The final goodbye: Scotland bids farewell to Queen Elizabeth II
They came on foot, on horseback, by tractor and by car, gathering on packed pavements, public parks, and front gardens. They congregated in sprawling cities, in sparsely populated villages, and all the spaces inbetween.
They hung from windows and balconies, and stood on bridges and laybys. They waited at service stations and newly harvested fields, and climbed onto roundabouts or the central reservations of busy dual carriageways.
They came, one and all, the young and the old, to say a final goodbye. Some to a neighbour and a friend, but above all, to a Queen. To their queen.
On a sombre and historic day, when feelings of pride vied with a profound sadness, Scotland began to bid farewell to the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Across a journey which spanned 175 miles and lasted more than six hours, tens of thousands of mourners gathered across the east coast of the country to pay their respects as her funeral cortege travelled from Balmoral to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, where huge crowds spent hours waiting to be part of an era-defining moment in history.
Some along the winding route from Royal Deeside to the capital applauded and cheered. A few threw flowers. Others looked numb, lost even. Many simply looked on in silence, perhaps unsure of how they should, or could, respond to the occasion. After a tumultuous few days unprecedented in modern British history, few could blame them.
Yet if the events since Thursday evening have passed by in a daze, their emotions obscured by a flurry of pageantry and protocol, the first leg of a ceremonial journey that will ultimately end with next Monday’s state funeral brought home their enormity.
On a bright and crisp morning, when all that could be heard was the gentle rush of the Dee, Elizabeth II departed her beloved Balmoral for good, her oak coffin draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland, and topped with a wreath of white heather, dahlias, pine fir, phlox, and her favourite, sweet peas - all cut from the verdant gardens of the home she loved above all others.
That first sight of the coffin, shortly after 10.05am, confirmed the finality of the loss, no matter how expected it had been, no matter the days that have passed since Buckingham Palace’s announcement. In silence, the hearse exited through the gates and passed masses of floral tributes left by well-wishers, followed by Elizabeth II’s daughter, Princess Anne, and her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.
So began a journey that was both long and all too short. For 70 years, a woman many regarded as synonymous with the monarchy itself had been visiting Scotland. Now, this was it. The beginning of the end.
The realisation was overwhelming for some, with onlookers seen crying as the cortege passed Crathie Kirk, the small granite church Elizabeth II attended during her summer retreats on Royal Deeside.
After a quarter of an hour, it arrived in Ballater, where it was saluted by the Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. Here, she was regarded not only as a monarch, but a neighbour. During the floods that devastated homes and businesses in the village seven years ago, Elizabeth II asked her aides for a daily report on the damage, and later toured the area to thank those involved in the vast clean up operation.
On a calm, still morning, that gratitude was repaid. Hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects as the cortege slowed to a walking pace, with those in attendance coming from as far afield as Glasgow and Singapore, with one woman driving eight hours to take her place on the Victorian village’s packed Braemar Road.
There was silence as the cortege slowly drove through the village, with a handful of mourners throwing white flowers in front of the hearse. The vast majority simply watching on, occupied with their own thoughts, their own memories, as some bowed their heads.
The truth, it was once said, is found most often in the silence, in the quiet places. The many mourners in Ballater offered their truth, their affection for Elizabeth II only too evident.
Elizabeth Taylor, from Aberdeen, had tears in her eyes as she considered what she had just seen. “It was very emotional,” she said. “It was respectful and showed what they think of the Queen.”
David Cobban, a Ballater shop owner who recalled how Elizabeth II visited his premises after the flooding, said it was a “very strange” experience to see her leave the village for the final time.
“It’s a very personal thing on Ballater and on Royal Deeside,” he said. “Many people work on the estate and will have known the Queen personally. It’s become a personal loss. The emotions of people are very high.”
Andrew Gordon, who was also among the mourners, said: “A hush came over the crowd. We weren’t sure whether to clap or not. Some people had phones [out] … It’s hard to find words. It’s a farewell. A farewell to everyone’s Queen.”
With a single motorbike outrider leading the way, on the royal procession went through heather-clad landscape, through Aboyne, where she made a surprise visit in 2017 to open the 150th anniversary of its Highland Games, pouring whisky from a quaich to anoint the new Games caber.
Pipers welcomed the cortege as it entered the village, with hundreds of people lining the route. It went on through Kincardine O’Neil, where mourners gathered in front gardens and by the roadside to say one last goodbye.
Come 11.15am, the cortege was greeted by even larger crowds In Banchory, the biggest village in Royal Deeside. Some members of the public applauded as the hearse went along High Street, capturing the duality of the day’s emotions. It was a time to grieve, yet also to pay tribute.
Ona Ramsay, Fettercairn travelled 18 miles north to Banchory to join the mourners. “We’re not royalists or anything, but you’ve got to admire the lady, and it is a historical moment for somebody to be on the throne for 70 years,” the 65 year-old said.
The solemn journey proceeded past Crathes and Crathes castle, and on to Peterculter, where riders on horseback and a troop of saluting Scouts were among those who paid their respects. Farmers also positioned dozens of tractors to form a guard of honour.
The cortege then travelled along the A93 and across the King George VI bridge, named after Elizabeth II’s father, into Aberdeen, where the first vast crowds of the day were visible.
It is little wonder given her decades-long bond with the Granite City. She first visited it in 1944 as an 18 year-old princess to open an extension to the Sailor’s Home, and after her accession, first returned as Queen in 1955 to visit the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children.
She would make a further nine visits during her reign, including on each of her jubilee years. In 1964, 40,000 people lined the streets between the railway station and the city Town house as she made a morale-boosting trip to mark the end of a typhoid epidemic.
Amid brighter times a dozen years later, she inaugurated the flow of oil at the 130 mile pipeline spanning Cruden Bay to Grangemouth, pressing a gold-plated button at BP’s control centre in Dyce to begin an energy revolution.
Such memories, and many others, no doubt ran through minds of many watching on by Duthie Park and on Holborn Street, as well as those in the cortege.
Outside the park gates, Princess Anne could be seen nodding from her car towards David Cameron, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, as he gave a ceremonial salute with his sword. Beside him, veterans from the Royal Engineers waved their regiment's flag in tribute.
Thousands thronged the city thoroughfares, some flying union flags. After the hearse passed along Great Western Road, a choir from the Redeemed Christian Church of God sang out, puncturing the silence.
Those who were in Aberdeen included Ashleigh and Donald Wilson, who were watching on with their daughters aged three and 11 months.
"In years to come my children will learn about her and learn about this moment,” said Mrs Wilson “To show them they were here is important."
Another mourner, Elizabeth Phinn, had travelled from Glasgow, staying at a campsite in order to be part of a moment in history. “I just wanted to be here,” she said. “It’s just so sad”.
Through Newtonhill, Porthlethen and past Stonehaven the royal convoy went, before it departed the eastern coast and skirted inland to the Angus countryside along the A90. Crowds gathered wherever they could, stopping in laybys, on top of bridges, or simply standing on roadside verges or in newly harvested fields, as the hearse travelled along an empty southbound carriageway.
Just after 1pm, the funeral cortege made a scheduled stop at Brechin Castle, passing crowds six and seven-deep in order to re-fuel and give the drivers a rest. It was a sign of how much the procession had had to slow down earlier in the route on account of those wishing to pay their respects that the cortege was already behind schedule.
At the same time, 500 miles south, large crowds cheered outside Buckingham Palace as King Charles III was driven along The Mall and through the Garden Gate. The sense of one era drawing to an end and another beginning, so amorphous in recent days, suddenly felt all the more tangible.
Shortly before 2pm, the cortege re-joined the A90, passing near Glamis Castle, the ancestral home of the late Queen's maternal grandparents, and a place where she is said to have spent many happy childhood holidays building sandcastles.
It then headed south, arriving in Dundee soon after 2.20pm, where the crowds had grown even larger. Elizabeth II first visited the city as a young girl in the 1930s, frequenting Webster’s toy shop. She would later make eight trips to Dundee as monarch, the last occurring in 2016, when she met apprentices at the Michelin tyre factory and officially opened Slessor Gardens.
This time, as her coffin was taken along Forfar Road and Kingsway, a continual stream of people lined the way, with hundreds gathered on the Swallow roundabout on the city’s outskirts. There was tentative applause, and a single flower stem was visible on the hearse’s windscreen.
Those turning out included Samantha Jordan and her 18-month-old son Charlie, who carried a Paddington Bear toy.
She said: "It's such a sad time. We wanted to come down and be part of the Queen’s final journey. We needed to say goodbye."
Gillian Nicholl, who came from St Andrews with her two children, said: “It went very still and it was very atmospheric.
“I have never seen such a large crowd go so quiet. It was very sombre, there was a wee clap but it didn’t feel right.”
Margaret Macphail, from Berryhill, wept as she thought about what she had seen. “I didn’t expect to be as moved as that,” she admitted. “I’m glad I came.”
From there, the cortege headed down into Perthshire, where the dots of people specked across either side of the dual carriageway grew denser by the mile. Some even stood in the central reservation to get as close as possible.
Over the Friarton Bridge it went, crossing the Tay, and down the M90 towards the Queensferry Crossing, which was opened in August 2017 by the late Queen, who declared it a “breathtaking sight.”
Some 53 years previously, she had also opened the Forth Road Bridge, later returning across the Forth by ferry, marking the final trip in the 800 year-old service. Back then, a thick mist shrouded the sculpture, forcing the cancellation of a flyby.
This time, however, even the Scottish weather respected the occasion, with northbound traffic slowing to a crawl to watch the cortege cross the Forth just after 3.45pm.
On the convoy went, at last, to Edinburgh, the city she was bound to by ties of ancestry, affection, and duty. It was here, where, a little over 70 years ago, she arrived on her first official engagement in Scotland as monarch.
There were, of course, countless other visits after that inaugural trip in June 1952, and hundreds of engagements. Few occasions, however, felt more poignant than this.
As the cortege neared Queensferry Road, the crowds began to come into view, and became ever denser as the journey to the city’s heart continued. By the time it crossed a packed Dean Bridge, many members of the public gently applauded as the hearse went by. The huge crowds included many children, a reminder of the fact that dozens of schools and nurseries had closed early.
At the junction of North Bridge and the High Street, people stood on the steps of Tron Kirk and sat on windowsills of nearby shops to catch a glimpse of the procession.
Just before 4.20pm, the hearse slowed as it arrived on the Royal Mile, where seas of people awaited either side of the police cordons. A few waved union flags and Saltires, but most stayed silent, either watching on or filing the procession on camera phones. The cortege passed the Mercat Cross, where Elizabeth II’s own proclamation was made in 1952, and where, just hours previously, her eldest son was proclaimed the new King to the people of Scotland.
Paul Dodds, a 58 year-old veteran who served in the Royal Air Force, was among those thronging the Royal Mile.
“Today, we can all just give a few hours back, and thank her for the duty and service she gave throughout her life,” he said.
Others in attendance included Daria Oskolkova, a Ukrainian refugee, who said she turned out to see "the Queen off on her final journey." as her coffin made its way along the Royal Mile. "It was very emotional to be here," said the 38 year-old.
As the cortege came towards Canongate Kirk, another ripple of applause broke out, with some cheering audible. The sheer strength of numbers seemed to embolden the crowd to be freer in its emotions.
The clapping became louder as the cortege neared the Scottish Parliament opened by Elizabeth II at the turn of the century. Outside, Scotland's political leaders assembled to pay their respects with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon standing next to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater, and Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.
Minutes later, nearly six and a half hours after it set off, the hearse came to a halt outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse at 4.25pm.
WIth Princess Anne watching on in a silent courtyard alongside her brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, and around 50 palace staff, the late Queen’s coffin was greeted with a guard of honour. With no music and little fanfare, pallbearers took it into her official residence in Scotland. The Princess Royal curtseyed as they passed by, before following them inside.
The Royal Company of Archers will stand guard over the coffin as it lies in reset in Throne Room, before it is taken to St Giles’ Cathedral, where the public will again be able to pay their respects.
It will be the last goodbye to a Queen who dearly loved Scotland. The scenes on the nation’s streets show that love was, and will forever remain, reciprocal.