Most mornings, a stooped but sprightly lady in a headscarf, jodhpurs and riding boots slips out of a side door at Windsor Castle.
After getting into the driver’s seat of a waiting bottle-green Jaguar, it takes just a few minutes for her to reach Home Park, where she then takes a ride with her beloved fell pony.
This is how Queen Elizabeth is spending lockdown. Naturally, she is reluctant to give up one of her lifelong pleasures, but at the age of 94, she is also taking no chances with her health.
So she drives to the stables unaccompanied – no police, no servants and no family that could expose her to the coronavirus.
Queen Elizabeth II horseriding a Fell pony, her favourite breed for gentle riding
Head groom Terry Pendry ensures her ponies are ready and that he keeps two metres from his boss.
All protective disinfectant measures are taken, particularly for the horse’s saddle and bridle.
The monarch’s ride of choice is a black pony called Carltonlima Emma, named after the stud near Leeds where she was bred, and the routine gives the queen a sense of both freedom and normality.
Many thought she would have to give up riding – confined to barracks by the pandemic.
But a devoted team of 22 staff are working to provide a protective shield around Elizabeth and Prince Philip, which Windsor Castle colleagues are calling ‘HMS Bubble’.
It includes her favourite page Paul Whybrew – with whom she is so comfortable that they often watch TV together, and who co-starred in her James Bond skit for the London Olympics Opening Ceremony – as well as chefs, cleaners and officials.
Led by master of the household Tony Johnstone-Burt and the queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, the team have willingly agreed to live away from their own families for the duration of the lockdown.
It means they can serve the monarch and her husband – who moved to Windsor from Sandringham, where he has lived for the past few years – without needing protective equipment such as gloves and masks, or to abide by social-distancing guidelines.
The Queen, Prince Philip and their staff are living in a ‘bubble’ to prevent them catching Covid
By remaining solely in their ‘bubble’, they will not come into contact with anyone else and therefore won’t contract the virus.
In a morale-boosting email to household staff, former vice-admiral Johnstone-Burt compared ‘HMS Bubble’ to a naval exercise.
He said: ‘The challenges that we are facing, whether self-isolating alone at home, or with our close household and families, have parallels with being at sea away from home for many months, and having to deal with a sense of dislocation, anxiety and uncertainty.’
In some ways, the queen and her 98-year-old husband are enduring similar privations to other grandparents and great-grandparents.
The Queen on her black Fell pony and her head groom ride together most days she’s in residence at Windsor Castle
They are unable to see their family, even though sons Andrew and Edward live close by, and have to make do with video calls to see the youngest members, such as Prince William’s three children and Harry’s son Archie, who has just celebrated his first birthday.
Queen Elizabeth’s determination that life should continue as normally as possible shows that, contrary to some erroneous reports, she has no intention of retiring from public view.
Indeed, plans are already in the early stages for a magnificent public celebration of her platinum jubilee in 2022, marking 70 years on the British throne.
Her government is keen to put on a show, and PM Boris Johnson has a particular interest because he was London’s mayor when the queen and capital united in the show-stopping Opening Ceremony for the London Olympics in 2012.
Queen Elizabeth II has been a lifelong horse lover for her entire life and despite being 84 has no intention to stop
Meanwhile, there will be another milestone on June 10 when Prince Philip enters his 100th year.
Although he’s sure to resist pressure for public celebrations for his centenary, the palace – and his family – will want to make a fuss.
Traditionally, ‘royals do not celebrate a birthday with five at the end’, but 2021, when the queen will be 95, will be a special year for them both.
More immediately, her diary is having to be scheduled. Usually it’s organised six to nine months in advance, but having cancelled all public engagements for the past couple of months, Buckingham Palace is arranging events for June and July.
Whether they will be more engagements behind closed doors or controlled public meetings remains to be seen.
A devoted team of 22 staff are working to provide a protective shield around Queen Elizabeth
Walkabouts, away-days and visits with members of the public may yet be some months away but she is determined to return to public life as soon as is safely possible.
But the thing she misses above all are Sunday visits to the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Windsor.
One insider said: ‘I think the first time we’ll see the queen in public will be at church. She goes every Sunday without fail and her Christian faith means so much to her.’
As one of the remaining few who lived through the Second World War, she fully understands the necessity of the current social restrictions.
The monarch traditionally spends weekends at Windsor and takes up full-time residence there for month-long periods a year – at Easter and in early summer
Her biographer Robert Lacey says: ‘She feels the poignancy, but that does not turn into depression or defeat.
‘She sees it in the bigger context of her religious faith and of a God who holds her and her family in his hands. It is the solid and simple faith that sustains her.’
The monarch traditionally spends weekends at Windsor and takes up full-time residence there for month-long periods a year – at Easter and in early summer.
This year, she decamped from Buckingham Palace before Easter. Her husband was flown from Norfolk, from his base at Wood Farm, to join her for the foreseeable future.
The couple have not spent this much time together in years, and although they have separate living and sleeping quarters, they have enjoyed sharing a light lunch of fish or grilled chicken every day.
They rarely breakfast together – Philip traditionally gets up early and in years gone by would be out and about before breakfast.
Now, slower after a hip replacement, he has reportedly given up the carriage-driving he so enjoyed – and was still indulging in until last year.
In truth, lockdown life is little different to the queen’s working routine.
Strict biosecurity measures mean that red boxes of state are wiped down with disinfectant and the contents emptied into a ‘clean’ box before being hand-delivered to the Queen
She is woken at 9am by a bagpiper under her apartment window, which is in the east section of the castle’s Upper Ward.
For staff who live in the Home Park, such as dresser and confidante Angela Kelly, a disinfected VW people-carrier is used to transport them from their front door to the sovereign’s quarters, so they don’t come into contact with anyone else.
As well as organising her rides, head groom Terry Pendry has changed his team’s routine so their exercise route now runs alongside the monarch’s living quarters.
This means she can see all her horses and stable staff on their way to and back from rides.
As a treat for her 94th birthday last month, the stable staff paraded all the royal horses in front of her and Prince Philip’s apartments.
The couple watched from the first floor, smiling and waving.
Besides riding, she has kept up her usual working pace: staying abreast of the latest news, reading newspapers, catching up with family over video messenger and avidly viewing the television news.
She has brushed up on her FaceTime skills and has been using other video-conferencing apps.
Audiences with the prime minister are conducted by telephone in the evening every Wednesday.
Strict biosecurity measures mean that red boxes of state are wiped down with disinfectant and the contents emptied into a ‘clean’ box before being hand-delivered.
And the camera equipment set up for the television broadcasts was assembled, cleaned, left overnight, cleaned again and only operated by a lone cameraman standing several feet away from where the monarch sat at her desk.
While Windsor Castle remains shut to public visitors, the queen was keen to ease the impact of lockdown on her wider staff and opened the estate to any who wanted to walk or ride through it when the more stringent measures were in place.
‘The queen comes from that wartime generation that is both steady and sturdy,’ says an aide.