The Queen has left Windsor Castle for Balmoral to start her first summer holiday in Scotland without her husband Prince Philip.
The monarch, 95, could be seen wearing a turquoise blouse as she was driven to the airport to fly to her annual summer break earlier today.
It may be a poignant journey for the royal because it marks the first time she has spent her yearly holiday in the castle without her husband the Duke of Edinburgh – who died in April at the age of 99,
Balmoral, and the land which surrounds it, is thought to be where the monarch and her late husband were at their happiest.
It is understood the royal travelled to her Scottish home ‘out of season’ in May to privately grieve for her beloved husband.
The Queen, 95, has left Windsor Castle for Balmoral to start her first summer holiday in Scotland without her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, who died in April
The Queen is likely to remain at the 50,000-acre estate until early October and will be joined by family members throughout her stay.
Typically the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are joined by their children and grandchildren, as well as close friends, throughout the summer holiday.
It is likely that the Queen will be joined by other family members including the Cambridges, the Wessexes, and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Rothesay, who often stay at Birkhall, the Prince’s residence on the estate and a place they too have grown inordinately fond of, choosing to spend their honeymoon there in 2005.
For much of the family, there will remain the memory of a previous, grief-stricken time at Balmoral.
It was here, early one August morning in 1997, that the young princes William and Harry, then just 15 and 12 years old, were told that their mother, Princess Diana, had been killed in Paris in a car crash – and it was where their grandparents chose to keep them, out of view and in the face of harsh public opinion, in the days that followed.
But there are many happy memories, too, stretching back through time – ones likely to be at the forefront of the Queen’s mind as she settles into the modest accommodation at Craigowan Lodge with her puppies beside her.
The monarch, 95, set off from her home in Windsor earlier today and could be seen wearing a turquoise blouse as she was driven to the airport to fly to her annual summer break
Balmoral: The Royal Family’s summer retreat where The Queen does the washing up and Prince Philip would BBQ
A group of aides have already travelled up to the Scottish home of the Royal Family to prepare the castle for the couple’s arrival. The Queen and Philip will stay in the main castle, pictured
Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, having been first leased in 1848.
In the autumn of 1842, two and a half years after her marriage to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria paid her first visit to Scotland. They were so struck with the Highlands that they resolved to return. A further visit to Perthshire and then Ardverikie encouraged them to seize the opportunity to purchase Balmoral.
After Queen Victoria bought the Castle in 1852, plans were made to build a new castle about 100 yards north-west of the old building designed by the city of Aberdeen architect William Smith.
On 28 September 1853 the foundation stone of the new Castle was laid by Queen Victoria. Prince Albert took a great interest in the design and construction which was completed by 1856, also in the Scottish Baronial style.
The Castle is constructed from local granite, which was precision cut using the modern machinery of the day, producing a much smoother finish to the building than usual.
Prince Albert set about landscaping the area, starting a programme of improvements lasting several years, which was done in accordance with a model he had constructed in sand. The main works were completed by 1859 and included new houses, stables, workshops and schools.
Royals continue to make improvements to the castle and the ruggedly beautiful surroundings have captivated generations of royals since.
The Queen has visited Balmoral almost every year of her reign and it holds a special place in her heart.
In 1947, following their wedding, the then Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip travelled to Balmoral for their honeymoon.
It was the first time since their wedding, the couple had time alone – or as alone as a Royal couple can possibly be – away from the prying eyes of the court.
Meanwhile the privacy at the castle also allowed the Duke of Edinburgh to have really let his hair down. A keen hunter, he was regularly to be found stalking stag or out on the grouse moor, or spending time on one of the estate’s salmon beats.
He was also extremely handy on the barbecue – one he had built himself – often taking control during family picnics to cook sausages and burgers for his children, made from meat he had shot himself.
The Queen would do the washing-up.
At Balmoral Castle, on a summer’s day back in 2003, the Countess of Wessex took a picture (above) of the Queen and Prince Philip enjoying the scenery and each other’s company
The time at Balmoral was for the Royals, and remains, extremely private.
While never truly off duty it was the closest that the Queen and Prince Philip would come to a proper holiday. There would be raucous drink-fuelled evenings and jovial house parties, and quiet days with old-fashioned parlour games by the fire while the rain hammered down outside.
Then there was the famous ghillies’ ball which took place each October, with invites extended to house and estate staff as well as neighbours and friends.
A true ‘upstairs downstairs’ event, it was never complete without Scottish country dancing and one could, if lucky enough to receive an invitation, quite easily find oneself being whirled around the dancefloor by the Prince himself, resplendent in a kilt and smiling.
In April, the Queen released a picture of herself and Philip ahead of his funeral.
It is likely that the Queen will be joined by other family members including the Cambridges, the Wessexes, and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Rothesay, who often stay at Birkhall, the Prince’s residence on the estate and a place they too have grown inordinately fond of, choosing to spend their honeymoon there in 2005
It shows the couple at one of their ‘happy places’ – the Coyles of Muick hills close to Balmoral, where they enjoyed walking and picnics throughout their long lives together. The Queen so loves the place that she named her new corgi puppy after it.
The photograph – taken by their daughter-in-law the Countess of Wessex in 2003 during one of their family summer holidays – was specially chosen by Her Majesty to share ahead of the funeral.
The couple look blissfully happy and relaxed as they sit back in the heather, the Queen in her off duty Scottish dress of a woollen twinset, pearls and a tartan skirt, with Philip in country casuals and a sun hat resting on his knee.
In May, the Queen made a low-key visit to the castle, unlike the trips she often made en famille during the Royals’ usual August to October Scottish break.
There will be no days out to the Highland Games at Braemar, nor visits from heads of state.
Balmoral was, for the Royals, extremely private. While never off duty it was the closest the Queen and Prince Philip (pictured at Balmoral in 1972) would come to a proper holiday
The Queen will not stay in the castle itself but at the more informal seven-bedroom Craigowan Lodge on the Balmoral Estate, far from the prying eyes of visiting tourists and a stone’s throw from where, seven decades ago, the couple spent part of their honeymoon.
She will take with her a small staff, while her niece, Lady Sarah Chatto, daughter of Princess Margaret and a much-favoured family member, may join her for some of the time.
But in this solitary, sad pilgrimage to a place with so many treasured memories, the Queen will be following in the footsteps of those who went before her.
Almost 160 years ago, Queen Victoria, racked with grief over the death of Prince Albert, made the same journey to Balmoral to rage over the untimely demise of her beloved husband.