" It was a gay, pretty, and touching sight," wrote the Queen, " and I felt almost inclined to cry. May God bless this place and allow us to see it and enjoy it many a long year."
Lichens now grow amongst the stones of the Queen's Cairn and purple heather fills the crevices, but she in whose honour the pile was raised needs no cairn to keep her name in remembrance.
Soon old Balmoral Castle became too small for the needs of the Royal Family, and on September 28, 1853, the foundation stone of the present castle was laid with all due solemnity. Again her people gathered about their chieftainess to join in the religious service which marked the occasion. The Queen, Prince Consort, and their children signed a parchment, recording the laying of the stone, which, together with coins of the reign, were put in a bottle and placed in the cavity, and the Queen laid the foundation stone. The pipers played, the people were feasted, and there was a dance in the evening.
In the autumn of 1855 the Queen entered into occupation of her new home, and again the faithful Highland folk gathered to join in her gladness. As she and the Prince and the Royal children entered the castle hall, an old shoe was thrown after them for good luck.
The new Castle was built of light grey granite in the old Scottish baronial style, and stood upon a plateau so close to the Dee that the rush of-the waters over its stony bed made music in the Queen's sitting-room.
Everything about the Castle was characteristic of Scottish life and history. At the entrance stood the statue of Malcolm Canmore, the hall was decorated with stags' heads and trophies of the chase, the rooms were carpeted in Royal tartan, the furniture was covered with either the Stuart or the Victoria plaid, and the pictures were chiefly by Scottish artists of scenes and events illustrative of the country. The capacious ballroom was decorated with the device of the thistle, and the walls hung with gay plaids, stags' heads, pouches, and claymores.
The building and furnishing of the Castle and the laying out of the grounds had all been devised and superintended by the Prince Consort with the loving co-operation of the Queen. Never was Royal castle reared with nobler domestic sentiments; every stone was cemented by love.
At her home in the Highlands the Queen had from the first emphasised her interest in the national life of the people amongst whom she dwelt. She dressed her children in tartan and kilt, and wore gowns herself of the Stuart plaid. Scotland's " hamely fare " was served at her table. Humble sons and daughters of the glen were her chosen attendants, and many became her honoured friends. And she worshipped with her neighbours in all simplicity at the little ivy-clad village church at Crathie.
Romantic indeed was the life which the Queen lived at her Highland home. She roamed the mountain and the glen, accompanied her husband in his deer-stalking expeditions, and joined in the merry-making at night when the hunters returned, and the spoils of the chase were laid before the castle gate, and the Highlanders, with flaming torches, danced around. She explored the solitudes, took refuge from storms in some shepherd's hut, and was carried over marshy ground on a plaid slung between two Highlanders.
Lord John Russell also experienced a Ministerial shock when, after dinner on the evening of his first arrival at the old Castle of Balmoral, he saw the dining-room cleared for the Queen and Prince Consort to take lessons in reels and strathspeys to the playing of Willie Blair, the Highland fiddler.
These glimpses speak eloquently of the unconventional, homely Court established at the old grey castle by the Dee. The simple folk who dwelt around knew nothing about the etiquette of Courts, and a desire to show proper respect to their Queen and her husband sometimes took an amusing form.
Balmoral Castle, the romantically situated Highland home so beloved by our Royal Family. Its position by the River Dee, facing the majestic range of Lochnagar, makes it one of the most beautiful of Royal residences
An old man who lived alone at one of the cottages in the forest was the proud possessor of a set of fireirons which hitherto had rarely seen the light. Now, whenever he saw Royal visitors approaching he bustled round to set out the precious fireirons in state upon his humble hearth, and the Queen usually arrived to see the vanishing of the enshrouding brown paper as the poker and the tongs were triumphantly displayed before the glowing peats.
At Balmoral we may picture the Queen receiving a modest, lady-like woman in voluminous black silk gown and white lace headdress. It is Florence Nightingale, who, recruiting her health in the Highlands after her return from the Crimea, has been summoned to receive in person the heartfelt thanks of her Sovereign for her heroic work amongst the sick and wounded soldiers.
Tales of love, too, can the hills around the Castle tell. In the autumn of 1855, handsome Prince Frederick of Prussia came a-wooing to Balmoral to win the Rose of England for his bride. The Princess Royal was then not sixteen, a fair, high-spirited girl rejoicing in the bracing life of her Highland home. As she rode with the Prince one afternoon up Craignaben, he dismounted from his pony, and gathering a spray of the rare white heather, presented it to the young Princess as a token of his affection. In the drawingroom of the Castle that evening the Queen and Prince Consort sanctioned the private betrothal of "dear Vicky and Fritz." • In the golden days which followed, the lovers were seen wandering hand in hand about the glen, and when the cottage children dropped their curtseys, the tall Prince in boyish fun would try to make them laugh by bobbing in return.