Queen Elizabeth II's coffin leaves her beloved Balmoral

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin left her beloved Scottish estate Balmoral Castle on Sunday as the monarch who died after 70 years on the throne begins her last journey back to London for a state funeral.

Gamekeepers from Balmoral, the summer retreat where the queen died Thursday, carried the late sovereign's oak coffin from the castle’s ballroom to a hearse to begin a six-hour, 280-kilometer (175-mile) journey through Scottish towns to Holyroodhouse palace in Edinburgh.

Crowds are lining parts of the route as the nation mourns its longest-reigning monarch, the only one most Britons have ever known. Early Sunday, flowers and other tributes — a small Paddington Bear toy, a hand-drawn picture of the queen — were piled up outside the gates of Balmoral.

A marmalade sandwich — Paddington Bear's favorite snack — also lay among the floral tributes directly outside the gates of Balmoral. A message on the plastic bag read: “A marmalade sandwich for your journey ma’am.”

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 of the Commonwealth, a group of nations that grapples with affection for the queen and lingering bitterness over their own colonial legacies. That ranges from slavery to corporal punishment in African schools to looted artifacts held in British institutions.

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 the funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19.

In the village of Ballater, near Balmoral, the Rev. David Barr said locals consider the royals as “neighbors” 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."

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Follow AP coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii

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