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Balmoral Castle


Balmoral has been the Scottish residence of the Royal Family since the mid-19th century when the policies were laid out. There are five miles of walks in the grounds, including the Broad Walk created by Prince Albert. The formal gardens around the house retain their structure and there is a walled garden with a Victorian conservatory and an area laid out by Queen Mary in the early-20th century. Later 20th-century developments include a water garden and areas for fruit and vegetables.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

Balmoral is a particularly fine example of a handsome country estate typical of the mid-19th-century with parkland, woodland, arboretum, woodland walks, shrubberies and gardens set within the dramatic backcloth and 'romantic' Higland scenery of the Dee valley and the Grampians. References suggest that the landscape gardener James Beattie and the artist James Giles assisted Prince Albert with the design of the grounds and that the layout of many of the estate paths was designed for Queen Victoria.

Location and Setting

Balmoral Castle lies in the valley of the River Dee as it curves through the foothills in this part of the Grampians between Braemar and Ballater. It is 9 miles (14.5km) west of Ballater and just over 50 miles (80km) west of Aberdeen. The policies are bounded by the curve of the river to the north of the Castle, by the hill of Craig Gowan rising to 1,332' (406m) on its south side, and by the hill of Creag an Lurachain rising to 1,470' (448m) to the south-east. The Castle is 926' (282m) above sea level and commands extensive views of the upper Deeside 'romantic' scenery. To the south-west is the summit of Lochnagar made famous in the early 19th century by Byron, who spent some of his early life nearby at Ballater, and for younger generations, by the present Prince of Wales in his tale 'The Old Man of Lochnagar'. The climate in winter is harsh; Braemar in recent years recording some of the lowest winter temperatures in Britain, with frosts of -27.2ºC; however, the annual rainfall is low with only 33" a year on average. The Castle is set on a terrace to the south of the river to take advantage of the magnificent views to the west. The policy woodlands are visible from the A93 to the north of the river.

The designed landscape is bounded by the River Dee in the north and east, by deer fencing and the estate road from the West Lodge to the south of the parks, and by the village of Crathie to the south-east. This boundary has remained the same since the grounds were improved by the Prince Consort in the 1850s and is shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1868. There are several miles of walks within the Balmoral estate which extends for approximately 50,000 acres (20,250ha), and there are several outlying features of the designed landscape. The cairns and monuments which provide features for these walks also act as eyecatchers in the views from the policies. The area influenced by the designed landscape covers 675 acres (273ha), which includes 250 acres (100ha) of parkland and amenity woodland, 2.5 acres (1ha) of formal gardens, 8.7 acres (3.58ha) of shrubbery and water gardens, and 1.6 acres (0.65ha) of kitchen garden.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Although the buildings at Balmoral are not at present listed, there are many architectural features of interest in the policies. The Castle. was built between 1853-6, to the design of William Smith of Aberdeen; it is Scottish Baronial in style and built of local white granite. It consists of two main blocks connected by wings, with an 80' tower to the east, surmounted by a small turret which reaches 100' from the ground. The Stables and Court of Offices lie to east of the House and were also designed by Smith. The Garden Cottage lies to the south and west of the Castle along the Broad Walk, and is rustic in character. The Game Larders, the Ice House and Karim Cottage lie to the east of the Castle, and the Dairy and Baile-na-Coille lie to the south-east of the policies.

The fine bridge across the Dee was built in 1857, to a design by Brunel. There are many cairns, statues and monuments within the grounds erected to commemorate important events in the life of the Royal Family: of particular interest are the cairn put up in memory of Prince Albert. on Craig an Lurachain, the statues of the Prince Consort in highland dress by William Theed, the Golden Jubilee Statue of Queen Victoria, the obelisk to Prince Albert; a statue of John Brown by Sir Edgar Boehm in 1883; the memorial fountain to King Edward VII, a memorial to George V near the river, the cherub fountain, and the deer and boar statues near the Castle.


There are two areas of parkland: to the south-east of the Castle the former area of parkland now forms a golf course, and to the west of the Castle, the dramatic views are framed by several clumps of trees, mainly sycamore and oak. An enclosed area of park contains some fine older parkland trees of birch and sycamore, and is grazed. Distinguished visitors have planted a number of trees in the grounds over the years, and there has been some new tree planting of oak and birch west of the Castle. The Broad Walk put in by Prince Albert remains and there is also a Riverside Walk; altogether there are about five miles of walks in the grounds of the Castle.


In the 1850s Prince Albert planted extensive coniferous woodlands: these have been replanted gradually over the years, particularly after the disastrous 1953 gale. There are some remnants of the Caledonian Forest, particularly Ballochbuie Forest, one of the largest areas of Caledonian Pine in Scotland, which Queen Victoria purchased in 1878 to prevent it from being felled. Most of the woodland areas are managed commercially and, as this is a sporting estate, some areas have been deer-fenced on an experimental basis to help natural regeneration. A mixed woodland of oak, sycamore, scots pine, larch, and birch grows along the banks of the River Dee framing the park; and within the woods, walks were put in by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.

The Gardens

The designs for the formal gardens around the Castle were submitted in c.1850 by John and William Smith, and a 'revised design' for the garden was drawn by John Thomas. Prince Albert approved the designs and by 1876 the Gardeners Chronicle recorded 'the upper flower garden; sloping down toward the west in two grass terraces, 8' broad, with two divisions filled with Pelargoniums, Rhododendron hirsutum, Roses and Juniper...'. 'In the centre of each (division) is a full-sized bronze wild boar, placed, as it were, sitting on its haunches, with its head and shoulders visible above the foliage, which has a strange but telling effect.' The deer statues were also located in this garden by then. These have since gone, however there is a statue of a chamois in the west garden and a statue of a roe buck in the east garden, both of which were refurbished in 1986. The north or lower flower garden was then planted with roses and bedding out plants. To the east of the Castle there was 'a very pretty design of flower garden in scroll-work, edged with Box, with a very handsome fountain in the centre'. Several of the beds were filled with quartz and different coloured stones. Today the basic framework of the garden remains, although the scroll-work has disappeared from the east garden, which has been put to lawn and flower borders.

Roses predominate in the west garden with pinks, lavender, various alpines and ferns bordering the sunken garden. One of the deer statues remains in this garden, and one of the boar statues has been moved to the edge of the lawn facing the garden to its south-west. The 'very handsome granite stair' leads down the terraces to the north garden, which has been replanted in recent years under the direction of the Duke of Edinburgh, and now contains some fine herbaceous plants in the border facing south towards the Castle. A line of fine Irish Yews here in 1876 was destroyed by frost in the winter of 1894-5. A path leads down by the west side of this garden to the shrubbery and toward the River Dee. The stone terrace running along the Castle is filled with creeping, sweet-smelling plants such as thymes, pinks and camomile growing between slabs of stone; this walk was designed by the Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1876 the South garden was known as the 'Outside Flower Garden' and then, as now, contained the greenhouses, which were filled at that time with pot plants and flowers for the Castle. The nursery beds were also in this area, but at that time there was no kitchen garden here, all produce being transported from Frogmore. In front of the glasshouses was the Rose Garden with a large collection of roses, a fountain and a '16 foot wide herbaceous border, filled with varieties to flower in autumn'. By 1897 there were six glasshouses facing south.

This garden was redesigned in 1923 by Queen Mary and contains both roses and magnificent herbaceous borders, and a semi-circular wall to the north of the fountain contains ferns, thyme and other alpines. A beautiful display of pot plants is kept up all year round in the Conservatory, and includes many new varieties of Geraniums. The glasshouses are also used for fruit and vegetables, including Blueberries, introduced by the Duke of Edinburgh about 15 years ago. The east section of the garden is the kitchen garden which supplies vegetables for the Castle.


There is a good collection of specimen conifers in the policies, some of which are numbered and referred to in the Guide Book Tree Key. Alan Mitchell has measured and listed over 70 good-sized specimen conifers including notable Wellingtonias, Douglas Firs and a fine Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Lutea'. The area to the north-west of the house near to the Riverside Walk has been planted up recently as a shrubbery, with species of Azaleas and Rhododendrons and a recent water garden has also been introduced by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


013397 42534

Access contact details

For more detailed visitor information visit the Balmoral Castle website.


The Royal Family


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

Outstanding in almost every category, Balmoral is the main private Scottish residence of the Royal Family. The mid 19th-century designed landscape comprises an important group of architectural features, parkland, woodland and gardens perhaps most noted for their late summer display ' timed for the Queen's visit.

Main Phases of Landscape Development


Site History

The present design of the policies at Balmoral has remained largely unchanged since the 1850s, as revealed by the 1st edition OS map of 1868. There are references to the landscape gardener James Beattie and the artist James Giles assisting Prince Albert with the design of the grounds. Plans for the parterres exist, drawn up by John & William Smith and by John Thomas. The layout of many of the estate paths was designed for Queen Victoria.

The name Balmoral is inextricably associated with Queen Victoria, and indeed the present Castle, gardens and much of the woodlands owe their development to Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort. However there was an earlier castle at Balmoral; records date from 1451 when it was known as 'Bouchmorale', and in 1484 Alexander Gordon, 2nd son of the 1st Earl of Huntly, was noted as being the tenant of the lands at an annual rent of £8.6s.8d. The Gordons built the first castle of Balmoral, thought to have been an early keep-tower. The Gordon family retained their interest in Balmoral until 1662 when they disposed of it to the neighbouring Farquharsons of Inverey. The Farquharson of the early 18th century was a staunch Jacobite, and Balmoral was forfeited after the 1745 rising. In 1798 it was sold to James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife and leased to a succession of tenants up until 1830 when it was leased to the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Gordon, 5th son of the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen. Sir Robert extended the previous tower-house, and commissioned John Smith of Aberdeen to carry out some of the rebuilding for him.

In 1842, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made their first visit to Scotland, staying at Edinburgh and at Taymouth Castle, and they began a search for a suitable site for a Scottish home. After a very wet visit to the west of Scotland in 1847, the Queen's physician Sir James Clark, recommended the climate of Deeside, where his son had just stayed as a guest of Sir Robert Gordon. By this time the area was already recognised for its healthy climate and its mineral water at the nearby wells of Pannanich. In 1847 Sir Robert Gordon died suddenly, and the Queen negotiated with his brother Lord Aberdeen for the remainder of Sir Robert's lease on the property. Lord Aberdeen at this time commissioned his friend and protege, artist James Giles, to paint three watercolour views of the Castle in its setting to send to the Queen. In these watercolours, and in some drawings by Michel Bouquet in the 1840s, the Castle is shown as a two-storey small-windowed house with numerous square and turretted towers, and castellated additions to the south front put on in the 1830s.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made their first visit to Balmoral in 1848 and improvements to the estate buildings were set in motion ready for their next visit the year after. In the years 1849-52, negotiations began with the Trustees of the late Earl Fife to buy the Balmoral Estate and meantime further improvements were made to the estate woodlands, and the paths and gardens. James Giles, who had helped to design the gardens at Haddo House for Lord Aberdeen, is said to have helped the landscape gardener Beattie to lay out the new gardens at Balmoral (and later at Windsor). A prefabricated iron ballroom was also ordered by Prince Albert from Messrs. Bellhouse & Co.

The purchase of Balmoral was finally secured in 1852 for £32,000 when a cairn (the first of many) was built on Craig Gowan to celebrate the occasion. The neighbouring estate of Birkhill was bought also and that of Abergeldie leased from the Gordons. By this time it was clear that a larger building would be needed to accommodate the Royal Family and Ministers of State, and John 'Tudor Johnny' Smith and his son, William Smith, were commissioned to prepare drawings for a new castle. This was eventually designed by William Smith with the active collaboration of Prince Albert. The building was supervised by William Smith who chose a new site, some 100 yards north-west of the previous castle, to take advantage of the fine views to the west from there. On completion of the new castle in 1856, the former house was demolished.

New plantations were started on Craig Gowan in the early 1850s and many exotic conifer trees were planted by the Prince Consort along the drive. In the 1850s, Queen Victoria recorded in her diary that 'Albert is very busy supervising the plantations and laying out the grounds, which no one understands as well as he does'. Some of the site drawings and parterre designs submitted for his approval were by John and William Smith, and at least one, a revised design, was by John Thomas. In 1857 a new bridge over the River Dee was built to enable the old road south of the river to the Old Bridge of Dee at Invercauld to be closed, and to enable travellers to complete their journey westwards outwith the policies. In 1859 having completed extensive improvements to the grounds, the Prince Consort turned his attention to improvements to the farm buildings including, in 1861, plans for a model dairy. Prince Albert died suddenly of typhoid at Windsor in that year, but Queen Victoria continued with his planned improvements to Balmoral. The tenants subscribed for a monument to Prince Albert's memory, which was raised in the form of an obelisk.

Queen Victoria continued to visit Balmoral every year and gradually spent more time there, visiting for a month in May and for up to three months in the autumn. The gardens were kept to Prince Albert's approved plans, and few changes were made apart from the addition of the monuments and of staff cottages. Cottages were built in the policies for her Indian Secretary, Munshi Abdul Karim, on the drive to the offices and, near the east lodge, Baile-na-Coille cottage was built for John Brown. The Garden Cottage to the south of the Castle, where the Queen occasionally breakfasted, read her papers and wrote her diaries, was rebuilt in 1895 for the use of her grandchildren; one room being reserved specifically for the Queen's use.

Queen Victoria died in 1901, and successive generations of the Royal Family have continued to visit Balmoral each autumn. When George V succeeded in 1910, he and Queen Mary did much to enhance the estate and tenants' cottages. In 1923 Queen Mary also redesigned the formal garden to the south of the Castle, at some distance from it across the lawns. This rose garden has a semi- circular wall at its northern end with a fountain, and the gates were made by the local blacksmith in 1923. The gardens to the north of the Castle have been improved by the Duke of Edinburgh; the fine herbaceous borders to the west of the ballroom have been redesigned and a shrubbery has been planted near the river. A new water garden has been put in near the Garden Cottage by the Duke of Edinburgh.


  • Post Medieval (1540 to 1901)
  • Victorian (1837-1901)
Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • House (featured building)
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  • Conservatory
  • Ornamental Fountain
  • Walk
  • Description: The Broad Walk was created by Prince Albert.
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  • Planting
  • Description: A water garden.
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Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Post Medieval (1540 to 1901)





Open to the public