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Our Favorite Royal Christmas Tradition: The Queen Takes the Train

It’s one of the cutest Royal photo opportunities of the year—when the Queen gets on a train to travel from London to Norfolk for her annual Christmas holiday.

12.18.15 6:15 PM ET

In his novel Mrs Queen Takes The Train, the writer William Kuhn imagined the Queen slipping incognito aboard an express service just for the fun of it.

A flight of fancy, perhaps, but how easy it might actually be…

For, dressed in a pale pink overcoat and carrying her essentials (and an iPad mini) in an unremarkable handbag, the Queen on Thursday joined the plebeian throng—well, kind of—and boarded the 10:44 train to Norfolk from King’s Cross station in London.

She could have been mistaken for any other great-grandmother heading off to see the relatives for the Christmas break—were it not for the enormous sapphire brooch pinned to her lapel and the burly secret policemen shadowing her very move, which slightly gave the game away.

The Queen’s annual Christmas train ride to her country house Sandringham with the masses—which has earned a reputation for being one of Her Majesty’s most enchanting new traditions—is now as much part of the iconography of the British Christmas as roast chestnuts in Sloane Square, chocolate Advent calendars for the kids and repeats of Only Fools And Horses on the BBC for the rest of us.

It’s proof that Christmas is nearly here, and the enchanting pictures certainly don’t do any harm to the never-ending battle for the hearts of the British people.

Although regular passengers and staff on the route from London to King’s Lynn are by now well-accustomed to festive sightings of the Queen, there was a pleasant surprise when yesterday she and her husband, Prince Philip, clambered aboard the 10:44, with their security detail.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s presence by her side once again—he skipped the train ride for the last two years--was interpreted as a good omen in regards to his fitness.

In recent years he has travelled separately by car due to health concerns. It was just before Christmas in 2011 that he was hospitalized (from Sandringham) with a heart condition and had a stent fitted. 

This year, pictures show the Queen in first class, her lovely, very expensive jacket slung proprietorially over her seat.

According to a report in The Express, she spent much of the journey looking at a mini-iPad, while Philip took a book to pass the time on the journey.

Members of the wider Royal family will begin arriving for the Royal Christmas celebrations next week with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall expected on Christmas Eve.

Guests have to be at Sandringham before 4pm that day, and gifts are exchanged after tea. Each person’s gifts are placed on their own trestle table, set up in the Drawing Room by staff.

Harry is expected to stay with William and Kate at their Norfolk home Anmer Hall, although he may be expected at Sandringham for lunch itself; William and Kate will be having a separate toddler-friendly affair at their home. (Sandringham has been owned by the Royal family since 1862, when it was purchased by Queen Victoria at the request of her son Edward, then Prince of Wales.)

After arriving at King’s Lynn station, Queen Elizabeth and Philip were driven to Sandringham, about seven miles away, after greeting station staff.

The Queen likes to go to Sandringham early to prepare for the recording of her annual Christmas message, which will be taped in the next few days, and is broadcast on Christmas Day at 3pm GMT.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, were this week pictured in the first clear group photograph of the entire family, released to mark the Christmas period.