Steve’s Sojourns : Berwick-upon-Tweed
They used to be big on fighting in Berwick-upon-Tweed. In fact they once declared war on Russia. Probably no other town in Britain has had such a long and violent history as Berwick. With its location on the Border making it a strategic target in the endless wars between the English and the Scots it changed hands no less 13 times over a period of 300 years.
You can detect this in the local accent and dialect which is part Northumbrian and part Scottish and where the people too are divided in their loyalties. Berwick is essentially a Scottish border town trapped in England, the neighbouring Scottish county is still called Berwickshire, whilst both the towns football and rugby teams play in the Scottish league.
In fact on international days in the rugby club it’s not unusual to see members wearing England shirts roaring the team on with broad Scottish accents and the reverse is equally true!
History is in the very air here, even the railway Station is built on the site of the Great Hall of Berwick Castle where John Baliol was offered the crown of Scotland over the claim of Robert the Bruce. Come here on May Day and 200 horses and riders trot down the main street to “Ride the Bounds” as they have done for centuries and just in case the Scots are planning a quick raid!
In 1558 Queen Mary Tudor ordered the medieval town walls strengthened against further attacks by the Scots. When Mary died she was succeed by her sister Elizabeth and the need for the completion of the walls became even more urgent.
Still known today as the “Elizabethan Walls” they are the finest preserved late medieval walls in Europe and a walk round them brings you face to face with the town’s history. The Eastern gate in to the town is known as Cowgate so called because as late as the 1950s farmers brought their cattle in through it.
Not only do the walls give amazing views
One of Britain’s favourite artists, L S Lowry visited Berwick many times from the mid-1930’s until 1974. The Berwick Lowry Trail identifies the sites of eighteen of his finest paintings and drawings of the town and allows you to follow in his footsteps and stand where he painted.
A leaflet about the trail is available in the Town’s tourist office. In all Lowry produced more than thirty drawings and paintings of the Berwick area. He stayed in the Castle Inn near the railway station and often gave one of the receptionists little drawings. Unfortunately she was not impressed and threw them away!
Laid out as one of the original early 12th Century Scottish Burghs Berwick’s importance is shown in it having four market places radiating out from the Guildhall, as opposed to the usual one or two. One of these is The Buttermarket lying under the grand building of the Guild Hall and is still a vibrant market on a Saturday morning.
Open daily the Guild Hall still holds the exercise walk for the prisoners of the town gaol on the balcony beneath the clock and you can take a tour of the town’s old courtroom, jail lock up and the notorious “drunks cell”.
The town stocks are still present outside where hapless felons suffered before being taken to the cells where they spent their time carving into the walls images of the ships coming and going below which can still be seen today.
Situated on Hyde Hill is the Kings Arms Hotel one of the great coaching inns and where Charles Dickens stayed on many an occasion whilst tucked away behind the walls on the south of the town is the old heart of Berwick where The Governor’s Palace still stand in a leafy square and ship’s figureheads thrust themselves out from house walls.
Nestling inside the northern walls opposite the barracks is the Parish church built at the time of Cromwell, thus it has no bells and is one of only two churches built in this era. The houses on the walls above the old quayside have large cellars beneath them and if you descend on to the Quayside below you’ll see huge doors cut into the wall by the merchants who owned the houses above.