MORE than 175,000 people took to the streets to witness history at the weekend as the Olympic flame passed through County Durham.

Around one-third of the entire population of the county lined the route of the relay on Saturday and Sunday, according to official estimates.

An incredible 30,000 watched the torch pass through Durham City on Saturday night, with a further 20,000 braving the rain at a celebration evening on The Racecourse.

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Other spectator hot spots included Bishop Auckland, where 25,000 people came out to watch the spectacle and Consett where the crowd was 15,000 strong.

Organisers yesterday (MON) praised the response of residents, which they said had exceeded all expectations.

Coun Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said: "It is not often we get the chance to show the world why County Durham is so special and but I am immensely proud of the outstanding welcome the torchbearers received everywhere.

"Even through some inclement weather the county’s Olympic spirit shone through with often vast crowds waiting patiently and responding instantly to the thrill of the moment".

He added: "Everyone made the most of their moment to shine and I am sure Barnard Castle will provide a similar warm welcome when the flame returns to the county on Wednesday afternoon".

Supt Ian Macdonald of Durham Constabulary said: "The crowds were good natured, everything went well from our point of view and the thousands who turned up to see the torch relay had a great time. Our thanks go to all concerned."

The torch will make a brief return to County Durham on Wednesday when it passes through Barnard Castle.