CHESTER'S Olympic Torch relay and a major extravaganza at the racecourse attracted one of the biggest crowds in the city’s long history.
The festivities began shortly before 6pm yesterday when the torch crossed the border at Saltney from North Wales into England – making its North West debut.
Tens of thousands lined the route as the torchbearers wound their way through the city, taking in landmarks including The Groves, Amphitheatre and Eastgate Clock. Early estimates suggest about 60,000 people in total lined the torch relay route and joined the racecourse celebrations.
Cllr Stuart Parker, Cheshire West and Chester Council executive member for culture and recreation, said: “This is a day that Chester will never forget. It seems as though the whole of the North West is here celebrating with us.”
The Town Hall Square was packed to the rafters with a sea of red, white and blue hats, flags, whistles, banners and bam-bams.
The cathedral’s Canon Jane Brook welcomed torchbearer Alexandra Maciver as she rounded St Werburgh Street, while Freeman of the City, Cllr Hilarie McNae, greeted the Torch from the steps of the Town Hall…with a little help from the
Royal Family of Giants. Screams, whistles, clapping and cheering heralded the moment when Alexandra and Olga Shelest’s torches kissed and the procession was completed to the chants of a 12-strong Roman troupe marching their way through the historic city.
At the racecourse Lord Mayor of Chester, Cllr Pam Booher, gave a special welcome to the torch as it completed its final leg courtesy of jockey Jason McGuire and 2011 Chester Cup winner Overturn.
To loud cheers from the thousands of onlookers in the oldest racecourse in the country - and lining the Walls above - they travelled in a steady trot along the track to the rousing theme from Chariots of Fire.
The excitement of the crowd reached fever pitch as Jason dismounted below the stage and sprinted up the steps, proudly holding the torch aloft.
The entire racecourse then counted down to the moment when the flame passed from the torch to the cauldron – broadcast on two giant screens – in a spectacular culmination of the day’s festivities.
The racecourse crowds were entertained to a show which includes 350 local singers and dancers.
And about 500 dancers are taking part in the spectacular finale the ‘Moment When….’ which features professional dance artists and aerialists in a co-production by Cheshire Dance and Walk the Plank.
There will be fireworks, special effects and especially composed music set against a backdrop of the City Walls.