Outdoors, Travel

A Day Trip to Balmoral Castle

Visiting Balmoral Castle

Our day trip to Balmoral Castle:

“We haven’t seen another car in just short of an hour”, Emma remarked. It seemed like a trivial statement, to begin with, but it is a luxury that we simply don’t get to enjoy back at home in Milton Keynes.

We were on our way from Inverness to Balmoral Castle, the highlight of our week-long trip to Scotland (for me anyway) and in that moment we were winding our way through the Cairngorms National Park. And Emma was right, we hadn’t seen another car in close to an hour. What we had seen instead was endless amounts of greenery, a few Highland Cows and a mountainous range that left our jaws on the floor of the car on more than one occasion.

View of Balmoral Castle from across the front lawn

Arriving at Balmoral Castle:

We had started our trip to Scotland with a tour run by the Highland Experience Tours from Inverness to the Isle of Skye. And from then on, every single day of our road trip through the Scottish Highlands had led us to another area after area of natural beauty and, it seemed that today would be no different. Driving along, with the Disney tunes blaring (naturally), we were heading out on a different kind of day trip. The days before had been filled with low-key hikes in the Highlands and we had seen everything from the Glen Affric mountain range to the roaring waters of Rogie Falls. We had enjoyed lunch on a boulder in the middle of a river, climbed up through wooded areas to picnic above the treetops and we had arrived back at our Airbnb in Strathpeffer feeling like true adventurers each evening. But today was going to be an entirely different kind of adventure. One that required me to swap my leggings and hiking boots for a flowery playsuit and a set of shoes with significantly less mud on them.

Visiting Balmoral Castle had been high up on my bucket list for a long time. And, miraculously, we had managed to accidentally coincide our visit to Scotland with an event being run by the British Horse Society at Balmoral itself.

So, after a couple of hours of driving, I couldn’t help but squeal with excitement when the turrets of Balmoral Castle came into view. This was it! We were about to enter onto the grounds of the Queen’s privately owned property for a day that was going to consist of horses, sightseeing and a little (a lot) of fangirling.

Girl stood outside a door into Balmoral Castle
Touring the gardens at Balmoral Castle
Inside the greenhouse during a visit to Balmoral Castle
Enjoying a walking tour of Balmoral Castle and the grounds
Girl walking into the formal gardens at Balmoral Castle

Exploring the grounds and gardens of Balmoral Castle:

Our BHS event tickets granted us early access to the grounds and so we drove around, parked up and headed off to explore before the crowds arrived. As it was set to be a busy day we made a beeline for the castle first, wanting to explore the one room that is open to the public before it became filled with people. I couldn’t help but beam at Emma as we slowly made our way down the very staircase that so many members of the royal family have also descended as we made our way into the ballroom.

After exploring the ballroom exhibition inside Balmoral Castle, we emerged into the gardens. Originally opened to the public in 1931, it’s still possible to explore them daily between April and July each year, after which the Queen herself arrives for her annual stay. It was a beautifully hot day when we visited Balmoral Castle, so we had the pleasure of enjoying the gardens at their best – with the sun beaming down on them and the warmth on our backs making for a pleasant walk through the many different areas within the Balmoral grounds. We didn’t venture too far away, as we knew that we wanted to have lunch before heading off for the Highland Pony display but the estate is so large that you could easily spend all day exploring it, if you wanted to.

You can also pick up audio tours that will give you a little bit of history to the gardens and, if you book them in advance, you can take a safari tour which will showcase the wildlife that calls Balmoral its home.

Visiting Balmoral Castle for a Highland Horse Display
Highland Horse at Balmoral Castle
Highland Horse in training display held at Balmoral Castle

Time for lunch in the Balmoral Pipers Cafe...

Not wanting to miss the one display that we had driven nearly two hours to see, however, we finished up our walk on the grounds and stopped at the onsite café for our first taste of Haggis. The Balmoral Pipers Café is self-service but has a wonderful selection of hot meals available, including vegetarian and gluten-free options! In true tourist style, we wanted to get the entire Scottish experience and so we opted for the one option on the menu that would allow us to try Haggis. And we were not disappointed! Which is probably unsurprising seeing as all of the food is prepared in the Balmoral Kitchens and was quite simply divine.

Seeing the Highland Ponies in action at Balmoral Castle:

Once we had eaten, it was time to head off to watch the Highland display.

Somewhat short but sturdy animals, the Highland Ponies have a distinct look about them and while they are becoming popular riding horses, here on the Balmoral Estate they have a specific job to do. Carefully trained by a group of dedicated grooms, the Highland Ponies are responsible for carrying deer back from the areas in the mountains that vehicles cannot access. A job that is necessary in order to keep the numbers of the deer in check, and to, therefore, keep the entire herd as healthy as possible. The versatility of the breed, however, makes them just as adept at being ridden and they often are when the Queen comes to visit.

Sadly, in the past few months, the stud has lost three ponies to grass sickness, a fact that brought tears to the eyes of both the grooms and the audience watching on. To the team at Balmoral, those Highland ponies are more than a job, they are family and that became inherently obvious to us just a few minutes later.

Visiting Balmoral Castle

“We think that you know our friend’s horse”. Emma and I had just approached the Estate Stud Manager of the Balmoral Estate, having watched her fascinating display of the Highland Ponies and listened to her talk about the techniques they use in training them to do the fantastic job they do.

After the talk had finished, we had stood and waited for an appropriate moment to tentatively approach her with our statement and within seconds we realised that we had no need to be so nervous. Having given her the name of our friend’s horse, Sylvia Ormiston was now excitedly relaying all of the information she could remember about Dominic and his entire family line – one of which she was involved in breeding.

It was refreshing to listen to someone so passionate about their work, and it was clear within seconds as to why the Queen found Sylvia to be the best person to continue the bloodlines of her precious Highland Ponies. The Highland Ponies are one of the Queen’s pride and joys, and she takes a personal interest in every single one that is bred. Standing listening to Sylvia talk to us about the many horses she has bred and raised at Balmoral, it was clear how dedicated she is to the work she does and suddenly it seemed natural that it was her that had been trusted with such an important task.

Girl walking up to Balmoral Castle

Watching the Highland Ponies display, with Balmoral Castle in the background, was the perfect end to the perfect day. And having had the opportunity to speak to Sylvia in person, we left in awe of her, a woman so amazingly passionate about what she does. As we climbed back into the car for another beautiful road trip through the Cairngorms National Park, neither of us could stop gushing about the entire day. From sitting on the lawn looking up at the Castle, to wandering through the gardens, to meeting the very ponies that the Queen dotes on and getting to speak to the woman responsible for breeding them, it was difficult to pick a favourite moment from our visit to Balmoral Castle.

Tips and tricks for planning a visit to Balmoral Castle

Plan your visit to Balmoral Castle:

Opening times: 

Monday 1st April until Wednesday 31st July.

10am - 5pm.

Admission Prices: 

Adults - £11.50
Seniors / Students - £10.50
Children (5 to 16 years) - £6.00
Family Ticket (2 adults and up to 4 children) - £32.00

Visit the website for more information.

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Planning a visit to Balmoral Castle
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