Berwick upon Tweed- Sights and Sounds
The train ride from London to Berwick is as heroic as it is moving. As the train pulls out of beautifully renovated Kings Cross one soon sees the Arsenal Emirates stadium, then its the glass magnificence of Alexander Palace. Rushing though the dull home counties one comes to Peterborough Cathedral where poor Catherine of Aragon lies. Past the great power stations of South Yorkshire and one is looking at York Minster and now the great thoroughbred, the Flying Scotsman. This iron horse is stabled in the Railway Museum next to the main line.
Next its that greatest of cathedrals Durham, and then over the Tyne at Newcastle with its triumphant row of bridges. The Northumberland coast with its wide beaches soon gives up Lindisfarne and Holy Island and then you cross the Tweed on the magnificent Coronation Bridge built by Stephenson in the 1840s. To stand beneath and watch a train go over this Royal Border Bridge brings out the train set boy.
The cycle ride from Berwick to Holy Island is about 15 miles. The causeway to the island is only open around four hours a day. The cycle track is no more than a bog in places so it was hard going. But in parts the views are equal to those on the West Coast of Scotland and Ireland. Broad wind swept beaches with nothing but the haunting seagulls, the sea on that day was on its best behaviour, the sky ice blue and bitterly cold. To the East the Cheviots wearing their winter bonnets of white lace.
St Marys has been a pilgrim destination for nearly 2000 years. It was one of the springboards for Celtic Christianity when it brought a torch to the Dark Ages . On the day I was there a party came,lit candles and prostrated themselves. Whatever turns you on. Me? I support the pagan Arsenal. I couldn’t stay long, the tide was turning. The fierce wind on my return exhausted me.
The River Tweed is one of Europe’s many blood stained border streams. The blood that has polluted this water has been spilled to the mournful cry of bagpipes and the steady beat of fife and drum. Saxon and Celt., Pict and Roman have all in their turn failed to swim this salmon rich river. Berwick( barley farm) and its rich hinterland has been fought over so often that the town has been taken and retaken 13 times. Its proudest buildings are a rare church built by Cromwell,(no idolatrous tower or steeple!) the Elizabethan city walls and the barracks(Hawksmoor) of the Kings Own Loyal Borderers. Away the Jocks!
It was along the Tweed I walked one day to Paxton House which declares itself “a Georgian gem”. Sorry closed. Once again there was bog, in places the riverside path is almost impassable because of driftwood. But then there were wide stretches where the only companions were the tragic herons and the always busy ducks. But pride of place went to the lapwings/plovers or better named pewits. I disturbed a flock feeding on a sodden meadow and off they went. Flying a foot above the Tweed for half a mile singing their sad but distinctive tune.
My birdbook tells me that “prostitutes and deceitful women were known in the seventeenth century as Plovers, while betrayal was added to the lapwings list of vices by the Protestant Covenanters of Scotland who claimed the bird’s call gave them away to their pursuers.” Aye, none like us.