'The eyes of the world are all on here' Edinburgh prepares for Queen's arrival
A neverending stream of well-wishers proceeds into the grounds of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.
Heading out of the dazzling sunlight of the Royal Mile and surrounding area into the more sombre, shadow-speckled space to pay their own tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, they peek through the gates as the Palace and surrounding area prepares for the monarch’s final arrival to Edinburgh, a city that underpinned so much of her 70-year reign.
The area finds itself cordoned off to traffic and crowd barriers installed in advance of the arrival today of the cortege bringing the Queen’s coffin from Balmoral. It is set to remain at the Palace of Holyroodhouse overnight ahead of the procession scheduled for tomorrow, travelling up the Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral.
Leading up to the gates is a multicoloured display of row upon row of bouquets of flowers, which lean against the walls of the palace, a touching swell of emotion and gratitude propped up against the grey, almost timeless, representation of steadfast ceremony and tradition.
The Queen would every summer spend a week visiting regions around Scotland during so-called "Royal Week" or Holyrood Week, which always began on the forecourt of Holyrood Palace with the Ceremony of the Keys when the Queen was welcomed into Edinburgh by the Lord Provost, who offered her the keys of the city. The week also saw the monarch host an annual garden party, welcoming around 8,000 guests.
But now in her memory the Palace is home to tributes in various forms, bouquets interspersed with drawing, letters and notes, including one that says “a pink rose for a woman who demonstrated love, grace, and joy throughout her service and life”, while a Paddington book, and a stuffed Corgi toy.
It’s clear that those visiting come from across the world and from right across society, while there is an indescribable but highly tangible atmosphere of calm and deference.
The sound is of a huge mix of languages and accents, including a reporter speaking to camera in French while a police officer says there are TV crews present from the likes of Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, and more besides. “The eyes of the world are all on here,” she says, saying the day has had a positive, friendly atmosphere, with people coming along to show sympathy with the UK and Commonwealth.
Among the many tourists in town are Donna and Gerry Dyer, both 64, who had just arrived from Boston, Massachusetts, part of a group embarking on a 12-day tour of Scotland. Donna points out that the Queen visited Boston in 1976, while she praises the speech Charles gave on becoming king.
Rachel Thomson, 33, and mother Nan Rankine, 59, have come from Falkirk and are planning to travel to London for the Queen’s funeral, which Ms Thomson says is like a “pilgrimage” to the “nation’s grandmother”. She adds: “The Queen meant everything to me - I’m a very big royalist. She was a remarkable woman and she’s going to be so missed”.
Also compelled to pay tribute is Mathew Moir, 24, who says he feels it was “the right thing to do”. As for the emotions his visit has stirred up, he says “it’s a bit overwhelming - it tugs at the heartstrings and genuinely doesn't feel real”. The Queen “did her duty till the very end”, he adds.
Many visitors will have had a personal encounter with the Queen, with 66-year-old Lynda Bardai , who brought flowers from her own garden to leave in tribute, saying she was once walking in Edinburgh, and happened to see the Queen in a passing car. “I was giving her a big wave, and I got a special smile and a wave back. My husband said, ‘that smile and wave was just for you’.”
Matt Phillips, 39, from Wolverhampton paid a visit with family, and says the Queen “was our everything… we didn’t want [her reign] to end”, while Chris Hastilow, 35, explains that he used to regularly walk past Buckingham Palace while living in London, and says of his visit to Holyroodhouse that “you can tell there's a lot of positivity, there's a lot of warmth… everybody wants to be a part of it. And they don't know whether they'll see this again”.
Heading up the Royal Mile, the streets are bustling, and set to become the backdrop of the landmark procession. Mike Singh, owner of wool and tweed shop Macraes of Edinburgh, which is located on the thoroughfare, says his family has had retail businesses in the area for 45 years, having started out with a grocer’s shop.
He says he has seen the Queen in person several times, and he remembers when she waved at the family when she passed by 20 years ago. The business-owner says he has now laid flowers at Holyroodhouse, and feels a real sense of sadness and mourning among everyone. Her passing away is a “bittersweet ending to her reign - she served us well”, he says.
But perhaps one lady, carrying a brightly coloured bouquet of flowers, and who gives her name as Jane, sums up the feelings of everyone paying visit. “It’s just to say ‘thank you, ma’am,” she says.