Joyce Dawson, 54, from Middlesbrough, was watching the news on Tuesday night when she decided to make her first ever visit to London to see the Queen lying in state.
“I texted my daughter and said: ‘We have to go to London tonight,’” she said. “It was a spur of the moment thing.”
She and her daughter Shelby, 26, took the midnight coach from Middlesbrough to join the queue at 8am on Wednesday.
She was one of tens of thousands who flocked to the capital on Wednesday for the first chance to glimpse the Queen lying in state at Westminster Hall.
“It’s just nice to be a part of this,” Joyce said, while she waited. “It’s exciting. I’m like a little kid.”
In a country famous for perfecting the orderly queue, those lining up for a few seconds alongside the Queen’s coffin proved no exception.
By 5pm, when the first members of the public filed into Westminster Hall, the line snaked back through the capital for about 3 miles (5km), crossing the Thames and stretching all the way to London Bridge.
Outside the Palace of Westminster, the sunshine initially gave the occasion a relaxed atmosphere. People came prepared with chairs, blankets and picnics and some sipped drinks from the Red Lion pub.
But once the coffin arrived, and later, when the first in line stepped inside the hush of Westminster Hall, the mood changed markedly.
Some had waited two days for this moment, enduring rain then sun, stringent security and officially sanctioned queue-jumping by MPs.
In a reverential hush they descended the steps of the 11th-century hall to pay their last respects to the Queen, many still wearing the yellow wristbands that marked their place in the queue.
After the long wait, it took them little more than three minutes to file past the coffin, placed on a purple-clad catafalque.
A few crossed themselves. Most bowed or curtsied. Some could be seen wiping away tears, but most made their way stoically through the hall on the newly laid carpet.
Vanessa Nathakumaran was the first in line. The 56-year-old Londoner, who had started queuing at 11.30am on Monday, said she tried not to cry as the extraordinary scene hit her.
“It was an emotional experience. I was fighting back tears as I approached the coffin and I managed to dignify myself,” she said. “I wanted to do something, so I said prayers for the Queen, thanked her for her great service and wished her peace and rest.”
Most took one last look back at the coffin before they left, and obediently followed the instruction to stay quiet as they made their way through the hall. Only one audible sob could be heard in the first half an hour of the vigil.
Comforting arms were placed around the shoulders of those struggling to hold back tears, while others gripped hands tightly.
As the public filed past the coffin on one side, MPs, peers and parliamentary staff, who were not required to queue, went by on the other.
The queue outside continued to grow as night fell and will be open for 24 hours a day until 6.30am on Monday, before the funeral later that day.
As many as three-quarters of a million people are expected to make the journey, and the queueing system has the capacity to run for 10 miles.
Numbered and coloured wristbands are being given to everyone in line, allowing them to leave their spot briefly for sustenance or to use one of the 500 portable toilets placed along the route.
The procession of the coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall also drew many thousands of people, who began to line the Mall from the early morning. They hoped to glimpse the marching royal family as well as the casket bearing the Queen.
Standing room on the route reached capacity more than 40 minutes before the parade left and the roads were closed off.
As the procession left Buckingham Palace at 2.22pm and made its way up the Mall, children perched on their parents’ shoulders, while others unfolded stools to get the best view.
Those who could not see lifted their phones up like periscopes to record that they had been there.
Providing commentary for the BBC, Fergal Keane called the drumbeat of the band that led the procession a “metronome of grief”. But while some in the crowd blinked back tears, many looked more intrigued than upset. Several sprinted ahead once the parade had passed them to catch it for a second time.
Sarah Barnes travelled from Leicestershire with her sister-in-law Carol Barnes, 66, and Carol’s daughter Clare Fell, 41. Draped in union flags, the trio had pitched up on Whitehall at about 6.30am.
“We left Leicestershire at 4.30am and we’re here to pay our final respects to the Queen,” said Sarah, 56, from Sutton in the Elms. “We all felt we wanted to be here and it didn’t matter how long it would take.”
The family have been to several royal weddings and jubilees, but Sarah said this time the atmosphere was “more sombre, more reflective”.
When the Queen’s coffin arrived outside Westminster Hall at 3pm, the crowd fell silent. One woman yelled, “God bless the Queen,” while a few others shouted: “God save the King.”
Clutching a tissue, Lynne Tracey, 70, from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, said: “I found the procession incredibly moving. I was crying.
“I was overcome by the love that everyone has for the Queen for serving us for over 70 years.”
Cheryl Thomas, who had set off from Crowthorne, Berkshire, at 5.30am, also had a prime position at the front of the barrier in Westminster. Fighting back tears, the 75-year-old said: “I thought the procession was wonderful; it made me cry. People were respectful and I’m glad there was no shouting.
“I was particularly emotional because I saw the coronation, and the Queen has been with me my whole life. It’s very sad.”
For many who made the journey, marking the Queen’s death was also about confronting personal grief.
Marcia Lewis arrived on an early train from Birmingham this morning, to take a front-row spot on the Mall. “We just thought we wanted to be a part of history. We’ve never done this before,” said Lewis, 58.
Lewis said she had been taken aback when she found herself crying on learning of the Queen’s death on Thursday. “I think it just brought back memories, because my mum passed away recently.”
There were many children in the crowds, excited by the parent-sanctioned opportunity to skip school and witness history.
Adriana Valadez, 48, from Brixton in south London, took her daughter Amaya, 8, to see the Queen’s coffin go past. Armed with tissues in preparation for an emotional day, they were up at 6.30am to make sure they had a good place to see the parade arrive in Westminster.
Amaya said she had felt sad when she heard the news of the Queen’s death. “It felt like, ‘What?’” she exclaimed, wide eyed. “I was confused and sad because she’s been a queen for 70 years. My mum cried and I cried a little bit.”
Valadez, who is originally from Mexico, said: “I am alone in the UK, so in a way the Queen was like a grandma for me. She represented stability. I was very sad when she died.”
Several in the crowd grew up learning about the Queen in countries that were part of Britain’s then recently crumbled empire.
The first time Mona Ibrahim, 70, saw her, it was as a young girl in Sudan when the Queen made her first state visit, in 1965, after independence.
“It was beautiful, really beautiful. Everybody was in the street and they had the flags,” recalled Ibrahim.
Surrounded by family and sitting on a plastic bag beneath a plane tree on the Mall on Wednesday morning, Ibrahim intended to spend the afternoon catching one final glimpse, before joining the queue for Westminster Hall.
“I don’t know how I’m going to live without her, really,” she said.