Around a quarter of a million foodies flocked to Bolton for the town’s biggest and best food and drink festival yet.
Organisers are still calculating official visitor figures but they estimate that the numbers will top last year’s 200,000.
Visitors travelled from as far afield as France and came from all across the UK to sample food and drink from 180 traders, and watch top chefs in action.
Bolton Food and Drink Festival finished its four day extravaganza today, when festival favourite, former Saturday Kitchen host James Martin took to the stage.
He revealed exclusively to the packed marquee in Victoria Square that he was filming episodes of a new programme for ITV, in which he travels around France in Citroen 2CV car owned by the late legendary TV chef Keith Floyd.
He said: “Of all the programmes I have made, this is the best. It’s all there – mistakes and all.”
James added that he loved the event and that he only carried out demonstrations at two festivals annually – Bolton and Essex. “This is the biggest and best yet. The people here are fantastic, and I will be back here again next year,” he said.
The festival is organised by Bolton Council, in association with Aldi. Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Cliff Morris, said that the festival had been a huge success.
“Every year we wonder how we can add something to make the event bigger and better and even more special and I can honestly say that this year, the 11th festival, has been just that.
“It is fantastic to see so many happy smiling faces of all ages in the town centre. It is great news that we have topped last year’s visitor numbers – it shows what a brilliant attraction we now have annually. It is without doubt the premier food festival in the North.”
Aldi Logistics Director, Virgil Simpson, added: “We have really enjoyed being headline sponsor for the second year running. This year we have been giving out been samples of all of our amazing products and stocks were exhausted! All in all another fantastic food and drink festival organised by Bolton Council.”
Michael Caines, who launched the festival on Friday, said: “There have been lots of changes and regeneration in Bolton and the food festival is part of this. The Bolton festival has become a must-attend event each year now.”
On Sunday, Bake Off queen Nadiya Hussain delighted the crowds as she cooked recipes and read from a new children’s book to keep the youngsters entertained and inspired. It was her first visit to the festival and she said she had been hugely impressed.
“There’s something about festivals that I love. You think that you’ve seen enough cheese and jam and then you come somewhere (like Bolton) and realise that they’ve done it better,” she said.
Masterchef presenter John Torode entertained audiences on Saturday. He said: “It just gets better and better and when you come back to same place year after year you see the transition and you see how much people enjoy it and have a great time.”
Wine experts Oz Clarke and Kate Goodman shared their expertise with some wine tastings in the newly opened Vaults at the Market Place Shopping Centre. Award-winning wines were supplied by headline sponsor Aldi.
And there was also lots to keep the children occupied, as The Octagon Theatre was transformed into the seaside, complete with a sandy beach and paddling pool and a Mad Science zone in Le Mans Crescent enthralled youngsters with crazy chemistry shows.
Visitors were able to sit in the sun on the bank holiday and enjoy the various open air bars and throughout the weekend 60 live music acts kept the crowds entertained on the Old Pulteney sponsored music stages.
As well as the celebrity chefs, the weekend saw a host of free demonstrations in Bolton Market and the Market Place Shopping Centre Vaults from the likes of Sean Wilson, Andrew Nutter, Manchester House’s Aiden Byrne, and Corrie star Jennie McAlpine – who was served her food heaven and food hell by local chef Michael Harrison.
The University of Bolton also sponsored the festival. Prof George Holmes, University of Bolton Vice Chancellor, said: “As a principal sponsor of the festival, we are delighted that this year's event has been such an amazing success.
“Events like bring people from all over the region – and indeed the rest of the country into our town and we can show them that Bolton is the place to be."
Sarah Lynch from Montpellier in France timed her visit to the UK with the festival. She said: “My two brothers live in Bolton. Every year I see all the photos on Facebook and this year I booked really early to come. I love it, it’s just fantastic.
“I said to my French friends I was coming to a food and drink festival in England and they looked at me like I was mad – I’ve taken loads of photos of all the English products and I’m going to say this is what Britain is all about. I’ll definitely come back.”
Traders were also pleased with the huge amount of visitors. Andrew George, from Icky Sticky Cake, who also did some cookery demonstrations in the market, said: “I can only put down our success to last year’s Food and Drink Festival. In the last 20 months we’ve grown from a very small company to supplying well-known brands.
“We have been busy all through the weekend and it is wonderful to see the town centre so bustling and people having such a great time.”
Amy, from one of the UK’s best loved burger joints Almost Famous, said: “It’s really exciting to be here. We’re good friends with Andrew Nutter, he told us all about it and we knew we had to be a part of it.”
For more information, visit www.boltonfoodanddrinkfestival.com, follow Bolton Food and Drink Festival page on Facebook or @boltonfoodfest on Twitter.
Sponsors are: Aldi; University of Bolton; Market Place Shopping Centre; Stateside Foods, Willmott Dixon and Old Pulteney. Partners are: Arts Council; Bolton College; Bolton Market; KRO; Octagon Theatre; Slattery, and Worsley Park Marriott Hotel and Country Club.