Beau­ti­ful Ber­wick

Wil­lie Shand en­joys a fine day out in this pretty Northum­ber­land town.

The People's Friend - - Bits & Pieces -

FROM its source in the hills above Mof­fat to where it even­tu­ally spills into the North Sea, the River Tweed twists its course of some 97 miles.

Part of its jour­ney takes it through the hills and glens of the Scot­tish Bor­ders. For around 20 miles it lit­er­ally forms the bor­der be­tween Scot­land and Eng­land be­fore fi­nally end­ing where I am to­day – three miles south of the bor­der at Ber­wick-upon-tweed.

To­day I’m in the English county of Northum­ber­land, but at many times in the town’s che­quered past I’d still be in Scot­land.

Be­tween 1296, when Edward I sacked it, and 1482, when cap­tured by Edward IV, Ber­wick-up­onTweed went back and forth be­tween the Scots and the English no fewer than 13 times! You can see why its in­hab­i­tants nei­ther say they’re English nor Scots, just Ber­wick­ers.

To lo­cals the town is sim­ply known as Ber­wick (pro­nounced Ber­rick), and a right old town it is. It was even men­tioned as early as 872 when the Pic­tish King Grig passed through on his way to raid Lind­is­farne.

It’s only 6.30 in the morn­ing and I’ve no prob­lem find­ing a park­ing space down by the quay. I left home early to get past Ed­in­burgh be­fore the morn­ing traf­fic.

It’s Wed­nes­day and al­ready the stall-hold­ers are set­ting up their stands in the Mary­gate for the weekly mar­ket.

From the quay I watch dozens of swans swim be­neath the arches of the James VI Bridge. The mouth of the Tweed is home to more than 600 mute swans.

This old red sand­stone bridge with its 15 arches was com­pleted in 1624.

Ap­par­ently, when King James VI of Scot­land was on his way south to Lon­don he wasn’t too happy cross­ing its wooden pre­de­ces­sor and made com­ment, “Is there ne’er a man in Ber­wick whae can work stanes to make a brig over the Tweed?”

This at­trac­tive bridge was the re­sult.

It’s the fifth in a se­ries of bridges to have crossed the Tweed car­ry­ing the Great North Road. Of the ear­lier cross­ings, some fell vic­tim to war, oth­ers to the equally de­struc­tive pow­ers of the Tweed in flood.

At each but­tress is a pedes­trian bay – one of them hav­ing a built-in sun dial should you have need to check the time.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ar­chi­tect of the old bridge did not fore­see the ad­vent of the mo­tor car, and by the early 1900s the bridge’s sin­gle lane was strug­gling to cope with traf­fic. And so, just a lit­tle up­stream, a new bridge – the Tweed Bridge – was built in 1928.

Ber­wick is famed for its bridges, but none is more im­pres­sive than the Royal Bor­der Bridge. With 28 arches and some 2,152 feet long, this amaz­ing viaduct sweeps across the Tweed car­ry­ing the main east coast

rail line, 126 feet high above the river.

It’s one of the great­est viaducts in the world. What a crack­ing pic­ture it makes if you can catch it with its arches re­flected in the river. I’m dou­bly re­warded this morn­ing with not only good re­flec­tions but also a heron stand­ing down by the wa­ter’s edge.

The towns­folk must have been fair ex­cited the day Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert came to per­form the of­fi­cial open­ing in 1850.

The bridge had been de­signed by Robert Stephen­son, son of Ge­orge Stephen­son who in­vented the steam lo­co­mo­tive.

How dis­ap­pointed the crowds were when, de­spite all their prepa­ra­tions, the royal visit lasted all of 10 min­utes be­fore they were off. What’s more, the Queen re­fused to cross the bridge as she thought it didn’t look safe!

Ber­wick’s rail­way sta­tion is built upon the site of what was once Ber­wick Cas­tle. Few cas­tles held greater strate­gic im­por­tance and few can have been more of­ten at the fore­front of at­tack.

Dun­bar, Pinkie, Car­berry, Flod­den, Al­nwick, Had­den Rigg, An­crum Moor . . . the list of ma­jor East Bor­ders bat­tles goes on.

Sadly, much of the cas­tle’s an­cient stonework was taken for use in the build­ing of the Royal Bor­der Bridge.

If any­one ap­pre­ci­ated the sig­nif­i­cance of con­trol­ling Ber­wick it was Edward I. In 1296 he laid siege on the town, slaugh­ter­ing more than 7,000 of its men­folk.

The town was then soon to see the start of mas­sive for­ti­fi­ca­tions which were only to be strength­ened over the sub­se­quent three cen­turies.

The de­fen­sive walls still sur­round the town to­day. No-one can visit Ber­wick­upon-tweed with­out be­ing touched by the past. There are clear re­minders everywhere you look, and even more so when you take a walk round the town’s walls.

With the tide on the ebb, the ex­posed mud and seaweed is like a break­fast call to the birds. I try to edge a bit closer to the heron but it clearly has an eye on me, too, and flies an­other few hun­dred yards up­stream.

Who could come to Ber­wick and not be drawn to take a walk around the town’s El­iz­a­bethan walls or to take a stroll along the banks of the Tweed?

And, if you’ve a good pair of boots in the car, one of the best in­tro­duc­tions to the Tweed is to fol­low the River­side Walk for a few miles out to the Bor­ders By­pass Bridge and re­turn by Tweed­mouth and over the James VI Bridge.

This track takes us un­der the arches of the Royal Bor­der Viaduct and through a vaulted pas­sage in a frag­ment of the 1297 de­fen­sive walls that rose steeply be­tween the river and the cas­tle. It’s known as the White Wall.

This pleas­ant walk fol­lows closely the river’s banks and passes through stretches of ma­ture wood­land, some­times with clear tracks, other times with none, but with the river sel­dom far from your side, it’s hard to go wrong.

It’s amaz­ing what can be done with just a pile of drift­wood. Some­one’s built a full-size pi­rate ship for the kids to play on.

Just watch the wee wooden bridge that crosses a stream as you leave the woods. It’s seen bet­ter days. The slip­pery sur­face al­most sent me head first for a mud bath!

At low tide, it’s not all mud, though. At ei­ther side of the Tweed’s mouth are lovely sandy beaches.

Ber­wick is a com­pact and ex­tremely pic­turesque wee town. It’s easy to see how this place could be such an at­trac­tion to one of the coun­try’s best-loved pain­ters, L.S. Lowry.

In con­trast to the quiet of the river­side, Mary­gate with its shops and street mar­ket is bustling with ac­tiv­ity. At its foot is the Ge­or­gian town hall.

You can’t miss it. Its 150-feet-high spire dom­i­nates most views of the town. The town hall was built in 1761 and per­formed many func­tions.

As well as be­ing the town’s court­house, but­ter mar­ket and ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre, it was also the gaol. Its bells still ring out the 8 p.m. cur­few, although you might be safe enough to ig­nore it nowa­days.

At the op­po­site end of Mary­gate is the Scots­gate – which is just as it says – the gate or en­trance to the town by the Great North Road from Scot­land.

At night, all gates into the town would have been closed and guarded. No-one was al­lowed through ex­cept for the doc­tor or those who could con­vince the guards they were go­ing to fetch the doc­tor.

Climb­ing the steps on to the town wall and above the Scots­gate gives a per­fect van­tage point for the Mary­gate. I re­mem­ber about 10 years ago pho­tograph­ing a pi­geon on a win­dow-sill from this spot and couldn’t be­lieve it when I found it was still there – or one of its re­la­tions, at least!

The El­iz­a­bethan walls run pretty much in­tact all the way round

Ber­wick for just over a mile. These ram­parts were built in the mid 1500s and, although never com­pleted and never put to the test, they were the sin­gle most ex­pen­sive build­ing project of Queen El­iz­a­beth I’s reign.

Such was the strate­gic im­por­tance of the pros­per­ous lit­tle town of Ber­wick.

The town walls from 250 years ear­lier en­closed a much greater area, and with 19 tow­ers and five gates it ran for some two and a half miles. Tough luck for any­one whose house lay out­side the line of the new wall.

There’s a lot to see on the way round – the old gates like the Cow Port and the Sandgate; the Sally Port, the quay with its im­pres­sive Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­ture and Cus­toms House; gun em­place­ments; the old­est Bar­racks in Bri­tain and the Cromwellian Parish Church with its fine stained-stained­glass win­dows.

Coxan’s Tower gives a grand view over the mouth of the Tweed, but just watch the well-worn steps.

Take care, too, as youyou go round, of the un­pro­tected sheer drops at the wall edge, in places up to 35 feet high.

An old Rus­sian can­non points out to sea – a tro­phy from the Crimean War.

Drop­ping down to Pier Road lets us walk out to the light­house at the end of the long break­wa­ter. On a blus­tery day there’s lit­tle pro­tec­tion from the wind and weather out here, but if you want to say you’ve been at the mouth of the Tweed, it’s just some­thing you need to do.

It’s worth climb­ing the wee rise of Meg’s Mount, if only for the view of the three bridges and away to the Holy Is­land and Bam­burgh Cas­tle.

Roar­ing Meg was the name of the can­non that once stood here. From the top, 100 feet above the river, this is said to be one of the finest views in Northum­ber­land.

It’s amaz­ing to think that the Royal Bor­der Viaduct stands upon elm piles driven more than 100 feet deep be­low the riverbed, and that the whole thing was built for just £253,000. That’s in­fla­tion for you!

An­other le­gacy from the Vic­to­rian era stands a lit­tle closer to the land­ward side of Meg’s Mount. This was where the Vic­to­rian ladies went to spend a penny.

And a grand af­fair it was, with its rus­tic cot­tage ap­pear­ance and Min­ton tiled floor. It cost only £175 to build and it even had an at­ten­dant who was paid the equiv­a­lent of 12½p per week.

Ap­par­ently, it was quite a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, tak­ing some 5/2d in the first day – that’s 62 cus­tomers!

I paid it a visit twice to­day, although on each oc­ca­sion it cost me a bit more than a penny. Now called the Loovre, it’s a unique ice-cream shop.

I can cer­tainly rec­om­mend the rasp­berry and white choco­late waf­fle cone! n

Walk­ing the gor­geous banks of the Tweed.

Can­non still in po­si­tion at Ber­wick’s Cum­ber­land Bas­tion.

The flags fly­ing here have changed over the years!

Once a toi­let block, the Loovre now sells award-win­ning ice-cream.

The stun­ning Rose Win­dow in the Holy Trin­ity Church.

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