Monday, 16 November 2009

The Beauty of Berwick Upon Tweed

‘The Beauty of Berwick Upon Tweed’

By Harry Riley

Over thirty years ago we took a family holiday in Northumberland and whilst there decided to spend a day on Lindisfarne (Holy Island)

On arrival at the causeway-crossing the tides were against us and there was to be a two-hour delay. We were only a twenty-minute drive from Berwick Upon Tweed so we thought we could wander around England’s most northerly town to fill up the time. Little did we know as we parked up in the centre of this fascinating coastal market town that it would be the start of a life-long journey of discovery. We had no idea what to expect as we popped into the tourist information centre to obtain a simple town map.

The air was bracing and the sky was a clear sunny blue as we sauntered along the wide footpaths of the grassy, Elizabethan Walls, now in the care of English Heritage…admiring ancient cannons (one from the Crimean War) and spectacular sea views over the cliffs.

The historic town of Berwick Upon Tweed is situated at the mouth of the River Tweed (a famous salmon river) where it joins the sea at the end of its winding path through the glorious Scottish Border Country. So absorbing was this rugged land with its ruined castles and troubled history hiding under every stone and grassy knoll that we would return annually for extended holidays, culminating in the purchase of a second home in a little village called Norham, nestling on the banks of the River Tweed and only eight miles from Berwick.

Berwick has three bridges spanning the river and has been fought over many times by the English and Scots including being taken by the great Scottish hero: William Wallace.

One of his limbs was gruesomely displayed, hanging from the old bridge after his execution…as a warning to all. Berwick remains an English town for the present at least.

Our walk around the outer perimeter of the town took us less than two hours but was surprisingly relaxing…quiet and invigorating with an indefinable atmosphere of welcoming peacefulness away from the hustle and bustle of the busy A1 motorway traffic which at that time ran through the town centre. We passed the Cromwellian Holy Trinity Church, said to be built from the stones of Berwick Castle, and the imposing Barracks of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers with its fine regimental museum and on towards the lighthouse, the Main Guard and the old Quay Walls. We were now approaching Palace Green wher the Military Governor one lived and we could see across the harbour to the golden holiday sands of Spittal…once famous for its health giving Spa Wells. On our right was the large decorative crest over the old Customs House, reminder of Berwick’s important maritime past.

The large colony of Berwick Swans with their distinctive patch of yellow above the beak was in evidence by the pink sandstone Berwick Old Bridge and then we were walking along the banks of the Tweed with the ancient settlement of Tweedmouth across the other side, towards the Royal Border Bridge built by Robert Stephenson and up the slope of Megs Mount, overlooking the wide river estuary. The town hall with its tall, sky-splitting clock tower comprises of a greyish-pink stone and was once the gaol from where men and women were taken to a place of execution, sometimes for seemingly trivial offences.

The majority of town buildings have cheerful red pan-tile roofs with some of grey slate and have been painted by many artists including L.S.Lowry. Eventually turning into the town we found the shopkeepers helpful and friendly. This completed our welcoming experience and created an abiding memory. Berwick upon Tweed became our base as we hunted out the wondrous gems of the Borders.


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