Operation Unicorn: what happens next after Queen Elizabeth's death in Scotland?

The ceremonial movement of the monarch's coffin to London begins on Sunday

The Lion Rampart flag at half-mast above the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, where Queen Elizabeth's body will be driven on Sunday. Bloomberg
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Queen Elizabeth II's death in Scotland has activated Operation Unicorn, the subsection of Operation London Bridge that covers ceremonial events in Edinburgh and the practical arrangements for the return of the monarch's coffin to London.

Here, The National looks at how Operation Unicorn will unfold and explains how the queen's love of Scotland and her Scottish estate Balmoral always made it a likely operation to be enacted.

What happens on Sunday?

At 10am UK time (1pm UAE), the Queen's coffin will start on a six-hour journey by road from Balmoral Castle via Aberdeen to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, arriving at 4pm.

Well-wishers are expected to gather along the route the cortege will take as it travels from Balmoral to the Scottish capital.

It will first head to the nearby village of Ballater, where it is expected at approximately 10.12am. About an hour later, it will arrive in Aberdeen, with tributes expected to be paid in the city's Duthie Park.

The procession will arrive in Dundee at about 2pm and then head for Edinburgh.

Scotland's political leader Nicola Sturgeon and other politicians in Scotland are expected to observe the coffin as it goes past the Scottish Parliament.

From there, it will be taken into the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where it will remain for the night.

On Monday, the coffin will be taken from Holyroodhouse in procession to St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, where it will lie at rest until Tuesday, before being taken by air by a Royal Air Force plane to London. The queen's daughter Princess Anne will accompany the coffin on the flight.

Mourners will be able to view the queen's coffin from 5pm on Monday, the City of Edinburgh Council has confirmed.

What is Operation Unicorn?

Operation Unicorn is the code name for the plan enacted should the queen die in Scotland, so christened because the unicorn is the country's national animal.

This came to pass on Thursday and the operation began to move forward.

Following a service at St Giles' Cathedral on Monday, which King Charles III and many other members of the British royal family will attend, the queen will lie in state for 24 hours before her body is taken to London.

A Royal Air Force plane will take the queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Anne, to London.

Back in London, plans will return to the Operation London Bridge mainframe.

The queen’s funeral will take place at 11am (2pm UAE) on Monday, September 19 place at Westminster Abbey in London, where services were held for Princess Diana and the queen mother. The service will be accompanied by a two-minute silence across the country.

The queen's body will then be moved to Windsor for burial. She will be laid to rest alongside her grandfather King George V, her father King George VI, her mother Elizabeth, and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth's love for Scotland

The queen's penchant for all things Scottish is no secret.

Shortly after her coronation in 1953, she spent a week in Scotland, attending a National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication at St Giles' Cathedral, where adoring crowds witnessed an opulent procession accompanying the royal carriage bearing the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

On a visit to Scotland almost 60 years later in 2012, she said: “Scotland has played such a very special part in our lives, and that of my family, over the years, and we have greatly enjoyed our frequent visits.”

One of these visits came in 2021, when alongside her grandson Prince William, she visited the place where Scotland's iridescent orange national drink, Irn-Bru, is made.

However, there is one part of Scotland that she undoubtedly treasured above all: her Scottish estate Balmoral.

Most of her summers were spent at the 20,000-hectare Aberdeenshire country estate, which she first visited as a small child to see her grandparents King George V and Queen Mary. It was thus a poignant but apposite place for her to die at.

Updated: September 11, 2022, 5:51 AM