Thursday, January 19, 2017

England's northernmost city: Berwick Upon Tweed

Berwick Castle as seen from above conjures images of a historic
past  (wikipedia)

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED No destination in the world creates better more colorful names for its villages and towns  than the United Kingdom. It must be in their blood with fictional characters like Mr. Bumble, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist or Henry Higgins to mention a few. As villages go, Berwick-upon-Tweed is a perfect example. Tucked into the northeast corner of England, roughly two and a half miles from the border of Scotland nestles the northernmost town in England.

Situated at the mouth of the River Tweed, hence the name, and approximately 55 miles east-south-east of Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed has had a yo-yo-like history between the two countries since the Middle Ages.

Berwick is not a spot for first-time visitors, but it is one of those marvelous little discoveries for travelers who enjoy taking off on back-country roads in search of hidden adventure.
Elizabethan fortifications

The village was founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Kingdom of Northumbria, which later became part of England, in the 10th century. For the next 400 years, thanks largely to its location, Berwick was an important crossroads between England and Scotland.

The name is derived from two Old English words: bere which means "barley" and wic which is "village." Thus the town's name simply means "barley village."

Anyone who remembers the popular film "Braveheart" starring Mel Gibson might be interested in the horrible details of the execution of William Wallace in 1305.
Berwick Bridge with its multiple arches spanning the River Tweed  (wikipedia)
Following his conviction, Wallace was dragged naked through the streets of London at the back of a horse to Smithfield where he was hanged but released while still alive.

Wallace was then eviscerated with his bowels burned as he watched. He was then beheaded and cut into four parts with his head dipped in tar and placed upon a spike on top of London Bridge. The remaining parts of Wallace's body were sent to four towns for display: Newcastle, Stirling, Perth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Berwick's ancient ramparts  (wikipedia)
Situated about 8 miles from Holy Island, which is a smaller but, in some ways, more dramatic version of Mont St Michel in France, the excursion from Berwick is well worth the effort. You can easily reach Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, by car or in a taxi from the railway station.
Lindisfarne Castle on Holy
Island  (wikipedia)

The Vikings landed on Lindisfarne in 793 A.D. and, in the process, changed the course of English history forever.

One other dramatic feature of Holy Island is that it is a tidal destination, which means it quite literally becomes an island twice a day. Visitors who do not heed the tidal warnings can find themselves stranded for about six hours until the water recedes.
Train crossing the Old Bridge of Berwick Upon Tweed  (wikipedia)
Given its location however, Berwick has several interesting medieval attractions of its own. In fact, in 1551 Queen Elizabeth I believed the village was important enough to fortify the city with the most expensive building project in the entire Elizabethan era. Some of the fortifications remain today, and some experts say they are "the only surviving walls of their kind."

The 13th century Berwick Castle fell into disrepair by the 17th century and much of it was demolished in the 19th century to allow construction of the railway. Travelers arriving along the east coast rail line up from London or down from Edinburgh get a strong sense of the role Berwick played in English/Scottish history just by using the train.
Road into Berwick across the Old Bridge  (wikipedia)
Also worth seeing is the Old Bridge, which is approximately 1,200 feet long and continues to carry road traffic, but only in one direction. The sandstone arch bridge was constructed between 1610 and 1624 as part of the primary link between London and Edinburgh.

Holy Trinity Parish Church was built during the  middle of the 17th century using much of the stone from the original castle. The pulpit was thought to have been built for John Knox when he stayed in Berwick during the Protestant Reformation.

The granary on Dewars Lane, which was built in 1769, is today a hotel and art gallery.
Union Bridge is another
landmark  (wikipedia)
For visitors seeking other accommodations, the Marshall Meadows Country House Hotel, which dates to  1780, is the northernmost hotel in England, resting just a few hundred yards from the Scottish border.

Take time also to visit Union Bridge just 5 miles from Berwick. Union Bridge, built in 1821, survives today as the world's oldest suspension bridge.
Interior of the Marshall Meadows Country House  (wikipedia)
Berwick-upon-Tweed may not be on the beaten path for many travelers, but it certainly satisfies that incurable disease known as wanderlust.

Seek and discover -- you will not be disappointed.