Inside Westminster Hall: A moment of sombre reflection and a final glance back at the queen

Britain mourns Queen Elizabeth

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -Stepping foot inside parliament's imposing Westminster Hall, mourners coming to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth are struck by a powerful scene.

In complete silence, a sombre procession of young and old slowly file past the coffin of Britain's longest serving monarch, who is laying in state in the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster ahead of her funeral on Monday.

At the centre lies the queen's coffin, covered by the Royal Standard flag on top of a purple shrouded catafalque. The Imperial State Crown, glinting occasionally in the light, sits on a cushion on top, alongside a wreath of flowers.

At its four corners, large candles flicker gently. Soldiers in full ceremonial uniform and police officers stand vigil as two lines of people make their way past on either side.

Wrapped in warm coats after queuing for as long as 10 hours outside through the night, members of the public descend the steps into the hall, the morning light streaming in through a huge stained glass window behind them.

The sound of hundreds of footsteps crossing the old stone floor is muffled by a wide beige carpet, temporarily laid along each side of the coffin.

On reaching the queen, most stop to bow their head in a moment of silent reflection, some make the sign of the cross. One man blows her a kiss. Old soldiers salute.

As they walk away, many wipe away tears. Some are visibly sobbing, overcome with emotion while others simply walk arm-in-arm with their friends or family, comforting each other. A few look up in awe at the medieval timber hammer-beam roof.

They come from all walks of life; parents with buggies carrying sleeping babies, children in school uniform, former soldiers wearing medals and berets. Some are aided by walking sticks, others are pushed in wheelchairs.

Every 20 minutes, the silence is broken by a double tap on the stone floor which signifies it is time to change the guard, and the sound of the rhythmic footsteps of soldiers descending the stairs into the hall fills the air.

The steady procession of people filing past the coffin is halted while 10 guards resplendent in scarlet uniforms slowly march across the hall, over plaques on the floor commemorating previous lyings-in-state, to relieve their colleagues standing vigil around the catafalque.

After just a few moments paying their respects, mourners make their way towards the huge double doors to leave the hall into the cool London air, most unable to resist the urge to stop for a final glance back at the coffin.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)