BERWICK is a popular stopping place between the Hull and Newcastle ferries and Scotland. There are so many Scottish flags and items in the shops that you would think you are already in Scotland.
But this ancient town is well worth a longer stay to explore the nooks and. The artist L.S.Lowry loved Berwick, and it features in many of his paintings. As you go around you find giant easels with copies of the paintings against the backdrop of the actual place that was his model. This is the Lowry trail, just one of the many things to do here.
Despite being passed between Scotland and England over the years, and suffering many battles, Berwick has retained a lot of its charm. The people are very friendly. Shop assistants, even the young ones, smile and chat, which makes you feel welcome.
Berwick has managed to hang on to its High Street, full of small shops like a mercers, tool shops, dress maker, toy shops, and a lovely sweetie shop with the sweets in large jars (plastic, although looking like glass) lining the wall, bringing back.
The irregular shaped High Street has the Town Hall jammed to one side at one end, and a straggly space where regular markets are held. There are still the town stocks, ready to put any misbehaving citizens into. Mind you, they are wooden and pretty old and worn – maybe from frequent use?
The town has massive earthworks and fortifications, a strong reminder of the strategic importance of Berwick and the fighting that has taken place over the centuries. This is worth exploring. Cannons are dotted around, one of which was captured from the Russians at the Crimea. The walls were never actually finished (budget cuts in Elizabethan times – there is nothing new) but with the River Tweed flowing on one side, what was constructed further helped protect the town.
The walls walk takes about one and a half hours, or longer if you access some interesting places en route. There is the Kipper Hill and the powder magazine of 1749. This well protected and very sturdy building had all sorts of protection to prevent a stray spark detonating the gunpowder, including heavily buttressed walls to contain any explosion. Nearby is the barracks, the oldest in Britain, built in 1717 to house 600 men and 36 officers, and used until 1964 by the King's Own Scottish Borders Regiment. Today it houses three museums, one being the Berwick Burrell Collection.
Nearby is Holy Trinity Church, a rarity, having been built during the Cromwell Commonwealth of 1650 to 1652; in fact, one of only two built at that period. It is in the strict puritan style, with no spire, and an almost flat roof. The inside is still much the same as it originally was.
Berwick is dominated by its bridges. The oldest one, completed in 1624, is one-way now, and the sixth arch from the Berwick side has raised parapets, to show where the actual boundary is... or was! Next to it is the more modern (1928) concrete bridge, which carried the whole traffic until the A1 bypass was built in 1984.
Both these bridges cross to Tweedmouth, the other part of the town. Here there is a massive retail park with all the big names, in contrast to the smaller shops in the town centre. The small harbour, once very important, is on this side of the river, with the lifeboat station and a sandy beach.
A little upstream is the magnificent 28 arch railway bridge. This massive structure swings across the river and cuts through a castle which was demolished to make way for the train station opened by Queen Victoria in 1850. It has been an iconic railway feature ever since, dominating that part of town and framing the River Tweed.
The river has always been important to Berwick, although there is no commercial traffic nowadays. At one time the biggest employment in the town came from barrel makers. The barrels were filled with salmon caught in the river and sent to London.
Only around eight miles south of Berwick is the famous Holy Island, or Lindisfarne. During high summer this can be reached by bus, but on my trip I took a taxi from Berwick, a popular choice because the fares are reasonable. In the Berwick tourist office there is a tide table showing when it is safe to cross by a causeway – there are no boats or amphibious vehicles to rescue you when the tide comes in.
From the mainland, the causeway stretches out over three miles in a curve. There is a direct line of poles to the island, marking the pilgrim route, and in the middle is a wooden tower on stilts, for people to shelter if they get caught by the deceptively fast tide. A modern tower stands at the mainland side of the roadway, and the taxi driver said that this was for tourists to climb into to watch their cars being washed away!
The tide was just out, there were still large puddles on the road, but walking across was a traditional way to reach the low lying island, with its small collection of houses and shops. To the seaward side is a remarkable plug of rock with a castle perched on it, now in the hands of the National Trust and you can visit it. A very strong position to defend against any attack.
Next to it are some old boats that have been turned over and made into sheds. This is a feature here, and many are dotted around. Then there is the mighty ruin of the famous Abbey with a (relatively) more modern church alongside.
The island is very popular, and tourist buses were frequent, like the sea coming in waves. A large car park compensates for the small roads, and there are cafes and tea rooms, a hotel, and toilets. It is a fine spot to watch birds or to go walking and cycling, which is promoted by the tourist. Having arranged to meet the taxi back at the car park on the mainland side of the causeway, and keeping an eye on the tide charts, I set off back to Berwick.
It is a fascinating part of England, long in history, full of interesting places, and away from the normal tourist traps. Well worth a visit, and easy and economical to get to when Scotrail is running its Club 55 offer, which allows you to travel anywhere in Scotland for just £19 return, second class – and Scotrail even lets you slip over the border, but only as far as either Carlisle or Berwick upon Tweed. See www.scotrail.co.uk for when this offer is on (of course, you have to be aged 55 or over!) For more information on Berwick and Lindisfarne, go to www.explore-northumberland.co.uk.