Scotland's farewell to the Queen that ran deep with respect, love and affection

It was a collective show of affection from Scotland on a scale never seen before.

As the Queen left her beloved country for the last time on Tuesday, she was sent off in a deep air of respect, reflection, loss and of love.

On September 8, 2002, the darkest night fell on Deeside following the announcement of her death, the rain relentless, the river high and the news the bleakest of all.

The Queen was dead, Balmoral Castle was now steeped in a family’s grief and a certainty offered by 70 years of continuous service now gone.History started its call that night and people felt the weight of the moment, the turning of time and a sense of loss that many felt was personal.

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"She was like a stone that never moved, you wonder what it will be like without her” offered one teenager at the castle gates.

"The Queen was someone who connected everyone I know,” another mourner said.

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Balmoral sheds a tear for the death of the Queen, on a dark stormy day

As reporters and royal supporters coalesced after the Queen’s death was confirmed shortly after 6.30pm, people struggled for adequate words, journalists were sheltered by the umbrellas of those they interviewed and shorthand washed off torchlit pages as the first draft of history was compiled.

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A young girl is seen laying flowers in remembrance of the late Queen Elizabeth II outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse on September 12, 2022. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Little posies of heather started to appear on Balmoral Bridge, designed by Isamabard Kingdom Brunel for Queen Victoria and Price Albert to brace against the fast flowing torrents of the Dee. Braced it was, that night.

Like Victoria, Elizabeth II found comfort at Balmoral following the death of her husband, Prince Philip, last April and as her own health started to deteriorate following Covid, a back injury and ever deepening mobility issues.

She remained in Scotland after the usual summer Balmoral break and broke with the tradition of meeting a new Prime Minister at Buckingham Palace, with Liz Truss instead travelling to Deeside on Tuesday, September 6.

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At least 5,000 people visited Balmoral Castle in the days that followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II at her Deeside estate. PIC: Michael Gillen/The Scotsman.

The Queen was unable to make the trip to London, with photographs showing her frail and much thinner than before.Just a couple of days earlier, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, spent the weekend with The Queen, when she had been “life and soul of things” during dinner on Saturday and lunch the following day.

Recalling the names of her horses from 40 years ago and proudly enjoying the view over her rose garden, the Queen had been in good spirits.

Charles III, dining at Dumfries House in Ayrshire on Wednesday night with American author and journalist, Jenna Bush Hager, was also in a ‘joyful’ mood with no hint of the anguish that was to follow.

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But around 12.30pm the next day, Bush Hager heard “a sort of running up and down the halls” before a request for quiet as a phonecall was made. The sudden firing up of a helicopter then followed.

Members of the Royal Family view flowers left at Balmoral Castle. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Within minutes, the then Prince was on his way to Balmoral. Soon, his mother was gone – and a grieving son was now King. It was, as he said, the moment he had been dreading.

Much has been speculated about the Queen’s wish to die at Balmoral, a place of deep beauty where all powerful forces of nature seem to converge.

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On Deeside, many spoke of how fitting it was that her life ended here, given the happiness, memories and privacy the place offered.

One woman, from Aberdeen, as she waited in the queue for the Ballater shuttle bus to the castle so she could lay a pot of heather, said she believed the Queen pressed on until a feeling that her duties had come to a natural conclusion.

She said: “I believe the Queen really had this great physical and mental health. After losing her husband, I think she wanted to get to her Jubilee. Then with Boris [Johnson] gone, she then had to see in the new Prime Minister. Then, I really think she felt she could go.”

Whether the Queen wanted to see her days out at Balmoral, we do not yet know. But the events that followed last Thursday’s announcement felt far from a Plan B.

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The hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped with the Royal Standard of Scotland, on the Royal Mile as thousands gathered for a glimpse of the cortege as it made its way to the Palace of Holyrood House.

On Friday, a new day came. Journalists returned early to the castle as the public started to arrive in greater numbers under a clearer sky. Day One of Operation Unicorn, the plan for Scotland activated after the Queen’s death, became Day Zero given the late hour of the announcement on Thursday.

In effect, the Queen’s body would lie in the ballroom at Balmoral for one more day, an air of “quiet dignity” surrounding the coffin in a room usually filled with castle visitors by day or where the ever-lively Ghillies Ball, a highlight of the royal summer stay, was held at night.

One couple visiting the castle to pay their respects on Friday was fiddler Paul Anderson and Doric singer Shona Donaldson, from Tarland, who recalled the Queen’s love for the ball and traditional Scottish music and dancing more broadly. The couple put on performances for The Queen and her family at Crathie Kirk, with Ms Donaldson recalling the little smiles or a tapping of foot that the Queen offered in thanks for their talents. The Queen was often first on the floor in the ballroom for the Grand March, urging others to get up and join in.

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“Then suddenly you found her in your set for the Dashing White Sergeant. She was beaming from ear-to-ear,” Mr Anderson said.

Now, staff filed into the ballroom to pay their final respects to their boss, the end of an era dearly felt. Members of the household team picked flowers from the estate to make the wreath for her majesty. Sweet peas and firs were among the selection, as were phlox and white heather, a final momento of the place she loved best.

People of all generations made their way there. Some remembered Coronation commemorative plates or Silver Jubilee mugs on their mother’s dressers and standing up when they heard God Save The Queen. Children were brought by their parents and grandparents to bear witness to this defining moment in time, some young enough to sit on shoulders to witness the spectacle. Others had been at the Braemar Gathering the weekend before. Now they had returned to Deeside in disbelief that Prince Charles, seen at the event just five days earlier, was now King.

What became clear was that the death of the Queen mattered to them all. She had shadowed their own life stories, their own family histories and their own memories. When they looked to their own pasts, Elizabeth II was somewhere there.

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“It’s the end of an era that connects everyone I know,” one visitor to Balmoral said.

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As Saturday broke, so did chatter around Balmoral that the Royals would emerge from the castle and meet the public following prayers at Crathie Kirk.

Shortly around 2pm, a fleet of Land Rovers lined over Balmoral Bridge and around 20 minutes later it returned, the Royal brothers, sisters and daughters then appearing to walk the line of the public that had gathered.

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As final preparations forthe epic state funeral, underpinned by hundreds of years of muscular protocol and ceremony, were being made in Edinburgh and London, on Deeside, a personal, low-key tone persisted at Balmoral.

Princess Royal, Prince Edward, his wife Sophie, Countess of Essex and daughter Lady Louise; Prince Andrew and his daughters, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice and finally the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall and her brother Peter walked the public line and accepted sympathies.

"We've been allowed one day, now we start the process of handing her on,” Prince Andrew told one waiting woman.

Appearing pale and drawn in grief’s hard stamp, the family viewed flowers before gathering at the castle gates, turning, waving and saying thank you. There was no ceremony here.

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One woman in the crowd said: ““That was so touching, so real – such a genuine moment. They were not playing to a world stage. This is not a stage, this is home. They looked like a family, a family who is here to grieve.”

On Sunday, The Queen took her last journey through the gates of Balmoral, her coffin lifted into the hearse by six gamekeepers, no doubt held in the highest regard by a woman who loved to be out on the hill. Now, it was onwards – to Edinburgh – on a remarkable journey, the likes which had never been seen before.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route to catch a glimpse of the Queen’s procession. People gathered on horses, on tractors, on bridges and packed in several deep on the roadside to catch Elizabeth II as her final journey through Scotland got underway. There were scenes beyond compare as the hearse drove east out of Deeside, hush falling as it slowed to walking pace through Ballater and the towns and villages that marked the route into Aberdeen, where 40,000 people waited. Then onwards to Dundee, stopping at Brechin Castle, home to the Earl of Dalhousie who travelled in the procession and where gamekeepers and a piper welcomed the cortege.

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. One era coming to an end as the cortege advanced into Dundee, over the Queensferry Bridge and into the awaiting soft applause of the gathered crowds in Edinburgh, while another began.

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At the Palace of Holyrood House, public affection gave way to protocol. Pall bearers from Balaklava Company, accompanied by The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, lined the forecourt as the hearse arrived and the Guard of Honour gave a Royal Salute as His Majesty The King’s colour was lowered.

As the coffin was moved inside, a pause – before Princess Anne curtsied for her mother.

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Ahead of Monday’s historic procession from the palace along the Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral, the Queen rested in the Throne Room under the protection of the Royal Company of Archers and the gaze of a portrait of George IV.

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In 1822, he became the first monarch to visit Scotland in more than 180 years. Then, the fantastical spectacle of pageantry and tartan, carefully orchestrated by Sir Walter Scott to stir up support for the Royals in Scotland, was reported by the world press but viewed as unauthentic by some.

In 2022, the response to the late Queen Elizabeth II, whose affection for Scotland ran true and deep, was from the heart – her work here now graciously done.

The procession of Queen Elizabeth's coffin followed by King Charles III, Britain's Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile on Monday, September 12.
Crowd line the Royal Mile for the procession of the coffin of Elizabeth II from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles' Cathedral. PIC: Oli Scarff/Getty.

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A piper forms part of the Queen's coffin procession out of the St Giles' Cathedral on Tuesday, September 13, 2022 ahead of its journey to Edinburgh Airport and then Buckingham Palace. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach - WPA Pool/Getty Images.