A sketch of Edinburgh as the Queen lay in state, September 13

Edinburgh for the last couple of days has been at the epicentre of the royal passing – a carefully-planned and tactfully-arranged ceremony. I don’t think I have seen a single Union Jack, for example. The Royal Mile has been arrayed with Harry Potterish heraldic banners, but nobody was waving wee plastic flags.

For an hour or so last night, I joined the queue to go into St Giles to walk past the Queen’s coffin as it lay in state. The queue snaked all around the Meadows under a harvest moon. At the starting point, Beltane fire dancers were swinging lighted torches in some kind of Medieval entertainment. At the point where it crossed Middle Meadow walk a brightly lit coffee stall was doing good business. But otherwise, we waited patiently in the pale moonlight (there are no streetlights on the Meadows), slowly ambling forwards. The long loops of moving people felt like some kind of MC Escher painting – once I thought we had joined up with ourselves and were perpetually passing under the same trees.

Directly behind me was a tall Edinburgher, holding a place for a friend en route from Sheffield, who was expected to arrive just before midnight. A family from Helensburgh, an older couple with their daughter and her seven-year-old son, in a blue school pullover and black trousers, had driven through after work and school. They had not anticipated how long the process would take. The young mother was playing scissors, paper, stone with her wee boy who seemed excited to be there, albeit with some heaviness about the eyes. But the family was obviously weighing up if they could manage to stay the course. Their dedication to the Queen was much greater than mine, however – I left after we passed some stewards who said it would take another two or three hours just to get to the point where wristbands were being given out in George Square, and another two after that. (They may not have had to queue for as long as predicted – by this morning the lines had dwindled down.)

On Monday afternoon, the queues had been much shorter. Then, I chatted to Stewart Colquhoun, on George IV bridge, close to the front of the queue for St Giles. Stewart was wearing military uniform from the days when he served with the Royal Scots, the oldest regiment in the army, one which no longer exists. Stewart came to mark the passing of a woman who replied to the Christmas cards and gifts he sent her over the years – and of an era.

A steward explained that at the end of the work day, about 5.30 pm, the queue quite suddenly started to expand across the park.  People were still arriving and walking past us to join it at 10 pm – I saw parents with two primary-aged children in school uniform, including big-knotted blue ties, who were presumably arriving after a long drive from elsewhere in the UK.

It was an exceptionally well-behaved bunch. Quiet, no litter or drinking, chatting somewhat. The huge number of portaloos that Edinburgh Council had managed to line the park with were more than adequate.

The preparedness of so many to queue all night if necessary took me by surprise. These people were motivated by more than a passing interest in witnessing history. They very much wanted to pay their respects. It reminded me of a caption on an old photo of the cortege of a Glasgow horse-dealer in the book “Dear Happy Ghosts”; it said the crowds at his funeral suggested that he was an honest man.

The sentiment on the Meadows was inspired not only by the Queen’s position as ceremonial head of state; but something deeper; something closer to love. They associated her with a quality of personal integrity that they wanted to honour.

The UK has been through a tumultuous time – over Brexit, over Covid and the energy crisis. The photograph that defines the Queen’s last few years is of her sitting alone at her husband’s funeral, obedient to restrictions imposed by a Government who we later discovered had a raucous, late-night party the previous evening. The Queen built her reputation over many years; people trusted her.

I peeled off and walked up to the Mound where a camera crew was still at work – speaking a language I couldn’t identify. Beside me, a tourist posed for a series of smiling selfies as the mourners slowly filed into the illuminated pre-Reformation front of St Giles. After all King Charles’ sectarian-sounding oaths to defend the Protestant faith; it was soothing to remember that the Cathedral is both Catholic and Protestant, having spanned so many centuries.

Someone walking past me remarked “What if she had died in the Fringe!” Indeed. In the manner of her passing, as in so much else, the Queen was an example to us all.