Birkhall, the Queen Mother's Favorite Retreat

Birkhall, the British Royal Family's retreat in Scotland. Image: Geograph

About eight miles from Balmoral, beside the River Muick stands Birkhall, a favorite royal residence of several generations of the Royal Family. Built in the early 18th century by the owners of the nearby Abergeldie estate, Birkhall was acquired by Prince Albert together with the Balmoral estate in 1849, and was given to his eldest son, Edward Albert, Prince of Wales. However, the heir to the throne preferred staying at the more expansive Abergeldie Castle. In 1884, Queen Victoria bought the property from the Prince of Wales and lent it to her staff and extended family. Dighton Probyn, Keeper of the Privy Purse and Queen Alexandra’s comptroller, occupied the property in the late 19th century.

During the reign of King George V, Birkhall was lent to the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), which they used as a holiday home, together with their children, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The Yorks refurbished the home and planned the beautiful sloping garden. The family was delighted to spend time here. While it has lower height compared to the nearby Balmoral Castle, Birkhall imbues warmer air, and is a plain, relatively small Queen Anne house.

The Yorks were in Birkhall when the Abdication crisis gained momentum; Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson were then partying at Balmoral. The Yorks eventually ascended the throne in 1936 as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. While the King and Queen occupied Balmoral, Princess Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, and their children spent their summers at Birkhall.

After the death of King George VI and the succession of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1952, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, preferred Birkhall as a Scottish country home. Here she would spend autumns after staying at Castle of Mey, surrounding by her family and friends. Whenever she was in Scotland, she took advantage of the opportunities nearby for one of her favorite hobbies-- salmon fishing. She enjoyed the informality of Birkhall and would often dress in tartans or Scottish tweeds. 

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, Birkhall was inherited by Charles, Prince of Wales. In 2005, he married Camilla Parker-Bowles and they spent their honeymoon here in 2005. In 2011, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, spent New Year's Eve here. 


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