Long journeys and winding queues as mourners pay their last respects to the Queen | Queen Elizabeth II

Joyce Dawson, 54, from Middlesbrough, was watching the news on Tuesday night when she decided to make her first-ever visit to London to see the Queen lying in state.

“I texted my daughter and said, ‘We have to go to London tonight,'” she said. “It was a spur of the moment.”

She and her daughter Shelby, 26, took the midnight coach from Middlesbrough to join the queue at 8am on Wednesday.

She was among tens of thousands of people who flocked to the capital on Wednesday for the first chance to catch a glimpse of the Queen lying in state at Westminster Hall.

“It’s just nice to be a part of this,” Joyce said while waiting. “It’s exciting. I’m like a little kid.

In a country famous for perfecting the orderly queue, those who lined up for a few seconds alongside the queen’s coffin were no exception.

At 5pm, when the first members of the public arrived at Westminster Hall, the line crossed the capital for around 5km, crossing the Thames and extending to London Bridge.

People line up on the south bank. Photography: Bernat Armangue/AP

Outside the Palace of Westminster, the sun initially gave the occasion a relaxed atmosphere. People came prepared with chairs, blankets and picnics and sipped drinks at the Red Lion pub.

But once the coffin arrived, and later, when the first in line entered the silence of Westminster Hall, the mood changed markedly.

Some had waited two days for this moment, enduring rain and then sunshine, tight security and officially sanctioned queue jumping by MPs.

In respectful silence, they descended the steps of the 11th century hall to pay their last respects to the queen, many still wearing the yellow bracelets that marked their place in the queue.

After a long wait, it took them just over three minutes to file past the coffin, placed on a catafalque dressed in purple.

A few signed themselves. Most bow or curtsey. Some could be seen wiping away tears, but most stoically walked down the hallway on the freshly laid carpet.

Vanessa Nathakumaran was the first in line. The 56-year-old Londoner, who started queuing at 11.30am on Monday, said she tried not to cry when the extraordinary scene hit her.

“It was a moving experience. I fought back my tears as I approached the coffin and managed to make myself worthy,” she said. “I wanted to do something, so I said prayers for the Queen, I thanked her for her excellent service and wished her peace and rest.”

Most took one last look at the coffin before leaving and obediently followed the instruction to remain silent as they walked through the hall. A single audible sob could be heard in the first half hour of the vigil.

Comforting arms were placed around the shoulders of those who struggled to hold back their tears, while others clasp their hands tightly.

As the public filed past the coffin on one side, MPs, peers and parliamentary staff, who were not required to queue, passed on the other.

The queue outside continued to grow as night fell and will be open 24 hours until 6.30am on Monday, before the funeral later in the day.

Up to three-quarters of a million people are expected to make the trip, and the queuing system has the capacity to travel 10 miles.

Numbered and colored wristbands are given to everyone in line, allowing them to leave their place briefly for food or to use one of the 500 portable toilets placed along the route.

The coffin procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall also attracted several thousand people, who began lining the mall from early morning. They hoped to catch a glimpse of the royal family on the march as well as the coffin bearing the queen.

Standing room on the route reached capacity more than 40 minutes before the parade started and the roads were closed.

The Queen's coffin, drawn by a gun carriage from the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, moves along The Mall during the procession to the Palace of Westminster, London
The Queen’s coffin, drawn by a gun carriage from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, moves along The Mall in the procession to the Palace of Westminster. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images

As the motorcade left Buckingham Palace at 2:22 p.m. and headed back up the mall, children perched on their parents’ shoulders, while others unfolded the stools for the best view.

Those who couldn’t see lifted their phones like periscopes to register that they had been there.

Providing commentary for the BBC, Fergal Keane called the drumbeat of the group that led the procession a “metronome of grief”. But while some in the crowd fought back tears, many seemed more intrigued than upset. Several sprinted past them once the parade passed them to catch up a second time.

Sarah Barnes traveled from Leicestershire with her sister-in-law Carol Barnes, 66, and Carol’s daughter Clare Fell, 41. Draped in union flags, the trio took to Whitehall at around 6.30am.

“We left Leicestershire at 4.30am and are here to pay our last respects to the Queen,” said Sarah, 56, of Sutton in the Elms. “We all felt like we wanted to be here and it didn’t matter how long it took.”

The family have attended several royal weddings and jubilees, but Sarah said this time the atmosphere was “darker, more reflective”.

When the Queen’s coffin arrived outside Westminster Hall at 3 p.m., the crowd fell silent. One woman shouted, “God bless the queen,” while a few others shouted, “God save the king.”

Holding a tissue, Lynne Tracey, 70, from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, said: ‘I found the procession incredibly moving. I was crying.

“I have been overwhelmed by the love everyone has for the Queen for serving us for over 70 years.”

King Charles and Princess Anne, in front, with the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry behind, during the procession on The Mall in London
King Charles and Princess Anne, in front, with the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry behind, during the procession through the Mall. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Cheryl Thomas, who had left Crowthorne, Berkshire, at 5.30am, also had a privileged position in front of the barrier at Westminster. Holding back tears, the 75-year-old said, “I found the procession wonderful; it made me cry. People were respectful and I’m glad there was no shouting.

“I was particularly moved because I saw the coronation, and the Queen has been with me all my life. It’s very sad.”

For many who made the trip, marking the Queen’s death was also about dealing with personal grief.

Marcia Lewis arrived early this morning on a train from Birmingham, to take a front row seat in the mall. “We just thought we wanted to be part of history. We’ve never done this before,” Lewis, 58, said.

Lewis said she was surprised when she found herself crying when she heard of the Queen’s death on Thursday. “I think it just brought back memories, as my mum passed away recently.”

There were many children in the crowd, excited by the parent-approved opportunity to skip school and witness history.

Adriana Valadez, 48, from Brixton in south London, took her daughter Amaya, 8, to view the Queen’s coffin. Armed with handkerchiefs in preparation for an emotional day, they got up at 6.30am to make sure they had a good spot to watch the parade arrive in Westminster.

Adriana Valadez and her daughter Amaya in Westminster, London
Adriana Valadez and her daughter Amaya. Photograph: Emine Sinmaz/The Guardian

Amaya said she felt sad when she heard the news of the Queen’s death. “It was like, ‘What?'” she exclaimed, her eyes widening. “I was confused and sad because she has been queen for 70 years. My mother cried and I cried a little.

Valadez, from Mexico, said: “I’m alone in the UK so in a way the Queen was like a grandmother to me. She represented stability. I was very sad when she died .

Several in the crowd grew up getting to know the Queen in countries that were part of the recently collapsed British Empire.

The first time Mona Ibrahim, 70, saw her was as a young girl in Sudan when the Queen made her first state visit, in 1965, after independence.

“It was beautiful, really beautiful. Everyone was in the street and they had the flags,” Ibrahim recalls.

Surrounded by his family and sitting on a plastic bag under a plane tree in the mall on Wednesday morning, Ibrahim intended to spend the afternoon taking one last look, before joining the queue for Westminster Hall.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live without her, really,” she said.

theguardian Gt

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