This week on Countryfile, the team are celebrating the programme’s 25th anniversary, with special guest HRH Prince Charles. Exploring the prince’s Gloucestershire farm, John Craven tries his hand at some hedge-laying, Matt Baker and Adam Henson quiz the prince about his interest in organic farming and Julia Bradbury finds out about HRH’s love of the countryside. Find out more about attractions, activities and nature with a royal twist in our Countryfile this Sunday guide.
Perhaps one of the most famous and iconic attractions in the Crown Estate’s inventory, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, having housed British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years. The site for the castle was chosen by William the Conqueror, and building took place in 1070 then finished 16 years later. Originally planned for securing the western approach to London, the accessibility of the castle from the capital and its proximity to royal hunting grounds made it the perfect residence for royalty. Indeed, by 1110, Henry I had domestic quarters installed into the castle and his grandson, Henry II, eventually converted the castle into a palace. Windsor castle has seen influence from many monarchs since, and historical modifications to the castle can be explored on site. A guided tour is recommended for those who are interested in the castle’s history. Various events and special guided tours operate throughout the year and can be found on their website.
Balmoral Castle was built in 1856, commissioned by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and built by Aberdeen architect William Smith. Although the grounds at Balmoral remain much the same as when Queen Victoria owned the estate, various monarchs since have made their own unique impression on the house and grounds. Open from Friday 29th March until Wednesday 31st July, visitors can tour the grand ballroom of the castle, featuring various artworks and historic furniture; the carriage hall exhibition, which details the history of Balmoral and its natural environment and the vast expanse of the grounds and gardens. Various activities can be undertaken on the Balmoral estate, from Landrover safaris to salmon fishing and the annual ‘Bike Balmoral’ charity event, which involves a 50km bike ride beginning and ending on the Balmoral estate.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse; official residence to the Queen whilst she visits the city during Holyrood week at the end of June or early July. The palace was founded by James IV (r. 1488-1513), who converted an Augustinian abbey into a residence fit for royalty. Today, almost nothing remains of this original palace, but in its place stands a grand and imposing building, completed in 1679 under the reign of Charles II, the building itself remains much the same today as it did then. As a visitor, you will be treated to a tour of The State Apartments, used by our Queen on her visits; The Historic Apartments, former home to Mary, Queen of Scots before her bloody demise, and the abbey, founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland.
Touring Highgrove Garden
How about taking a tour of HRH’s beautiful gardens at Highgrove? The gardens have been under the prince’s control since 1980, and in that time he has managed to transform them from a bleak landscape into a spectacular haven for wildlife, under his principles of sustainable and eco-friendly practice. The gardens consist of several areas unique in character and style, including a wild flower meadow (created under the instruction of Miriam Rothschild, the UK’s leading advocate for biodiversity) and a walled kitchen garden, complete with a wide range of organically grown vegetables; some of which are extremely rare varieties. To visit the gardens, tickets must be booked in advance, and all proceeds go to the Prince of Wales’ charitable foundation. For a day of extravagant luxury, how about upgrading your tour to a ‘Champagne Tea Tour’, which concludes with a fantastic afternoon tea at the Orchard Restaurant? As well as garden tours, various events are held throughout the year, including bee-keeping and composting workshops.
Cycling in Swinley Forest
Swinley Forest in Berkshire is part of Windsor Forest, owned and managed by The Crown Estate. It is a hotspot for cyclists and offers a range of different cycling trails suitable for young families to the more ‘hard-core’ mountain biking enthusiast. Mountain bikes can be hired on site, saving you car space or the hassle of attaching them to your bike rack! Swinley Forest hit the news recently due to new improvements of the cycling routes, aimed at preserving some of the wildlife in the forest including ground-nesting birds such as the Dartford warbler. A cycling permit must be purchased for all cyclists over the age of 16, but at a cost of £2 a day (or £25 for an annual permit) it is a small price to pay for a fantastic and exciting day out.
Fishing in Scotland
Many rivers in Scotland are owned by the Crown Estate and offer a wealth of salmon and sea trout fishing opportunities. Efforts have been made to make fishing activities as sustainable as possible, both through the improvement of water quality and limiting fishing permits in order to protect spawning stocks from exploitation. Fishing in Scotland is a unique experience and offers some of the best fish of world-renowned quality, whilst playing host to some of the most beautiful backdrops in the UK.
Dunster Estate, part of Exmoor National Park, is a stunning piece of land owned by the Crown Estate. Boasting a range of habitats, from rolling heathland to oak wooland, Dunster Estate supports a wealth of wildlife. Mammalian residents include red deer, dormice and the iconic Exmoor pony; the most primitive of all Britain’s native ponies. For birders, rare spots such as wood warblers, Dartford warblers and nightjars are possible, along with plenty of other more familiar birds, including the common buzzard, which wheels around the skies of Dunster Estate throughout the year. If you’re an insect-lover, how about investigating the grassland for yellow meadow ants, taking a walk across the heathland in the hope of spotting the heath fritillary, or visiting the parkland to find Europe’s largest wasp, the hornet? Finally, Dunster Estate is home to a plethora of plant life that would keep any botanical enthusiast on their toes! Home to three separate sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), Dunster Estate is a naturalist’s heaven.
Glenlivet Estate, lying within the Cairngorms National Park, is yet another stunning jewel in The Crown Estate’s inventory. Supporting over 100 UK biodiversity action plan species, with at least 23 ‘priority species’ (including red squirrels, capercaillies and the Northern brown argus butterfly), this estate is extremely important for Scottish wildlife preservation. Indeed the fact that five SSSI’s exist on the estate is testament to its importance. One of these SSSI’s includes ‘the Ladder Hills’ which is a proposed Special Protection Area for its hen harrier population. More details on the wildlife of Glenlivet Estate can be accessed by clicking here. Offering a variety of paths suitable for walking, cycling and horse riding, there are multiple methods for going about your wildlife spotting.