A SNOWSTORM blowing wildly within a dome in the historic Market Place gives visitors to this year’s Lumiere festival the ‘wow’ factor.

Encased within it is the statue of the Marquess of Londonderry on horseback, who looks decidedly wintry, welcoming crowds with an illuminated sign that proclaims: ‘I Love Durham’.

It sets the benchmark high for this edition of the biennial light show, which has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors over the last decade.

Crowds will spend the next four cold crisp evenings walking the cobbled streets and pathways by the river to wonder at the artworks created by a talented team drawn from across the world.

Up at another of the city famous landmarks is Stones, the unsettling installation that gives the impression Durham Cathedral is on fire.

Sinister music plays as light ripples across the Norman structure, glowing orange as if it has been engulfed in flames.

Down on the River Wear it is far more peaceful, with the cathedral shrouded in the mist from Fogscape #03238.

Walking along the tree-lined banks feels like being in a dream, or maybe an 80s pop music video.

Shortly though, the attention is grabbed by the installation projected on the walls of Durham Castle.

“Look, it’s a giant worm,” called one youngster, who was out to see the Wednesday night rehearsals with her parents.

“And there’s some fish and a frog and a big pair of eyes.”

Further along Mysticete, near the Pennyferry Bridge, drew admiring gasps from crowds of onlookers as the whale leapt from the river then fell back in causing giant waves of light to splash around.

A deft flip of its tail and it was gone.

This is one of 13 or so installations that have been a hit with the public and so have been brought back by popular demand.

The rest of the 37 artworks in and around the city are new.

Helen Marriage, director of Artichoke, the company behind the festival, said: “We create an open-air art gallery so people have the chance to just wonder at the cleverness of the imagination of the incredible artists. The atmosphere is kind of amazing.

“What makes this event so special is the place and the people.

“It is such an amazing site with the mixture of architectural heritage and our contemporary juxtaposition against that.”

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to brave the chilly weather to see the UK’s largest light festival, which opens to the public tonight and runs until Sunday.

Organisers say this, the tenth anniversary of Lumiere, will be the most ambitious yet.

Other highlights include a piano-powered public participation piece and a giant slinky toppling from the roof of the city’s Gala Theatre.

It is free attend and the night-time spectacle is now a firm fixture in the region’s cultural calendar.

Terry Collins, chief executive, Durham County Council, which has commissioned the event, said the event provided major boost to the local and regional economy.

He said: “It is absolutely huge. Last year we had about 240,000 visitors and we reckon the benefit to the city and the county were about £8 million.

“It doesn’t just benefit us, it benefits the wider region because people are staying in Newcastle and in Teesside.

“It really puts us on the map and it really puts a spotlight on Durham, what we are about and the beauty of the place.”

The festival has additional support from Arts Council England and a host of further funders and supporters, including Durham University.

Liz Waller, the university’s director of library and collections, said: “Having been involved in Lumiere since 2009, it’s inspiring for us at Durham University to see how the festival has grown in size, appeal and ambition to become the hugely popular event it is today.”

The temperature is expected to drop as low as four degrees Celsius so visitors are being advised to wrap up warm.

People are being encouraged to use park and ride services to try and minimise city centre congestion.

Superintendent Colin Williamson, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We will have extra officers on patrol throughout the city to help keep everyone safe, so if you see them please come and say ‘hello’.

“They will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

“Lumiere is always an enjoyable event and we hope everyone who attends has a fantastic time.”