Kate Middleton welcomed by crowds in North East solo visit

Catherine was greeted by crowds in Newcastle

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Crowds gathered to welcome the Duchess of Cambridge as she toured the north east of England to carry out a string of solo engagements.

The duchess was without Prince William, who pulled out to attend the funeral of his former nanny.

Hundreds cheered her in Newcastle as she arrived to meet Olympic volunteers.

Later the duchess met families involved in an addiction programme in Stockton-on-Tees, where she was greeted by about 2,000 well-wishers.

Catherine, dressed in a burgundy coat, was welcomed to Tyneside by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle Jackie Slesenger.

One of the first people to greet her was 14-year-old William Hardy, from Newcastle, who carried the Olympic torch through part of the city.

Duchess in community garden The duchess visited a community garden at Elswick Park in Newcastle

After contracting meningitis when he was 23 months old, both of his legs and part of his left arm had to be amputated.

Northumbria University students Megan Bartle, 20, Jemima Edwards, 20, and Georgie Anderson, 21, arrived early to get a good vantage point.

Miss Bartle, from Darlington, said: "She is such a brilliant role model and a true inspiration. She also carries herself beautifully, but is modest and at ease with the public.

"I like the way she mixes designer clothes with high street fashion and almost as if she is saying, 'I don't think I'm better than you'."

At the scene

Despite the frost, a crowd of about 500 royal fans turned out to greet the Duchess of Cambridge on her first visit to Tyneside.

Young and old lined the barriers, excitedly waving flags as the young duchess dressed in a burgundy coat and knee-high black boots came out of Newcastle's Civic Centre to cheers of "We love you Kate".

Despite the short route, the duchess was in no hurry and took her time shaking hands and talking to fans, pausing long enough to let them take shots on their mobile phones.

At one point, an over-excited young woman shouted: "I'm obsessed with you Kate" to a big laugh from the crowd.

But the duchess was not fazed by the over-zealous adoration and warmly greeted her fan before moving on.

Mercy Scott, 67, and her friend Margaret Shiever, 66, who got the bus from Cramlington, are life-long royal fans and were disappointed Prince William had to miss out at the last minute.

Mrs Scott said: "We understand though, why William isn't here and seeing Kate in person is brilliant. She is so beautiful and good natured and will make a good queen.

"We travelled down to the palace last year to see Kate's wedding dress - it was exquisite and the lace was beautiful."

The duchess continued by meeting community groups and schoolchildren in Elswick Park, Newcastle.

She was greeted by 200 children and members of the public who were waving flags and cheering. Some of the children also passed her gifts, including flowers and jam.

Catherine was shown around a community garden and helped plant some seeds before continuing through the park. A plaque was then unveiled and a girl from a local school presented the duchess with a bouquet of flowers.

The park is protected under the Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge, which seeks to protect and create hundreds of playing fields across the country.

Duchess receiving flowers The duchess received flowers from Lola Mackay, two, in Stockton

The community garden was set up in 2009 to give girls and young women the chance to learn how to grow vegetables and plants.

Catherine concluded her visit to the region in Stockton-on-Tees, where the charity Action on Addiction, which has the duchess as its patron, helps families where a parent has an addiction.

After spending 20 minutes at the CRI Stockton Recovery Service, the duchess left a "message of hope" on the centre's Tree of Recovery.

CRI Stockton team leader Tracey Harrison said Catherine quickly put everyone she met "at ease"

"She said it was lovely to be here and that she was looking forward to finding out more about what we do," Ms Harrison said.

Alasdair MacConachie, the vice lord lieutenant of County Durham, said the duchess appeared confident.

"She was amazing and this was her first event on her own," he said.

"Everyone has been waiting for this very important event. I met her at her arrival by helicopter at Grangefield School and they were all amazing.

"They were all fantastically turned out and a credit to Stockton."

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