Queen mother’s bedroom opens to public

Andrew Black reports the room is far from the opulence you might expect from royal sleeping quarters.

THE British Queen Mother's bedroom at her former summer retreat is to open to the public for the first time complete with a copy of Hello! magazine at her bedside.

From today, visitors to the Castle of Mey will be given unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Royal house in Caithness.

But far from the sort of opulence you might expect from the sleeping quarters of the Queen Mother, the bedroom is remarkably restrained.

With its light blue walls and matching carpet, it is one of the more understated rooms in the castle.

The small and simply laid-out room contains only a few pieces of furniture, including a dressing table, chest of drawers and wardrobe as well as the double bed.

Perhaps the most surprising item in the room is the copy of Hello! on the bedside table, one of the many magazines the Queen Mother liked to read.

Guests at the castle, bought by the Queen Mother in 1952, always feared having their ankles bitten by the Queen Mother's corgis, which used to spend much of the night on the steps outside her bedroom door, as they made their way to their own bedrooms in the corridor above.

Since the castle first opened to the public in 2002, the number of visitors has gone from strength to strength and this year more than 200 coach parties have booked in advance.

The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust, which now operates the property on the far north of the Scottish coast, also said that three cruise ships stopping locally over the summer would bring in visitors.

James Murray, the trust administrator, said there had always been interest in the Queen Mother's bedroom.

He said: "People always asked where the bedrooms were. I never realised there was so much interest. I personally don't find the bedrooms very exciting but I'm always willing to learn.

"The tourist board also told me that the bedrooms were interesting to the visitors, so the decision was made to open them to the public."

Visitors will be able to view a number of other bedrooms which have not been seen before.

One of the other rooms which is going on public display for the first time this year is the bedroom used by Sir Martin Gilliat, the Queen Mother's long-serving private secretary. His death in 1993 led to the room being used by Sir Ralph Anstruther, the Queen Mother's treasurer.

The Queen Mother's clothing room has also been opened up for the first time, as has Princess Margaret's room, although she never spent a night there.

The principal guest bedroom, known as Lady Doris Vyner's room after the family that occasionally visited the castle, can also be viewed for the first time as well as its accompanying bathroom.

Mr Murray said interest in opening the castle to the public had remained strong. He said: "It's the only residence that you really see in close quarters how a member of the Royal Family lived.

"We've kept it, as near as we can, exactly as it was when the Queen Mother used to holiday here."

He said: "Our bookings are up on last year and now that Scrabster Pier is open, the cruise ship market is one that we want to try and encourage."

The Castle of Mey ran its first full season of public opening last year with a limited opening the year before.

Situated in the parish of Canisbay on the north coast, the castle, on a site thought to have been originally occupied by a fortified granary, lies about 15 miles east of Thurso and six miles west of John O'Groats.

In 1952 the Queen Mother saw the castle during a stay at the nearby house of Northern Gate on Dunnet Head.

It was in poor condition but she began renovating and restoring both the castle and its gardens.

The castle stands before the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Islands, only about 400 yards from the seashore.

It was built by George, the fourth Earl of Caithness. His third son George founded the family of the Sinclairs of Mey which succeeded to the earldom in 1789.

The castle changed hands several times over the ensuing years before it came into the possession of Captain FB Imbert-Terry in 1929. He later sold it to the Queen Mother the only property she ever owned.

One of the Queen's first poems to go on public display can also be seen at the castle in its visitors' book.

The castle will remain open until July 29 when it closes until August 11, during which time it is expected Prince Charles will stay and attend the Highland Games. It will reopen after that until the end of September.

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