The Prince and Princess of Wales are heading to west Wales on the one-year anniversary of the beloved monarch's death
The Prince and Princess of Wales, both 41, headed on a previously unannounced trip to the tiny city of St. Davids on the southwestern tip of Wales on Friday.
Prince William and Princess Kate took part in a short private service in the ancient St. Davids Cathedral, which will include a commemoration of Queen Elizabeth's life to coincide with the one-year anniversary of her death. The late monarch, who ruled for a record-setting 70 years, died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at age 96 — just two days after undertaking her final public duty.
The order of service called the event "an act of reflection for accession day." It included prayers were said in both Welsh and English.
Inside the church, the Princess of Wales laid a bouquet before a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth with the Prince of Wales by her side.
The couple left the cathedral to cheers from the well-wishers gathered outside.
Princess Kate received several gifts of flowers and apologized for them arriving late, as their helicopter wasn’t able to safely get through misty conditions and had to land further from the city than hoped.
"Sorry to keep everyone waiting — we were trying to get in,” she told the crowd with a smile.
Prince William light-heartedly turned down a request for a selfie, saying he’d have his staff asking him to hurry along.
Ernest and Janet Jones traveled about 40 minutes from Carmarthen to see the couple outside the 12th century cathedral. They told Kate that they’d seen her drive pass on her wedding day and laid flowers at Windsor a year ago.
"She was quite surprised,” Ernest tells PEOPLE.
Adds Janet: “We are all thinking about the Queen today and having them here on the first anniversary is a privilege."
Kate was heard telling a man in a Union Jack hat, "Lovely to meet you — I love your hat."
Connie Galloway, 76, says Princess Kate asked her and her friends Isabel Jones, 84, and Kay Kimber, 76, if they were born on the area. (Two of them had been christened and married in the cathedral!) "She said it was beautiful and they hoped to come back again soon. I think it’s very apt that they are here today as Prince and Princess of Wales — the Queen would have approved of it," Galloway tells PEOPLE.
St. Davids Cathedral has a unique royal link — it is the only British cathedral where the sovereign has had a special place to sit in the Quire among the members of the Chapter. The late Queen Elizabeth sat there on four occasions during her visits to St. Davids during her historic reign.
The Welsh city has been welcoming pilgrims for over 1,400 years, since St, David — who is the patron saint of Wales — settled there and established a monastic community in the sixth century. The cathedral dates from 1181 and attracts around 300,000 visitors every year.
In a second stop of the day, Prince William and Princess Kate visited the Câr-Y-Môr Seaweed Farm, the first "regenerative ocean farm" in Wales and a key partner of Notpla, the sustainable packaging start-up and winner of the 2022 Earthshot Prize for "Build a Waste-Free World."
The farm is reviving the marine habitat while also creating jobs. There are now 14 full-time employers in the community, that relies otherwise on tourism. Francois Beyers, co-founder, says, “We wanted to create a business that had year-round jobs."
He says Prince William’s involvement in inspiring the prize can have knock-on benefits to organizations like his. "It’s incredibly important that somebody of that stature like the Prince is able to step up and say, 'We have got a crisis, we need to do something." And he’s established Earthshot that gives the opportunity for out of the box thinking."
Notpla and others are creating what Beyers calls “incredible technology that can help fix what we’ve done to the planet.”
“The Prince’s involvement in that and bringing that positivity to it and bringing his presence and having the world focus on these things is so important," he adds. "We’re so honored that we can show them a little bit of what we do."
Câr-Y-Môr (which translates to "For the Love of the Sea") also farms seafood, and Beyers says the business practices what he calls "bio-mimicry." "It means that we look to nature to solve human problems. With the rise of sea temperatures and plastic pollution, and over-fishing — all the things we humans have done to this beautiful earth and oceans — we need to look to solutions to fix that. And ocean farms can do that. It can re-establish marine habitat and absorbs all kinds of nutrients that run-off into our ocean."
Prince William and Princess Kate were able "breathe out" on the sea of west Wales as they took a boat trip to an ocean farm and then a ride on a lifeboat.
We were honoured to welcome Their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Wales to @StDavidsRNLI today as part of the Royal couple’s visit to Wales to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. pic.twitter.com/zTDsdczEQO
— RNLI (@RNLI) September 8, 2023
After the formalities of the cathedral and remembering Queen Elizabeth, the couple looked to the future.
Beyers told PEOPLE later, “To be able to host the Prince and Princess and show them the farm and explain the different types of seaweed and shellfish we grow was brilliant. They’re a lovely couple.”
He adds of the visit, "There is a real buzz in town. But it was in the forefront of my mind that it was the anniversary. It felt like they had done the formal part. They had to change to come on the boat so I feel it was a change of mindset to come out here and breathe out and be out on the water. There is nothing better than being out on the sea to clear your mind.”
Beyers was thrilled that they were able to see the area on what was flat-calm sea conditions.
"They were so friendly — it was as if we’d spoken before," he says. "It was great to be able to take them out on the farm and explain what we do here. It does show the community too — and how we work together with the [lifeboats of the] RNLI,” which the couple also visited. Queen Elizabeth was the patron of @RNLI for 70 years.
The visit to Wales is a poignant reminder that the couple were made Prince and Princess of Wales by King Charles on Sept. 9 last year, just one day after his accession. The move recognized William and Kate's seniority in the royal family and signaling their critical roles ahead.
“Charles is leading the way for them already, and [William and Kate] are both involved in decision-making behind the scenes. They are ready and willing to do the job— and Kate is very much a part of that,” a friend of the princess tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.
In addition to their outing in Wales, Prince William and Princess Kate shared a social media post remembering Queen Elizabeth on the anniversary.
"Today we remember the extraordinary life and legacy of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth," they wrote. "We all miss you." The message was signed "W&C," standing for William and Catherine, indicating the personal nature of the note.
The Prince and Princess of Wales' tribute was accompanied by four images of the late Queen, including one of her alongside a group of corgis, the pets she was famous for having throughout her life. Another snap showed Queen Elizabeth surrounded by some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The image was taken by Kate at Balmoral during the summer of 2022 and first released on April 21 of this year, which would have been the Queen’s 97th birthday.
In addition to a solo image of Queen Elizabeth, a final image in the carousel showed the royal family gathered on the Buckingham Palace balcony in 2022 for the Trooping the Colour parade. The Queen is pictured alongside the then-Prince Charles, Prince William, Kate and their three children: Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5.
The event comes after a long summer break for Prince William and Princess Kate, whose most recent vacation was the family get-together at Balmoral Castle with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. The children returned to the classroom on Wednesday for their first day of the school year, heading back to Lambrook School where they began attending last year after the family's move from London to Windsor.
They were last seen as a family on a fun-filled afternoon at an air show in Gloucestershire, England, in early July.
With their children back at school, Prince William got back to his public duties on Thursday, checking in on his homelessness project, Homewards, in Bournemouth. Both William and Kate are expected to undertake a program of engagements in the coming weeks, including Prince William's upcoming trip to New York City for the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit.
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One person they will not see is Prince Harry who, despite being in the U.K., is not spending time with his estranged father or his brother.
The Duke of Sussex, 38, attended the annual awards evening for his charity for seriously ill kids, WellChild, on Thursday before heading to his Invictus Games in Germany, which kick off this weekend.
On Friday, Harry was spotted visiting his grandmother's burial site at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.
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