Berwick-upon-Tweed faces the wild North Sea in the beautifully rugged county of Northumberland. Discover some of Berwick's attractions, including its historic fortifications and L S Lowry connection.
Berwick upon Tweed is one of Northumberland’s more sizeable towns with a population today hovering around 12,000 people. In a more turbulent age, Berwick changed hands between the Scottish and English with regular monotony; in fact, no less than13 times between 1147 and 1482. Watch this space as Berwick may yet change hands again; many locals apparently favour becoming part of Scotland to take advantage of the more generous Scottish public services!
Unfortunately, Berwick is one of the poorest areas of the United Kingdom, so amongst the treasures of the town, visitors will also spot unkempt buildings and a few underutilised locals drinking away the day. For me, the mix just adds to the character of an everyday working town continuing life amongst what seems to be almost ignored treasures.
Berwick’s Grand Fortifications
Given Berwick’s turbulent, uncertain and violent history, it is no surprise that the northern edge of town is dominated by grand Elizabethan fortifications. These were built in an Italianate style and were the most expensive building works commissioned by Queen Elizabeth. In true English style, these grand earth workings became almost worthless by the time they were completed in 1566, as the risk of fighting against the Scots had receded. This means the fortifications are in good condition to this day, although they probably form the most expensively built series of soccer pitches, parkland and car parking known to humankind!
Despite the disappointment they were no longer needed, the fortifications are breathtaking. Walk on top of the Bastions and you soon appreciate the scale of the 100 foot drop down steep grassy slopes and stone walls.
For such a battle scarred town, you might also expect that Berwick Castle is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the castle site became underused and it was first converted to a crumbling palace residence before the town burghers realised the site was a perfect place for the railway station. Only a bit of wall and rampart from the original castle remains today.
Before you ignore the site of the castle, it remains a great spot to catch a good view and marvel at the grand 28 arched railway bridge, designed in the 1840’s by that most fascinating and pioneering of Victorian engineers, Robert Stephenson.
LS Lowry’s Berwick upon Tweed
A great way to explore the centre and south part of Berwick, out towards the suburb of Spittal, is to follow the LS Lowry trail (www.berwick-pt.co.uk/lowry_trail.htm). Lowry worked as a rent collector throughout his life and most years between the mid 1930s right up until his death in 1976, would see Lowry take his paints on vacation to Berwick, where he painted many local scenes. They are painted in Lowry’s traditional industrial style with white roads, matchstick people, cats and dogs, and Berwick was portrayed with more smoking factory chimneys than actually existed!
The trail is an easy 6 mile walk around Berwick with 18 stopping points, where information boards display a Lowry painting of the location and giving some information about the Lowry piece and how he painted it.
Perhaps the most impressive Lowry stop is right at the centre of town where the Town Hall dating from 1750 stands at the junction of two roads. The town hall was a building painted by Lowry many times, and there is some speculation that Lowry (a rather lonely and disconnected character) associated himself with the immobile and isolated building as traffic and people bustled around it.
The Lowry trail also takes the walker through the original town fortifications dating from the 1300s; while these are not as impressive as the Elizabethan structures to the north of Berwick, they give Berwick a distinctive and somewhat foreboding air.
Getting onto the Berwick Trails
Anyone wanting to follow the Lowry trail can pick up a free Lowry Trail leaflet at the Tourist Information Office in the centre of Berwick at 106 Marygate. Be careful to follow the trail, as the print is small and it can be easy to lose your way in the old narrow streets in the centre of Berwick. While at the information office you can pay a small fee for a copy of the Castlegate Heritage Trail, a more detailed booklet covering the castle area of Berwick.
Eating, Drinking and Sleeping in Berwick upon Tweed
Although we tend to hunt out a self catering cottage on our Northumberland jaunts, we have stayed at The Rob Roy (Dock Road), an establishment described as a restaurant with rooms, down by the docks area of Berwick and across the bridge from the town centre (about three quarters of a mile to walk). The Rob Roy offers a very expansive and excellent breakfast where you can ask for fresh trout if you wish, and it is a good place to have a treat fresh fish evening meal (at around £35 per head for a full meal with wine). A room for the night costs from £60.
The most characterful bar in the centre of town is the traditional Barrels Ale House (www.thebarrels.co.uk; 59-61 Bridge Street; 01289 308013), which sells good quality traditional beers and in a lively mixed age atmosphere. We also had a very good quality meal at around £15 per head at the nicely furnished Magna Tandoori Restaurant (www.magnatandooriberwick.co.uk; 39 Bridge Street; (01289) 302736/306229), just up the street from the ale house.