Theme park planned for site near Houghall College

The Northern Echo: THEME FUN: Bruce Murray, of Orcestrator, at the proposed site near Houghall College THEME FUN: Bruce Murray, of Orcestrator, at the proposed site near Houghall College

A WORLD-FIRST fantasy theme park is being planned for the North-East, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Thrill-seekers would be invited to create their own mythical character and adventure with sieges, feasts and battles, on the outskirts of Durham City.

Bruce Murray, the man behind the scheme – known as Orcestrator – said: “There’s nothing quite like this anywhere in the world.”

For anything up to a week, visitors to Orcestrator would be “in character” – living in a mythical Dark Age world, feasting and drinking mead, and sleeping in Viking long houses or thatched-roofed huts.

They would encounter Orcestrator-employed characters, perhaps in Crusader Castle or a medieval pub, to lead them through the experience.

As they move forward, the fantasy would increase, with mythical creatures appearing along the journey.

There would be themed worlds of Earth, Fire and Water and regulars could return as the same c h a r - acter each visit. Mr Murray said: “It’s about having an exceptionally interesting, challenging, rewarding time – in beautiful countryside.

“This is a unique opportunity for Durham to have a world-class tourism attraction which is low-impact, environmentally sensitive, encourages bio-diversity and encourages international visitors. It fits perfectly with Durham’s bid to be City of Culture.

“It is about getting back to the simple pleasures and discovering something about yourself – interacting with people, getting away from the computer screen.

“It’s going to be a totally fantastic journey. It’s pure escapism, a bit like being in a living story.”

Orcestrator would cover 250 acres of land owned by East Durham College, including the so-called Grand Canyon of Durham.

It has been four years in the planning, would create 220 jobs, boost the region’s economy by millions of pounds and, it is estimated, it would attract 63,000 visitors a year. The attraction would include: ● The Orcestrator theme park; ● A venue offering themed weddings and conferences; ● A visitor centre, cafe and shop.

The development represents an investment of tens of millions of pounds. But Mr Murray insists he is serious and has substantial backing.

About 30 homes, mostly exclusive, top-of-the-range properties, would also be built.

Planning applications are expected early in the new year. With the design and development expected to take 12 months and construction a further 12 months, Orcestrator could open in 2012.

Consultation has begun. To comment, call 0191-224-1669.

College revamp connected to plan

HOUGHALL COLLEGE would undergo a £30m revamp linked to the Orcestrator scheme.

Using money raised selling most of its 500 acres, bosses at East Durham College, which runs Houghall, would demolish most or all of it, and rebuild it.

The only part earmarked for possible preservation is the college’s Forties frontage.

Houghall was once an agricultural college and remains the region’s leading provider of land-based courses and training; but its focus has changed in recent years, with the decline of farming and increasing interest in other areas.

It has not had a working farm for the past three years, although animals are still kept on site, for students’ animal medicine training.

The rebuild could be complete by 2011.

Ian Prescott, principal and chief executive of East Durham College, said: “I think this is the most exciting development since Houghall was built. We’re going to have a new land-based industries college, which there hasn’t been anywhere else in the country.” Mr Prescott said the scheme could see more courses offered and extra staff employed.

He described the relationship with Orcestrator as “a marriage made in heaven”.

Bruce Murray, managing director of Orcestrator, also praised the college’s management, saying they had been enthusiastic and the college had been a great.

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