There won’t be thousands lining the streets in Ballater tomorrow. No ranks of stern-faced guardsmen, no pomp or pageantry.
But, 500 miles from the Queen’s funeral in London, in sadness and silence, the village will mourn a monarch, a neighbour and a friend.
In the village that borders her beloved sanctuary of Balmoral, the death of the monarch is still being taken in, the depth of the grief still being charted after the eyes of the world turned away.
Tonight, they will gather in a minute’s silence at the Ballater Queen’s Cairn beside Glenmuick Church where the minister, Rev David Barr, said: “We had a special relationship with the Queen, a private thing. She was our neighbour for all our lives. She was up here as a little girl with King George. This was a special place for her; a place where she was able to exercise some sort of normality that others take for granted.
“I was at Aboyne Academy on Friday conducting assemblies and I asked the youngsters how many had met the Queen. At least 160 put their hands up. That showed how much Her Majesty was part of the community here. That is the personal side of Balmoral for us.
“When her funeral cortege came through the village to make its way to Edinburgh, the silence was deafening and as the coffin passed it was only broken by the sound of sobbing; so special was her relationship with the people of this village. Many people here will be grieving and the Church expects to be involved in a great deal of pastoral care in the weeks ahead.”
The minister revealed he was not immune from the feelings of loss. He said: “When the Queen’s death was announced, I went up to the church tower and rang the bell 70 times; one for each year of her reign. The tears just flowed.”
Despite the depth of their loss, tomorrow’s state funeral will not be officially marked by villagers. Rev Barr said: “It feels so personal, we thought that everybody would want to be in their own house watching as Her Majesty is laid to rest. I will be sitting down to watch with a cup of tea and huge box of handkerchiefs.”
Also watching from home will be great-grandmother Wilma Muir, 79, and her daughter, Judith Neill, 44. They knew the Queen personally. For decades, the family has worked and lived alongside the Queen and her family at Balmoral.
It was Her Majesty who, at their local Crathie Church, greeted a young Wilma cradling newborn Judith in her arms as she arrived for the infant’s Christening. And it was the Queen who, 32 years later, just happened to be there when Wilma’s granddaughter Ruby, 12, was baptised.
The monarch also knew, man and boy, each of Wilma’s four sons – Paul, 57, Michael, 55, Jason, 48, and Callum, 44. Wilma and her ex-husband came to live at Balmoral in 1970.
Michael, like his father before him, was for 32 years the Queen’s head pony man on the estate and was heavily involved in carriage driving with the late Duke of Edinburgh, the monarch’s cherished husband of 73 years who died in April last year.
Devoted Wilma, who now lives in Ballater but worked for the Queen and her family for 38 years both at Balmoral and Sandringham, told The Sunday Post: “I will be with my daughter for the funeral. We will watch it together on TV. I could not bear to watch it alone.
“It is going to take a long time to come to terms with the Queen’s loss but it felt appropriate that her passing was in Scotland. When we learned she had died we were in tears. It is like losing part of the family. It is so very sad.
“My daughter was brought up knowing the Queen. She was baptised at Crathie, the church the Queen attended. I remember standing outside waiting to go in for the baptism as the Queen was coming out after the main service. She already knew I’d had my baby but she stopped to talk and to look at her.
“Many years later my granddaughter Ruby, Callum’s daughter, was also baptised at Crathie. The Queen happened to be at the church on that occasion but had to leave before the proceedings were over. It was some time later at the Ghillies’ Ball that she said to me: ‘Did everything go well? I was really sorry I had to go and couldn’t stay, I had prior engagements.’ I thought that was lovely.
“I have spoken to the Queen on many occasions over the years. She always took an interest and didn’t forget when she had talked to you.”
But the grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of six had not seen her beloved monarch over the last two years, mainly due to lockdowns, shielding, and her own ill health.
She said: “That is the sad thing, to have not seen her for the last couple of years. On Friday, I went up to Balmoral and laid some sunflowers at the gates. And on Sunday I went back with my son, Michael, to watch her leaving for the last time. It was heartbreaking.
“As hard as it will be, I will watch when she is laid to rest, my daughter at my side. And we will remember happier times and our wonderful Queen who was so much more than a monarch.”
Snapshots of joy at beloved home
It is a simple snapshot of celebration, friends and family gathering to welcome a sailor home from war.
And, in the corner of the frame, his happy, relieved mother smiles as she captures the moment, recording the fun on a cine camera.
It is 1982, the sailor is Prince Andrew, the venue is Balmoral, the war is the Falklands where he served on HMS Invincible as a helicopter pilot, and the mother making home movies? The Queen.
The moments caught on camera give an insight into the relaxed fun and happiness the royals found on Royal Deeside. The snaps show the family, joined by staff and friends from the neighbouring village of Ballater, as they celebrate with a piper on board a rowing boat transformed into Invincible, while Andrew’s big brother, now King Charles III, dresses for laughs in three kilts to toast his homecoming with a bottle of whisky.
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