THEIR fine headwear could be seen first above the seats of crowded trains and shuttle buses heading for York's Knavesmire racecourse.

Bright pink plumes and tiny, feathered headpieces nodded and bobbed in excitement as their owners prepared to show off their finery for the Royal Ascot fashion parade, otherwise known as Ladies Day.

Former Newcastle United footballer Brian Kilcline and his wife, Lynn, had travelled from Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire and were among the first to arrive.

The pair were heading for the Royal Enclosure, Brian with his trademark long hair platted under his top hat, and Lynn wearing a full-length, layered creation of her own design in russet and burnt gold.

"The hat I made myself, but there's also a couple of girls who help me to carry out my mad ideas," she laughed.

"I always build in lots of layers so I can take them off or on depending on the weather."

Someone else who knew about the weather was Channel Five weathergirl Lara Lewington.

"I went to Ascot last year and wore a big sunshine hat, but I didn't want to wear weather-themed this time," she said, fingers touching her colourful headwear.

"I like to go for something big, bold and that doesn't fall apart when it starts raining."

BBC Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd looked resplendent in black and hot pink with a beautiful headpiece by Clare Missey of Horsforth, West Yorkshire.

"She wanted to make something really outrageous so I thought I'd just go with it," said Christa, smiling. "If it manages to stay on my head it will be great."

Elsewhere groups of women began arriving with grins as wide as their brims. For them, the preparation had taken months - the selection of coordinating outfits, the hair and nail appointments and the fake tan - and there was plenty of fake tan.

All were intent on having a good time, and showing their southern counterparts that they knew how to present themselves at this traditional event - although sometimes it was hard to contain the excitement.

"We're all so excited, we're like kids in a sweetshop," said Marie Billau, of Darlington, who was wearing an eye-catching dress in ruffles of orange, lemon and gold bought at Leggs in the town. "I'm absolutely loving it."

Marie had gone to the Knavesmire with four friends and a day of champagne drinking and betting lay ahead.

"It's better than Christmas morning," said her friend, Michelle Parker.

Others gleaned just as much enjoyment from watching behind the rails to the Royal Enclosure. Arthur and Pat Haigh and friends Robert and Lesley Chippendale had come from Bradford, camcorders at the ready.

"We just enjoying watching it from here, seeing everybody come in," said Arthur.

Aside from the Royals, the celebrity watchers had to be satisfied with the odd Emmerdale and Heartbeat star, with many of the Premiership footballers and pop stars appearing to stay away.

Heartbeat actress Tricia Penrose was in fine mood, however, and looked fabulous in a rose print dress by Karen Millen with a peach pashmina.

"The pashmina's from Tie Rack actually," she laughed, pulling it around her tanned shoulders.

"I love racing at York, we come here all the time because we have a box."

Unlike previous Ladies Days, there appeared to be a lack of novelty-inspired headwear this year, apart, perhaps, from animal rights campaigner Claudia Tarry of Kent, who sported a funereal-looking hat with a fallen horse to raise awareness about the number of horses killed through racing.

Milla Stanojevic, 23, also secured novelty status in her five-ringed number promoting London's Olympic Games bid.

"I want the Olympics to be held in London and so a friend of mine made it," said Milla proudly in a thick Serbian accent.

Hat designer Tracy Rose, from London, who caused a stir earlier this week in her colourful stripey dress and matching hat, also shone yesterday in pale pink and blue headwear and a matching dress slashed across the thigh.

"I think each look I've had has been different," she said, which was something of an understatement. "But all my looks are quite feminine and have lots of colour."

Colour was everywhere. Cerise pink and black proved to be a winner along with burnt oranges, aquas and sea greens. Black and white was also a powerful combination. Other trends saw stylish headpieces in place of huge-brimmed hats.

It was not all about fashion successes either. Tattoos could be seen peeking above shoulder straps and on some otherwise delicately-clad ankles. One girl with alabaster skin wore an emerald-coloured dress slashed to the navel and cropped at the thigh. Less was definitely not more there.

But the majority enjoyed their day with aplomb. Julie O'Donnell, who was sitting on a bench with friends Margaret Coast and her daughter, Mary, all from Leeds summed up the day.

"We're used to going down South to Ascot and so they should come up here," said Julie.

"This is the nicest racecourse I've been to. The weather may not have been perfect, but it's been a lovely day. I've loved every minute of it."