Queen at beloved Balmoral for annual summer retreat

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Each year without fail, the Queen retreats to Balmoral in Aberdeenshire during the summer months.

She is said to never be happier than when she is at the rural estate – her favoured residence in Scotland.

It is her private home and was handed down to her through generations of royals after being bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852.

Balmoral Castle
The Queen enjoys spending her summer break at Balmoral (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The turreted grey stone castle by the River Dee is surrounded by fir-clad hills, lochs and grouse moors.

The usual two-month stay in August and September traditionally includes a visit to the nearby Braemar Gathering, where the Queen is Chieftain of the Highland games.

Braemar Royal Highland Gathering
The Queen enjoys the Braemar Gathering with the Duke of Edinburgh, left and the Prince of Wales, right, in 2015 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The small church memorably became a focus of the Scottish independence debate days before the 2014 poll when the Queen reportedly told people outside a Sunday service to “think very carefully about the future” before casting their vote.

There was much personal relief in royal quarters when Scotland voted No to independence in the referendum.

The Queen with Balaklava Company
The Queen inspected the Balaklava Company, 5 Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, at the gates of Balmoral as she took up residence at the castle this week (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Princess Eugenie, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s granddaughter, once described Balmoral as the most beautiful place on the planet.

“Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time,” she said.

“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.”

The royals at Balmoral
Prince Charles and Princess Anne, watched by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, play on a see-saw made from a log and a plank of wood on the Balmoral Estate in 1957 (PA)

Each morning a lone piper plays below the Queen’s bedroom window.

Prime ministers and first ministers visit the monarch and stay for short periods.

Mr Cameron once said there was not much “chillaxing” – chilling out and relaxing – at Balmoral, with the royals spending their time on outdoor pursuits.

An audience at Balmoral
The Queen conferring the honour of Knight of the Order of Australia upon Sir Peter Cosgrove, then governor-general of Australia in her cosy Balmoral sitting room in 2014 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Cherie Blair revealed in her autobiography how her son Leo was conceived at Balmoral when she left her contraception at home out of embarrassment during her annual weekend stay there with husband and then PM Tony Blair.

“In 1998 – I had been extremely disconcerted to discover that everything of mine had been unpacked,” she wrote.

Cherie and Tony Blair at the Braemar Games
The Duke of Edinburgh, Tony Blair, the Queen and Cherie Blair at the Braemar Gathering in 1999 (Ben Curtis/PA)

“This year I had been a little more circumspect, and had not packed my contraceptive equipment out of sheer embarrassment.

“As usual up there, it had been bitterly cold, and what with one thing and another…”

The Queen and Philip
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Balmoral for their silver wedding anniversary in 1972 (PA)

The Queen was staying with her grandchildren William and Harry at Balmoral when their mother Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

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