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Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin leaves her beloved Balmoral

Passing through the rugged Scottish countryside on a final journey from her summer estate Balmoral Castle to London

Mike Corder, The Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II’s flag−draped coffin is passing through the rugged Scottish countryside Sunday on a final journey from her beloved summer estate Balmoral Castle to London, with mourners quietly lining roads and some tossing flowers to honour the monarch who died after 70 years on the throne.

The hearse drove past piles of bouquets and other tributes as it led a seven−car cortege from Balmoral, where the queen died Thursday, for a six−hour trip through Scottish towns to Holyroodhouse palace in Edinburgh. The late queen’s coffin was draped in the Royal Standard for Scotland and topped with a wreath made of flowers from the estate, including sweet peas, one of the queen’s favourites.

“A sad and poignant moment as Her Majesty, The Queen leaves her beloved Balmoral for the final time,” the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted. “Today, as she makes her journey to Edinburgh, Scotland will pay tribute to an extraordinary woman.”

Crowds lined parts of the route as the nation mourns its longest−reigning monarch, the only one most Britons have ever known. In the Scottish village of Ballater, where residents regard the royal family as neighbours, hundreds of people watched in silence and some threw flowers in front of the hearse as it passed.

“She meant such a lot to people in this area. People were crying, it was amazing to see,” said Victoria Pacheco, a guest house manager.

In each town and village the cars drove through, they were met with similar muted scenes of respect. People stood mostly in silence; some clapped politely, others pointed their phone cameras at the passing cars.

Before reaching the Scottish capital, the cortege is travelling down what is effectively a royal memory lane — passing through locations laden with House of Windsor history including Dyce, where in 1975 the queen formally opened the U.K.’s first North Sea oil pipeline, and Fife near St. Andrews University, where her grandson William, now the Prince of Wales, studied and met his future wife, Catherine.

Sunday’s solemn drive through Scotland comes a day after the queen’s eldest son was formally proclaimed the new monarch — King Charles III — at a pomp−filled accession ceremony steeped in ancient tradition and political symbolism.

“I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and of the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty, which have now passed to me,” Charles said as he took on the duties of monarch.

He will be proclaimed king in other nations of the United Kingdom — Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — and in towns across the country Sunday. Earlier, proclamations were held in other parts of the Commonwealth — the group of former British Empire colonies — including Australia and New Zealand.

In the New Zealand capital, Wellington, the British monarch’s representative, Governor−General Dame Cindy Kiro, said: “On behalf of all New Zealanders, I extend to King Charles our loyalty and support and wishes for a long and happy reign.”

Even as he mourned his late mother, Charles was getting down to work. He was meeting at Buckingham Palace with the secretary−general and other representatives of the Commonwealth, a group of nations that grapples with affection for the queen and lingering bitterness over their own colonial legacies, ranging from slavery to corporal punishment in African schools to looted artifacts held in British institutions.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had started laying the groundwork for an Australian republic after elections in May, said Sunday that now was the time not for a change but for paying tribute to the late queen.

India, a former British colony, observed a day of state mourning, with flags lowered to half−staff on all government buildings throughout the country.

Amid the grief enveloping the House of Windsor, there were hints of a possible family reconciliation. Prince William and his brother Harry, together with their respective wives, Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, delighted mourners near Windsor Castle with a surprise joint appearance Saturday.

The queen’s coffin will take a circuitous journey back to the capital. On Monday, it will be taken from Holyroodhouse to nearby St. Giles’ Cathedral, where it will remain until Tuesday, when it will be flown to London. The coffin will be moved from Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state until a state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19.

In Ballater, the Rev. David Barr said locals consider the royals as “neighbours” and try to treat them as locals when they spend summers in the Scottish Highlands.

“When she comes up here, and she goes through those gates, I believe the royal part of her stays mostly outside,” he said. “And as she goes in, she was able to be a wife, a loving wife, a loving mum, a loving gran and then later on a loving great−gran — and aunty — and be normal.”

Elizabeth Taylor, from Aberdeen, had tears in her eyes after the hearse carrying the queen’s coffin passed through Ballater.

“It was very emotional. It was respectful and showed what they think of the queen,” she said. “She certainly gave service to this country even up until a few days before her death.”

banner image: The Associated Press