How to do Scotland like a royal

Whether it’s train travel, national dress or finding the perfect Braemar bolthole, here’s how to put a stately spin on your next trip north of the border…

In February 1952, upon the accession of the late Queen Elizabeth II, our current monarch, King Charles III, became the heir apparent. But, despite becoming England’s Duke of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales in this dynastic change, he also automatically assumed a handful more traditional titles.

And many of these — including the Duke of Rothesay, the Earl of Carrick, the Baron of Renfrew and Lord of the Isles — were Scottish. The young Charles, who also became the Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, was likely delighted with these new designations. Because, although his own accession has subsequently seen William, Prince of Wales, take the titles, the royal family has felt an affinity for Scotland for decades. Here’s how to put a stately spin on your next trip north of the border…

How to get there…

First, you must travel up to Scotland. And, if you’re fully committed to following in the royal family’s ermine-trimmed footsteps, that means doing so in style. Over the years, the monarchy has taken several different routes and types of transport to reach up to Britain’s most northerly climes. 

Sometimes, they fly. If it’s an emergency — or the weather won’t make for a nice drive — royals are taken to RAF Northolt in Ruislip (historically, they’ve also flown from Heathrow), where a private jet operated by the Royal Air Force (called ‘British Aerospace 146’) will whisk them up to Aberdeen International Airport. But, by and large, the royals tend to travel to Scotland by train.

It’s been this way since the days of Queen Victoria, the monarch who initiated the modern monarchy’s fondness for the Highlands. Her Majesty would take the train from London to Aberdeen Ferryhill railway station, and then on along the Royal Deeside Railway to Ballater. 

Today, the British Royal Train is employed for such trips. A mainstay of the monarchy’s garage of vehicles and transport options since 1842, it is marshalled on a bespoke basis whenever required — and comprises a dedicated set of luxury leather-upholstered, claret-liveried sleeper, dining and lounge carriages. London-based royals board at St Pancras International, and take the East Coast Mainline to Edinburgh Waverley.

From here — since the decommissioning of the Royal Deeside Railway — one of the monarchy’s fleet of cars will escort any visiting royals out into rural Aberdeenshire. For King Charles, that may be one of three Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines he has at his disposal. It could be his bespoke 2015 Range Rover Hybrid, or the Jaguar I-PACE he acquired in 2018. If he’s driving himself, it might even be the Aston Martin DB6 Volante he had converted to run on E85 fuel (made using wine wastage and a by-product of cheesemaking). 

But, whatever wheels the royals choose to meet them on the runway at Aberdeen, the destination will doubtlessly remain the same; Balmoral Castle.

Where to stay…

While the Edinburgh-based Palace of Holyroodhouse is the King’s official residence in Scotland — it sits at the end of the city’s Royal Mile, and was once home to Mary, Queen of Scots — modern royals tend to spend their Scottish getaways on the estate at Balmoral. 

Bought by Prince Albert in 1852, the original castle was deemed ‘too small’ by Queen Victoria, and thus was demolished to make room for a larger home — one designed by a local Aberdeen architect (whose plans for the house Prince Albert heavily revised). Today, the castle has over fifty bedrooms and, while being the summer house of the incumbent monarch, is not part of the Crown Estate — and is rather privately owned by the royal family.

A working estate, Balmoral also features grouse moors, forestry and farmland — as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle, sheep and ponies. When the royal family visits, common activities are said to include dog walks and picnics, and the local River Dee offers up of the best fly-fishing spots in Scotland, right on Balmoral’s doorstep. 

Elsewhere on the estate, there can be found smaller properties where more minor royals and visiting guests are permitted to stay, including Tam-Na-Ghar cottage, the third home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Craigowan Lodge — a seven-bedroomed, stone property that the late Queen Elizabeth stayed in frequently during the early years of her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh.

For a comparable stay, we’d recommend heading into nearby Braemar — a small village in the Cairngorms National Park — where princely five-star hotel The Fife Arms offers up a similarly royal reception. With 46 individual guest rooms and suites, each distinctly decorated to tell a separate story of Braemar, the ‘Royal Suites’ are inspired by some of the more noble visitors to the village, the ‘Victoriana Suites’ reflect the hotel’s history as a 19th century coaching inn. They also do a mean ‘‘Black Pudding Bon Bon’ in on-site pub The Flying Stag. Which brings us to…

Where to eat and drink…

Food has always been an important ingredient in the life of a royal. Whether it’s the ‘Cheesy Baked Eggs’ King Charles famously favours for brunch or the late Duke of Edinburgh’s penchant for ducal-peppered Steak Diane, delicious dishes are key to any royal engagement. And that goes double for a trip to Balmoral.

Allegedly, Queen Elizabeth was partial to paper-wrapped fish and chips from a local shop in the nearby town of Ballater (she would dispatch a footman to collect it, likely from either The Balmoral Bar or the Phoenix Chip Shop). The Duke of Edinburgh would barbecue in the grounds. But our new monarch, King Charles, is a little more upscale in his tastes. His Highness prefers to eat out — to the extent that he even opened his own restaurant and gift shop in Ballater, Rothesay Rooms, in 2016.

Serving seasonally-inspired, locally-sourced Scottish food, it’s a tribute to local flavours — and well worth your time when you’re tucked up in this corner of the country. Current dishes on the ever-changing menu include ‘Balnault Rare Breed Pork’, ‘Wild Garlic Risotto’ and ‘Hill of Gellen Pheasant with Rhubarb’. 

If it’s a good dram you’re hunting for, the monarchy also supports the whisky distillery situated closest to the Balmoral Estate; Royal Lochnagar. Sitting at the foot of the Cairngorm mountains, a mere mile away from the royal castle, the distillery welcomes visitors all year around for tours and tastings — of its flagship ‘Selected Reserve’ single malt scotch, a spirit rich in flavour with fruit, wood and light toffee notes. 

And Royal Lochnagar isn’t the only local vendor to have turned the monarchy’s tastebuds. Other nearby businesses to be bestowed with a royal warrant include Byron Bakery and H.M. Sheridan butchers in Ballater — selling wares that pair perfectly with the vegetables from Balmoral’s own sprawling kitchen garden (itself initially planted and once maintained by the Duke of Edinburgh). 

What to wear…

Which brings us to your wardrobe. If, like a true togged-out royal, you want to take to the Scottish Highlands ready to tackle the wildest, windiest weather the Cairngorms has to offer, perhaps you should check out other brands bestowed with royal warrants. 

From Corgi socks for hiking and Dents gloves for keeping out the chill to Hunter boots — a Scottish brand favoured by past royals from Princess Diana to Queen Elizabeth — there are many brands to choose from.

King Charles is your best bet for Scottish style inspiration. In addition to sourcing his sporrans from Lamont leatherworkers in Braemar, our monarch turns to Campbell’s of Beauly for his Hibernian tailoring and tweeds, Johnstons of Elgin for his woven, woollen pieces and Kinloch Anderson for his kilts — just as his parents did before him.  

So, before you take your next trip north of the border, book a room at Braemar’s Fife Arms, fill up your hip flask with Royal Lochnagar whisky and pull on a roll neck cashmere jumper from Johnstons of Elgin. Follow these steps, and you’ll be as prepared as possible for a royally-approved, truly majestic mini break. 

Want more Scottish travel recommendations? These are the best whisky distillery hotels (if you’ve had one dram too many…)

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