The Queen heads to Balmoral for summer holiday

The Queen has returned to her beloved Balmoral Estate in Scotland, which she has called "the most beautiful place on Earth" and said she can truly relax and be herself. In an annual tradition, the monarch and her husband Prince Philip spend their summer in the Scottish Highlands.

The couple have been staying at a separate house in the Balmoral grounds, while the castle has been open to paying members of the public, but as of this week, the Queen and her family will be able to enjoy their summer residence in private.

On Monday, Her Majesty was given a warm reception from the 2nd Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. She inspected the battalion, who will provide guards for the duration of her holiday, outside the castle gates.

TAP TO VIEW GALLERYQueen Elizabeth II walking by a row of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers The Queen was welcomed by the 2nd Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers

The Queen, a talented equestrian, was also reunited with regimental mascot Cruachan IV. The Shetland pony was on his best behaviour, having famously attempted to nip Her Majesty during an inspection in 2014.

Balmoral is believed to be the Queen's favourite royal residence. Earlier this year her granddaughter Princess Eugenie opened up about the family estate, which was purchased by Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert in 1852.

Queen Elizabeth is checking out the pony Her Majesty also inspected the regiment's mascot Cruachan IV

"It's the most beautiful place on earth," Eugenie said during ITV's documentary Our Queen At Ninety. "I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands."

"Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there's always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time," said the Princess. "It's a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there; where you just have room to breathe and run."

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II standing by a wooden fence at a ranch "I think Granny is the most happy there," said Princess Eugenie

Last week a courtier revealed that the Queen had spent the first 11 nights of her stay in a separate house in the Balmoral grounds, so that paying visitors could visit the main castle. The annual running of the Scottish retreat costs around £3m each year.

The courtier told the Daily Mail that Her Majesty was "prepared to make sacrifices in order to keep costs down".

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