Queen Elizabeth II has come eternal home to Windsor Castle and to the town that has long been the resting place of an empire’s kings and queens.
The village of Windsor is steeped in royal history, and in modern privilege.
The High Street is a tourist attraction, but if you walk beyond the chain stores, you will find local pubs full of people who don’t need to buy souvenirs because their stories are personal tokens from behind the castle walls.
The ancestral home of the House of Windsor seems to have a certain pull. And it looms large over the garrison town that surrounds it.
Windsor is something to see, but this week it found itself on perhaps the biggest stage.
Tens of thousands of people poured into the village that is usually home to a little more than 30,000 people. The masses came to walk the streets and watch for themselves as history was being made in real time.
On the few blocks that surround the castle, the world’s press set up shop and streamed every detail unfolding before them to audiences back home.
For those who live in Windsor, the preparations and realizations of the past week have been bittersweet.
The woman who lived behind the castle gates, who could be seen on occasion crossing Great Windsor Park in her Land Rover, was coming home, but she was leaving them too.
Windsor would play its final role in Elizabeth’s life. It would be the last chance to be a part of the goodbye.
And the top of the Long Walk was the end of the end.
Members of the public have been laying flowers at the castle, but as the gates were opened they had to make way.
So, the bouquets were placed flat on the ground, carefully positioned so the flowers themselves were facing the Queen.
On the final section, of the final funeral procession, these flowers were said to help welcome Queen Elizabeth II home to Windsor Castle.
Sally McLeod lives just down the road and usually walks her dog on the 5-kilometre, single-lane bitumen road that is the Long Walk.
It runs through Great Windsor Park up to the gates of the castle.
“The thing with the Queen and Windsor is that she is a local. She is a neighbour, well she was a neighbour,” Sally said.
“I’m old enough to remember Princess Diana and you literally could bump into Diana in Marks and Spencer. It is the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, and we take that very seriously.”
Like so many people in Windsor, Sally has a royal story. Hers is about the time the Queen came to work and noticed her: “When she just looked at you, she was just looking at you.”
Sally has the makings of another royal story now, after spending the night before the Queen’s funeral sitting upright in a camping chair.
Technically, there was no camping allowed on the Long Walk, but if someone was willing to simply sit by the roadside and wait, police promised not to move them along.
Sally made sure she was in the front row as the Queen left London for the last time and made her way to Windsor.
“I was just emotionally charged and emotionally beyond words,” she said.
“I shall miss her.
“She was so much more than Elizabeth number two, and I think it would be appropriate for us to rename her as ‘Elizabeth the Faithful’.”
Sally is a passionate royalist, open about her love for the woman she calls “my Queen” and extremely proud of the royal borough she calls home.
She has come today for closure.
In Windsor, if you ask around for the place the locals go, you’ll eventually be directed away from the castle, ‘down past Victoria Street’ to the pubs where castle guards are known to knock back a few pints of Guinness.
It’s a public holiday, but the Windsor Trooper is open and Jo and Andrew Morrow have found a place in the back.
Jo was born and raised in Windsor. Andrew recently retired from a guard job at the castle.
“We’re used to seeing her being around the area. I’d see her quite regularly. The fact you can walk around now and she’s not going to be here is quite sad really, emotional,” Jo said.
Last Monday in Edinburgh, Scots said Balmoral was the Queen’s favorite place. Here in Windsor, the local bias might also be coming through.
“There is a real sense of her coming home. Although she loved Balmoral … for her to arrive back here was really where she’s from, where she belongs,” Jo said.
Across this small pub are four screens all tuned into the live feed of Westminster Abbey. The breakfast menu ends at midday, but before then service will stop.
At 11.55am the public rings the bell as if it’s last drinks: “Two minutes’ silence for the Queen please.”
What that bell also signals is the gear change for local Windsor residents who had been avoiding the hordes of people near the castle.
They have had the chance to quietly watch the funeral in their community, but not in the crowds, but to really say goodbye and to bear witness, many people here start off towards the long walk to secure their spot.
“I just want to see Her Majesty come back to Windsor. I just want to see her come back for a final time,” Simon Persse said.
“It’s a big moment for us. I woke up this morning with a stomach pain. I don’t want this day to happen really, but it’s here.”
By the middle of the afternoon, the Long Walk is filling up, and the screens are showing the hearse’s progress towards the edge of Windsor.
Just like at Edinburgh and London, a slow drum beat counts towards the arrival of the procession.
The mammoth operation that has been moving the Queen’s coffin from Balmoral to St George’s Chapel is about to conclude. And the adjacent operation to give the public an opportunity to pay their respects to her during their period of mourning is also in its final moments.
The people in this crowd will be among the last to see the Crown before it is placed upon the head of King Charles.
As the coffin passes by, most here — and most across so many events of the past week — will see the scene via their phone
Parents make bargains over which child gets to sit atop their shoulders first, as they remind them why they’re here: “You will never see the Queen again.”
Sally was the 82,270th person to see the Queen lying in state.
She is struggling to talk about what she felt inside Westminster Hall, other than to say: “It’s 1,000 years old and so many things have happened in there. When you’re in there you can really feel the energy.”
As she watches the Queen’s coffin being lowered into the vault at St George’s Chapel, Sally said she felt like this chapter was now complete.
“It kind of created the closure because it’s all been so grand,” she said.
“And I think we needed that, I’m going to say to you, I needed that. I needed to know that she was no longer our Queen, that mantle has been passed on. The orb, the sceptre, the Crown being removed from her coffin was symbolic and she then went down into the vault.”
Queen Elizabeth II is laying at rest with her family.
The Queen has been reunited with her great love Philip, and her sister Margaret, a woman with whom she had “a primal bond”.
And her parents too, completing the family unit King George VI would call: “us four”.
While Charles must now pick up that mantle and lead the next generations of the royal line, his mother can finally rest with her own and those who came before her also buried in the depths of Windsor Castle.