Alan Anderson, left, with his award, presented by Councillor Neil FosterAuckland Castle park ranger Alan Anderson has been named as the winner of Visit County Durham’s Tourism Superstar 2016 award.

Alan, who has worked as park ranger at the castle in Bishop Auckland for more than 17 years, was revealed as the winner by Councillor Neil Foster at the Visit County Durham annual garden party which was held on Tuesday at Crook Hall in Durham City.

Alan, 63, was nominated by his colleagues because of his warm and engaging personality, as well as his knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication to his job.

As well as tending the estate’s deer park and gardens and his wildlife and conservation work, Alan also runs school holiday activities, and volunteers for additional tasks including as castle ’meet and greet’ and bar manager.

In addition to his in-depth understanding of the parkland’s flora and fauna, Alan has personally developed his knowledge of the park’s fascinating ancient history, which he passes on and brings to life during tours.

Alan, who lives in Bishop Auckland, expressed his delight at scooping the award, saying: “I just want to thank Auckland Castle for putting me forward for the award – it’s a bit unexpected but I’m delighted to win. Thank you to everyone that voted for me”

Ivor Stolliday, chairman of Visit County Durham, said: “The competition is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the very special welcome we offer here in Durham. As ever, the quality of nominations was excellent and all the finalists deserve our congratulations for being incredible ambassadors for Durham. It is all credit to those people working hard to enhance the visitor experience that helps to make our county such a superb place to visit.”

The award, run in partnership with the Northern Echo, was launched in 2014 to unearth the unsung heroes of tourism in Durham.

It recognises the dedication and passion of those working in the tourism industry and is awarded to an individual who goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure visitors have an experience to remember.

Businesses were asked to nominate their superstars and the winner was chosen by a public online vote which received 2,139 votes in total. Alan received 38pc of the vote.

Michelle Gorman, managing director of Visit County Durham, said: “We wish Alan many congratulations on winning his award. He has demonstrated that he goes the extra mile in all that he does in his role – and is clearly a credit to Auckland Castle and Durham.”

The other finalists, in no particular order, were: Richard Darlington of Hall Hill Farm; Tori Goodall of Walworth Castle Birds of Prey; Robert Hillary of Raby Castle; and Gabby Walton of Whitworth Hall Hotel.

The previous two winners of Durham Tourism Superstar, Lilian Groves, tour guide at Durham Cathedral, and Matthew Henderson, of Beamish Museum, went on to win national tourism prizes.