Martin Thomas reflects on Royal Deeside

When I was a student, my Summer job was as a youth hostel warden in Braemar. In July, I wandered round the gardens of Balmoral when they were open to the public. In August, if I was off on a Sunday morning, I’d take the bus to Crathie Kirk to see the Royal Family go to Church and was actually able to attend the service myself.

I was used to seeing members of the Royal Family in the village. Locals were keen to give them privacy on their much needed break.

Martin writes of his own love of Royal Deeside. He’s felt the benefit of its restorative qualities for decades, in good times and bad. I have my own reasons to be grateful to this beautiful part of the world. I met my husband there. He walked into the hostel for a night, stayed for a week and a half and left with a lot more than he had bargained for.

Anyway, back to Martin’s tribute:

My Lords, the existence of Princess Elizabeth was borne in on me in 1947 at the time of the royal wedding. It was a blaze of sudden colour—and I still have the souvenir illustrated magazine that my mother kept—in a post-war world of austerity and ration books. “But where did she get the coupons for that dress?”, the grumpy ones said.

After the shock of the death of her father, it was a struggle to find a television in our street where we could watch in black and white the Queen’s Coronation. However, the following year, I remember pouring out of school to greet her and her consort when they came to my home town of Wrexham on her coronation tour.

I have no anecdotes. On the few occasions I met her personally, I was too tongue-tied to do much more than mumble my name. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, referred to the first day of the opening of the Welsh Assembly, in which I played a less distinguished part. I found myself in the corridor leading from the front door to the Chamber, which was empty. At the far end, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the then Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, was greeting Her Majesty. There were no doors, but I spotted the choir of the Welsh National Opera in an alcove; it was about to deliver a motet especially written for the Queen. As she passed along the carpet towards me, I joined the choir and did what was known in those days as a John Redwood: I opened my programme and mouthed the words as the choir of the Welsh National Opera looked at me in some astonishment.Toggle showing location ofColumn 403

I knew the Queen and her family better than any family save my own—the media saw to that. She went through many highs and lows during her long lifetime. I have followed half a generation behind with my four children, encouraged and supported through the triumphs and disasters in my own family by the knowledge that she, though a Queen, had passed through similar personal difficulties with courage and determination. That is what is meant by the many people who are saying today, “She was part of my life”.

I will speak of Balmoral. I first visited the castle and its grounds as a member of the public, as thousands do, in 1963. Ever since, I have spent much of every August in the valley of the Scottish Dee. I have walked around and above Loch Muick many times. I have climbed Lochnagar celebrating with friends in the June twilight, sitting at the summit and waiting for the sun to rise. I scaled it more than 20 years ago from the Glenshee road in solitary grief following the death of my wife, Nan. I have fished there since with my wife—my noble friend Lady Walmsley—below the famous, old military bridge across the Dee at Tulloch on the estate. On 18 August, only three weeks ago, my grandson caught his first salmon from a pool directly opposite Balmoral Castle.

If I love that area as a tolerated visitor, how much more did Balmoral mean to the Queen? Where else could she enjoy peace, tranquillity and the absence of ceremony? I have never understood metropolitans who regard its glinting waters, dappled woods and wide, open hills as cold and boring. For me, it was entirely understandable that Balmoral should be the place where Her Majesty finally came home.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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One Comment

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Sep '22 - 10:32pm

    Very fine efforts by this site in this period of reflection, thanks Caron and team.

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