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Thousands in Blackburn greet royal couple
2:30pm Monday 11th April 2011 in Royal Wedding news
Prince William and Kate Middleton have finished their three-hour visit to East Lancashire.
The couple met sporting youngsters at the Witton Park in Blackburn this afternoon after earlier officially opening the Darwen Aldridge Academy.
The torrential rain that greeted their earlier visit to Darwen gave way to clear skies as the royal couple arrived in Witton Park at just after 1.15pm.
They chatted to dignitaries when they first arrived and were watched by large crowds lined up on the other side of a running track.
Kate was given the honour of starting a 100-metre race and held up a flag and let it drop to give the teenage female athletes their cue.
The pair walked around the track, speaking to some of athletes and waved the crowds.
Miss Middleton looked down the track as the runners sprinted towards them, then stepped back as they flashed past.
William clapped as they jogged to a halt and the winner came up to the couple to collect her medal from Kate, who in a warm gesture touched the teenager briefly on the shoulder while the royal shook her hand.
The prince and Miss Middleton went on to meet all the runners and a group of teenage boys also dressed in their athletics kit.
David Barnett, 36, from Samlesbury, stood under a tree cradling his daughters Caitlin, seven, and Grace, four.
"I want to go home, daddy!" his youngest cried.
Mr Barnett, a tool maker, said: "It was my idea to come, I dragged the kids along and my wife dropped us off and has gone shopping.
"But we thought we had missed it all with the amount of people coming away when we arrived.
"The conditions are just abysmal."
Natalie Sailor, 16, from Lancaster, was the winning sprinter in the race, and was presented with a medal from the couple to commemorate their visit.
Miss Sailor, a student at Our Ladies RC College who trains with Blackburn Harriers athletics club, said: "It was very nice to meet them. They asked me if I preferred 100 or 200 metre races.
"Kate looked very, very pretty."
Holly Bleasdale, 19, from Euxton, a pole vaulter hoping to compete for Great Britain in the London Olympics, also spoke to the couple.
"William was asking me about how my training was going, I train 12 times a week," she said.
"It was really nice to meet them and an honour really."
The couple had earlier spoken to youngsters taking part in a football skills session with the help of local Premier League club Blackburn Rovers.
Miss Middleton was presented with a small posy of flowers while William asked the children which team they supported.
To shouted replies of "Liverpool", "Rovers" and "Man United", the prince enquired: "Any Aston Villa fans here?
"No? Oh well, it was worth a try," he said with a smile.
William was then introduced to Paul Robinson, goalkeeper for Rovers, who was stood alongside the children.
The footballer told him: "I think they have got some big ideas about you going in goal for them."
William and Kate also delighted disabled youngsters taking part in cycling activities, with the prince at one stage sitting on a four-wheel bike.
After the track and field events the couple responded to shouts from the crowd five deep behind barriers lining the athletics track, imploring them go and say hello.
Most of the shouts, and it appears most of the interest from the crowd of mainly mothers and young daughters, was towards Miss Middleton.
Sue Barker, from Preston, had brought her nieces Madison, six, and Vienna, eight, to catch a glimpse of Miss Middleton - and got to shake her hand and say hello.
"I brought the children because they are doing about them in school at the moment," Ms Barker said.
"Kate asked the kids if they were keeping dry under their macs. We are all soaked to the skin but it was worth it.
"Kate is beautiful."
Yards away William laughed and joked with the crowd. One woman begged him to turn around and wave towards the other end of the park, where she said a group of schoolchildren, "cold and frozen", had made a big banner and were waiting to see him.
William turned around, looked into the distance and replied: "OK, waving away, waving away! Say hello to them from me."
Paul Ratcliffe and Josie Weeks had travelled from Pudsey, West Yorkshire, and both presented Miss Middleton with red roses, because she was in the Red Rose county.
"It's nice to see them and wish them all the best for the future," Mr Ratcliffe he said.
"I just gave her roses to welcome her and to say what wonderful news it is about their wedding. She said it was nice to be spoilt like this."
Ms Weeks added: "She is stunning isn't she? He's a lucky fellow, but mind you, so is she. They are both lucky to have each other. And even the sun came out at the end."
Sharon Mercer, from Blackburn, took her three children to the event, Hayden, aged six, Matthew, 13, and four-year-old Emily and the family spoke to both William and Miss Middleton.
Mrs Mercer said: "Emily said to Kate that she had a princess dress and wanted to be a princess when she grows up.
"Kate said there are a lot of children with princess dresses and told Emily she had a smiley face.
"We can't wait to watch the wedding on TV."
Click on the link below for our report from the royal visit to Darwen and photos.