Queen is all smiles as Kate and William arrive back at Windsor

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful whistle-stop tour of Britain by royal train came to an end at Windsor Castle this afternoon, where the Queen joined them in thanking local volunteers and key workers.

The 94-year-old monarch’s appearance was the first time she has been seen in public with her son Prince Charles and other senior members of the monarchy en masse since before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March.

William and Kate’s gruelling 1,250-mile trip to offer support to the nation was marred by thinly veiled criticism from Wales and Scotland, despite it clearly falling within the guidelines because the royal couple were working. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised their three-day tour as a ‘welcome morale boost,’ as Downing Street sought to put distance between itself and the grandstanding of politicians in the devolved nations.    

In wintry conditions, the Queen stood on the steps of the Equerry’s entrance in the castle’s quadrangle and listened as the Regent Hall Band of the Salvation Army, based in London’s Oxford Street, played Christmas Carols.

Socially distanced around her were Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, William and Kate, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal – who had all arrived separately to the monarch. 

However there was no sign of Prince Philip, who officially retired from royal duties in August 2017 and is now rarely seen in public, with his 100th birthday only six months away.  

Earlier, Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething had said he would prefer it if ‘no-one was having unnecessary visits’ before William and Kate travelled to Cardiff Castle and met students.

He echoed the cynicism of the Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon who emphasised that her office had made plain the restrictions in place before the Cambridges travelled to Edinburgh yesterday.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge join the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla at Windsor Castle this afternoon

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge join the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla at Windsor Castle this afternoon

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge join the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla at Windsor Castle this afternoon

Prince William leans towards his grandmother as they chat outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday night

Prince William leans towards his grandmother as they chat outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday night

Prince William leans towards his grandmother as they chat outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday night

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, chat with the Queen as they wait to thank key workers and volunteers on Tuesday evening

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, chat with the Queen as they wait to thank key workers and volunteers on Tuesday evening

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, chat with the Queen as they wait to thank key workers and volunteers on Tuesday evening

The Queen speaks to Prince William and his wife Kate at Windsor Castle following their whistle-stop royal train tour

The Queen speaks to Prince William and his wife Kate at Windsor Castle following their whistle-stop royal train tour

The Queen speaks to Prince William and his wife Kate at Windsor Castle following their whistle-stop royal train tour 

The Royal Family including Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (second from left), Queen Elizabeth II (centre), Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (second from right) and Anne, Princess Royal (right)

The Royal Family including Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (second from left), Queen Elizabeth II (centre), Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (second from right) and Anne, Princess Royal (right)

The Royal Family including Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (second from left), Queen Elizabeth II (centre), Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (second from right) and Anne, Princess Royal (right)

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (right), wait as the Queen thanks local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (right), wait as the Queen thanks local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Britain’s Sophie, Countess of Wessex (left), and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (right), wait as the Queen thanks local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

Earlier, challenged on whether the couple had complied with the rules, a No 10 spokesman said: ‘I’m making the general point that we have set out the regionalised tier system that is now in place and the guidance that we are asking people to abide by.’

In response to a suggestion that No 10 was refusing to give its backing to the couple’s trip, the spokesman said: ‘I would point you towards the palace.’

But an hour after the comments in a Westminster briefing, a statement issued by No 10 confirmed Mr Johnson’s support.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The PM is delighted to see the warm reception the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have received on their hugely valuable train tour of England, Scotland and Wales.

‘The tour will be a welcome morale boost to frontline workers who have done so much during the pandemic.’ 

The mixed messages came after a Welsh minister swiped at William and Kate’s railiway journey, warning it must not be an ‘excuse’ for people to break coronavirus rules, one day after Nicola Sturgeon also appeared to criticise their morale-boosting trip. 

Kate and William visited Cardiff Castle to meet students to discuss mental health before heading to a Bath care home to meet a small group of residents who were delighted to see them.

William and Kate talk to Her Majesty the Queen in the quad outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

William and Kate talk to Her Majesty the Queen in the quad outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

William and Kate talk to Her Majesty the Queen in the quad outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall wear colourful face masks while attending the event to thank key workers tonight

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall wear colourful face masks while attending the event to thank key workers tonight

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall wear colourful face masks while attending the event to thank key workers tonight

William and Kate attending the event to thank local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

William and Kate attending the event to thank local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

William and Kate attending the event to thank local volunteers and key workers for the work they are doing during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle

Prince Charles speaking with local volunteers and key workers at tonight's event at Windsor

Prince Charles speaking with local volunteers and key workers at tonight's event at Windsor

Prince Charles speaking with local volunteers and key workers at tonight’s event at Windsor

The Queen thanks local volunteers as she stands a Covid-safe number of yards away from her son Prince Charles (right) and grandson Prince William

The Queen thanks local volunteers as she stands a Covid-safe number of yards away from her son Prince Charles (right) and grandson Prince William

The Queen thanks local volunteers as she stands a Covid-safe number of yards away from her son Prince Charles (right) and grandson Prince William

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends an event to thank local volunteers at Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends an event to thank local volunteers at Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends an event to thank local volunteers at Windsor Castle on Tuesday evening

Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and William and Kate attending the event at Windsor tonight

Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and William and Kate attending the event at Windsor tonight

Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and William and Kate attending the event at Windsor tonight

Prince Charles speaks to a volunteers in the grounds of Windsor Castle tonight

Prince Charles speaks to a volunteers in the grounds of Windsor Castle tonight

Prince Charles speaks to a volunteers in the grounds of Windsor Castle tonight

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething delivered a thinly-veiled rebuke to the royals after he was asked about their 48-hour rail trip stopping in England, Scotland and Wales.

Mr Gething told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’d rather that no-one was having unnecessary visits.’

He added: ‘People have views about the monarchy. But their visit isn’t an excuse for people to say they are confused about what they are being asked to do.’

Pressed on whether the royal couple should not be coming to Wales, he replied: ‘I’m not particularly that bothered or interested.

‘Because I don’t think that is going to be an excuse for people to say, ”I should go and behave in a different way”.’

The comments came after Nicola Sturgeon faced a backlash yesterday for a ‘rude’ and ‘petty’ jibe at the couple over their trip. 

It came as the couple arrived at Cardiff Castle this morning as they continued their tour of Britain by royal train – thanking key and frontline workers and communities for their efforts during the pandemic.

William and Kate were in the Welsh capital to highlight how the local tourism industry has coped in the pandemic and meet students to discuss how their mental health was supported during lockdown. 

Following their stop off in Wales, the couple moved onto Cleeve Court Care Home in Bath where they met residents including 94-year-old Ted Hogg and his support worker. 

Kate wears a colourful face mask in Windsor this afternoon as she appears with other senior royals at the castle

Kate wears a colourful face mask in Windsor this afternoon as she appears with other senior royals at the castle

Kate wears a colourful face mask in Windsor this afternoon as she appears with other senior royals at the castle

Kate and William wave to delighted care home residents in Bath today as Downing Street failed to back their trip around England, Scotland and Wales - only to later back it as a 'morale booster'

Kate and William wave to delighted care home residents in Bath today as Downing Street failed to back their trip around England, Scotland and Wales - only to later back it as a 'morale booster'

Kate and William wave to delighted care home residents in Bath today as Downing Street failed to back their trip around England, Scotland and Wales – only to later back it as a ‘morale booster’

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take time to meet and pose for a photo with Otto Warner, 8, centre, who has today come out of cancer treatment and was by chance hoping to meet the royal couple with his family, including sisters Jasmine Warner, 5, left, Poppy, 10, right, and mum Georgie, far left, as William and Kate arrive at Bath Spa train station today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take time to meet and pose for a photo with Otto Warner, 8, centre, who has today come out of cancer treatment and was by chance hoping to meet the royal couple with his family, including sisters Jasmine Warner, 5, left, Poppy, 10, right, and mum Georgie, far left, as William and Kate arrive at Bath Spa train station today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take time to meet and pose for a photo with Otto Warner, 8, centre, who has today come out of cancer treatment and was by chance hoping to meet the royal couple with his family, including sisters Jasmine Warner, 5, left, Poppy, 10, right, and mum Georgie, far left, as William and Kate arrive at Bath Spa train station today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at Cardiff Castle this morning as their royal train tour of Britain continues today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at Cardiff Castle this morning as their royal train tour of Britain continues today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at Cardiff Castle this morning as their royal train tour of Britain continues today

The Duchess of Cambridge is dressed in a long, bright red Alexander McQueen coat as she arrives at Cardiff Castle today

The Duchess of Cambridge is dressed in a long, bright red Alexander McQueen coat as she arrives at Cardiff Castle today

Kate arrives in Cardiff

Kate arrives in Cardiff

The Duchess of Cambridge is dressed in a long, bright red Alexander McQueen coat as she arrives at Cardiff Castle today

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a 'Toast Your Own Marshmallow' stall during a visit to Cardiff Castle this morning

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a 'Toast Your Own Marshmallow' stall during a visit to Cardiff Castle this morning

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a ‘Toast Your Own Marshmallow’ stall during a visit to Cardiff Castle this morning

Prince William and Kate meet students in Cardiff to discuss how their mental health was supported during lockdown

Prince William and Kate meet students in Cardiff to discuss how their mental health was supported during lockdown

Prince William and Kate meet students in Cardiff to discuss how their mental health was supported during lockdown 

William and Kate have been travelling on board the Royal Train for on a nine-stop whirlwind, 48 hour, 1,250-mile tour across England, Scotland and Wales.

The Royals arrived in Edinburgh yesterday morning to the sound of bagpipes serenading them with Christmas songs, before meeting workers at a Scottish Ambulance Service hub.

The pair are attempting to spread festive cheer to frontline workers ahead of the Christmas holidays.

The tour is also designed to showcase the UK’s arts, heritage and live performance sector, which has been supported throughout the pandemic by the Government’s £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund.

But Ms Sturgeon did not extend a welcome message to the couple during her daily briefing yesterday – despite being asked about the trip. 

William and are undertaking a short tour of the UK ahead of the Christmas holidays, and stopped off in Cardiff this morning

William and are undertaking a short tour of the UK ahead of the Christmas holidays, and stopped off in Cardiff this morning

William and are undertaking a short tour of the UK ahead of the Christmas holidays, and stopped off in Cardiff this morning

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething (left, on Saturday) criticised William and Kate's decision to travel to Wales as Covid cases rise, while Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh yesterday

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething (left, on Saturday) criticised William and Kate's decision to travel to Wales as Covid cases rise, while Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh yesterday

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh yesterday

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh yesterday

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething (left, on Saturday) criticised William and Kate’s decision to travel to Wales as Covid cases rise, while Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (right, at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh yesterday) did not extend a welcome message to the couple during her daily briefing yesterday

William and Kate board the royal train at London Euston railway station yesterday as the embark on the three-day tour

William and Kate board the royal train at London Euston railway station yesterday as the embark on the three-day tour

William and Kate board the royal train at London Euston railway station yesterday as the embark on the three-day tour

There is, however, a 12-steamer supper car with a Formica table

There is, however, a 12-steamer supper car with a Formica table

There is, however, a 12-steamer supper car with a Formica table

Although the train looks grand from the outside, its carriage are far more spartan than anyone could imagine

Although the train looks grand from the outside, its carriage are far more spartan than anyone could imagine

Although the train looks grand from the outside, its carriage are far more spartan than anyone could imagine

Royal guests have to make do with small single beds. There are no showers - instead there are rather dated-looking 70s-style baths with a marker line to stop them being over-filled

Royal guests have to make do with small single beds. There are no showers - instead there are rather dated-looking 70s-style baths with a marker line to stop them being over-filled

Royal guests have to make do with small single beds. There are no showers – instead there are rather dated-looking 70s-style baths with a marker line to stop them being over-filled

Instead, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘The Scottish Government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the Royal Household were aware, as you would expect, of the restrictions in place in Scotland so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit.’

‘Any more questions on that should be directed to the Royal household,’ she added.

The Scottish government said Ms Sturgeon did not try to stop the Royals from going to Scotland, adding she simply reiterated the guidance in place. A spokeswoman later said: ‘The First Minister welcomes the support shown by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for Scotland’s NHS.’

One Tory MP MP told MailOnline of Ms Sturgeon’s remarks: ‘This man is the future King of Scotland.

‘It is very unsubtle and I think it will backfire on her because there are a lot of loyalist Scots who would be pretty appalled that she would behave in such a rude manner. She should know better.’ 

All aboard the Kate and Wills Express! What it’s like to travel on the ‘palace on wheels’ with fillets of sole and crème caramel – and VERY prompt drivers

Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20. Queen Elizabeth is pictured on board the train in 1964, with Prince Edward on her lap and Prince Andrew sitting opposite

Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20. Queen Elizabeth is pictured on board the train in 1964, with Prince Edward on her lap and Prince Andrew sitting opposite

Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20. Queen Elizabeth is pictured on board the train in 1964, with Prince Edward on her lap and Prince Andrew sitting opposite

By Emily Andrews, Royal Editor for the Mail on Sunday

Travelling on the Royal Train is considered a significant honour afforded by the Queen. 

Permission to travel on the nine-carriage train has to be granted by the Queen. She is the train’s prime passenger, using it to travel overnight to engagements in the north of England, Scotland or Wales.

The idea dates from 1842. Prince Albert persuaded a 23-year-old Queen Victoria to become the first Royal to travel by rail when she took a train from Slough, then the closest station to Windsor Castle, to London Paddington. 

Victoria saw travelling the country as her duty and thus a Royal Train was designed to look like a palace on wheels, with the carriages decorated in 23-carat gold paint and decked out in silks and satins.

Electric lights were added in the 1890s, as well as an on-board toilet, which Victoria refused to use, preferring to have the train stop for bathroom breaks every few hours.

In 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a single set of Royal Train carriages was formed for the first time and has remained in service ever since – replacing the 1941 vehicles used by George VI. 

Prince William and his father Prince Charles arriving at Bangor Station on the Royal Train in 2003 for a visit to Wales in the run-up to his 21st birthday

Prince William and his father Prince Charles arriving at Bangor Station on the Royal Train in 2003 for a visit to Wales in the run-up to his 21st birthday

Prince William and his father Prince Charles arriving at Bangor Station on the Royal Train in 2003 for a visit to Wales in the run-up to his 21st birthday

The locomotives haul freight when not on Royal duty. William and Kate will sleep in single beds during their two nights aboard, and dine in a 12-seater supper car with a Formica table – a far cry from the grandeur of the Victorian era. 

In the past, the Royal Train menu has comprised chilled minted pea soup, fillets of sole and crème caramel.

There are no showers in the suite, only a bath with a marker line to stop it being over-filled. Staff include a steward and footmen, while Kate’s hairdresser will also travel with them on this journey.

When the carriages are off-duty, as they are for much of the year, the train is kept in a siding at a secret location to ensure security.

Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20. 

The Queen, 94, used the Royal Train just twice in 2018, once to Chester with Meghan Markle, 39, in June (pictured) costing £29,714

The Queen, 94, used the Royal Train just twice in 2018, once to Chester with Meghan Markle, 39, in June (pictured) costing £29,714

The Queen, 94, used the Royal Train just twice in 2018, once to Chester with Meghan Markle, 39, in June (pictured) costing £29,714

Two of these were for Prince Charles, who ran up a £20,822 bill for a return journey from Kemble, near his Gloucestershire home, to Carlisle. At the time, a Palace aide said the train provided effective and efficient transport and reduced security costs.

It was once suggested that Charles had secreted the then Lady Diana Spencer on board for a night-time tryst in sidings in Wiltshire. The story was untrue and Diana said: ‘I’ve never been near the train, let alone in the middle of the night!’

The most prestigious job in British railways is that of Royal driver. Among their tasks is to stop the train door perfectly in line with the red carpet on the platform. Drivers also pride themselves on getting to any destination within 15 seconds of the given arrival time.

When Her Majesty invited Meghan Markle to join her on an overnight journey less than a month after her marriage to Prince Harry, it was a way of publicly welcoming her into the Royal Family.

While the train is used primarily as a means of travel, there is also room to catch up on work, as Queen Elizabeth demonstrates, above, during a journey in 2002

While the train is used primarily as a means of travel, there is also room to catch up on work, as Queen Elizabeth demonstrates, above, during a journey in 2002

While the train is used primarily as a means of travel, there is also room to catch up on work, as Queen Elizabeth demonstrates, above, during a journey in 2002 

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