The Queen: Sad journey through Scotland as thousands come to say goodbye
The place where the family could, for their summers at least, shrug off the mantle of duty and responsibility and come together to enjoy barbecues, games, and the stunning vistas of the Highlands.
When the Duke of Edinburgh died last year, it was an informal photograph of him sitting with the Queen on a picnic at Balmoral which the Royal Family chose to share in the hours leading up to his funeral.
But yesterday the estate was the scene of sorrow as the gates opened for the Queen to leave Balmoral for the last time, borne on the first leg of her final journey which will culminate in Windsor a week today.
Her oak coffin was draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland and topped, fittingly, with flowers from the estate.
Sweet peas – one of the Queen’s favourite flowers – dahlias, phlox, white heather and pine fir, adorned the simple display.
Six gamekeepers from the estate carried it to its hearse before the sad procession began.
Princess Anne, accompanied by her husband Timothy Laurence, followed her mother’s coffin for the duration of its 180 mile journey.
Balmoral holds happy memories for Anne - she and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy were married at Crathie Kirk just a short walk from the castle.
But those memories will now be tinged with sorrow as she made a journey passing that very church which will resonate with anyone who has followed behind a loved one’s cortege.
The Princess, who was with the Queen when she died, will also accompany the coffin when it is flown to London on Tuesday.
The Queen once famously said “I have to be seen to be believed,” and it was in that spirit that those carefully planning Operation Unicorn chose a route that would take the sombre procession through the villages surrounding Balmoral through to Dundee, Perth, and finally to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, where last night she lay at rest.
She was rarely alone on her long journey through Scotland: in every town and village the cortege passed through, hundreds came out to say goodbye to the woman who had reigned over them for 70 years
For many who lined the streets, it was perhaps the first moment that the full magnitude of the Queen’s death hit home.
Elizabeth Taylor, from Aberdeen, had tears in her eyes as she considered what she had just seen.
She said: “It was very emotional. It was respectful and showed what they think of the Queen.
“She certainly gave service to this country, even up until a few days before her death.”
One man called out “thank you, thank you” as the coffin went by.
Just outside Dundee, Margaret Macphail, from Berryhill, wept as she thought about what she had seen. She said: “I didn’t expect to be as moved as that. I’m glad I came.”
Her friend Elizabeth Russell, from Invergowrie, added: “It was lovely to be here and it was so nice that so many people came out.”
Others cried, and a few threw flowers.There was a ripple of applause from some of the public as the cortege drove slowly by on its long journey. But many stood simply in sombre silence.
A particularly touching moment saw tractors lined up at the side of the road in the Aberdeenshire countryside to form a guard of honour for the procession.
As the cortege reached Edinburgh the crowds thickened - as did the applause.
Thousands lined the Royal Mile. Many chose to film the moment for themselves on their mobile phones.
But silence fell again as the cortege was swept into the gates of Holyroodhouse.
Around 50 members of palace staff had gathered in the courtyard to greet the Queen’s cortege.
And as King Charles III attended to duties on the third full day of his reign in London, his sister Anne sunk into a deep curtsey alongside her brothers Andrew and Edward who were waiting at Holyroodhouse to watch as their mother was borne inside.
There, last night, the Queen was at rest before today she is taken to St Giles’ Cathedral in the city where it will be the turn of the people of Edinburgh to file past in respect ahead of plans for the Queen to lay in state in Westminster Hall for four days.
Tomorrow, the final journey back to London begins, as the Queen leaves her beloved Scotland behind forever.