Balmoral is Queen Elizabeth's private summer vacation home in Scotland. Who gets invited is a key indicator of social status. And in the summer vacation season of 2018, Meghan Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex will definitely be among the visitors—a first for her. Expect fans of royalty to get their knickers in a twist about what she and Prince Harry get up to.
Who's In and Who's Out? Check the Balmoral Guest List
HM Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, traditionally spend August, September and part of October at the Queen's private vacation home, Balmoral Castle. Who gets an invitation to join the Royal Party for this private vacation can lead to feverish speculation in the press as to who is in, who is out and who is about to be engaged, divorced, reconciled and so on.
Royal watchers in the media made much of the invitations to Balmoral Castle extended to Lady Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson and Camilla Parker Bowles before each of them became royal brides - Diana, Princess of Wales; The Duchess of York, Prince Andrew's ex-wife (who has had an annual Balmoral invitation once again since about 2013) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
When Kate Middleton made the trek to the Highlands it was a pretty sure indicator that she and Prince William were getting more than serious. In the summer of 2007, press speculation was rife about the meaning of Balmoral visits by Prince William's on again - off again girlfriend Kate Middleton. They were right to wonder. In 2011 they were wed and by 2013 were parents of a bouncing prince and by 2015 a princess as well - and by 2018, another prince.
With Meghan on the guestlist for the first time in 2018, the tabloids will be buzzing.
A Very Private Visit
Balmoral is a family home that is rarely used for affairs of state. But there are some exceptions. British Prime Ministers traditionally get an annual invitation. Judging from some of their memoirs, most are not certain whether they are being invited for a social or an official visit. John Major famously helped do the washing up after the family barbecue.
Prime Ministers and Governors General of Commonwealth Countries have been invited, with their families. Picture being invited by your boss's boss to bring your family to his or her summer home for the weekend and imagine how relaxing that must be.
Only one US President has ever been a guest at Balmoral. President Dwight David Eisenhower visited during his presidency.
The Test of Scottish Weather at Balmoral
The Royal family certainly doesn't go to Scotland to enjoy warm, bosky days. When the Duchess of Cornwall, the former Camilla Parker Bowles, led a charity walk around Loch Muick, on the Balmoral Estate, one early September, she and all the other walkers put up with typically wet and blustery British weather.
Worrying about one's hairdo doesn't go very far at Balmoral, and not every invited guest enjoys the outdoor pursuits in rough weather or the chilly guestrooms. The late Princess Diana was said to have hated Balmoral. The late Margaret Thatcher refused to give up her high heels and had to be practically forced into a pair of Wellies. And more recently, former Prime Minister David Cameron's wife, Samantha, was a last minute no show - after the court calendar announcing her arrival and departure (as though it had already happened) had been circulated to the press. Prime Minister Theresa May visited in September 2016. We don't know how she got on.
We wonder how many Royal girlfriends have failed the in-laws test at Balmoral.
So What's So Special About Balmoral?
It may look like a Medieval castle but Balmoral Castle in Scotland is actually a Victorian fantasy. It isn't centuries and centuries old but was built for Queen Victoria and completed in 1856. Prince Albert supervised construction and contributed to the design.
Since then, it has been passed down, by family inheritance. Unlike Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle is one of the Queen's private family estates. Traditionally, she spends August, September and part of October there. At other times of year, when the Queen is not in residence, a small part of Balmoral is open to the public.
The castle is surrounded by a 50,000 acre working estate that is integrated with the local community. The estate is privately owned and funded by The Queen, and managed by an official known as a Resident Factor.
What makes Balmoral special is that it offers a tiny glimpse of the life of the English monarch - particularly Queen Victoria - as a private person in a family setting.
Conservation and Public Access to Balmoral Castle
Because much of the land is unsuitable for farming, most is maintained for conservation and ecological experiments. The estate includes the Ballochbuie Forest, saved from timber cutters by Queen Victoria, The Loch Muick and Lochnagar Wildlife Reserve, and land maintained for deer, grouse and salmon.
About 85,000 people visit Balmoral Castle in Scotland every year, several hundred thousand more walk the estate's open countryside, highland paths and fells. A full time ranger service has been employed for the public, at the estate's expense, for 30 years. Rangers guide public tours to parts of the estate that are of special interest during the summer.