Our next trip was to the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in the English county of Northumberland. I have wanted to go for a while, so we finally decided to get the train over and find out more about the town…
Status: Northumberland, Town, England
Travel: Northern Rail (Carlisle – Newcastle), East Coast (Newcastle – Berwick)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs
Attractions: Town Hall, Beach, River Tweed, Royal Border Bridge, Town Walls, Berwick Barracks, Union Bridge, Guildhall, Parish Church, Berwick Castle, Royal Tweed Bridge, Lighthouse, Old Bridge etc
This was the view we got as we passed over into Berwick on the train. Below is the River Tweed, and two of the three famous bridges in the town. The third bridge we were on at the time. My first impression of Berwick was that it looked almost like a little fantasy town, and because you couldn’t see the main town centre properly for all the trees it was even more striking with just the clock tower rising up on its own.
After disembarking at the train station, we started to cut through to the main town centre and found a path that cuts down to the river, and from here we got the best view of the three bridges.
Berwick is famous for it’s bridges, and the most striking of these is the Royal Border Bridge, the viaduct that carries the East Coast Mainline through the town. You can see an East Coast train crossing it at the moment.
In total, there are 28 arches, each 60 feet wide. Robert Stephenson, the son of noted Engineer George Stephenson, designed and built the bridge between 1847 and 1850. The railway itself is sat 121 feet above the river, and runs along the 659 metre long bridge through to the station, which is just past the other end of the bridge.
Continuing along the river, we arrived at the Old Stone Bridge and the Royal Border Bridge, so named because of Berwick’s war time history between the historic nations of England and Scotland.
Various wars raged on between the two nations over the land border that separated them and Berwick was retaken by the English in 1174 after the defeat of William I of Scotland, who granted Berwick to Henry II of England after his defeat. Richard I of England later sold it back to William I, to gain funds for his new quest, the Crusades in the Middle East.
After the Scottish invaded Cumberland around 1296, King Edward I in turn invaded England and took back Berwick-upon-Tweed, destroying much of the town as a consequence. It stayed then in English hands until 1318 when a Scottish army besieged the town, and it wasn’t until 1333 when England once again took control of the town.
The final time that Scotland was given possession of Berwick was in 1641 when it was given as a gift by Margaret of Anjou (1430 – 1482), on behalf of King Henry VI of England, as thanks for the Scots help against the house of York during the War of the Roses between Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Berwick changed hands for the final time in 1482 when the Duke of Gloucester (who would go on to become King Richard III) captured the town during an attack. It has remained an English town ever since, however the border with Scotland is only 2 and a half miles away.
Getting back to the bridges, the back bridge, Stone Bridge is the oldest, and original bridge at Berwick. Constructed between 1610 and 1624, and is the fifth bridge on the site. 15 arches span a total of 355 metres over the river, with a width of just five metres wide.
The nearer bridge is the Royal Tweed Bridge, which was only built in the 1920’s. The concrete structure has four arches, that strangely are all different sizes. The overall length of the bridge is 430 metres.
From here we found another path that led up the to the riverside level with the bridges themselves, and we headed up onto the town walls, getting a brilliant view back across at all three bridges, and we sat on a bench there to watch the trains go by for a while. The train line is visible throughout the town as it crosses behind the main buildings on the side of the river away from the town centre, so almost 10 minutes before it arrives you can spot a train making its way towards the town.
As we started our tour of the town walls, we crossed the high street and got an outstanding look at the Town Hall, a beautiful building, the clock tower of which was the first building we could see when we arrived by train earlier in the day.
The original centre of the town, the market was located outside the Town Hall, built in 1754, and housed Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council until the borough was abolished and Northumberland became one large Unitary Authority. The building was also used as a jail at one point, and houses the Old Gaol. There have been earlier buildings on the spot but these were damaged and replaced throughout history.
We did a full walk around the aforementioned town walls, and the remains various forts that line it are visible, including this one, guarded by a cannon looking out to sea. The original walls are from the 14th century when King Edward I captured the town from the Scottish. They were designed to protect the town from local and coastal attack, and at their highest they were 22 feet tall.
Queen Elizabeth I had many of the walls rebuilt around Berwick in the 16th century to improve them, and they were designed in a new Italian style.
Although the main forts around them are in ruins, the walls are in remarkably good conditions, and run around the whole of the original, much smaller town. The sea itself is just past the main sections of the walls where a golf course has now been set up. The views out to see are fantastic and looking back up the coast you can make out the island of Lindisfarne and the famous Lindisfarne Castle.
As we got about three quarters of the way round the walls we passed Berwick Barracks. As a historically important border and military town, Berwick had a garrison assigned to it, and a purpose built Barracks was constructed in 1717, and completed in 1721. Like the event in Edinburgh, a military tattoo is held at the barracks every year. The barracks are open to the public and you can take a tour to discover more about the history of the town.
Reaching the end of the main walls, we walked through the quaint little harbour and out to the sea wall, at the end of which was a little lighthouse, looking back at the beach, harbour and the town walls. We made it right to the end, and looking out across the North Sea there was nothing at all, just quiet, calm ocean.
It was a lovely warm, sunny day and it was nice being out by the sea, in the most northerly town in England. The border with Scotland slopes slightly until this part of Northumberland where it rises sharply and Berwick and the surrounding area juts out above the rest of England.
Even from here we could see the trains coming in from the coast, and run all the way around the outside of the town before heading in, and there is a lot of train traffic all day.
We headed back into the main town centre, and nipped to Greggs for sandwich, and sat to have lunch on the steps of the Town Hall, before wandering out to the Stone Bridge, then back along the river the way we had come originally.
We passed under one of the colossal arches of the viaduct, and then caught site of the remains of Berwick Castle just past the arch. It was sat on the side of the hill leading up to the station. The ruins date back to the 12th century when King David I of Scotland had it built. When Elizabeth I upgraded the town walls she also had repairs and extensions made to the castle.
Berwick is a beautiful town, that we thoroughly enjoyed visit, and it is near the top of the list for my favourite places so far. It is well connected by rail, with East Coast services between London and Edinburgh calling regularly and stopping at York, Newcastle etc, as well as some services going all the way through to Aberdeen in Scotland.
Newcastle is airport is relatively close, and the main A1 road London to Edinburgh runs around the town.
There are many galleries and museums to explore in the town, and it is sat in a place of outstanding beauty up the East Coast, and is well worth a visit.