Coachlines - December 2019

12.12.19 Julian Leach

A private tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia


HMS Fingal

HMS Fingal

On a Sunday afternoon in October, 17 Coachmakers and their guests gathered at Ocean Terminal in Leith, Edinburgh. Most were billeted aboard Fingal, a former Northern Lighthouse Board ship used to service the lighthouses around Scotland and ferry lighthouse keepers and other staff to and from.

Fingal, also owned by The Britannia Trust but managed separately, is now a beautiful floating hotel, moored within walking distance of The Royal Yacht.

At the appointed hour, in all our finery, we set off for the Royal Yacht. On board, we easily settled into a Champagne reception and, still with glass in hand, we set off with Alex, our guide, to learn about life on board for the crew and the Royal Family. As this was a private tour there was nowhere barred to us.

HM The Queen's reception lounge

HM The Queen’s reception lounge

George VI commissioned builders John Brown and Co to build Britannia at Clydebank in Glasgow, but wasn’t completed by the time HM Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952. Her father had left most of the interior design to palace staff, so Britannia was very grand and opulent. The new Queen however, took a personal interest in the interior design and tore up the original designs, instead opting for a more ‘country house’ style. The effect was luxurious but in a more understated style. It was interesting to see the furniture styles of the 1950s and even two plastic raffia chairs on the sundeck. The mementos and photographs everywhere were fascinating to see. During her many years in service various traditions developed among the crew and the Royal family – a game involving a teddy bear and a ceiling fan was probably one of the more unusual ones.

Ship's bell

Ship’s bell

Although HM The Queen and her family spent many happy holidays on board, The Royal Yacht was very much a working ship that travelled many thousands of miles around the world on trade missions, ambassadorial missions and was a safe haven for the Queen and her entourage when she was travelling on official state visits.

At the end of a fascinating tour we repaired to the State Dining Room where kings and presidents had been entertained lavishly over the years. We too were entertained lavishly and had a lovely formal dinner befitting of our surroundings, with good friends.