The Queen has written a message to the athletes of the Commonwealth to mark the start of a baton relay around all its nations and territories before the Glasgow 2014 Games.
The note was written during her summer stay at Balmoral, Royal Deeside, and will be placed inside the specially-made baton at Buckingham Palace today before it starts a 248-day journey around 70 nations and territories.
The content of the message will remain a secret until the Queen reads it aloud at the opening ceremony of the Games at Celtic Park on July 23 next year.
The relay is a Commonwealth tradition that started in 1958, growing in size and scale with every Games. It shares similarities with the Olympic torch relay and is designed to unite the citizens of the Commonwealth in a celebration of sport, diversity and peace.
Glasgow 2014 is the 20th Commonwealth Games and the baton relay route is the biggest so far.
The Queen will help set it on its way at the public launch ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She will be joined by athletes and guests including two of Scotland’s greatest sportsmen, Allan Wells and Sir Chris Hoy.
Sprint legend Wells, winner of two Commonwealth Golds and the 100m Olympic sprint title at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, will be the first athlete to receive the baton from the Queen and start it on its journey.
He said: “As the final runner of the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) at the last Commonwealth Games on Scottish soil in Edinburgh in 1986, the baton and what it symbolises is incredibly special for me.
“It is a real honour for me to now be named as the first baton bearer for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.”
Sir Chris, a six-time Gold Olympian and double Commonwealth Gold medallist, will escort the baton as it makes a processional journey down the Mall, accompanied by pipers, to the ceremony itself.
The baton will go on to visit every nation and territory of the Commonwealth, travelling through Asia, Oceania, Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe.
Some doubt was cast over the Indian leg of the tour, which is set to take place later this week, after reports from the country suggested it was unable to host it due to the Hindu festival of Dussehra, but organisers of the relay say it will go ahead.
The baton was due to travel to 71 nations and territories in total, but part of the route is being redrawn following the Gambia’s decision not to participate in the Games.
The move comes days after the west African nation announced its departure from the Commonwealth, saying it will “never be a member of any neo-colonial institution”.
The country’s withdrawal reduces the number of nations and territories competing at the Games to 70.
The last leg of the baton relay will see it travel the length and breadth of Scotland on the way to the opening ceremony.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The start of the Queen’s Baton Relay, with two of Scotland’s greatest-ever athletes, is another step towards what will be a momentous year for Scotland.
“2014 promises the greatest-ever Games and the relay will provide a fantastic celebration of sport and culture across the Commonwealth, with Glasgow and Scotland at its heart.”
The baton - made out of titanium, wood and granite - is expected to cover about 123,000 miles (198,000km) and will be the first baton ever to visit Rwanda.
It will spend an average of one to four days in each nation, with an extended duration of seven days in Wales, two weeks in England and 40 days in Scotland.
It will be in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, over Christmas, bring in the start of 2014 in Sierra Leone and celebrate St Andrew’s Day - dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland - in New Zealand.
The smallest island on the route is Nauru, also in the South Pacific.
Glasgow 2014 chairman Lord Smith of Kelvin said: ‘’The Queen’s Baton Relay is a great tradition of the Commonwealth Games and a wonderful opportunity for Glasgow and Scotland to share our culture and heritage with the citizens of the Commonwealth.
“The launch event at Buckingham Palace marks a real milestone moment for Glasgow 2014 as the QBR builds momentum towards Glasgow and Scotland’s moment on the global stage.”