling of cattle and venison (plucked from the estate) as one political adviser learned when the invite to him and his partner was withdrawn after the royals discovered despite their two children, they had decided against nuptials.

Comments

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Kate, expected to courtesy?

AND

Kate won't have to courtesy

White tie (plus tails etc.) is formal. Black tie is semi-formal.
Glad to know that the Duchess of Cambridge is courteous though.

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