Their life there during the years 1848-61 is described by the Queen in her diary, Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands. It was first published after the Prince’s death and was dedicated to him in the words: “To the dear memory of him who made the life of the writer bright and happy, these simple records are lovingly and gratefully inscribed.”
The first impressions were very favourable: “It is a pretty little castle in the old Scottish style. There is a picturesque tower and garden in front, with a high wooded hill; at the back there is wood down to the Dee; and the hills rise all around.”
Their household was, naturally, a small one, consisting of the Queen’s Maid of Honour, the Prince’s valet, a cook, a footman, and two maids. Among the outdoor attendants was John Brown, who in 1858 was attached to the Queen as one of her regular attendants everywhere in the Highlands, and remained in her service until his death. “He has all the independence and elevated feelings peculiar to the Highland race, and is singularly straightforward, simple-minded, kind-hearted and disinterested; always ready to oblige; and of a discretion rarely to be met with.”
The old castle soon proved to be too small for the family, and in September 1853 the foundation-stone of a new house was laid. After the ceremony the workmen were entertained at dinner, which was followed by Highland games and dancing in the ballroom.
Two years later they entered the new castle, which the Queen described as “charming; the rooms delightful; the furniture, papers, everything perfection.”
The Prince was untiring in planning improvements, and in 1856 the Queen wrote: “Every year my heart becomes more fixed in this dear Paradise, and so much more so now, that all has become my dearest Albert’s own creation, own work, own building, own laying out as at Osborne; and his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere. He was very busy today, settling and arranging many things for next year.”
Visits to the cottages of the old people on the estate and in the neighbourhood were a constant source of delight and pleasure to the Queen, and often when the Prince was away for the day shooting, she would pay a round of calls, taking with her little presents. The old ladies especially loved a talk with their Queen. “The affection of these good people, who are so hearty and so happy to see you, taking interest in everything, is very touching and gratifying,” she remarked upon them. “We were always in the habit of conversing with the Highlanders—with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands. The Prince highly appreciated the good breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make it so pleasant, and even instructive to talk to them.”
In September 1855, soon after moving into the new castle, the news arrived of the fall of Sebastopol, and this was taken as an omen of good luck. The Prince and his suite sallied forth, followed by all the population, to the cairn above Balmoral, and here, amid general cheering, a large bonfire was lit. The pipes played wildly, the people danced and shouted, guns and squibs were fired off, and it was not until close upon midnight that the festivities came to an end.