YOUNG and old alike descended on a County Durham village to observe its annual Shrove Tuesday tradition.

Shrouded in secrecy but always well attended, hundreds of people from burly men to toddlers turned out to take part in the annual Sedgefield Ball Game.

The game has been going on for hundreds of years and sees a traditional leather ball passed through the bull ring on the green three times by a chosen elder.

This year the responsibility fell to David Mortimer, who carried out the traditional duty before the game got underway.

There is only one aim of the game: to kick the ball and often sees grown men wrestling with each other wherever it lands.

But although it may not look like a gentlemanly sport, everyone abides by an unspoken rule to back off as soon as a young child wants to have a go.

Several youngsters, many still in their parent's arms, took part this year, including two-year-old Freddie, who enthusiastically threw the ball for the first time while being held by his mother.

Each year, the ball is stolen, supposedly by rival villagers, but the interlude provides a welcome opportunity for the players to enjoy a few beers.

The ball is returned several hours later and again passed through the ring three times to determine the winner.

Sedgefield Police acting sergeant John Seymour said: "It's lovely to see everyone out and it's reasonably well attended. There's a real family focus and people are getting into the spirit of it."

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The game was set off by resident David Mortimer and his wife Elaine.

Angela Bannister and Dorothy Anderson have watched the game for decades and both set it off in the past.

Mrs Bannister said it was great to see it going strong and they had had a kick.