The Daily Telegraph

A COUNTRYWOM­AN AT HEART

A monarch with a deep love of the land, Queen Elizabeth II was never happier than outdoors, surrounded by nature.

- By Clive Aslet

Arriving at the Royal Windsor Horse Show one year, I saw, through the downpour that was then taking place, a friend who had newly returned from abroad.

As I bounded up to him with a cheery greeting, I failed to notice that he was at that moment engaged in deep conversati­on with a smallish lady, swathed in waterproof­s and headscarf. It was a couple of seconds before I realised this heavily camouflage­d figure was Queen Elizabeth II, and by then there was no backing out.

Fortunatel­y, I wasn’t sent to the Tower, and after an awkward 10 minutes, more or less speechless on my part, I withdrew, more than ever conscious that we were blessed in having an all-weather monarch, who took whatever the English summer could throw at her.

Her heart was in the country, which she loved for its horses, dogs and walks through the Scottish heather.

In another life, Her Majesty could have been a country gentlewoma­n, as might be seen from the downtime she spent at Windsor, Sandringha­m and Balmoral. As a child, she would go deer stalking and fishing with her parents, George VI and Queen Elizabeth, tastes she retained all her life. There were smaller houses at both Sandringha­m and Balmoral to which she could retreat for a few days of relative informalit­y before guests arrived. Soon after her accession in 1953 she started the Balmoral fold of Highland cattle, which gave her a practical interest in farming.

Unlike her sister Princess Margaret, who was, by reputation at least, haughty and difficult, Queen Elizabeth got on with the task in hand without fuss. Hers was the practical make-do-and-mend attitude of a countrywom­an brought up during the Second World War. Visitors to the Royal Windsor Horse Show, as well as Balmoral and Sandringha­m, often saw her behind the wheel of a Range Rover. But then as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor she did learn how to drive

and strip down military vehicles as an 18-yearold volunteer.

Until 1997, holidays might be spent on Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia, a vessel now in dignified retirement at Leith, where it provides visitors with an insight into the little-gilded simplicity of Her Majesty’s domestic taste; its chintz sofas and quilted eiderdowns suggest a comfortabl­e holiday cottage on the waves. Afterwards she liked to take her family on cruises around the Scottish coastline on MV Hebridean Princess, with picnics being served on the white pristine sands of some of the remoter islands.

THE MOST CONSTANT COMPANIONS

Since 1933, when the first Pembroke corgi arrived at her parents’ London home, 145 Piccadilly, in the shape of Rozavel Golden Eagle – renamed Dookie (a contractio­n of Duke of York) – animals had a starring role in Queen Elizabeth II’S life. As a girl she also had a Tibetan spaniel and rabbits. Many other animal species came and went over the years, including – although heads of state were firmly discourage­d from giving exotic creatures to the late Queen – a crocodile which she could not refuse in West Africa; it travelled to its new land in a bathtub on Britannia.

Ever since 1886, when King Leopold II of the Belgians gave some racing pigeons to the Royal family, there have been pigeon lofts at Sandringha­m. Despite a general decline in pigeon fancying, the 160 mature birds and 80 young were regularly visited by the late Queen until her death. They raced during the summer.

Another department at Sandringha­m beloved of Her Majesty was the royal kennels. They were home to her gundogs. Just as her passion for horses led her to master every aspect of the equestrian world, so she wasn’t content merely to take a few Labradors on country walks. Her Labradors and spaniels at Sandringha­m were working dogs, trained, until advancing years stopped her, by Queen Elizabeth herself, with help from her long-serving dog handler Bill Meldrum.she personally entered them in dog trials, being able to control her favourite black Labrador, Sherry, from a distance of 800 yards purely by means of whistles and hand signals. Standing in front of the judges is one of the few occasions on which the late Queen confessed to nerves: the judges were blind to everything except the quality of the dog and the expertise of the handler. Not that she entered incognito: it would not have been much help if she had, given the dogs’ names – Sandringha­m Salt, Sandringha­m Ranger, Sandringha­m Slipper and Sandringha­m Sydney (born when Her Majesty was in Australia), all champions.

After Her Majesty stopped competing in field trials, she continued to work her dogs, picking up birds shot by other family members. On shooting days, the famous headscarf protecting her hair, she would drive to her kennels in her Range Rover to collect three labradors (Gem and Donna were favourites) and a cocker spaniel, all of whom then enthusiast­ically jumped into the back of the car. Intense canine excitement was sparked by Queen Elizabeth or the Duke of Edinburgh’s approach, with the dogs starting to bark as soon as one of them arrived at the gate, half a mile away.

Indeed, during his long career at Sandringha­m, Bill Meldrum often found himself upstaged by his employers. “One minute the dogs are with me, then the Royal family appears and I have none,” he once told Shooting Times. “It is a wonderful estate to be on and the Queen was a wonderful person. She was always totally 100 per cent interested in the dogs. I never bred a bitch without discussing it with her. She always had the final say. We got on great together.”

Queen Elizabeth was the last person to be soppy about her dogs, and cuddles were usually dispensed by members of staff. A gundog called Hugo was known for his affectiona­te nature but needed to be treated with caution. After a rollicking first encounter, a gamekeeper explained that “if you clap for Hugo he rushes up and jumps into your arms”. Having been almost bowled over by his impetuosit­y, the late Queen replied, “Now you tell me.”

Occasional­ly dogs bred at Sandringha­m have been given by Queen Elizabeth to visiting heads of state or fellow sovereigns; Giscard d’estaing, the French president, received Sandringha­m Samba in the 1970s.

HUNTING, SHOOTING, FISHING

There could be no gundogs without shooting, and Queen Elizabeth, a thorough countrywom­an at heart, stood no nonsense as an upholder of country sports. House parties at Windsor, Sandringha­m and Balmoral were, in season, organised around the superb shooting provided by the gamekeeper­s at both estates. When she was a girl, Her Majesty learnt to stalk and fish with her parents at Balmoral. The 46,000-acre estate was kept as far as possible as it had been in the days of Queen Victoria: the best way of shooting stags was still by walking over the steep, sometimes precipitou­s hillsides, with one of Balmoral’s ghillies to give expert guidance. Each gun was accompanie­d by two Highland garrons or stalking ponies, more picturesqu­e, more practical and cheaper than mechanised alternativ­es.

Field sports and farming are typical interests of the British aristocrac­y, which made a greater appeal to rural people than to city dwellers. So too, perhaps, did her support for the traditions for which this country is famous around the world. Here was a lady who, come rain or shine, refreshed parts of the nation that could be overlooked by government.

Her joy in country events was palpable and infectious. Photograph­ers loved to capture her at race meetings and the Braemar Gathering, when this loved but sometimes forbidding figure was shown with a smile on her face, thoroughly enjoying the event and sharing jokes with her family. As an accomplish­ed Scottish country dancer, she happily took to the floor during the Ghillies Balls held at Balmoral. Every day at 9am while Her Majesty was at the Castle, a piper played under her window – a practice begun by Queen Victoria; the position of Queen’s Piper is naturally highly prized.

WATERMEN AND SWAN-MARKERS

If farmers and gamekeeper­s prefer to dress in green and brown, Her Majesty’s Swan Marker and Swan Uppers, and Bargemaste­r and Watermen, adopt more lively colours, in a ceremony that dates back to the 12th century. The Royal Watermen are the successors of those who rowed monarchs between their palaces along the Thames until the mid-19th century. Like her father, Queen Elizabeth was temperamen­tally conservati­ve and disliked change for change’s sake.

Throughout her life, the late Queen flew a royal flag for the countrysid­e, reminding the world that horses, dogs and country walks are an essential part of the national psyche. In this, she was the equivalent of an electric blanket, giving a degree of background comfort to those who might otherwise have had cold feet about the 21st century.

On our fast-moving planet, the future can be a scary place, dislocated from nature and long-accepted ways of thought. The late Queen’s love of rural pursuits showed that another life was possible, slower, full of animals and spent largely in the open air. To many of her subjects this was reassuring.

 ?? ?? Pretty as a picture Balmoral and Sandringha­m were Queen Elizabeth II’S private estates, unflashy reflection­s of the monarch’s love for the country and its ways.
At Sandringha­m, where the late Queen is pictured in the year of her accession, 1952, a densely planted shrubbery with a shady woodland walk was instigated by Her Majesty in the late 1960s, away from the formal lawns. A collection of rhododendr­on, camellia and magnolia trees brought up from Windsor were planted to create more interest, shelter and privacy in the garden.
A similar woodland walk was created in the gardens at Buckingham Palace as a place for quiet reflection.
The formal, enclosed areas of garden at Sandringha­m were informally planted in a cottage garden style and are usually at their best in late July, where they act as a haven for bees and butterflie­s.
Despite her annual attendance at the Chelsea Flower Show, Her Majesty was happy to admit that she was a weeder, not a gardener.
The three acres of formal gardens at Balmoral, first laid out by Prince Albert, are designed to be in full bloom in late summer and early autumn, as they are now. The wild hills and mountains around the estate offered Queen Elizabeth the opportunit­y for many quiet hours on horseback or walking, away from the public gaze and with utterly unspoilt views of her kingdom’s nature at its most untamed.
Pretty as a picture Balmoral and Sandringha­m were Queen Elizabeth II’S private estates, unflashy reflection­s of the monarch’s love for the country and its ways. At Sandringha­m, where the late Queen is pictured in the year of her accession, 1952, a densely planted shrubbery with a shady woodland walk was instigated by Her Majesty in the late 1960s, away from the formal lawns. A collection of rhododendr­on, camellia and magnolia trees brought up from Windsor were planted to create more interest, shelter and privacy in the garden. A similar woodland walk was created in the gardens at Buckingham Palace as a place for quiet reflection. The formal, enclosed areas of garden at Sandringha­m were informally planted in a cottage garden style and are usually at their best in late July, where they act as a haven for bees and butterflie­s. Despite her annual attendance at the Chelsea Flower Show, Her Majesty was happy to admit that she was a weeder, not a gardener. The three acres of formal gardens at Balmoral, first laid out by Prince Albert, are designed to be in full bloom in late summer and early autumn, as they are now. The wild hills and mountains around the estate offered Queen Elizabeth the opportunit­y for many quiet hours on horseback or walking, away from the public gaze and with utterly unspoilt views of her kingdom’s nature at its most untamed.
 ?? ?? By her side This informal photograph, taken in Queen Elizabeth II’S Silver Jubilee year of 1977, shows her in the grounds of Balmoral, accompanie­d by her long-serving dog trainer and gamekeeper, Bill Meldrum, and three of her working dogs, Sandringha­m Sherry (Sandringha­m Sydney’s mother), Sandringha­m Dipper and royal favourite Lugwardine Jade, who belonged to Mr Meldrum’s father.
As well as her corgis and dorgies (corgi-dachshund crosses), Queen Elizabeth had an abiding affection for working dogs, notably labradors and spaniels. Earlier this year, it was reported that Her Majesty had acquired a new dog, a four-year-old cocker spaniel called Lissy – named after herself. Lissy recently won the 91st Kennel Club Cocker Spaniel Championsh­ip, under her official name of Wolferton Drama, seeing off 38 competitor­s to take the top spot.
By her side This informal photograph, taken in Queen Elizabeth II’S Silver Jubilee year of 1977, shows her in the grounds of Balmoral, accompanie­d by her long-serving dog trainer and gamekeeper, Bill Meldrum, and three of her working dogs, Sandringha­m Sherry (Sandringha­m Sydney’s mother), Sandringha­m Dipper and royal favourite Lugwardine Jade, who belonged to Mr Meldrum’s father. As well as her corgis and dorgies (corgi-dachshund crosses), Queen Elizabeth had an abiding affection for working dogs, notably labradors and spaniels. Earlier this year, it was reported that Her Majesty had acquired a new dog, a four-year-old cocker spaniel called Lissy – named after herself. Lissy recently won the 91st Kennel Club Cocker Spaniel Championsh­ip, under her official name of Wolferton Drama, seeing off 38 competitor­s to take the top spot.
 ?? ?? Royal devotion Queen Elizabeth II was devoted to her Pembroke Welsh corgis – and dorgies – for more than eight decades, from the arrival of Rozavel Golden Eagle, known as Dookie, in the household of her father, King George VI, in 1933. More than 30 corgis and dorgies were to follow, as there was at least one of the dogs in the royal household at all times between 1933 and 2018. Perhaps the most significan­t royal corgi was Susan, given to the late Queen as an 18th-birthday gift in 1944. Susan accompanie­d the late Queen on her honeymoon, and would become the matriarch of generation­s of royal corgis.
Monty, Willow, and Holly achieved global fame when they appeared alongside Queen Elizabeth and James Bond (Daniel Craig) in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony video.
Royal devotion Queen Elizabeth II was devoted to her Pembroke Welsh corgis – and dorgies – for more than eight decades, from the arrival of Rozavel Golden Eagle, known as Dookie, in the household of her father, King George VI, in 1933. More than 30 corgis and dorgies were to follow, as there was at least one of the dogs in the royal household at all times between 1933 and 2018. Perhaps the most significan­t royal corgi was Susan, given to the late Queen as an 18th-birthday gift in 1944. Susan accompanie­d the late Queen on her honeymoon, and would become the matriarch of generation­s of royal corgis. Monty, Willow, and Holly achieved global fame when they appeared alongside Queen Elizabeth and James Bond (Daniel Craig) in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony video.
 ?? Captions by Andrew Baker ??
Captions by Andrew Baker
 ?? ?? Loyal servant Burmese was the most loyal and long-serving of equine royal servants, and acknowledg­ed by the monarch as her favourite horse.
A gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the black mare became Queen Elizabeth II’S mount of choice for formal military occasions. The horse’s unflappabl­e temperamen­t made her ideally suited for this role, and she carried the monarch through 18 consecutiv­e Trooping the Colour ceremonies during a royal career that lasted from 1969 to 1986.
The late Queen also chose to ride Burmese when she rode with visiting US President Ronald Reagan in Windsor Great Park in 1982, the president having been loaned an eight-year-old gelding named Centennial for the occasion.
When Burmese was not on royal duty, she was a serving police horse with London’s Metropolit­an Police. Burmese died in 1990.
Loyal servant Burmese was the most loyal and long-serving of equine royal servants, and acknowledg­ed by the monarch as her favourite horse. A gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the black mare became Queen Elizabeth II’S mount of choice for formal military occasions. The horse’s unflappabl­e temperamen­t made her ideally suited for this role, and she carried the monarch through 18 consecutiv­e Trooping the Colour ceremonies during a royal career that lasted from 1969 to 1986. The late Queen also chose to ride Burmese when she rode with visiting US President Ronald Reagan in Windsor Great Park in 1982, the president having been loaned an eight-year-old gelding named Centennial for the occasion. When Burmese was not on royal duty, she was a serving police horse with London’s Metropolit­an Police. Burmese died in 1990.
 ?? ?? Racing Queen British horse racing had no greater or more enthusiast­ic supporter than Queen Elizabeth II, a highly knowledgab­le and successful owner and breeder over many decades.
Her horses triumphed at the highest level, with
Classic wins including the Oaks, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, and the St Leger.
She was, of course, most closely associated with the Royal Ascot meeting, traditiona­lly opened every day by the parade of carriages from the
Royal household at nearby Windsor.
Racegoers cheered the striking royal colours of purple and scarlet past the winning post in first place two dozen times at the royal meeting over seven decades, with the monarch often leading her triumphant horse into the Winner’s Enclosure in person.
Once, early in her reign, Queen Elizabeth experience­d the thrill of galloping down the racecourse herself at full tilt, taking part in an entirely unofficial race with half a dozen other mounted members of the royal party, before racing on the third day of the royal meeting in 1960. Her companions did not defer to the monarch: the late Queen finished fourth.
Racing Queen British horse racing had no greater or more enthusiast­ic supporter than Queen Elizabeth II, a highly knowledgab­le and successful owner and breeder over many decades. Her horses triumphed at the highest level, with Classic wins including the Oaks, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, and the St Leger. She was, of course, most closely associated with the Royal Ascot meeting, traditiona­lly opened every day by the parade of carriages from the Royal household at nearby Windsor. Racegoers cheered the striking royal colours of purple and scarlet past the winning post in first place two dozen times at the royal meeting over seven decades, with the monarch often leading her triumphant horse into the Winner’s Enclosure in person. Once, early in her reign, Queen Elizabeth experience­d the thrill of galloping down the racecourse herself at full tilt, taking part in an entirely unofficial race with half a dozen other mounted members of the royal party, before racing on the third day of the royal meeting in 1960. Her companions did not defer to the monarch: the late Queen finished fourth.
 ?? ?? Below the fold Both Balmoral and Sandringha­m are working estates, and Queen Elizabeth II always took a keen interest in the wide variety of livestock raised on them. She kept a herd – technicall­y known as a “fold” – of Highland cattle at Balmoral from early in her reign, and this recently numbered 60 breeding cows and eight bulls. Her Majesty’s star bull, the three-year-old Gusgurlach of Balmoral, this summer won the top prize at the Royal Highland Show for the second year running.
The late Queen kept a dairy herd at Windsor Dairy Farm, near Frogmore House, comprising about 160 Jersey cows. Many of these descend from animals originally given to Queen Victoria, but they are kept according to the most recent advances in farming practice and technology, a constant source of interest and enthusiasm for the late Queen.
Below the fold Both Balmoral and Sandringha­m are working estates, and Queen Elizabeth II always took a keen interest in the wide variety of livestock raised on them. She kept a herd – technicall­y known as a “fold” – of Highland cattle at Balmoral from early in her reign, and this recently numbered 60 breeding cows and eight bulls. Her Majesty’s star bull, the three-year-old Gusgurlach of Balmoral, this summer won the top prize at the Royal Highland Show for the second year running. The late Queen kept a dairy herd at Windsor Dairy Farm, near Frogmore House, comprising about 160 Jersey cows. Many of these descend from animals originally given to Queen Victoria, but they are kept according to the most recent advances in farming practice and technology, a constant source of interest and enthusiasm for the late Queen.

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