Bridging a north-south divide

Mapping the border between England and Scotland must have been a plumb job for medieval cartographers.     

No sooner had a new line been charted, a new round of hostilities would herald a land grab by one side or the other and it was back to the drawing board for the mapmakers - a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. 

At the sharp end of all the to-ing and fro-ing was the much prized port of Berwick which changed hands no less than 13 times before finally settling on the English side in 1482.  

With the Scots and the French threatening to re-write the map books yet again,  Elizabeth I made the town virtually impregnable, employing Italian engineers and experts to build daunting defences that used artillery.     

It turned out to be a persuasive argument and Berwick has remained English ever since, in body if not in spirit.  Within Berwick's solid defences is a bustling market town whose national loyalties lean northwards if a recent poll is to be believed.  

Almost 2,000 people were asked if they would prefer the town to be administered by Scotland and 60 per cent said yes.  Berwick Rangers football team is the only English side to play in the Scottish football leagues and be part of the Scottish Football Association.    

Much of the imposing Elizabethan ramparts remain and form part of a magnificent two-mile walk that takes in a stretch of the cliffs and Megs Mount, the northernmost tip of the magnificent Northumberland coastline.    

It also offers breathtaking views inland along the Tweed as well as across the town and harbour. Berwick became a strategic asset on its growth as a seaport, trading in barley (the name Berwick comes from ‘beil wick' or barley farm) and wool that persuaded Flemish, German and Scandinavian merchants to set up businesses in the town.    

The focal point of town is the Guildhall, which stands at the seaward side of the main street and once served as a lighthouse.  From here, a short walk down the Quay brings the visitor out at the oldest of the town's three commanding bridges.   

The 15-arch sandstone bridge, commissioned by James 1 of England in 1611, is matched in grandeur by Robert Stevenson's Royal Border Bridge, whose 28-arched construction changed local life for ever in 1846 when it brought the railway another step northward.   

The scale and solidity of  Berwick's bridges is tribute to the power of the River Tweed, Scotland's second longest river at 98-miles, in spite of the fact that the final four miles flow through England.  

The ‘Burrrell at Berwick' is the most important art collection in a public gallery in Northumberland and well worth a visit.  Sir William Burrell made his fortune in shipping and with it bought art and objects from around the world. 

Most of his collection was donated to his home city of Glasgow, but about fifty paintings and 300 decorative items were bequeathed to Berwick when he retired to nearby Hutton Castle. The Burrell is incorporated into Berwick Museum and is located at Berwick Barracks. It features works by Degas, Boudin and Maris, ancient Roman and Venetian glass, Japanese imari pottery and Ming porcelain.       


Our Towns | Places to see in Berwick, Scottish Borders

Kelso Border Union Show
Grey Mare's Tail
Smailholm Tower
Scott's View
Melrose Abbey
The River Tweed