THE people behind the arts festival Lumiere promised it would be ‘a truly unforgettable experience for people of all ages’.

Producers Artichoke said this, the tenth anniversary event, was the most ambitious yet– combining favourite installations from previous festivals with new commissions and community artworks.

Judging by the public’s reaction, on the first of four nights of the event, they were right.

The 37 artworks turned what would have been a damp and dark November evening in Durham into one filled with colour, light and illusion.

The city became a spectacular open-air gallery, appreciated by visitors from near and far.

As Helen Marriage, director of Artichoke, put it: “This year’s tenth anniversary edition offers the chance to relive some of the wonderful memories of previous festivals, sprinkled as always with an element of surprise.

“We hope visitors from across the county and beyond join us as we take to the cobbled streets of Durham for four nights of wintry magic.”

Barbara Jarman, from Essex, planned a break in the north– three days in York and three in County Durham– around Lumiere and the reopening of Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland.

She said: “I’m really interested in history, I love Durham and the cathedral and had heard people talking about this so wanted to come.

“It is wonderful, I loved the stars and Wave, the whale is amazing and watching other people creating shapes with the turning tiles was fabulous.”

Human Tiles and The Stars Come Out At Night, both in Walkergate, the changing colours of Lightbenches– a permanent feature since 2015– and Cloud were also highlights for Susie Gemski and children Elliott, four, and 18-month-old Skye.

She said: “We’re from here so know the city well, Elliott loves the interactive displays and was asking if we get whales here– now I can say yes. Skye just loves the lights. It is so fantastic, we’re coming back with my husband on Saturday.”

Despite appearing at the festival in 2011 and being one of the most photographed pieces, the giant glittering snow globe I Love Durham by Jacques Rival still stopped people in their tracks through Market Place.

Sarah Jamieson grew up in Newcastle and went to Durham University but now lives in Bristol. She timed her trip to see family so it coincided with Lumiere.

“It is amazing, you see the city in a totally different light,” she said.

As people navigated their way around the streets and riverside, they would look up from their map or mobile phone app and gasp in delight and wonder as they arrived at the next installation.

Professor Janet Stewart, Executive Dean (Arts and Humanities) at Durham University, said: “Lumiere is an inspiring event; it’s innovative, exciting and something that many, many people look forward to greatly.

“As Durham’s University, we’re proud to have been involved with Lumiere from the beginning and very pleased to be a major partner for Lumiere Durham 2019: sponsoring the festival, hosting new and returning installations and supporting across cultural engagement, volunteering and logistics.”

More than 900 people, including schoolchildren, used recycled plastic bottles to make dazzling chandeliers which hang between trees to create Bottle Festoon. Beneath the trees, children kick fallen leaves and imagine the fairies that could be living in the illuminated branches overhead.

A walk along the riverside offers up plenty of treats from the computer generated patterns of Geometrical Traces thrown across the trees to the ghostly mists of Fogscape.

Coreen and Peter Costello, of Newton Hall, made a beeline for Mysticete– a projection of a whale which appears to emerge from the River Wear near Pennyferry Bridge– because they missed it last time it appeared in 2015.

Mrs Costello said: “It is fantastic, really it is so good I’m pleased it returned. We’ve been watching the cathedral and thinking how people at home might look over and think it is on fire and when you are next to it feels like it is swaying. I think it looks fabulous and is so good for the city.”

Tony Williams, of Middlesbrough, said: “This is our third time and it is fantastic, the whale is the best of everything, just mesmerising.”

He only wished the public transport home ran beyond 8.30pm, as he had to take the afternoon off work in order to fit everything in before calling it a night.

Lumiere will be open 4.30pm to 11pm until Sunday, November 17 and entry is free. A peak-time ticketing system will operate from 4.30pm to 7.30pm each night for the central peninsula but 26 installations are accessible without a ticket at all times.