Sunday, 22 September 2013

Like Railways, trains, engineering, endeavour, community spirit? Wylam was the place this Saturday.

Yesterday was train central in Wylam. Dwarfed by the mighty Puffing Billy train we all enjoyed both the celebration of the first steam railway engine and so much more: hundreds visited the wonderful railway Museum in Wylam, saw the incredible Elaine Milbourne Dancers, watched the first perfomance of the new silent movie "Just in Time", and witnessed the modern day version of a Waggonway race as the Heddon and Wylam Brownies and Guides fought it out - this time using converted shopping trolleys.
It was an amazing day and full credit to all the organisers, activists, Beamish Museum, supporters, local engineers and the sponsors: special praise to Tom Martin and the Wylam Parish Council, without whom this would not have happened.
If you missed it do not despair: take a drive to Wylam and park your car by the river and walk the waggonway down to George Stephensons cottage. As you do time passes and you are back in tough days, and tough times, where the industrial revolution was formed. William Hedley was the man behind the Puffing Billy [his ancestors were there yesterday!] and his need to haul coal from Wylam Coliery to Lemington Staithes; but the story is linked by the Waggonway that takes you barely a half mile down to the one room in a small cottage where George Stephenson grew up. It is 12 foot by 12. His father, mother and 3 siblings lived there, on the site of the Wylam Waggonway. The hardship and struggle are palpable and humbling. In those days coal was king and life expectancy short. The Puffing Billy train was the transformative engineering breakthrough of its time but Stephenson took the dream and the change a further step. In those days the North East drove the economy of Britain and the coalfields of Wylam and the surrounding area drove that change.
Yesterday Stephensons home was packed with tourists, an incredible local guitar based band played in the grounds and visitors flocked eager to see where so much started. It is a National Trust site and well worth the visit:
The all day celebration of the Puffing Billy train was a testimony to Hedley, and the effort by so many local people. But the legacy lives on Wylam. If you like trains, railways, engineering and a real sense of community this is the pace to visit. It would not be this blog if I did not mention a cracking local pub to visit at the end of your journey and the Boathouse at Wylam will not disappoint -
It has won dozens of awards and is a good place to consider what made this country great; and so much starts in Wylam.