Fiona Robertson feels like she grew up with the royal family. As a child in Tarland, a village 19 miles (31km) from Balmoral, the Queen was a fixture of her summers on Deeside.
“When you live around her, you have a very different relationship with the royal family than people in other parts of the world,” Robertson said.
“When we were in primary school, we used to go alongside the road and have a picnic when they arrived. They would always come and open things. It’s just part of your life. We just knew they were up here in the summer.”
Robertson, 54, who runs the Sound contemporary musical festival in Aberdeen, was one of the hundreds of people, some driving for several hours, who arrived at the gates of Balmoral on Friday morning to lay flowers as the rain fell, heavily at times.
Some came with friends, others with grandchildren, some with their children before school started and others on their own. Some were Buddhist monks.
Robertson was having dinner with friends on Thursday night when her son came in to tell her the Queen had died. They felt shocked, she said.
“Whatever you think of the royal family, she herself was an amazing woman, who had the duty and the devotion, and that dignity. The idea of having to do that all your life; it’s just a massive job and she did it with such grace. I just felt it was really important to come here to say goodbye, out of respect for who she was,” Robertson said.
The first well-wishers arrived to lay flowers at Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s bridge over the River Dee, swollen with rain, as dusk fell on Thursday evening, ignoring the dire weather and darkness.
By Friday morning, the police had closed off verges on the A93 trunk road that runs past the estate and imposed a 20mph speed limit.
Dozens of television cameras were clustered in prime position across from the castle’s gates, corralled on to a raised verge under the dripping canopy of the surrounding forest.
There were crews from France, Ireland, Al Jazeera, US networks and Australia. The quickest photographers captured a fleeting glimpse of Prince Harry in mourning black, being driven at speed away from the estate.
The council, anticipating a surge of well-wishers, put on shuttle buses and park-and-ride schemes in the nearby villages of Braemar and Ballater – places long associated with the royal family. On Friday morning, the trickle of visitors became a stream. The flowers were moved from the bridge to the estate’s granite gates, framed by majestic conifers.
Some bought bouquets of roses, sunflowers and lilies. Others arrived with handpicked posies. Rebecca Neill, a paediatric speech therapist, and Sascha Hale, an engineer, had driven about 31 miles from Banchory with a collection of flowers from their garden: hydrangeas, lilies of the nile and vibrant red montbretias.
Graham Cameron, 60, wearing his jubilee medal, had driven for two hours from the port town of Buckie on the Moray Firth coast with one of his sons to lay flowers.
Cameron, a former City of London police officer who was on duty at Threadneedle Street on the night of the IRA bombing of the Baltic Exchange in 1992, said: “She was my Queen.”
A former member of HM Coastguard, Cameron and his wife had been to one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace.
“I don’t know if I’m a royalist or not, but I have always been a great believer [that] she was head of state and head of the country. I’m very proud to be Scottish but a lot of us are also very proud to be British. I think many parts of Scotland will be in mourning today,” he said.
Kay McClement, 58, a local holiday park owner, arrived at Balmoral at about 8am on Friday with her friend Sarah McCoshim, 56. “She was such a wonderful woman,” said McClement, as the pair walked to the gate carrying flowers.
“She’s just everything you would want in a mum and a grandmother, and we want to come and pay our respects. Because we’re local, it feels like something deep inside you.”
McCoshim, 56, who works for Marks & Spencer, remembered being in London when Princess Diana died.
“Myself and my colleagues just felt, as thousands did, we just had to go, just to pay our respects and feel that connection. It just evokes a feeling, and I do feel the same [now]. I was cleaning my carpets all day yesterday and had the telly on constantly: I just felt that connection. She was an incredibly special person,” she said.