Thursday, 23 November 2006

Wylam Railway Bridge: The first of its kind

The Tyne is world renowned for the seven magnificent bridges that cross the river between Newcastle and Gateshead, probably the most famous of these being the enormous steel arch of the Tyne Bridge. This morning I walked from Prudhoe, through the Tyne Riverside Country Park as far as Wylam to visit a less famous forerunner of that iconic bridge.

Wylam Railway Bridge to use its official title, although locally it is variously known as Points Bridge, Hagg Bank Bridge, Half Moon Bridge or Bird Cage bridge, was built in 1876, 52 years before construction of the Tyne Bridge was completed. Its single span design however, marks the bridge out as a direct antecedent of both the Tyne and Sydney Harbour bridges. This innovative design was arrived at, by designer W G Laws, through the necessity of having to avoid building piers in the river bed, under which were shallow mine workings.
Built for the Scotswood, Newburn and Wylam Railway Company at a cost of £16,000 and opening to traffic on October 6th 1876, co-incidentally the same year that saw the completion of another remarkable bridge across the Tyne; William Armstrong’s Swing Bridge at Newcastle, the bridge connected the railway with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway at West Wylam Junction.

The line was closed in 1968 and the bridge later purchased by Northumberland County Council. Restored in 1997 and is now used by pedestrians and cyclists as part of an unbroken footpath and bridleway between Newburn and Ovingham. The bridge makes a stunning site when approached along the riverbank from Prudhoe, situated as it is on an attractive bend in the river, overhung by trees at either end of its span and framed against the sky. This remarkable example of Victorian engineering is completely at home in its environment. You could never look at this bridge and wish it were not there, it fits and it is right.

Wylam Railway Bridge is crossed on Wylam walk 2: Wylam Circular via Horsley, Ovingham and Prudhoe and on Prudhoe Walk 3: Prudhoe to Ovingham via Wylam and Horsley. Spectacular views of the bridge can be had from high above the river on both walks.

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