EDINBURGH, Scotland — For three days, many in Britain have mourned, reflected on and adjusted to the absence of Queen Elizabeth II. On Sunday, their shared grief gained physical form as the world got a first glimpse of her oak coffin.
The monarch of seven decades undertook her final journey from Balmoral, the Scottish castle where she died, to Holyroodhouse, her official palace in Edinburgh. The funeral procession will continue on Tuesday to Buckingham Palace in London and eventually arrive at Westminster Abbey, where her state funeral will take place on Sept. 19.
It’s a winding, circuitous route worthy of any of her royal tours.
The coffin left Balmoral Castle Sunday morning, draped in the royal standard and adorned with a wreath of flowers. Castle guards gave the late queen her last royal salute before the hearse embarked on a 176-mile, approximately six-hour long trip to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.
The procession traveled via Aberdeen and Dundee, and along the way crowds lined highways and filled overpasses and cars stopped along the sides of the road.
The coffin was greeted in Edinburgh by thousands flanking the famed Royal Mile, where people climbed telephone boxes and leaned out of windows and balconies to catch a glimpse. At Holyroodhouse, it will be met by members of the royal family in the throne room.
Mourners can see the coffin as it lies in state for 24 hours in St. Giles’ Cathedral, before it is moved to London.
“The mood is one of sadness, but also of community and shared grief,” said Alec Peck, 50, who runs the Dr. Who’s coffee kiosk on the Royal Mile. “Whether they are die hard monarchists or not, everyone here realizes it’s a moment of history.”
Around midday on Sunday outside of St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, King Charles III was officially proclaimed king in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. After a hushed moment following the fanfare and proclamation, crowds along the cobblestone street shouted “God save the king!” and sang the national anthem.
For millions globally, seeing her coffin underscores a reality that until now may not have sunk in.
“I cried when I saw it,” said Margory Young, 57, a nurse who traveled from the Scottish city of Glasgow to pay her respects. “We have never known life without her, so it was a moment in history and we had to see it.”
Many of the messages left outside of Holyroodhouse hailed from around the world. A Portuguese flag bore a message commending the queen and another note said “Canada loves you forever.”
Fiona Herries, 36, and Alex Herries, 38, were laying flowers with their two daughters, who are 6 years old and 5 months old.
“We just thought it was important for the next generation to be part of this so they understand what the significance of this moment in history,” Fiona Herries said.
Parts of Edinburgh were subsumed on Sunday in preparation for its central role in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Roads in the city’s Old Town were closed, staffed by officials in high-visibility jackets. And the public have for days been laying flowers at the sites that the coffin will visit.
Andrew Lonie, 79, a retiree from Edinburgh was among the crowds.
“I wanted to come and see it in person — I’ve never heard one before,” said Lonie, who was 9 when the last new monarch took the throne. “It’s a piece of history and I’m just so glad I’m able to see it.”
Large crowds of mourners gathered in Scotland, where many of those who wish to break away from the U.K. also want to ditch the royals. Those views were expressed by small portion of those gathered Sunday, too, with anti-monarchist protesters turning their backs and shouting in support of a republic as the proclamation was read.
On Monday, Charles and his wife, Camilla, Queen Consort, will fly to Edinburgh for what will likely be a somber yet awe-inspiring procession up the city’s historic, cobbled Royal Mile.
Alongside the coffin will be the Royal Company of Archers, a unit of bowmen who serve as the monarch’s ceremonial bodyguard in Scotland. Their striking dark green uniforms are accented with a crimson stripe and a large eagle’s feather in their hats.
Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry will follow on foot, with other frontline royals following in cars. A 21-gun salute will fire from Edinburgh Castle, which is perched on an outcrop of volcanic rock overlooking the city at the end of this thoroughfare.
As Harry and William’s joint appearance at Windsor on Saturday displayed, the queen’s death is at least temporarily leading some to put aside their differences in deference to the late monarch.