The first walk of our new 2019 ‘Local Heroes’ Programme was based in and around the village of Wylam in the Tyne Valley. There are rich pickings for local heroes in this corner of Northumberland, you can barely walk a mile without stumbling across references to an eminent engineer, railwayman or steam pioneer.
Starting off in the excellent, but well hidden, Riverside Country Park car park we walked up the main road to St Oswin’s church; the only church in Northumbria dedicated to this important local king from the 7th Century.
From here we walked back down into the village, passing by the site of the family home of early railway engineer William Hedley before descending to a woodland walkway that was one a railway line. This lovely tree lined pathway is much used by locals for dog walking, cycling and running and the traffic is probably greater than in its steam heyday!
The path leads us to the spectacular Wylam Railway Bridge spanning the Tyne at this bend in the river. An elegant wrought iron arch that is redolent of its more well-known descendants the Tyne Bridge and Syndey Harbour Bridge, the Wylam Bridge was built in 1876 to carry a local branch line but is now a pleasant footbridge with spectacular views.
Retracing our footsteps, we headed back though the village allotments that occupy the area that was once an old colliery. This part of the UK was riddled with small scale coal mines in the early 19th century and this area was the site of the Wylam Colliery (Haugh Pit). Continuing past the vibrant local sports field we returned to the centre of the village and crossed the 1836 road bridge to eye up on of the world’s oldest working railway stations (see first picture).
Returning across the bridge we linked up again with the wooded former railway line, walking due East to George Stephenson’s cottage.
This tiny house was shared with three other families and was Stephenson’s childhood home from 1781. Climbing up a farm track we passed through a cluster of stylishly converted before rejoining the houses of Wylam via a scrubby woodland and retraced our steps to the car park.