A lot can happen in a year.
Exactly 12 months ago, King Charles officially opened the freshly painted Platinum Jubilee archway at the Braemar Gathering in his mother’s honour.
It came as worries about The Queen’s health grew worse.
It wasn’t like her to miss the local Highland Games, which were always the highlight of her summer stay at Balmoral Castle.
The thousands on hand were told Her Majesty was keeping up with the action from her nearby home.
And there followed a heartfelt chorus of God Save the Queen.
It would be one of the final times the anthem was sung at such an assembly during her 70-year reign – and the last at her cherished Braemar Gathering…
Just days later, the nation went into mourning as The Queen died.
After a year of life-changing events – including his mother’s funeral, family disputes and his own coronation – it was a different Charles who passed through that same archway.
Bittersweet occasion as Charles attends first Braemar Gathering as King
Today’s Braemar Gathering began with a mixture of emotions.
For the first time, God Save The King echoed through the Cairngorms in His Majesty’s honour as thousands of visitors welcomed the Royal Family.
It was a kind of a homecoming for King Charles, who has been attending the world-famous Highland Games with The Princess Royal since he was merely six years old.
Compere Robert Lovie reminisced about years gone by, hailing the “heartfelt and enthusiastic” support the games have been graced with by Their Majesties.
The usual hubbub of voices descended into a hush as Mr Lovie paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
After an emotional pause, he said: “The past 12 months have been momentous in so many ways and generated for us all such mixture of emotions.
“It was only a year ago that you very kindly cut the heather rope to open the Platinum Jubilee Archway on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen.
“In the immediate days that followed that happy occasion, we were then all so saddened by the loss of Queen Elizabeth – who had been such a great supporter of these Highland Games throughout her life.”
Addressing King Charles and Queen Camilla, he added: “In a part of Scotland that you love so dearly, I on behalf of everyone here wish both Your Majesties a long, happy and glorious reign.”
What did the crowds make of the Braemar Gathering?
And then, the finest of athletes, dancers, pipes and drums, took over the arena once again.
The audience erupted in cheers as hulking men hurled hefty hammers into the air, and gasped in amazement as cabers thudded into the green lawn.
This is exactly the excitement and thrill Mark Klein had been missing for the last seven years while working in the US.
The oil and gas worker, from Aberdeen, couldn’t wait to bring his children to the traditional extravaganza – as his family once did decades ago.
He was joined by his wife Karen, from Brazil, who said this was the perfect opportunity for three-year-old Giovanna and six-year-old Henry, to get to know their Scottish roots.
The 45-year-old added: “All I can say is that this whole experience has been very impressive.
“The kids really enjoyed the Highland dancers, and the weather has been amazing – it’s a lot better than everyone presents it to be.”
Scotland is ‘freaking fantastic’
Just 36 hours after her feet touched Scottish soil, Texas-born Summer Nijjer was thrown into an iconic celebration, fit for royals.
In her American drawl, she described the event as “freaking fantastic”.
Visiting her friends in Ayrshire, the 44-year-old had no idea what to expect from the Highland Games or the humble Aberdeenshire village.
She said: “It’s amazing how welcoming the community is. They really just embrace you regardless of where you come from and take you in with open arms.
“Getting to see the pipe bands has been the best bit. Something I have never seen in America – and I probably never will.”
Despite the one notable absence this year, many of the overseas visitors told us their main incentive for going along was the chance to catch a glimpse of royalty.
‘Her enthusiasm was obvious’
And aside from Mr Lovie’s speech, the Braemar Gathering 2023 programme also had a page remembering The Queen.
Organisers thanked the late monarch for being such an “enthusiastic supporter of the event” since she first attended at the age of seven with her grandparents.
They added: “On special occasions, she was known to leave the ‘comfort’ of the pavilion to chat with officials and competitors in the games arena.
“Her enthusiasm and delight at being a part of the gathering was often obvious on the front page of Sunday newspapers following the event.”