Queen Victoria bought the Balmoral estate in 1848, and it later became the place where the Queen sought solace after Prince Albert’s early death, 160 years ago in December 1861. There were soon plans for monuments to the late Prince Consort, including the famous Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, but at Balmoral a huge hilltop pyramid was under construction only a few months after Albert’s death.
On 21 August 1862, on a bright day, Queen Victoria set off in her ‘little pony chair’ for the summit of a hill on her Balmoral estate. Accompanied by 6 of her 9 children she looked at the foundations of a ‘cairn to be erected to the memory of my precious Albert’. The chosen spot, at the top of the hill called Craig Lowrigan, had been chosen for its fine views, and also because it could be seen from a great distance.
Stones bearing their initials were laid by the Queen, her eldest son Albert, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and her two youngest sons Arthur and Leopold. The youngest daughters Helena, Louise and Beatrice followed next. Stones were then laid on behalf of the three children who were not present: the two married daughters Victoria and Alice, and Alfred who was serving in the Royal Navy.
The Queen recorded her plans in her diary later that day: the cairn was to be 40 feet wide and 35 feet high, and the inscription to read:
THE BELOVED MEMORY
THE GREAT AND GOOD:
ERECTED BY HIS
HE, BEING MADE PERFECT IN A SHORT TIME,
FULFILLED A LONG TIME,
FOR HIS SOUL PLEASED THE LORD,
THEREFORE HASTED HE
HIM AWAY FROM AMONG THE WICKED.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON,
CHAP IV. VERSES 13 AND 14.
The ‘large cairn of pyramidal shape’ was complete by May 1863, when newspaper reports recorded the inscriptions in place, just as the Queen had planned. The biblical quotation, taken from the Apocrypha, incensed the evangelical Dr Candlish, a leading light in the newly-established Free Kirk, who believed (in brief) that it threw doubt ‘on the inspiration of the Bible’. Newspapers dismissed Candlish as a ‘frantic divine’, but the Queen was furious that the ‘beautiful inscription’ that she had so carefully chosen had been ‘shamefully attacked’.
For the rest of her life Queen Victoria visited her ‘beloved’s’ cairn whenever she was at Balmoral.
A number of other cairns in the grounds mark events such as the purchase of the estate, and the marriages of her children, but none can compete with the grandeur of Albert’s pyramid.
One newspaper recorded the completion of Albert’s Cairn with the prophecy that ‘this rude monument will form an object of deep interest to future visitors to the Highlands’. The cairn (also known as the ‘pyramid’) remains a popular destination for walkers, but the once bare hillside is now covered with trees, and the monument is no longer a major eyecatcher from the valley below. But the view from the monument remains superb.
There’s a steep climb up to the cairn from the Balmoral car-park at Crathie (no pony and cart for the Folly Flâneuse, sadly) but the monument and the view repay the effort. And as the Queen herself did in 1863, you can walk back ‘down the steep part with shaking and trembling knees’.
As ever, please scroll down to the comments box if you would like to share any thoughts, or add any information. Thanks for reading. The Folly Flâneuse is taking a short break, but will be back early in 2022
THE FOLLY FLANEUSE WISHES YOU A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND HEALTH AND HAPPINESS IN 2022.