TRANSATLANTIC pen-pals – one from the North-East, one from North Carolina – have met in person for the first time after almost 50 years of correspondence.

Linda Welsh, from Darlington, started writing to Kathy Wall in 1968, when both were primary school age.

But what began as as school project blossomed into a lifelong friendship, with the pair exchanging hundreds of letters as the years and decades ticked by.

They had planned to meet many times before but ‘life got in the way’.

When Mrs Welsh discovered earlier this year that she had inoperable cancer, meeting up in person became a priority.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago and had been in remission, until leg pains earlier this year turned out to be a tumour in her pelvis.

Ms Wall arrived for her first visit to the UK last week and the two ladies came face-to-face amid much hugging and emotional scenes at Darlington railway station.

She has already enjoyed sampling several authentic British experiences, including traditional fish and chips, visits to York and Durham, as well as a Church of England service at St Cuthbert's, Darlington, on Sunday.

She is heading back to the US on Wednesday (August 13), but the friends will remain in touch via Skype and Facebook.

Although modern communication methods make the ladies feel closer than ever, they still exchange the occasional card and letter for old time's sake.

Mrs Welsh is optimistic she will be well enough to make a return trip to the States in time for her 60th birthday next year.

Although they only recently met, the old friends are completely at ease in one another's company and say there have been no awkward lulls in conversation.

Asked about the longevity of their pen-friendship, Mrs Welsh said: "We just always seemed to get on in our letters, we really clicked all through our lives.

"Kathy got married and had two children, I got married and had three children, we've both got grandchildren."

Their conversations have evolved from comparing notes about boys, bands and hairstyles to more mature topics like marriage, families and careers.

Mrs Welsh is on sick leave from her job at F Hinds jewellers, in Darlington town centre, where she has spent 14 years, while Ms Wall runs a marketing and PR firm in her home city of Lexington.