Aberdeenshire, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, landscape, Monument, pyramid

The Prince Albert Cairn, Balmoral, Aberdeenshire

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.

Stephen Thompson (b.1832) Balmoral Castle 1863, RCIN 2923210. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

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:

TO
THE BELOVED MEMORY
OF
ALBERT,
THE GREAT AND GOOD:
PRINCE CONSORT,
ERECTED BY HIS
BROKEN-HEARTED WIDOW,
VICTORIA. R.
21ST AUGUST
1862.

HE, BEING MADE PERFECT IN A SHORT TIME,
FULFILLED A LONG TIME,
FOR HIS SOUL PLEASED THE LORD,
THEREFORE HASTED HE
TO TAKE
HIM AWAY FROM AMONG THE WICKED.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON,
CHAP IV. VERSES 13 AND 14.

After George Washington Wilson (1823-93) The Albert Cairn, Balmoral, 1883 after an 1865 original. RCIN 2620012. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

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.

The cairn commemorating the marriage of Princess Beatrice to H.R.H. Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885.

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.

William Corden the Younger  (1819-1900) Queen Victoria’s Christmas Tree 1850-51. Oil on panel RCIN 402566. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.
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12 thoughts on “The Prince Albert Cairn, Balmoral, Aberdeenshire”

  1. John Malaiperuman says:

    What a moving story of the mourning queen and this perfect timeless monument.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you John. It is a very moving monument, and well worth the climb.

  2. Gand says:

    May we take this opportunity to wish the Flaneuse and uncouth companion a
    Jolly splendid Quafftide.
    We look forward to more fascinating folly facts in 2022.
    Gand and Norma

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Norma and Gand. I will ensure the uncouth companion (he’s been a bit quiet this year) is well fed and watered and ready for lots more folly jaunts in 2022.

  3. Judy Mitchell says:

    Thank you for all the Saturday delights in 2021 and every best wish for Christmas and the new year.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Judy and sending best wishes for the festive season.

      1. Valerie Greaves says:

        Christmas at Balmoral, lucky you!

        1. Editor says:

          Sadly not, back at home now. Our invitation must have got lost in the post! Merry Christmas Valerie.

  4. John St Brioc Hooper says:

    All best wishes for Christmas to you, Folly Flaneuse, and many thanks for brightening up this dull year with such interesting and informative articles. I look forward to the next batch of 2022, and perhaps even the chance of visiting some of the places you have written about.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John. Thanks for the kind words and good wishes. Hopefully our paths will cross in 2022.

  5. Julia Abel Smith says:

    Very happy Christmas to you FF and thank you for your weekly posts, which always inform and entertain.

    I was particularly interested to see the hatchment above the front door in the 1863 photograph of Balmoral. It appears that the deceased was a woman. Hatchments are such a regular feature in churches but it is rare to see evidence of them displayed, as they always were, at the home of the deceased.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Julia. Thank you, and thanks for pointing out the hatchment, which I hadn’t looked at in detail. It’s a subject I’ve always intended to investigate, so this is the just impetus I need.

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