The Queen has signalled that it is business as usual on the day she becomes Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, visiting and opening Scotland’s new Borders Railway at a ceremony in Tweedbank Station this afternoon.
The 89-year old monarch, who is currently in residence at her Scottish home, Balmoral Castle, will surpass the record set by her great-grandmother Queen Victoria at around 17:30 BST.
The royal party arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station shortly after 11:00 this morning, an hour later than planned having been delayed by inclement weather. Boarding the steam locomotive Union of South Africa, The Queen rode the 49km line which takes in some of Scotland’s stunning landscapes, accompanied by her long-serving consort The Duke of Edinburgh, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and 150 other guests.
The new Borders Railway is the first time since 1969 that travellers have the chance to experience the scenery by rail. The route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank is a third of the length of the original railway, which was closed in January 1969 as a result of the widespread Beeching cuts.
The line has an impressive infrastructure, taking in 140 bridges and tunnels including the Redbridge viaduct which crosses the River Tweed and the Lothianbridge viaduct in Newtongrange, close to where the royal party made their first stop shortly before lunchtime.
The Queen, who was wearing a turquoise and indigo blue coat by Karl Ludwig and an Angela Kelly hat, was in great form as she unveiled the first plaque of the day. In a nod to the historic nature of the day, her bow-shaped brooch is believed to have belonged to Queen Victoria and passed to The Queen through her grand mother, Queen Mary.
Reboarding the train to the sound of Newtongrange’s Silver Band, Her Majesty and The Duke gave a small wave and smile before continuing their journey through sweeping plains of open farmland and lush valleys to Tweedbank Station, the new line’s terminus near Galashiels and less than an hour from Edinburgh.
The station, which saw its first passenger service begin on Sunday, was a hive of activity as Union of South Africa pulled into the platform to the sound of “Everybody Needs Somebody” by the St David’s Brass Band. Alighting the service, The Queen and Duke were met by the Lord Lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Captain Gerald Maitland-Carew, along with other dignitaries from the Scottish Borders before proceeding to unveil another plaque and declare the station officially open.
Adjacent to a busy business area, Tweedbank is a short walk from Abbotsford House, the historic home of Sir Walter Scott whose 1814 novel ‘Waverley’ eventually became the namesake for Edinburgh’s central station.
Television crews, photographers and journalists from across the world were all keen to get a glimpse of the ceremony, along with over 2000 members of the public who had turned out to wish The Queen well on a historic day.
Nicola Sturgeon began the ceremony with a tribute to Her Majesty’s record-breaking reign, saying: “I want to start by acknowledging the milestone which makes this day a historic day for many people far beyond the Scottish Borders. Her Majesty today becomes the longest serving monarch in Scottish and UK history.”
“Throughout her reign – supported at all times by The Duke of Edinburgh – she has carried out her duties with dedication, wisdom and an exemplary sense of public service.”
Her Majesty’s very first public opening in 1944, then Princess Elizabeth, was carried out in Scotland, a fact Sturgeon was keen to point out along with her various other Scottish links. The First Minister made light of the “thousands of engagements” which The Queen has undertaken in Scotland over the course of her reign, adding “all of us are delighted to be able to share some of this day with her. By being here, she is adding a special touch to what is already a special day – for the Scottish Borders, for Midlothian, and for Scotland as a whole.”
Her Majesty, a fiercely private individual, also broke with tradition and, in an unprecedented moved, addressed the crowd today with a short, pre-prepared speech. Modestly, she said: “Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones; my own is no exception.”
Of her milestone day, she added: “It is not one to which I have aspired,” but she thanked well-wishers, saying: “I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages and great kindness.” Her Majesty then quickly brought the speech back to the “business at hand”, officially declaring the Railway open.
Buckingham Palace, which released two images of The Queen this morning to celebrate the occasion, had previously said that the day would be “business as usual” for the monarch, who had insisted she wanted “no fuss” on the day. She had already broken away from her annual summer holiday at Balmoral to open the railway.
The Queen and Prince Philip will return to their Scottish home later this afternoon where they will be joined by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for a private gathering, although it is not expected this will be a celebration of any kind. It is thought that Her Majesty will mark the occasion with a period of quiet reflection, keen to honour Victoria’s historic legacy rather than celebrate her own reign, which she has always seen as a job and duty.
St Paul’s Cathedral will, however, host a special service open to the public to mark the milestone. The service will start at 17:00 BST, close to what is thought to be the precise moment that The Queen passes the milestone set by Queen Victoria.
Compared with her ancestor, The Queen has seen far more of the world, having made 265 overseas visits in her reign that makes her the most travelled monarch in British history. She surpassed Victoria as Britain’s the oldest monarch in 2007 and is the only one to have celebrated a diamond wedding anniversary.
If she remains on the throne in 7 years time, at the age of 96, she will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee and would become the 20th longest-reigning in world history.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles, who spent the day at Dumfries House being interviewed by Ant and Dec for a documentary on the Prince’s Trust, will mark the second anniversary of being the oldest heir to the throne on September 19.
Sources at Clarence House said he had not kept his diary free on The Queen’s historic day because Buckingham Palace had told members of the Royal Family it should be “business as usual” on the day.
The Duchess of Cornwall also carried out an engagement today as she made a visit to the ITV Studios in London to mark the station’s 60th anniversary. When asked about The Queen’s reign, Camilla told ITV’s Alastair Stewart that it was an “unbelievable” milestone for Her Majesty. She noted: “I just can’t believe it’s as long as Queen Victoria … such a big person in history…to beat and, you know, with such style.”
Photo Credits: Royal Central/James Brookes 2015