A CEREMONY in Darlington to mark the arrival of the Tall Ships to the region went off with a bang - quite literally.

Around 7pm on Wednesday night two huge explosions reverberated across the town, causing windows to rattle, birds to scatter and people to run into the street.

Police said they were inundated with calls from concerned members of the public, some of whom feared a house may have exploded.

The source of the huge noise, however, was a ceremonial firework set off at the Head of Steam railway museum on Northgate to mark the arrival of the first ships to Hartlepool.

Initially, The Northern Echo was told it was believed the fireworks had been set off in a nearby park and police were sent to investigate.

A story on the newspapers website, www.thenorthernecho.co.uk, received an almost unprecedented response from readers, both local and further afield, with more than 50 messages added to date.

One person wrote: "I heard the bangs all the way over in Faverdale, sounded like a bomb", another added: "Ive just been told that there has been two house explosions somewhere in the Denes area of Darlington" while someone else suggested the noise could have been caused by solar flares from the sun hitting the earths atmosphere.

The true explanation was a little more straightforward.

A spokesperson for Darlington Borough Council said tonight: "Visit Tees Valley in partnership with the five Tees Valley Authorities arranged a torch-bearing event to mark the arrival of the Tall Ships in Hartlepool.

"A private company provided a firework to mark the exchange of the torch. Similar events were held at locations throughout the Tees Valley.

"The noise was significantly louder than anticipated and officers at the scene took action to notify emergency services of the source of the noise."