Hundreds line Leek streets to salute Olympic gold medallist Anna Watkins
OLYMPIAN Anna Watkins made a triumphant return to her home town following her success at London 2012.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Leek to get the chance to see the 29-year-old rower as she came back to the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Anna, a former Westwood College pupil, won a gold medal at London 2012 in the women's double sculls, with team-mate Catherine Grainger.
Despite the national attention she has attracted since her win, Anna was overwhelmed by the reception she received in Leek.
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She said: "It was absolutely incredible. I don't have the words to describe how I felt when I saw how many people were there.
"It brought it home to me in a way that things that have happened in London couldn't. It meant the world to me that everybody came out. It's a day I will treasure forever. When people ask me what my highlight has been since I won, I will be able to say this was."
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and Leek Town Council joined forces to organise Saturday's celebration of her achievement.
The event started with Anna, who comes from Longsdon, near Leek, taking a tour of the town centre in a vintage Rolls Royce.
Setting off from Moorlands House in Stockwell Street, she took in Buxton Road, Springfield Road, Ashbourne Road, Haywood Street, Russell Street and Derby Street, where her golden post box is situated.
She was accompanied by the 5th Leek and District Scout and Guide Band and 15-year-old athlete Rebecca Higton, from Cauldon Lowe, who carried an Olympic relay torch.
Anna then took to the stage in Market Place to greet her adoring public and receive a civic welcome from district council chairman Stephen Ellis, district council leader Sybil Ralphs and Leek Mayor Pam Wood.
Addressing the crowds, Anna recalled her early sporting years swimming at Brough Park, running at Birchall playing fields, and playing hockey and netball for her school.
She then left the stage to pose for photos and sign autographs.
Pat Shenton, from Springfield Court, Leek, was pleased to get her signature.
The 67-year-old said: "It is marvellous to see what she has become and she's a wonderful role model."
Martin Blades, from Willow Drive, Cheddleton, took his three-year-old son Charlie to see Anna's return after they watched her in the heats at Eton Dorney.
The 40-year-old said: "It was absolutely fantastic being there for the heats and, although we didn't see the gold medal race, it's great to say we saw her rowing at the London Olympics."
Anna, whose parents Richard and Caroline coach at North Staffordshire Rowing Club at Rudyard, took bronze in Beijing and remains undefeated since teaming up with Grainger in 2010.
Speaking about her childhood in Leek, Anna said: "It stood me in good stead because I had so many lovely opportunities and good people helped me along the way."
"Being surrounded by a warm and a caring community made me the person I am and prepared me to do the things I've gone on to do."
Mum Caroline, who teaches at Westwood College, said: "I was quite moved when I saw all the people who had turned out to support Anna. I know she was thrilled."