Country Sports

Balmoral & Beyond

The Queen and her family normally spend the best part of six weeks in Scotland each year with much of their time at Balmoral taken up by pursuing sports such as stalking, shooting and fishing. While the traditions of shooting as a sport were firmly established at Sandringham and largely unalterable, the grouse moors at Balmoral were quite different and generally not used for shooting - until George VI came along. He soon set about creating a successful grouse moor at Balmoral.

Lab with pheseant

Although stalking had always been popular with the royals at Balmoral, shooting in those days was not one of the Royals main interests.

In a remarkably short space of time, the Balmoral shoot soon became a great success among those invited. For guests a day's shooting or stalking at Balmoral was an occasion to be remembered where firstly they would be asked to assemble early in the castle’s great hall and then driven to wherever the specially chosen spot was for the day’s shoot.

As a keen and very good shot, George VI, when at Balmoral regularly went shooting almost up until the day he died, something he instilled in his children.

No children could have had a better grounding in the science and practice of rough shooting, wild fowling or shooting of driven birds than Princesses Elizabeth or Margaret, yet neither took to the sport other than as spectators.

The nearest the Queen comes to shooting today is ‘picking up’ after a drive with one of her labradors. Shooting on the royal estates, up until relatively recently, has been very much a matter for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

When spending time at Balmoral it has always been one of his favoured pastimes and to acknowledge this shortly after the Queen’s accession to the throne she appointed her husband chief ranger of Windsor Park. Both Prince William and Prince Harry are good shots and, whenever time permits, enjoy shooting with the royal party in Scotland.

Surprisingly, little has changed since George VI established grouse shooting at Balmoral save perhaps the role of the estate workers who used to double up as beaters but now have been join by whoever is one guard duty.

Sunset fishing

As soon as Prince Charles showed interest, his father took over and taught him to shoot, drilling him on the importance of safety and to this day he is still a keen shot, receiving numerous invitations from all over the country to join other shoots. Following hard in the royal shooting traditions are Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, both good shots. Prince Edward once captained Gordonstoun School’s pigeon shoot.

As long as the laws allow, the great royal shooting traditions will continue. However the royal family has always maintained that should public opinions changes or field sports be banned, they will accept however the law may evolve.

Two dogs and man with shotun

Interestingly, stalking has always been a favourite pastime for the royals staying at Balmoral. Stalking is the one field sport where it is purely a ‘one-to-one’ contest between man and his quarry and the prize of a stag can be won only by skill, fitness and marksmanship. The Queen killed her first stag at 16 and went on to kill several more.

With two such ardent and skilled stalkers as parents it’s not surprising that the Queen and Prince Philip’s younger sons also took to the sport and both have shown themselves to be adept stalkers though pleasure from the sport comes easier to Prince Edward because of his more patient nature.

Surprisingly, the late Princess Diana was also a good stalker having been brought into the sport through her own family, although Charles never really took to the sport but made sure both her sons Prince William and Harry had the chance to learn the sport and they too enjoy stalking. Before Prince William married Kate Middleton, he took her stalking in Scotland to help her appreciate one of the royals most favoured sports.

One of the Queen Mother’s greatest fishing successes was to educate her eldest grandson, the Prince of Wales, in the joys of the sport. She taught him how to cast off and explained the tale signs on the river and habits of the salmon.

Once bitten with the ‘fishing bug’ Prince Charles learned quickly and later a Balmoral ghillie took over and made him into the fisherman he is today. The ultimate proof of a fisherman is not the catch he comes home with but the dedication he puts into the sport.

Another keen royal fisherman is Prince Edward, whose quiet temperament is ideally suited to the sport. While his nephews, Prince William and Harry have had every opportunity to learn about the sport and are keen fisherman in their own right, other concerns keep them busy and mean they are unlikely to take up the sport as seriously as their father.

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