Today, British outlets reported that Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis arrived at the Queen's private Scottish estate of Balmoral. It's an annual tradition for not only the Cambridge family, but the Windsors as a whole: every summer, most members of the extended clan trek up to Aberdeenshire to vacation at the majestic Highlands property. But what exactly goes on at this idyllic expanse, which has been in the royal family for more than 160 years?
Balmoral was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, after the couple fell in love with the countryside. Ever since, it’s been passed on to the successive generations of the royal family, playing host to its fair share of shenanigans, scandals, and secrets. Here’s a crash course on everything you need to know about this royal retreat.
It’s Absolutely Massive
Clocking in at about 50,000 acres, Balmoral is so large, it’s almost its own ecosystem: Mountains, forests, valleys, arable pastures, lochs, grouse moors, and gardens are just some of the different topography on the property. There are also 150 buildings on the estate, including Birkhall, the estate of Prince Charles, Craigowan Lodge, and several other cottages.
Which Means There’s So Much Room for Activities!
Balmoral is a working estate—deer stalking, grouse shooting, forestry, and farming are just some of the many uses of the land. But it’s not all work and no play.
Queen Elizabeth II often horseback rides or drives her beloved Range Rover over its rugged terrain—sometimes with terrified dignitaries inside. The rest of her family enjoys fishing, hunting, picnicking, and barbecuing. (Prince Philip is allegedly quite the grill master.)
“Walks, picnics, dogs—a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs—and people coming in and out all the time,” Princess Eugenie said of Balmoral in an interview last year. “It’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there, where you just have room to breathe and run.”
It’s the Place Where Royals Can Go Nuts . . . Seriously
Balmoral’s “special residents” aren’t only British monarchs, but also the red squirrels, an endangered mammal whose home is the Scottish Highlands. And, if you’re so inclined, you can watch them eat nuts and frolic around the estate via a live feed.
If it’s a more metaphorical “nuts” you’re looking for, Balmoral is also the place of some of the best royal soirees: Prince Harry had his 32nd birthday party there, and shooting parties with glamorous guests are a regular occurrence.
It Really Weirds Prime Ministers Out
That’s not to say everyone who goes to Balmoral enjoys it. Tony Blair said his visits were “a vivid combination of the intriguing, the surreal, and the utterly freaky,” and said he downed drinks with the strength of “true rocket fuel,” which helped. Margaret Thatcher didn’t fare much better: One official told the Guardian “she couldn’t get away fast enough.”
It Holds Painful Memories of Diana
In happier times, Balmoral was the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles had their honeymoon (although, reports suggest it wasn’t quite the “romantic getaway” one would have hoped for). But, as Prince Harry and Prince William revealed in the HBO documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, it’s also the place they last spoke to their mother before she died in a tragic car crash.
You Can Stay There, Too
Balmoral is open to the public during the months of April through July, where visitors can stroll through gardens and peek into the castle’s grand ballroom. Those looking for the full royal treatment can book one of the several guest cottages on the grounds (corgis not included).
Originally Appeared on Vogue