Lying in state: Visitors take a few moments to say goodbye to the Queen

There was a feeling of profound sadness but also one of unreality among the first people to visit the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall on Wednesday evening.

After many hours of queuing and a thorough security search, the first members of the public began to file past the catafalque at 5pm.

The sombreness of the occasion jarred with the bright sunlight streaming through the windows, and also the cheerfulness of the crowd who had passed the wait making friends with others in the line.

Visitors had just a few short minutes to take in the coffin guarded by four beefeaters and six soldiers of the Household Cavalry.

On top of the coffin, which was covered by the Royal Standard, the Queen’s crown, orb and sceptre shone brilliantly in the sunshine.

As one visitor put it, it was “surreal” trying to marry their sadness about the death of the Queen with the visual feast on display in Westminster Hall.

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Members of the public pay their respects as the vigil begins around the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II (Ben Stansall/PA)

There was no time to linger, with an estimated 400,000 people expected to make the journey to see the Queen lie in state, mourners were gently but firmly encouraged to keep moving by stewards.

Sarah Reed, 53, from Essex, told the PA news Agency: “It’s a bit surreal, isn’t it? You expect to be really emotional, and you are, but not as emotional as you have been.”

She remarked that after the initial shock of the Queen’s death almost a week ago, she was starting to come to terms with it.

Penny Purnell, 65, from Little Hampton in Sussex, said seeing the Queen lying in state drove home the reality that she “really has gone”, adding: “That was quite hard to take.”

Ms Purnell added: “It was just the thoughts in our head of appreciating her really. I didn’t really want to say goodbye, so I didn’t.”

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Members of the public wait in the queue near Lambeth Bridge in central London, to view Queen Elizabeth II lying in state (Danny Lawson/PA)

Sally Goodman, 66, and her son Alex, 31, have travelled from Portsmouth.

Mrs Goodman said: “It was amazing, she’s my Queen, I’ve loved her all my life and there will never be anyone like her again – not in our lifetimes.”

Her son said: “It was emotional – watching it on TV is one thing, but when you are actually in the room like that, it triggers emotions.”

Sumana Vidya, who is in her 70s, from Bromley in south-east London, said: “I’m glad I was here saying goodbye to her, because we have known her a lifetime.

“She was the constant thing in our lives through happy times and sad times and terror attacks, she was sort of there. So it was sad to see her go.

“We knew she was going to go some time. It came as a shock, because it abruptly happened, because she was welcoming the Prime Minister on Tuesday, and Thursday, she was gone.”

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Around 400,000 people are expected to make the trip to see the Queen lying in state (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Julietta Fernando, 80, had fond memories of the Queen’s visit to Sri Lanka in 1954 and again in 1973.

She had been visiting her daughter in the UK at the time of the Queen’s passing, and made the trip to Westminster to pay her last respects.

Mrs Fernando said: “During her visit in 1954 it was really hot and humid but the Queen looked so comfortable and she took the time to speak to people.”

She added: “It was very sad seeing her there today.”

Her daughter, Niloo Brereton, said: “It is a really sombre moment, it’s devastating for everyone – to lose a monarch that has been reigning for 70 years.”

The Queen will lie in state until her funeral until Monday, with the public admitted 24 hours a day.

Those hoping to make the journey are warned the queue will be lengthy, and some people could be waiting through the night.

Visitors are advised to visit the Government’s website for advice on where to go, the length of the wait and what they can carry into Westminster Hall before they travel.