William and Kate head for Calgary

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After a whirlwind week charming the Canadian public, Prince William and Catherine were to arrive in Calgary on Thursday for rodeo chuck wagon races and bull riding.

At this last stop on their nine-day tour of Canada and first official foreign trip together since tying the knot in May, the duke and duchess of Cambridge will take in the city's annual Stampede rodeo, billed as "the greatest outdoor show on Earth."

The festival and agricultural exhibition harkens back to the lonesome cowboys of the West riding the open ranges, attracting one million spectators annually to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

William and Catherine are expected to don white, broad-rimmed cowboy hats made locally from rabbit fur, and blue jeans for a rodeo-themed dinner with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who calls this city home when he is not running the country from its capital Ottawa.

In the morning, the couple will ride in the Stampede opening parade with 850 "parade-broke" horses, bands and floats, cowboys and clowns, and local Woodland Cree, Chipewyan, Blackfoot, Blood and Peigan tribesmen in traditional regalia with their beaded horses.

More than 300,000 well-wishers are expected along the parade route downtown on Friday, according to officials.

Some royal fans have been camping out in tents and sleeping bags since Tuesday hoping for a glimpse of the couple.

Calgary has also handed out some 5,600 wristbands giving locals access to two areas which William and Catherine will visit on Thursday. Some of them could be found for sale on the Internet for hundreds of dollars.

"I absolutely adore Will and Kate," Katrina Bowman, who scored a free wristband, told the Calgary Sun. "I was up all night watching their wedding in April and I just knew I had to see them when they came to Calgary."

Before arriving in the city, William and Catherine briefly escaped to a secret romantic hideaway in the stunning Rocky Mountains far from the madding crowds.

The young newlyweds left Slave Lake in northern Alberta Wednesday after touring the devastation caused by forest fires in mid-May that razed 400 homes and businesses in Canada's second-costliest disaster.

Stealing a few precious hours alone, the royal couple were not due to reappear in public in front of the ever-present media cameras and welcoming crowds until later Thursday.

The duke and duchess of Cambridge had broken with their original plan to spend a day alone to visit those hit by the forest fires.

But returning to their program, they gave their media entourage the slip late Wednesday, heading to a destination that was kept a closely guarded secret, leaving journalists and locals guessing.

Top on the list of possible getaways is Chateau Lake Louise dubbed "the most romantic setting in Alberta" -- a castle-like hotel that has been a favourite stop for royal visitors dating as far back as 1912 when Edward, prince of Wales, hiked the nearby peaks.

William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has also visited the vast hotel nestled on the shores of the picturesque Rocky Mountain lake.

The lake is also named after Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of William's famous ancestor Queen Victoria.

But local residents said there had been no sign of any heightened security, and remained sceptical that the young couple, who are both 29, were in their midst.

"If they were staying here, people would have been running around like crazy, going nuts. I haven't seen any of that," Rachel, an employee at one of the retail shops at Chateau Lake Louise, told the Calgary Herald.

"It would be exciting if they were to come here, but there's no back door to this place. No secret entrance that I know of," she added.

Reports suggested that the couple landed by helicopter, after they made an unofficial stop in Calgary late Wednesday and were seen getting onto a chopper.

Other rumours suggested that William and Catherine could be snuggled up in a wooden cabin called Skoki Lodge about a dozen kilometers (seven miles) from Lake Louise.

Another favourite was Lake O'Hara Lodge, surrounded by beautiful alpine meadows and only accessible by one road, while other suggestions included Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, a 16-room retreat beside Bow Lake, and the Morraine Lake Lodge near Lake Louise.

The couple leave Canada on Friday after a visit to Calgary's zoo, and head for Los Angeles for a three-day visit to the US West Coast state of California.

© 2011 AFP

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