A profile of Berwick and the historic towns along the River Tweed

PUBLISHED: 15:39 22 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:03 20 February 2013

A profile of Berwick and the historic towns along the River Tweed

A profile of Berwick and the historic towns along the River Tweed

Steve Newman follows the historic and beautiful River Tweed along its course until it meets the North Sea at Berwick

By the time the Tweed enters the North Sea at Berwick it has flowed along a course that at various times in history has separated two fiercely warring nations through beautiful, pastoral countryside that today belies its bloody history.


Following the renowned salmon river to its mouth takes the fortunate traveller through some of the most beautiful and historic villages of the Borders region.


The first of these villages is Cornhill. On the other side of the bridge across the Tweed is the Toll House which at one time rivalled Gretna Green for runaway marriages. The magnificent bridge has a plaque halfway across commemorating the spot where Robert Burns prayed before entering England.


Turn left by the war memorial and you will come to the village of Wark. This has one of the largest and most important motte and bailey castles in the country sitting beside the Tweed. Access to the castle is forbidden but you can get some idea of its immense power by the size of the earthworks still standing today.


The river flows sedately on and this is salmon beat country, where both banks can be lined with anglers. Soon the majestic river comes to another great castle, that of Norham, with this huge keep still lowering over the sandy riverbanks. Norham is an unusual village in its layout as its green is triangular with a pinnacled market cross set on a base of six 13th Century steps,while the village clock stands alone on a grass verge.


However, it is not only the castle and the fishing that bring visitors to Norham. Each year the village holds a scarecrow festival that along with a similar event held at Rennington outside Alnwick has become one of the sights of Northumberland. The castle features in Sir Walter Scots Marmion, named after a Lincolnshire knight who led a sortie from the castle in one of its many sieges. Norham Castle was also painted by Turner from one of the gravel islands you can see in the river below.


The Tweed plays a part in the life of Jim Gibson, who lives in the village. I have photographed the river in various states of flood and different light as it is a constantly changing entity, says Jim, one of the NorthEasts most distibguished landscape photographers whose work frequently graces the pages of North East Life magazine.


Jim, a former military photographer who has seen active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, adds: Norham is a very peaceful place to live and I find it and the river an inspiration to my work whether I have a commercial commission or a wedding.


Soon the Tweed flows under the Union Bridge at Horncliffe, the oldest surviving suspension bridge in the United Kingdom. Built in 1820, you can walk over it from England into Scotland.


Designed by Captain Samuel Brown, in consultation with the Scottish engineer John Rennie, for five years the bridge had the longest span of any vehicle-carrying wrought iron suspension bridge in the world, at 133.2 metres. The bridge used bars in place of the usual cables and the bars are no more than one inch thick, which from a distance makes them almost invisible to the naked eye.


Bridges, of course, are what Berwick is famous for and as the river flows beneath them you can often notice seals chasing salmon. The arches of the Royal Border Bridge have carried the railway over the river since Robert Stephenson built it in 1850.


Made entirely of concrete, the Royal Tweed Bridge is the second of Berwicks famous bridges while the oldest is known simply as Berwick Bridge. It was built in 1624 and it took all the traffic of the Great North Road until the Royal Tweed Bridge was built until 1928.


Berwick has changed a lot in the 38 years Ive lived here, says Neil Wilson, who was born and brought up in the town and owns an electricians business. Its still a lovely place to live, with the beaches and easy access to the hills, and if you want to go shopping or to the theatre you can hop on a train and be in Edinburgh or Newcastle in no time at all.


Fought over for centuries by the English and Scots, Berwick changed hands 13 times and this conflict still remains today as both the towns football and rugby teams, although in England, play in the Scottish leagues. In fact, the rugby club belongs to both the English and Scottish rugby unions.


Club President Colin Frame said: The club has been at the centre of its community since its formation over 40 years ago. Its unique membership of both the English and Scottish Rugby Unions reflects its historical past and its contemporary present. As the major rugby club for some miles we take our responsibility of being part of the community very seriously and we work hard to ensure we have strong links with all of our schools and other organisations in the town.





The Elizabethan walls

Built in 1558, Berwicks Elizabethan town walls offer superb views of the estuary and surrounding countryside. You can get on to the walls from the three main car parks around the town and you will find information boards around the route. The complete circular walk is one and half miles.


The houses on the walls by the side of Berwick Bridge have large cellars beneath them and if you want to descend on to the Quayside below youll see huge access doors cut into the wall by the merchants who owned the
houses above.


Small lanes run off the walls and its worthwhile exploring them, as here
youll find the huge warehouses and factories where the shoes that supplied over half the country in the 18th Century were made.


From Sand Gate you can look up Hyde Hill to see the Kings Arms Hotel, one of the great coaching inns where Dickens stayed on many an occasion.

The Lowry Trail


The artist LS Lowry visited Berwick many times from the mid-1930s until 1974, staying in the Castle Hotel beside the railway station.


Often he would take the small paddle steamer ferry from Berwick across to Spittal where he would set up his easel and paint.


The Berwick Lowry Trail identifies the sites of 18 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 towns tourist office.


In all, Lowry produced more than 30 drawings and paintings of the Berwick area. When staying in the Castle Inn he developed a bit of a soft spot for the receptionist and often gave her little pencil or charcoal drawings. Unfortunately, she was not impressed by the pictures and threw them away!




Its an age-old question, but if you live in Berwick, does your affiliation lean towards England or Scotland? Leave a comment below

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