THOUSANDS turned out to cheer as Weymouth and Portland prepares to host the Paralympic Sailing events.

The English Flame toured the borough yesterday, beginning its journey in Portland , and travelling to the resort on the MV Freedom boat, where it was met by crowds of tourists and locals.

The arrival of the Flame marks the start of the programme of events designed to welcome the Games to the area.

Young Ambassador Maria Lochrie, 19, carried the Flame, contained in a small miner’s lamp, from Portland Castle across the waters where the sailing events will take place, to Weymouth.

She said: “It was really cool to carry the Flame. I wasn’t expecting so many people, but it was definitely a great experience.”

Maria was nominated for her work with children in respite care.

Staff from HMS Bulwark were also on hand to welcome the Flame to Portland and escort it along Castletown Jetty to the MV Freedom.

Mayor of Portland Sylvia Bradley, said: “It has been fantastic, and it’s wonderful for the people of Portland, who have all been so welcoming.

“For me, the Paralympians are so special, because they have to work that little bit harder, and the work they put in is incredible.”

Onlookers had time to pose with the Flame before it was taken to Weymouth where it was greeted at the Ferry Steps near the Pavilion.

Miss Lochrie handed the Flame to Ambassadors Ian White, of Southill , and Dave Wallis, of Weymouth, who jointly carried it on the Sea Life land train.

Cheering crowds lined the Esplanade as the train journeyed to the King’s Statue and back to the ICCI Dome, where it was given an official welcome and put on public display.

The pair travelled to London on Friday to collect the Flame from Trafalgar Square.

Mr White, who has been disabled since suffering from polio, described the atmosphere as ‘just brilliant’.

The 64-year-old, who decorated his wheelchair with Union flags for the occasion, said: “It’s just impossible to describe, everyone was coming up wanting their pictures taken.

“That is really what I call supportive, and it’s something I will remember for a long time.”

He added: “It was an honour to carry the Flame, and I hope I did the people of Weymouth and Portland proud.”

Mr Wallis, who is visually impaired, said: “I was just staggered by the amount of people who turned out.

“It was amazing, I felt like a celebrity, and everyone was so supportive.

“I’d like to thank the people who organised everything. They did really well.”

The celebrations did not stop as the Flame arrived at the Pavilion, with an official welcome by Sir Anthony Jolliffe, Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset, and Mayor of Weymouth and Portland Margaret Leicester.

Fans queued outside the ICCI Dome as the Flame was put on display, and events came to an explosive end with a firework display in Weymouth Bay last night.

The Flame will continue on to Stoke Mandeville where it will be reunited with three other Flames to form the Paralympic Flame. This will then be transported by relay to the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games n London on Wednesday.

Coun Leicester said: “I am delighted that the borough is hosting the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing events. There are lots of activities for people to enjoy in what promises to be a fantastic celebration of sporting achievement, creativity, accessibility and plenty of fun.”

* TOURISTS and locals alike turned out to cheer on the Flame on its journey throughout the borough.

Jane Wheeler, from Milton Keynes, said: “I am visiting just for the weekend, and I missed the Olympic torch so it’s nice to see this.”

Gavin Parsons, from Cambridge, said: “We are on holiday and knew the Paralympics would be going on whilst we were here, so I was keen to bring my son, Harry, to see it.

Harry, aged seven, said: “The Flame was really good. Sailing is my favourite sport so I can’t wait to watch the events in Weymouth.”

Lyn Sweet, from Milton Keynes, said: “I’m surprised by how many people are here, but it’s lovely that the Flame has brought so many out.”