Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became entranced by the beauty of the highlands during the early years of their marriage, and in 1848 they purchased the lease on a small Deeside castle by the name of Balmoral. Coming with glowing references from the son of the Queen's physician, the first time that the royal couple actually saw the house was when they arrived on 8th September 1848 to take possession of the property. At that time no less than three different parties owned the Castle and estate, but soon after returning South the Prince opened negotiations to purchase the entire site. Four years later, on 22nd June 1852, the transaction was completed, and the highland home was finally theirs.
Once the estate had been purchased, it was obvious that the castle was just to small for their growing family, besides the various guests and ministers that often needed to stay. Following the decision to completely rebuild, William Smith an architect from Aberdeen was commissioned in September 1852 to carry out the work. In order that the Royal family could remain in residence at Balmoral whilst building work progressed, the new house was positioned some 100 yards to the north west of the existing castle. By 1855 the new house had been sufficiently completed to enable the family to move in. The great tower and household wing were still unfinished, and the bulk of the servants remained in the old house until the autumn of 1856 when the old castle was eventually demolished.
New stables were built the following year, along with other outbuildings, kennels, and new paths. Estate farm cottages were repaired, and a modern, new dairy was erected. Prince Albert also took a keen interest in the landscaping of the park that eventually transformed the valley. Each year the couple would spend most of August and September at Balmoral when they could inspect the various building projects that had been completed since their last visit. Most of the building activities and modernisation programmes stopped after the Prince Consort contracted Typhoid at Windsor Castle, and died there in December 1861.
Few changes were made following his death but several monuments, commemorating the Prince and the various marriages of their children, were added over the years. With Queen Victoria's influence heavily stamped on this highland retreat, it has remained virtually unaltered since the turn of the century, when she finally passed away.
Successive Monarchs continued the tradition of spending the late summer months among the rugged beauty of the Scottish highlands, and it is still enjoyed by the present Queen and her extended family. Although the house is not open to the general public, the grounds attract a large number of visitors throughout the year, when the Royals are not in residence, and offer many walks with spectacular views. After crossing the River Dee via Brunel's bridge, visitors walk through the wrought iron gates, commissioned by George V in 1925, and continue up the main avenue, lined with conifers, which eventually leads to the first glimpse of the off-white stone castle.