THOUSANDS flocked to “the best food festival in the UK”.

The 14th year of the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival saw appearances from celebrity chefs including James Martin and dozens of stalls lined the town centre.

The sun often shone with short showers not deterring the crowds in a packed and buzzing high street, with live music, cooking demonstrations and children’s events.

Dorset chef and festival patron Lesley Waters helped declare the event open on the balcony of the mayor’s parlour and was among the chefs in the demonstration marquee.

“It’s an incredible food and wine festival,” she told the crowd at the opening.

“It has to be the best food and wine festival in the UK, without a doubt.”

Wild boar sausages, speciality chocolate and dishes from the Mediterranean and the rest of the world were available at the Festival Market.

And Round Table members from Christchurch’s German twin town of Aalen arrived with German beer to sell for charity.

The Ship was one of the pubs showcasing their wares outside, with scallops among the dishes on show.

Dan Pestell, head chef, said the festival gets bigger every year.

He said: “The atmosphere is always good and it’s good fun.”

Estimations put the number of visitors at more than 70,000 over the weekend with crowds 10 people deep around the marquee for James Martin, and good numbers for local chefs too.

Mary Reader, founder and president of the festival, was proud of all the different parts of the festival, including seeing the Kids’ Kitchen at the Priory School.

She said: “We are very happy to see it all come into fruition.

“We’ve made changes to make the whole experience even better by opening up Druitt Gardens and having the artisan market too.”

The Festival Market ended yesterday but the festival continues until May 19.