The village of Haydon Bridge stands astride the River South Tyne some six miles west of Hexham and 25 west of Newcastle upon Tyne. Today it is a quieter place than it has been for a very long time. In 2009 it became one of the last settlements on the line of the A69 Newcastle to Carlisle road to be bypassed. The main road now curves round to the south of Haydon Bridge, crossing the river to its west.
The centre of Haydon Bridge can be thought of as an inverted "T" shape of roads. Ratcliffe Road runs roughly parallel with the north bank of the River North Tyne and was the route of the A69 until the bypass opened. Here you find the village post office, housed within a Co-Op. Perpendicular to Ratcliffe Road is Church Street, with the Railway Hotel on one corner and The Reading Rooms B&B on the other. Church Street is home to a number of Haydon Bridge's shops, including a pharmacy, a newsagent and an ex-bank.
Church Street is also where you find, as you might expect, the church. St Cuthbert's was built in 1796 and was expanded in 1869 and 1898. Nearly opposite is the rather more modern Haydon Bridge Methodist Church, and completing the triumvirate of churches serving the village and surrounding communities is St John of Beverley RC Church, a little beyond the level crossing at the north end of Church Street. There is also a Wesleyan Chapel on Ratcliffe Road.
The level crossing is there to allow passage of trains along the busy main line between Newcastle and Carlisle, and as a result is closed fairly frequently. The railway arrived in Haydon Bridge in 1836 and it has since been closely associated with the growth of the village. The railway station is immediately to the east of the level crossing, and the line effectively bisects the northern part of the village. When you consider that until 2009 the A69 did the same for the southern side of the village, it becomes clear just how badly carved up the village had been by these through transport links, and how important the A69 bypass was to Haydon Bridge. Despite this it comes as a surprise to hear that the idea of a bypass was fist aired in 1928, a mere 81 years before it actually happened.
The line of Church Street continues to the south beyond Ratcliffe Road across the bridge that gave Haydon Bridge its name. Today this bridge is reserved for pedestrians only, having been replaced for vehicular traffic by a new bridge built a short distance to the east in 1970. The River South Tyne has been bridged here since, at least, 1309, when the "Pontem de Haydon" was referred to in a document, and another document discussed arrangements for its repair in 1336. It seems that the medieval bridge was rebuilt in the 1680s. This later bridge was washed away in the great flood of 1771, and replaced in 1773. Apart from the rebuild of a collapsed arch in 1805 and widening of the roadway in 1824, the bridge you see today is essentially the one built in 1773.
Dominating the southern end of the bridge is the Anchor Hotel, which seems an odd name for a building that is about as far from the sea as you can get in the A69 corridor. This part of Haydon Bridge south of the river appears to have been more important than the northern part until the arrival of the railway drew development north of the river. Indeed, there is some suggestion that the modern core of Haydon Bridge, on the north side of the river, occupies what was originally a gap between two separate settlements.
One of these stood on the south bank of the river, while the other, "Haydon", stood on rising ground to the north of the more modern settlement. The village, whose name may derive from the presence of a farm enclosure, may have had Saxon origins and was certainly thriving during the medieval era. Haydon Old Church was partly restored in the 1880s and is believed to date back to 1190. Other than the church virtually nothing now remains of the old village of Haydon.