The historic coastal town of Berwick-upon-Tweed sits a convenient distance between Edinburgh and York on the East Coast railway. It’s not a place you hear much about – I think it once featured on an Antiques Road Trip – and it certainly isn’t counted amongst the most popular British resorts. However, if you take the time to visit this interesting and confident little town you are sure to be impressed.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is situated at the very northern end of Northumberland and not as would seem more appropriate in the neighbouring historic Scottish county of Berwickshire. To add to the confusion there is also a North Berwick in Scotland but that’s not in Berwickshire either but in East Lothian. How Berwick-upon-Tweed came to be south of this border is the result of centuries of conflict. It is claimed to be one of the most fought over towns in Europe and it certainly changed hands a good number of times. This borderland feeling has certainly added to the character of the town and even influenced the local dialect which shares common features with other Northumbrian dialects whilst also containing elements from the Scots language as well.
One of the most impressive features of this town is its walls and fortifications. The oldest remains date back to the early 14th century but the majority is from the Elizabethan period when there was a large-scale rebuilding of Berwick’s fortifications. These walls were certainly a necessary addition as the border region was notoriously lawless with bands of raiders known as reivers frequently pillaging the area as well as the armies from both sides of the border vying for control. The walk around Berwick’s town walls is well worth the effort, the fortifications themselves are very impressive but the route also takes in interesting architecture and fine views out to sea, the long sandy beaches and the little lighthouse in the estuary. Within the walls, you will also find a 17th century church and a Georgian town hall and barracks, outside there’s the Jacobean bridge known as the Old Bridge, the 1920s Royal Tweed Bridge and the remarkable Victorian Royal Border Bridge which still carries the main railway line from Northumberland to Scotland. For those with a penchant for art, there is also a tour round Berwick based on the paintings of L.S. Lowry who holidayed in Berwick annually during the 1930s and a number of local scenes are immortalised in his work.
Berwick doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gastronomy either. It is home to the Berwick Cockle, a mint-flavoured red and white boiled sweet that was first made in the town as far back as 1801. The Cowe family were the guardians of this regional speciality and the recently restored buildings can still be seen in Bridge Street. Berwick also gained a reputation for the wild salmon caught in the Tweed using a net and a local type of boat called a coble. This method is said to be 900 years old and is still preserved and maintained today by a local organisation. British cuisine is widespread across Berwick’s impressive number of restaurants and many use local or regional ingredients. I had a breakfast of Scottish produced porridge with local heather honey at Audela in Bridge Street and had I stayed longer there certainly were a lot of other enticing options. If you’re looking for something from further afield Berwick has a good array of international restaurants as well, even a Lebanese restaurant in Golden Square.
The morning I spent in Berwick whilst en route from Edinburgh to Yorkshire certainly was not long enough to appreciate everything this special place has to offer. I’ve since read that the town is a good place to spot seals and that Spittal Beach, on the opposite side of the Tweed, is an excellent place to find sea glass. I’m sure I’ll be returning soon especially as there are so many other attractions nearby; you can walk from Berwick down to Holy Island, the attractive Scottish coastal town of Dunbar is just a 40-minute drive away and you can get to the cathedral city of Durham by a short train journey.