Prince William and Kate Middleton visit Lancashire

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Prince William and Kate Middleton were greeted by thousands of well-wishers in Lancashire on their final public engagement before their wedding.

The couple received a warm welcome from crowds of up to 15,000 who had come to see them at Witton Country Park, in Blackburn, on Monday afternoon.

Earlier they visited Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, where Prince William formally opened the new school.

Rain failed to dampen people's spirits and the couple were cheered on arrival.

The prince led the way, waving to the public.

Miss Middleton, who was wearing a navy blue jacket and skirt, was a few paces behind him sheltering from the rain under a black umbrella.

The downpours had stopped by the time the prince and his fiancee arrived at the sports pavilion in Witton Country Park.

They chatted to dignitaries when they first arrived and were watched by large crowds lined up on the other side of a running track.

Miss Middleton started a girls' 100m race, holding up a flag and letting it drop to give the teenage athletes their cue.

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.

Image caption,
Kate Middleton greeted the crowd at Witton County Park, Blackburn

"Kate looked very, very pretty."

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 the prince asked the children which team they supported.

They shouted "Liverpool", "Rovers" and "Man United", and the prince asked: "Any Aston Villa fans here?

"No? Oh well, it was worth a try," he said.

At Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, the royal couple met staff and young people before the launch of the SkillForce Prince's Award.

The prince is patron of the education charity. From summer 2012, it will present the new honour to teenagers who show significant character or make a major contribution to the community.

Brendan Loughran, principal of the academy, said: "We want all our students to aim high - Prince William and Catherine's visit will inspire them to aim even higher."

The academy, jointly funded by the Aldridge Foundation and the Department for Education, opened in September 2008.

It moved into new buildings in the centre of Darwen in September 2010.

Last summer, it was one of the most improved schools in the country with a 26% increase in the number of students securing five or more A*-C GCSE grades, including English and Maths GCSE.

The couple visited pupils in their classes in design and technology, physical education and dance and music.

Meeting the young dancers, Miss Middleton said: "Very good, I'm very impressed."

In a speech at the academy, the prince said he had been greeted with a "warm, Lancastrian welcome".

He said: "I know that I am very fortunate. I have the support of my family and friends, I do a job I enjoy... and I have Catherine.

"But I have learnt through working with some truly inspiring charities - none more so than SkillForce - that these things can never be taken for granted.

"SkillForce captures for me so much of what I admire about my grandfather's Duke of Edinburgh Awards and my father's Prince's Trust, which have both (given) me an inspiring and slightly daunting example to follow."

The couple spent 10 minutes meeting more people before setting off for Witton Park.

Linda Gregson, 52, of Darwen, waited for two-and-a-half hours in the rain with son Mitchell, 15, but said it was "absolutely worth the wait".

She added: "I'm so excited. I told her we are going down to London for their wedding and she said she hoped it was a nicer day for us."

Miss Middleton apologised for the weather to six-year-old Lola Baron, from Blackburn, who had made a "Good Luck Kate" card which had got wet in the rain.

Prince William and Miss Middleton are due to marry at Westminster Abbey on 29 April.

Since announcing their engagement last year, the pair have met well-wishers in Anglesey in North Wales, visited their former university - St Andrews in Fife, Scotland - and flown to Belfast.

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