Monday, July 21, 2008

Sage's Memories of Scotland and Balmoral

Balmoral Castle
Photo from Flickr/Nick Bramhall

A guest post from Sage of Wise Herb's Random Jottings. Thank you Sage!

I was lucky enough to join the staff who helped look after Her Majesty (and the rest of the family) at Buckingham Palace from 1977 to 1980 when I left to go and work in IT. I joined not long after the major celebrations of her Silver Jubilee, just before the trip to Balmoral. In fact I joined on a Monday morning and the following evening found myself on a sleeper up to Aberdeen along with four other staff who were being transferred up there for the shooting season.

This was my first experience of working away from home, and though I had a fair amount of independence it was still a culture shock to be hundreds of miles from home. My job was to work alongside the chefs in the kitchen, helping to prepare food and clean up afterwards, the porters did the bulk of the heavy work but it was still a long day when you sometimes didn't finish until nearly 11pm even if you had a few hours off in the afternoon it wasn't always enough to switch off.

Balmoral was a good introduction to working in service, yes it still happens even today, though I think many of the perks we had are much more restricted now. We were only charged a nominal rate for breakfast, lunch and dinner with free tea and coffee and a subsidised bar which I believe they got rid of after I left and no I don't think there is a connection to that fact either.

Every week there was a staff event, which was either a Scottish country dance down at the stables hall, attended by the London and the local staff as well as the police/soldiers in attendance (the first year was the Black Watch and I still like their tartan) and usually very well natured even though there was plenty of alcohol consumed. The alternative was a filmshow or a team quiz, and the cliques of staff became apparent when the different branches wouldn't allow people on their teams but it wasn't a big problem.

Photo from Flickr/garethjmsaunders

We each got a day to go on the staff outing, two of those was to the Bells whisky distillery and as a whisky drinker I enjoyed seeing how it was made even though it isn't my favourite brand of whisky; in fact now I enjoy drinking Jamesons Irish Whiskey as it is very smooth (apologies for my heresy) though there is still room for Laphroaig in the drinks cupboard. Please note it didn't stop me accepting the free half-bottle they gave us at the end of the tour the first year, and regrettably wasn't repeated on our return visit.

Another year we went to the Baxters factory/farm (my memory of this is not strong after a gap of 30 years) and after the tour of the production line we were treated to tea with Edna Baxter and her sons before being given a sample of jams and other products to take away with us. While the Fochaber's shop is open to visitors I can't be certain this is where we went.

The third year I was there, we got off work from 4pm but had the evening off every other day so could get out and about, whereas before you just got time off between 2pm and 6pm and just had enough time to take the bus into Ballater. One memorable occasion, a member of the kitchen staff arranged a hill race; I am not athletic at the best of times as I can't remember to run and breathe (it's a sprint mentality or so my school gym teacher said) so my version of this was to jog/walk round the 4 miles. After a quick shower I caught the bus to Ballater only by the time I got their the poor abused muscles refused to let me off the bus so I sat on there by myself until it was time to go back to the castle and it took me ages to live the embarrassment down.

Stables and carriage house
Photo from Flickr/kryis

One of the perks of working there was that if the hill ponies weren't required, and you could prove you could ride then you could go out onto the hills for the afternoon. I enjoyed doing that but just spending the time with the ponies was a pleasure, the jawing around in the tack room cleaning the saddles and bridles and having some of the family drop in whilst doing so.


  1. Thank you so much Sage for helping me with the little problem commonly known as Max. Everyone else schedules posts to appear while away on holiday. Max schedules people.

  2. Yes, an experience of a lifetime. Something to remember forever. Thank you for sharing that, Sage. :)



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