We love being part of the unique independent shop community at Bridge Street, Berwick, and have wanted to write a blog about the town and surrounding area for a while. Then it occurred to me that the best person to describe our love for Berwick is probably my Dad (who is also our very talented photographer). Here’s his words:
I travel quite a lot during the week, driving or taking the train into the heart of England or visiting places that are usually passed on the motorway or as fleeting place names on station platforms. More than often, people ask where I live.
‘Berwick-upon-Tweed’, I say, awaiting the common reply.
The best way to explain is to say, ‘Get to Newcastle and then drive North for another hour’.
‘Oh, you mean Scotland’.
‘No, not quite…’
There is a reason why we chose Berwick-upon-Tweed: the quiet solitude, the amazing emptiness of the beaches, the vast, uninterrupted skies, the constant fresh and invigorating air. Traffic jams are practically unheard of; parking is only a problem for those who desperately want to avoid any walking at all; the people are inviting and always ready to help. When I drive back home, I usually wind the window down just after Morpeth, breathe the rush of air and feel my shoulders and head relax. It is a different landscape; a different place; a different country.
This is not just vague romanticism. The land around Berwick is border country and like most border territories has always been one step removed from the norms, regulations and scrutiny of any central authority. Whilst the surrounding geography is breath-taking, it is no coincidence that it is has its fair share of castles and strongholds - relics from a bygone, lawless time. The most famous, just down the coast is Bamburgh, but Norham and Etal have their own modest charms. The battle fields of Flodden and Halidon Hill, the stones at Duddo (as old as the pyramids of Egypt) and the castle and Abbey on nearby Lindisfarne add to the sense of fascination and the voices of the past.
The furthest tip of Northumberland seems like an unguarded nature reserve with dolphins and seals easily spotted from the shoreline as well as birds of prey, hares and pheasants in the countryside, just outside the town boundaries. The town is divided by the River Tweed that meanders through the border country, flowing under the three town bridges, taking the last dramatic twists and turns before entering the North Sea, past the old lighthouse that is perched on the elongated harbour wall.
It does have its drawbacks of course. The A1 from Newcastle still has large stretches that are single-track. It is not a hive of economic activity and, as in most parts of the Britain, the exodus from the High Street has left its mark. Is that why the more boutique type of shops have moved to Bridge Street? Not quite. Bridge Street used to be the main shopping centre in Berwick-upon-Tweed and in the last couple of years has seen a revival. From eateries, pubs, bookshops, antiques as well as design and décor shops. Even so, there are shops and supermarkets that draw people from the wide hinterland – from Alnwick, Duns, Eyemouth and Dunbar.
Berwick has not proven to be a draw just for the surrounding population. Many people I meet, walking around the Elizabethan town walls have been attracted by its charm, its civility – and remoteness and have either settled or are frequent visitors. We don’t come from this part of the world but we are glad we found it – and can call it home.