By Glen Robertson
Thousands of people lined the streets of Newton Aycliffe and Middridge as the Olympic torch paid a visit during its North-East leg of the tour.
The 70-day relay is taking in the entire country, with 8,000 torchbearers carrying the flame on its journey to the Olympic Stadium in London.
The Olympics hasn’t been held in this country since 1948 and the folk of Newton Aycliffe and Middridge grasped the opportunity to witness the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In Middridge there were well over 1,000 people, while thousands packed the roads in Aycliffe town centre.
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The torch first went through Middridge, before going into convoy mode on its way to the roundabout outside the Youth Centre, where it was carried by six torchbearers along to the roundabout outside St. Clare’s, under the Blue Bridge and up to the traffic lights at the A167.
Newtonians were actively involved in the relay with Kieran Maxwell, Chris Kerr, Sam Dawson, John McGuckin and Jon Tait carrying the torch in Bishop Auckland, Billingham (x2), Shildon and Stockton respectively, while Woodham CTC student Richie Howe carried it through Darlington.
Kieran, a 13-year-old who lost his left tibia as a result of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, tripped while holding the torch but recovered to complete his stretch to a huge ovation in Bishop Auckland.
An hour later the convoy arrived at Middridge, with high-fiving policemen on motorcycles and various advertisement trucks blaring music warming up the crowd ahead of the flame.
After the first half of the convoy passed, the road was briefly re-opened to allow traffic through, giving the drivers the surreal experience of being cheered by the masses of people as they made their routine journeys.
A passing Durham County Council truck received the second biggest cheer of the day, only being surpassed by the torch itself.
And then the torch went passed, carried by 29-year-old Sam Hollis, a teacher from St. Aidan’s C of E Academy in Darlington.
Aycliffe North Councillor Paul Gittins, who was providing the music for the Fun Family Sports Afternoon on the Village Green, said there was an “amazing atmosphere” in the village.
“It was like a carnival,” he told Aycliffe Today. “The torch attracted a lot of people to the village – there were well over a thousand.
“It was an amazing atmosphere, especially as the torch went passed. And the entertainment at the fun day (provided by the Salvation Army Band, 1st Bishop Middleham Brownie Troop, Aycliffe Dance Academy, Greenfield Dance Group and the Bishop Auckland Theatre Hooligans) was well received.
“Everyone seemed to have a brilliant time.”
The torch then went off to Newton Aycliffe, where it was met by a huge crowd outside the Youth Centre. Torchbearers Dan Stubbings, Kay Stokes, Pauline Nichol, Philippa Stone and Sophie Hughes carried the torch down the 1.4 mile route.
There were people stood in the centre of Burn Lane roundabout and along both sides of Central Avenue.
The fire station station, the library and the Thames Centre were passed, as the crowds cheered, sang and waved their plastic Union Jacks.
The torch carried on up St. Cuthbert’s Way, underneath the Blue Bridge where dozens of people stood to get a bird’s eye view of the torch.
It carried on towards the traffic lights at the end of the road, with people still lining the roads right down to the very end of the route.
Aycliffe Today reporter Ryan Gillham was among the crowds.
“It was a fantastic experience for everyone on the town,” he said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the whole town came out in force.
“The atmosphere was brilliant. It was a real family occasion and everything ran smoothly.”
After Aycliffe, the torch carried on through High Beaumont Hill, Harrogate Hill, Darlington, Stockton and Middlesbrough. In Stockton, Woodham CTC Assistant Head Jon Tait got his ‘moment to shine’ as he took possession of the flame.
The Woodham Warriors Head Coach described the experience as “one of the best days of my life”.
“It was absolutely incredible,” he told Aycliffe Today. “The people of Stockton turned out in their droves.
“It was a truly humbling experience and one of the best days of my life.”
Do you have any pictures from the torch’s visit to the town? If so send them to [email protected]ffetoday.co.uk