A SHEPHERD who helps run a popular farm attraction is the new County Durham Tourism Superstar.

Farmer Richard Darlington, an activity leader on his family’s Hall Hill Farm in Lanchester, has been named as the winner of Visit County Durham’s Tourism Superstar 2017 award.

The 26-year-old, who is also the Northern Young Farmer of the Year, was revealed as the winner at the tourism body’s annual garden party at Crook Hall.

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The award, run in partnership with the Northern Echo, was launched in 2014 to unearth the unsung heroes of tourism in Durham. It recognises the dedication and passion of those working in the tourism industry and is awarded to an individual who goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure visitors have an experience to remember.

Businesses were asked to nominate their superstars and the winner was chosen by a public online vote.

Mr Darlington received 49 per cent of the vote and was shortlisted for his excellent customer service and for always going the extra mile to give every visitor to the farm a memorable experience.

The family-run tourist attraction, which is the reigning Farm Attraction of the Year, offers the opportunity to get up close to the animals and has provided children and families with an educational and fun day out for more than 35 years.

At lambing time Mr Darling ton can be seen lambing sheep and giving a commentary and has introduced sheep racing.

He said: “I’m very surprised but delighted to win this award. Being up against finalists from big attractions Beamish Museum and Durham Castle it’s obviously an honour when a small attraction like ours gains recognition.

“I would just like to thank everyone who voted. It’s been a great year for the farm.”

Ivor Stolliday, chairman of Visit County Durham, said: “The competition is a wonderful way to uncover those individuals working tirelessly in the tourism industry. All the entrants are incredible and act as ambassadors for our county.

“Durham Tourism Superstar has grown in stature over the years and helps give wider recognition to those people working hard to enhance the visitor experience with that all-important personal touch.”

The other finalists were Dorothy Carlyon of Beamish Museum and Caitlin Potts of Durham Castle Tours.

Mr Darlington will now represent County Durham in the national Tourism Superstar awards.

Previous Durham Tourism Superstars Lilian Groves, a tour guide at Durham Cathedral, and Matthew Henderson, of Beamish Museum, have gone on to win the national prize.