The Queen will pay a slow farewell to Scotland on Sunday, as the cortege carrying her coffin leaves Balmoral and passes through Royal Deeside before travelling to Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Her final journey has been carefully mapped, and progress through this heavily forested corner of the Cairngorm mountains will be slow. For most of the locals on Deeside, this will be their chance to say goodbye to someone they regarded as a cherished neighbour.
After passing Crathie Kirk, the small granite church the Queen attended on Sundays during her summer holidays in the Highlands, the hearse will reach the village of Ballater. Here the cortege will slow to walking pace so residents can pay their respects. Cars have been cleared from the main road and metal control barriers were clanging into place on Saturday afternoon, with bright yellow traffic cones guarding the route.
“Her Majesty was our neighbour, and when she comes through here it is going to be hard,” said Rev David Barr, minister of Glenmuick Church in Ballater, who hurried back from holiday when he heard the news, to toll the church bells 70 times. “People have seen it on TV, but when she passes it will be final.”
There will be tears, said Barr, but they will be restrained. The village response generally is understated – a very Highland sensibility. A hardware shop and a hairdresser’s on the high street have discreet handmade displays in their windows: one has old photographs of the Queen on a dark tartan. Union flags are largely absent, and locals are often quick to shut down what they consider intrusive inquiries. “She’s our neighbour – so we don’t talk about her,” said one, with a polite shake of the head.
“The village is very protective,” said Lucy Lafferty, who took over her father’s fishing and shooting accessories shop a few years ago. “Everyone respects them here”. It’s a defensiveness that comes with the knowledge that Ballater is one of the few places on Earth where the Queen and her family could pass unremarked. “We treat them as locals – they shop freely here. They’re always in the butchers!”
They were shopping at Lafferty’s just last week. “You feel like you know them when you’re chatting away. Generally, the other shoppers don’t even realise there’s royalty there.”
Indicating the snaking queues for the park-and-ride bus to Balmoral, put on by Aberdeenshire council in a valiant effort to avoid congestion, she added: “I expect more of the locals will go up when it quiets down. Yesterday the mood was very sombre but today it’s gone crazy.” Balmoral and Deeside was reputedly the Queen’s favourite place for a break – the 61,500-acre estate, which reaches high into the Cairngorm mountains, her back garden. She raised Highland cattle here, stalked deer and took Land Rovers deep into the hills, occasionally surprising hill walkers.
Cementing a tradition begun by Queen Victoria, who acquired Balmoral with Prince Albert in the 1850s, the Queen immersed herself in Deeside life. She opened schools, attended Crathie Kirk – it was where Princess Anne married Timothy Laurence in 1992 – and patronised the Braemar Highland gathering. In a further sign of her frailty, she was unable to attend this month’s games; her son Charles, then using his Scottish title, Duke of Rothesay, went in her place.
After Ballater, the hearse will travel eastwards along the A93 through Aboyne, Banchory and Peterculter, before taking the A90 south, passing Dundee and Perth. It will reach Edinburgh an estimated six hours later, where the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will observe its passing along with other party leaders. The coffin will remain at Holyroodhouse Palace, her official residence in Scotland, before lying at rest on Monday at St Giles’ Cathedral.
The mood at Balmoral’s gates, where bouquets and posies have been resting against the low granite walls, the volume of flowers swelling and filling the air with a gentle aroma, has been restrained and undemonstrative.
With the autumn sun offering a welcome break from heavy rain, a long, quiet queue had formed over the bridge to the gates. There were cyclists in Lycra, teenagers in hoodies, women carrying single roses, an ex-soldier with medals, children in buggies and tourists recording the event on their smartphones. They had been asked to strip their bouquets of cellophane, to allow the vast array of flowers to be mulched and recycled for the council’s parks and gardens.
It is the Aberdeenshire way, said Rob Adamson, a local who was born in 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation. “I feel that how people are is reflected by what’s under your feet. And we’ve got granite, wind and weather,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to be seen to be demonstrative. If there are going to be tears, that would be for a private place.”