A tour guide from Hall Hill Farm in Lanchester, who is also the Northern Young Farmer of the Year, has been named the winner of Visit County Durham’s Tourism Superstar 2017 award.

Shepherd Richard Darlington, 26, who also works as an activity leader on his family’s award-winning farm, was revealed as the winner yesterday by Visit County Durham chairman, Ivor Stolliday, at the tourism body’s annual garden party at Crook Hall.

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 1,977 votes. Richard received 49pc of the vote and was initially shortlisted for the award for his excellent customer service and for always going the extra mile to give every visitor to the farm a memorable experience.

The family-run tourist attraction, which is the reigning Farm Attraction of the Year, offers the opportunity to get up close to the animals and has provided children and families with an educational and fun day out for over 35 years.

Richard, who is the current holder of the Northern Young Farmer of the Year accolade, in the Northern Farmer Awards, is also involved with developing new attractions at the farm, as well as managing the social media accounts. At lambing time Richard can be seen lambing sheep and giving a commentary, much to the delight of the watching visitors, and also introduced sheep racing – the farm’s most popular event. 

Richard said: “I’m very surprised but delighted to win this award. Being up against finalists from big attractions Beamish Museum and Durham Castle it’s obviously an honour when a small attraction like ours gains recognition. I would just like to thank everyone who voted. It’s been a great year for the farm.”

Ivor Stolliday, chairman of Visit County Durham, said: “The competition is a wonderful way to uncover those individuals working tirelessly in the tourism industry. All the entrants are incredible and act as ambassadors for our county. Durham Tourism Superstar has grown in stature over the years and helps give wider recognition to those people working hard to enhance the visitor experience with that all-important personal touch.”

Michelle Gorman, managing director of Visit County Durham, said: “Richard embodies those star qualities that make him a worthy winner of Durham Tourism Superstar in that he goes the extra mile in all that he does and truly enhances the visitor experience. We congratulate Richard on his award.”

The other finalists, in no particular order, were: Dorothy Carlyon of Beamish Museum and Caitlin Potts of Durham Castle Tours.

Two previous winners of Durham Tourism Superstar, Lilian Groves, tour guide at Durham Cathedral, and Matthew Henderson, of Beamish Museum, went on to win the national Tourism Superstar accolade, while last year’s winner Alan Anderson, of Auckland Castle, also made it to the national finals.