Cannons blasted all over the United Kingdom Saturday to mark Queen Elizabeth II's 86th birthday.

While guns boomed across the country, the Queen celebrated the day of her actual birth quietly with family at Windsor Castle, royal expert and former adviser Bonnie Brownlee told CTV News Channel.

"It's one of the only days in the year that her Majesty the Queen gets to herself and this is a time for her family to laugh and share a dinner together, just sort of reflect on what's happened in the past year," she said in an interview from New York Saturday.

"One of the things she'll be doing today at Windsor Castle is going through some of the letters and greetings that she's receiving from other leaders and people around the world, probably including a letter from Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper," Brownlee said.

It's likely the Queen will do a "walk about" sometime Saturday or Sunday to greet well-wishers, Brownlee said.

The Queen celebrates her birthday twice with her "official" public birthday taking place on June 16 this year in a grander event at Buckingham Palace.

She's also celebrating her Diamond Jubilee to mark 60 years on the throne with events taking place the weekend of June 2-5.

But Saturday's events were all about the tradition of gun salutes.

The Royal Navy fired a 21-gun salute at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour on the south coast and the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41-gun salute from Hyde Park.

The Queen is traditionally given the salutes on her birthday at military bases around the country. An extra 20 volleys are fired from Hyde Park because it's considered a royal park.

Teams of horses in the park pull six First World War-era guns into position for the salute in an event that attracts hundreds of spectators.

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment fired a 62-gun salute from the Tower of London – 21 guns for the Queen's birthday, another 21 because it's a royal palace and 20 guns to show the City of London's loyalty to the monarch.

The custom dates back to the early days of sailing when ships visiting foreign ports would discharge their guns before entering to prove the visit was peaceful.

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