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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Rare glimpse into royal retreat
Queen mother's bedroom
A copy of Hello! magazine tucked in the bedside cabinet of the Queen Mother's room
Visitors to the late Queen Mother's summer retreat are being given unprecedented behind-the-scenes access.

Her unfussy bedroom at the Castle of Mey, painted in pale blue and with little in the way of furniture, was opened to the public on Tuesday.

Viewings, available until the end of September, will also include a guest bathroom and a dressing room.

The Caithness castle will be closed briefly, from 29 July until 11 August, when Prince Charles will stay.

Far from the sort of opulence you might expect from the sleeping quarters of the Queen Mother, her bedroom, which is on display for the first time, 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.

It's the only residence that you really see in close quarters how a member of the Royal Family lived
James Murray
The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust

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 hundreds more 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."

Clothing room

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

One of the other rooms which is 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.

Castle of Mey room
The living quarters of the Queen Mother are open for views
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 added: "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.

Passed on

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, before he passed it to his second son William Sinclair.

When he died, it went in turn to the third son George, who 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 Queen sent the 16-line composition to the castle following a visit in the area in 1993.


SEE ALSO:
Royal bedroom opens public doors
19 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Royal row over quarry plan
03 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Queen Mother memorial fund plan
14 Nov 03  |  Scotland
Scotland pays its tributes
01 Apr 02  |  Scotland
Scotland marks a Royal life
31 Mar 02  |  Scotland


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