The Queen's lifelong love of countryside – where she was free to be simply 'Elizabeth'

·Yahoo UK royal reporter
·6 min read
6th October 1967:  Queen Elizabeth II with her dog 'Wren' at the Open Stake Retriever Trials at Balmoral.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
The Queen at Balmoral with her dog Wren in 1967. (Getty Images)

To mark the completion of the private burial service on Monday, Buckingham Palace released a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II walking in the Scottish hills.

This final touch served as a reminder that the late Queen was, at heart, a countrywoman.

The previously unseen photo was a touching tribute to Elizabeth Windsor, the private individual, rather than the monarch.

As monarch, Elizabeth R, was an untouchable symbol, whose existence from the coronation to her state funeral was bound up in ceremony and ornate rituals.

The state funeral was a day of great pomp and circumstance, that actually contained very little reference to who the late Queen was in private.

While later in the day the Royal Family had the chance to privately grieve together at the burial service in King George VI Memorial Chapel, for the most part the day was shared with the public.

That the final public tribute of the day honoured the late Queen's private self was perfectly appropriate.

Queen Elizabeth II attends the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Windsor, May 1995. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II in Windsor in 1995. (Getty Images)
Prince Charles and Princess Anne being pushed on a swing by their father, the Duke of Edinburgh, with their mother Queen Elizabeth II looking on, in the grounds of Balmoral.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Prince Charles and Princess Anne being pushed on a swing by Prince Philip while the Queen watches in 1955. (Getty Images)

Whilst spending time in the countryside, she was free to be simply Elizabeth. Particularly at Balmoral, she was able to enjoy a normal (albeit very privileged) family life and make the most of the privacy afforded to her by the vast, rolling hills.

Here, we look back at the late Queen's countryside life and explore why it might provide King Charles with the same safe haven.

Balmoral – the royal retreat

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, pose at Balmoral Castle, near the village of Crathie in Aberdeenshire, on October 31, 1972. (Photo by - / CENTRAL PRESS / AFP) (Photo by -/CENTRAL PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral Castle in 1972. (Getty Images)

It has long been reported that Balmoral was one of the late Queen's favourite places to spend her time.

Annually, the Royal Family retreat away from public life to the idyll of Balmoral for an extended summer holiday. The imposing, gothic-revival style castle was first built by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who bought the estate in 1852.

It is privately owned by the monarch, unlike the taxpayer-funded properties in the official Crown Estate.

Baby Prince Andrew perches on Prince Philip's lap during a picnic on the grounds of Balmoral Castle. Also pictured are Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne.
Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and their children enjoying a picnic at Balmoral in 1960. (Getty Images)

While they are there, the Royal Family undertake minimal official engagements. Instead, they enjoy what Princess Eugenie has called "the most beautiful place on earth".

From BBQs and picnics to hiking, shooting and fishing, the great outdoors and stunning setting of the Cairngorms National Park seems to provide most of the entertainment.

Princess Anne helps her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, fit the bridle to the pony 'Greensleeves', the the grounds of Balmoral Castle during the Royal family's summer holiday in Scotland.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Princess Anne helps her mother, Queen Elizabeth II in the Balmoral Estate, 1955. (Getty Images)

Eugenie provided further insight into what the relaxed summer retreats entail during a documentary celebrating Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday.

She said: "I think Grannie is most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands."

Eugenie described that while the Queen spent her holiday there were, "people coming in and out all the time", and added that: "it's a lovely base for Grannie and Grandpa, for us to come up and see them there, where you just have room to breathe and run."

Countryside pursuits

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 10: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by a groom, seen horse riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle on June 10, 2006 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
The Queen goes horse riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle in 2006. (Getty Images)

The late Queen was well known to love traditional countryside pursuits like horse-riding, and walking with her dogs. She was said to have enjoyed a life of relative normalcy in the countryside, particularly at Balmoral.

Former prime minister Tony Blair is reported to have said the Queen and her family even did their own washing up while in Balmoral.

She was reportedly often spotted by locals exploring the estate, while of course donning one of her favoured headscarves.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 11:  The Queen At The Royal Windsor Horse Show  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
The Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1979. (Getty Images)

At the state funeral, as the coffin was processed up the Long Walk in Windsor to the committal service, the Queen's pony Emma stood waiting amongst the floral tributes.

Upon her saddle one was draped of the Queen's favourite headscarves, as a nod to the iconic look so long associated with the late monarch.

Scottish ties

22nd August 1951:  The Royal Family during a visit to Balmoral Castle: (left to right) Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret Rose (1930 - 2002), Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, King George VI (1895 - 1952), and Princess Elizabeth with her children Prince Charles (left) and Princess Anne. Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, purchased Balmoral Castle in 1846, and the small castle which stood in the 7,000 hectare wooded estate was redeveloped in the 1850s.The granite building was designed by Aberdeen architect William Smith with suggestions from Albert himself, who decided the interior decoration should represent a Highland shooting box with tartan or thistle chintzes, and walls decorated with trophies and weapons. Queen Victoria often visited the Highlands with her family, especially after Albertfs death in 1861, and Balmoral is still a popular retreat for the present royal family.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Three generations of the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle in 1951. (Getty Images)

The Queen also had ties to Scotland through her mother, whose father was the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

The Queen Mother spent much of her childhood in Scotland at Glamis Castle, and later in her life purchased and renovated the Castle of Mey.

Located in Caithness and enjoying the views of the northern-most coast of Scotland, the Queen Mother also spent several weeks in the summer at her Scottish home.

(Original Caption) Queen Mother at Her Castle. Caithness, Scotland: In residence for the first time at her new Scottish home, the castle of Mey, Queen Mother Elizabeth pauses during a walk with her pet Corgi
Queen Mother outside of the Castle of Mey in the 1950s. (Getty Images)

The late Queen's love of Scotland and its culture was well documented. It is said that she had a love of bagpipe music in particular since childhood.

As monarch, a bagpiper played beneath her window each morning for 15 minutes.

Bagpipes also played a significant role in the state funeral, helping tie together the small threads throughout the day that helped serve as reminders of the private life of the Queen.

The Massed Pipes and Drums of Scottish and Irish Regiments proceed along the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park in the middle of the procession of Queen Elizabeth II's coffin to St Georges Chapel for the Committal Service on 19 September 2022 in Windsor, United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II, the UK's longest-serving monarch, died at Balmoral aged 96 on 8th September 2022 after a reign lasting 70 years. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)
The Massed Pipes and Drums of Scottish and Irish Regiments take part in the committal service procession in Windsor before the Queen was laid to rest. (Getty Images)

The Queen's Piper, Major Paul Burns, performed Sleep, dearie, sleep as the Westminster Abbey Service ended. The Sovereign's Piper was first created as a position by Queen Victoria, with 17 pipers taking on the prestigious role since then. He also performed as the Queen's coffin was lowered into the Royal Vault at the end of the committal service.

The traditional laments played by Major Burns were not the only moving pieces of music provided by Pipers. As the procession approached Windsor Castle, the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Scottish and Irish Regiments played Skye Boat Song as mourners watched them pass by.

Princess Elizabeth riding her pony in Winsor Great Park, 1930s. The future Queen Elizabeth II (b1926) of Great Britain as a child. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth riding her pony in Windsor Great Park, 1930s. (Getty Images)

King Charles

It has been reported that King Charles has travelled to Balmoral to mourn his mother privately. Charles has his own much loved home on the Balmoral estate, called Birkhall.

The King revealed when guest editing Country Life magazine in 2018 that the red squirrels found in the area are one of his favourite things about the home. In the same edition of the magazine, his son William described how "completely infatuated" Charles is with "the red squirrels that live around the estate in Scotland – to the extent that he has given them names and is allowing them into the house."

It seems that the Balmoral estate will be just as special a retreat for the new King as it was for his late mother.

28th September 1952:  Princess Elizabeth watching her son Prince Charles playing in his toy car while at Balmoral.  (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)
Then Princess Elizabeth plays with Prince Charles at Balmoral in 1952. (Getty Images)

The Royal Family are still in a mourning period that will last for seven days after the state funeral. During this time, it is understood that they will not undertake any official engagements.