HAYDON Bridge is to say goodbye to one of the village’s stalwarts.

Father Leo Pyle, who has served as the Catholic priest for Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle for 21 years, has decided to retire at the end of the month.

Father Pyle said: “It’s just a question of getting to the stage of being 86, the old frame won’t take it.

“Driving in particular, I’m a menace now! It would be kinder in the long run going now.

“I’m going to live in Hexham so I’m just 10 minutes from the Abbey, and 15 minutes from St Mary’s.

“I’m going to do a bit of reading, perhaps a bit of writing.”

Father Pyle was born into a Catholic family in the west end of Newcastle, but his links with the St John of Beverley Church in Haydon Bridge date back to his childhood, when he was sent to Allendale as an evacuee in 1939.

He added that one of his first memories of the area was walking from Allendale to Haydon Bridge.

He went on to attend a Catholic school in Newcastle and was enrolled at Ushaw College in Durham, where he trained as a priest.

Following his ordination in 1957, he stayed on as a member of staff at the Durham establishment.

Father Pyle, who also studied at Corpus Christi College in London, was appointed the first director of the Diocesan Religious Education Centre in 1967, a role he combined with the chaplaincy of Fenham’s St Mary’s Teacher Training College.

In 1978, he became parish priest at St Cuthbert’s in North Shields, before moving to St Mary’s in Sunderland in 1986 and finally to Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle in 1997.

When asked what message he would like to give to his congregation, Father Pyle said: “It’s a word of great gratitude.

“When the bishop sent me here from Sunderland I couldn’t believe it – being sent to this wonderful county of ours, which I’ve walked pretty much every inch of.

“People told me that coming from Sunderland, where there was a large population and not a patch of grass in sight, I wouldn’t make it here.

“But I’ve always been a country man, I’ve always loved the hills and the mountains.”

Anyone who would like to make a donation towards a leaving gift for Father Pyle can leave donations at the General Havelock, while the Christmas Eve Crib service will see the congregation thank Father Pyle for his service.