THE patriotic crowds greeting the torch for the last leg of its North-East journey created a carnival atmosphere that was compared, by many, to a national event in London.

People started lining the streets of Barnard Castle long before the Olympic torch’s mid-afternoon arrival, turning the County Durham market town into a sea of Union flags, inflatable Olympic flames and batons, and home-made replica Olympic torches.

As 3.14pm approached, the atmosphere reached fever pitch and the torch bearers were greeted with rapturous applause as the Olympic flame passed through Newgate, Galgate, The Bank, Bridgegate, The Sills and Bowes Road, before leaving for Cumbria just before 4pm.

Carrying the torch in Barnard Castle were Angela Whiting, Colin Kennedy, Jack Besford, John Mcbride, Suzy Walker, Lauren Read, author Terry Deary and Tom Hildreth.

Among the thousands of people lining the streets was Judith Risbey, from Winston, near Barnard Castle, who was attending the event with her daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

She said: “I think the atmosphere has been wonderful and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

“I have never seen the town like this. It is amazing how many people have turned out.

“You expect this sort of thing for such festivities in London, but we don’t often get it up here.”

Meanwhile, Jess Thomas, 19, from Barnard Castle, said: “It has been a really exciting day.

“I have seen some people sitting outside cafes since 9am who have stayed in the same place all day waiting for the torch. I have really enjoyed the atmosphere.

Everybody has been in high spirits.”

Her brother, Luke, aged seven, was among the pupils from the town’s Green Lane CofE Primary School taking advantage of the school’s offer of an early finish to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Luke said he had been excited about seeing the torch pass through his hometown for several weeks.

He added: “It was very exciting and heart-warming to see the torch. I don’t think I will ever see it again in my lifetime.”