England, Scotland and Berwick

Almost as far North as you can possibly journey within the bounds of England lies Berwick upon Tweed, nestled just a couple of miles from the Scottish border.

On Saturday, I made the 65 mile rail journey north with a friend to see Paul Kenny’s latest show open at The Berwick Watchtower.

As we wandered the streets of this garrison town, the sensations we experienced were odd and uneasy, enough for us to discuss it regularly throughout the day…

The mouth of the River Tweed — Berwick on the left to the North East and Tweedmouth on the right to the South West...

The mouth of the River Tweed — Berwick on the left to the North East and Tweedmouth on the right to the South West…

On the face of it, Berwick is pretty. However, it doesn’t take too long to sense a melancholy and fatigue hanging over the town.

There are small pockets where this isn’t the case but, overall, Berwick certainly appears to be a very northern outpost burdened with a tangible raw edge, perhaps the bleeding edge of the ongoing economic crisis.

Buildings look tired with many high street shops closing or, indeed, closed down. Local estate agents, too, seem awash with property for sale.

There is, however, plenty to admire as some of the architecture is stunning, not least the beautifully named Royal Border Bridge — a vital artery carrying the East Coast Mainline, connecting this remote town at high speed with the rest of the country.

The Royal Tweed bridge over the River Tweed, joining Berwick upon Tweed with Tweedmouth

The Royal Tweed road bridge — an East Coast Mainline train heads to London over the Royal Border Bridge in the distance…

To my mind, Berwick’s outpost feel is largely due to its geography, eclectic history and confused identity where, in the modern era, one can still be left wondering, “Is Berwick Scottish or English?”

Embroiled in bitter, bloody border wars for so many years, it’s hard to know.

The Tweed boils beneath the Old Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed

The Tweed boils beneath the Old Bridge…

Technically, Berwick is English after the most recent capture in 1482 but that’s not always been the case.

In fact, it was even recently pondered whether or not Berwick was technically at war with Russia after it was ‘left out’ of the conclusion to the Crimean War in the 1856 Treaty of Paris!

Perhaps you can now begin to see why I describe an eclectic history?

Not helping matters, Berwick Rangers FC remains the only English football club in the land to compete in the Scottish Football League.

Railway Street, Berwick upon Tweed

My kinda street…

All-in-all, an unconventional day out and one to get the cogs turning.

Paul’s show, of course, look resplendent — his Seaworks so appropriately on display at the coast.

Ultimately, though, it was time to journey home and leave this very northern outpost behind, carrying plenty of feelings to digest and thoughts to ponder about this quirky nation of ours…

Berwick upon Tweed Railway Station

Home time — a train rushes through the pretty railway station at Berwick upon Tweed…

2 thoughts on “England, Scotland and Berwick

  1. The empty shops in the town centre is somewhat disheartening. Business rates are on par with Edinburgh, so that goes along way to explain vacant buildings. Many of the empty spaces could be used for artist studios business start-ups etc. Sadly most buildings continue to decline and potential remains unfulfiled. It is an appealing place for city dwellers searching for ‘affordable’ Georgian town houses or country hideaways, nonetheless: making for an uneasy mix, where tensions run just below the surface.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Graham — it’s good to hear from an inhabitant of Berwick.

      It’s been an interesting week of discussion for me since posting this on Tuesday; I’ve received several direct Tweets and emails but also bumped into people ‘on the circuit’ who’ve read the post and seem to whole-heartedly agree.

      One aspect I’ve really enjoyed, though, is the stalwart affection for the town that seems to be held by most. I’m sure this is closely linked to the eclectic history already discussed.

      Berwick’s been through an awful lot in the past and it’s still here — Berwick is a survivor and that’s worthy of affection and admiration.

      One lovely analogy arrived upon with this week was Berwick as the bruised warrior of England…if only I could have two titles for this blog post!

      Thanks again, JL

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