King Charles walks in mother's footsteps with Balmoral guard of honour

How King Charles fulfilled a historic 175-year family tradition on an emotional return to his mother’s favourite place

  • King Charles begins his stay at Balmoral by reviewing a guard of honour
  • The annual ceremony was reviewed by predecessors including Edward VIII
  • For all the latest Royal news, pictures and videos click here

Today the King began his Scottish holiday and the Royal Family’s return to Balmoral by reviewing a guard of honour outside the main castle gates, a tradition stretching back 175 years.

The future of Balmoral had been uncertain following the death of the late Queen. Charles prefers to stay at nearby Birkhall, and there were rumours he might turn the main house into a museum honouring his mother.

The King’s three-week residency, however, suggests he is keen to follow the family tradition of a summer stay at the castle which Queen Victoria called ‘my dear paradise in the Highlands.

King Charles inspects the Balaklava company from the Royal Regiment of Scotland as they for a traditional guard of honour at Balmoral. The ceremony marks the start of the Royal Family’s two-month stay in Scotland

Queen Elizabeth II inspects an Balmoral Guard of Honour from the Royal Scots  in July 2004 

King George VI inspects thjeguard of honour in the Station Square in August 1949

The Duke of Edinburgh conducts the review in 1952

Victoria and her consort Prince Albert leased the estate in 1848 without even seeing the original castle. When they arrived on September 8th, they were received by a guard of honour from the 93rd Regiment. 

After Ballater station was opened in 1866 a guard of honour formed up to greet Victoria on her twice-yearly visits to the Balmoral, although she never reviewed it. 

At the castle there was another smaller ceremony watched by locals. 

When she arrived in May 1899, four days after her 80th birthday, she told the well-wishers: ‘I thank you very much for your hearty welcome. I am pleased to be amongst you again in my Highland home.’

Her successors continued the tradition of a guard of honour which they began to review in person, walking along the lines of soldiers standing to attention.

As a child the future Elizabeth II saw her grandfather George V and then her father George VI carry out the inspection. Her uncle, Edward VIII, had no great fondness for Balmoral and photos of him reviewing the 1st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, show him looking less than enthusiastic arriving for his Scottish break.

The future King Charles was a nine-month-old baby in the arms of his nanny Helen Lightbody when he witnessed his grandfather George VI reviewing the 1st Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry at Ballater. Growing up he and his sister Anne would see their mother conduct the same ceremony.

The Queen arrives at the gates of Balmoral, where she also met an old friend, the Mascot Cruachan IV  in 2019. Two years earlier, the pony had tried to eat her bouquet of flowers

Queen Elizabeth speaking to the Guard Commander before she inspected the Royal Guard of Honour at Balmoral in August 1983

King George V arrives at Ballater for the start of his Balmoral stay in 1933.He is shaking the hand of the Captain Campbell, commanding the guard of honour of Cameronians (Scottish rifles)

After the rail link from Aberdeen was closed in 1966 the ceremony was once again held at the entrance to the castle. In recent years Queen Elizabeth would stay on the estate at Craigowan Lodge while the castle was still open to the public. 

On the day of her official arrival, she would dress in her usual matching coat and hat, with colour co-ordinated gloves, handbag and shoes. Having reviewed the troops and driven through the gates to the castle she would change into a tartan skirt, blouse, cardigan and stout walk shoes ready for two months of country living.

She last attended the ceremony at the gates in 2021 when, aged ninety-five, she inspected a Guard of Honour from Balaklava Company part of The Royal

Regiment of Scotland. Here she was reunited with its mascot, a Shetland Pony with an honorary army rank, Lance Corporal Cruachan IV. At their previous meeting in Stirling Castle in 2017 Cruachan tried to bite her bouquet. The Queen jokingly told him to ‘Go away!’ and told his minder ‘They always try to eat the flowers.’

King Edward VIII and his brother the Duke of York, future King George VI, at Balmoral in 1936

Queen Mary chatting with Major Grant, who commanded the guard of honour of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, on arriving at Ballater in September 1928

Queen Elizabeth with The Royal Regiment of Scotland’s Mascot, the Shetland Pony, at Balmoral in August 2021

In August 2022, the official arrival at the gates was instead held at the door of the castle as the Queen was by then too frail to conduct the ceremony in public. Land rovers carrying troops could be seen driving in and out of the estate.

The Queen would have been delighted that her successor has maintained the long-standing tradition of a formal welcoming ceremony. So would Queen Victoria, who loved Balmoral so much she disliked having to leave for the south. 

As Charles himself said ‘She hated leaving, much as I hate leaving this marvellous place.’

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