A BEER drinkers paradise opened in Darlington last night with an estimated 4,000 pints of real ale and ciders expected to be downed by Sunday evening.

Darlington Camra - the Campaign for Real Ale - is staging its festival alongside the 16th annual Spring Thing folk festival at Darlington arts centre in Vane Terrace.

Local members are providing liquid refreshment for musicians, dancers and visitors to the event.

But organisers stress that admission to the beer hall is open to everyone, folk fans or not, absolutely free of charge.

Mr Ian Jackson, Camra branch chairman, said: "We have a huge choice, more than at any comparable event that we are aware of: no fewer than 45 British and Irish real ales served straight from the cask, special bottled beers from Europe, plus gallons of farmhouse cider and perry (pear cider).

"We have scoured the country for interesting and rare beers from some of the best craft brewers around. There are tastes and names to tickle the palate and imagination."

Beers include delights such as Wallop from Devon, Bedlam Bitter from Picks (Accrington), Cornish Knocker from Skinners (Cornwall), Humpty Dumpty from Norfolk and Seasonal Daze from Castle Rock (Nottingham).

Mr Jackson added: "In recognition of the St Patrick's celebrations over the same weekend we will have a trio of ales from the tiny Dwan brewery in the Republic of Ireland, including their strong An Dubhain stout."

Local North-East and North Yorkshire breweries will include Big Lamp, Darwin, Durham, High Force, Mordue and Swaled Ale.

The festival runs from until Sunday; opening times: today, noon-3pm and 6pm-11.30pm; tomorrow, 11.30-11.30; Sunday, noon-4pm