Bye bye Berwick.

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A good start to the day.

I woke in my room in the Castle Hotel on the morning of Wednesday 6th October 2019 in the knowledge that the next bed I slept in would probably be my own in London some 350 miles more or less due South.

After the events of the previous morning I had decided to skip breakfast, tasty as it was, as I would have had to have awoken at about 0600 to allow my slightly battered gastro-intestinal system time to get going and do it justice. It wasn’t as if there weren’t plenty of decent options for a bite to eat round the town.

For reasons of economy and logistics I was booked on a train at 1413 which would give me the morning in Berwick, some time in Newcastle to meet up with Paul for a pint and to collect my guitar and then a teatime train back to “the smoke” aka London.  This would get me in at a civilised hour that would not involve night buses to get home. With luck I might even have time for a pint in my local to see if any of the lads were about.

I’ve explained the logistics so I’ll explain the economy aspect very briefly for those who may not have red my previous posts. Rail fares in UK are ludicrously high for reasons I will not bore you with and, if you are not time constrained, it really pays to choose your train carefully. As usual, I’ll give a quick realistic example for today (07/01/2020) as I write this. I don’t just seek out anomalies to make my point. If I was doing the Berwick Newcastle portion of my journey on the 1413 today it would be £14:70 single. The next train at 1450 is £29:80 and the one after that at 1512 is a bargain at £6:40 so the middle train, which also happens to be the slowest is more than double the price of the preceding one and more than quadruple the price of the succeeding one. As a famous British journalist is fond of saying, “You couldn’t make it up”.

The upshot of all the juggling with the lunacies of the rail timetables and ticketing policies was that I had a few hours to kill in Berwick and by then I was fairly tuned into the place, I did like it there.  This might be a good time to mention something that I discovered whilst researching this series of entries and which really did surprise me.

I didn’t expect there to be many visitors in Berwick during the week in early November and with the awful weather, which was still pretty bleak that morning, but I had it somewhere in the back of my mind that it must be a fairly touristy place in season. Apparently, this is not the case as this article from the Daily Telegraph, a fairly respected UK broadsheet shows.

The magnificently named Boudicca Fox-Leonard, the Telegraph journalist of the 2017 piece, lists some very good reasons to visit, a few of which overlap with my own observations and experiences.  It is, however, a quote from one of the locals that is telling when he says, “Our local council and English Heritage do nothing about it. It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Berwick is no one talks about Berwick.” This really is a shame.

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Just look at that weather!

Due to my little medical blip I was unable to fly for while and I dread to think what my travel insurance will be the next time I go abroad.  I try to fly now only if it is long-haul, not particularly for any ecological reasons although they are worthy enough but because I just hate the hassle and discomfort of flying. I have described elsewhere on this blog how it is not much slower for me to visit my family in Northern Ireland by train and ferry than it is to fly and the one time I used the Eurostar was a joy.

Whilst my ability to fly was somewhat in limbo for an indeterminate time I had decided that I was going to do a lot more travelling in UK as there is just so much of it I have not seen and there is certainly plenty to see. Had I not had to return to London for yet another medical appointment and to pick up further medication I would undoubtedly have rambled around the North of England for a lot longer. I have since sorted out the medication problem by registering for an electronic system whereby I can pick up my repeat prescriptions at any pharmacy in the country so at least that hurdle is overcome and more UK travel is definitely on the horizon.

Certainly Berwick is particularly interesting in view of it’s location and turbulent history but there must be so many other similar “undiscovered” gems and I intend to winkle a few of them out. A friend of mine, another refugee from Virtual Tourist, who lives near Leicester lamented for years that nobody ever visited for the purposes of tourism as there was so much to see there. That is slightly different now with the discovery of the remains of Richard III under a carpark and their re-interment in the Cathedral but Leicester has really “won the lottery” in that respect.

The Telegraph piece I mentioned above has another linked item entitled, “Is Lincoln Britain’s most underrated city break?” which I decided to have a quick look at and have immediately added Lincolnshire’s County town / cathedral city to my bucket list. It will be a re-visit but it is about 30 years since I was there.

I could pick a few random names here, Derby, Exeter, Carlisle (which was on my radar this time round), Hereford, I could go on for a long time. I’ll bet that with my knack of ferreting out interesting places, purely by luck and with neither skill nor planning involved, that I could cobble together a decent break in any of the above and so many more beside. Cobble several together to save on travel expenses and you have the beginnings of a proper adventure. Obviously I’ll keep you posted here on how it goes but I’m getting ahead of myself so back to a rainy Berwick.

I wandered about Berwick fairly aimlessly as I had seen about all I wanted to see, well all that was open at least and I was really just killing time. I did pop into a lovely old-fashioned and prosaically named “Music Shop” where I had a long chat with the lovely lady there who told me that the premises had been in her family since Noah was a sea cadet We had a general moan about the decline of music shops due mostly to online competition. There were a few guitars but not many as she said that so many youngsters were too lazy to learn and her best selling line was ukeleles which are infinitely easier to play. This was borne out by a large selection on display and she told me that her absolute #1 seller was the ukelele with a livery of the Scottish flag. With all due respect to George Formby and Tiny Tim I cannot stand ukeleles but if they are keeping an independent music shop alive then I can’t complain too much.

If the Music Shop was prosaically named then coffee shop a few doors along most certainly wasn’t. I stupidly didn’t take an image so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that it was called “The Mule on Rouge”, complete with a red paintjob and a logo of a mule bucking. Priceless but not unique in terms of quirkily named Berwick coffee shops. The previous day I had spotted a place called “The Loovre” which was situated in a beautifully restored Victorian public toilet. Utter madness.

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By this point my stomach had woken itself up and I thought it was time for a bite to eat. As I have mentioned there is a plentiful supply of eating houses in Berwick and for some reason I had decided on one I had not even seen. I had noticed earlier the sign you can see advertising Sinners Cafe which was indicated through an archway and pretty well hidden away from the road. The sign says Sinners of Sidey Court is “Berwick’s best kept secret” and may well be although I am sure the locals have sussed it out as it is very good.

Sinners of Sidey Court, what a lovely old-fashioned name in this historic town. Actually it’s not. A plaque on the opposite wall of the archway informs us that the building was formerly the Avenue Hotel and was redeveloped and named after Thomas Leslie Sidey, the town’s Mayor in 1980 – 81 and the worthy gentleman himself opened the redevelopment in 1982. Hardly ancient but I suppose all history has to start somewhere.

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A lovely poppy display.

The first thing I noticed about the exterior was the prominent display of poppy wreaths and crosses as Remembrance Day was fast approaching. I mentioned in a previous post how seriously they seemed to take it very seriously in Berwick and I like that. Inside the cafe they had a whole table dedicated to the full range of poppy related items so good for them. I already had my poppy so I got a poppy wristband to add to my collection.

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Maybe some other time.

I had seen a rather monstrous looking meal called the “Ultimate Sinners Breakfast” advertised which you can read for yourself in the image but my stomach wasn’t that awake just yet. I had also noticed that they served breakfast until the somewhat arbitrary hour of 1120.  I suppose the kitchen needs to get ready for lunch but it just seemed rather a strange time to pick. I was just about in time and so I picked a slightly less-challenging offering than the “Ultimate” which I would love to have go at under the right conditions.

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Up came my rather more modest choice served by a very cheery lady and I do apologise if this is getting repetitive but just about everyone I met during the whole trip was just so damned friendly and I do feel it is worthy of mention. I polished it off in no time flat and read a few pages of my book whilst finishing off my coffee. It was that “in-between” time and the place was pretty empty so I didn’t feel guilty about hogging the table.

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As you can see from the interior image, there is a slightly retro feel to Sinners and whilst it may not be exactly a secret as claimed in the advertising, it is a great find and I thoroughly recommend it. Incidentally, they have good veggie / vegan options if that is an issue for you.

After my tasty breakfast it was back to killing time and I hit couple of the charity shops where I struck exceptionally lucky and ended up with rather more books than it was possibly sensible to be humping about in a suitcase. Books are bloody heavy! I had only one final piece of shopping to do and the image below may give you a clue.

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The oldest business in town.

I described in the last entry the wonderful haggis dinner I had enjoyed in the Brewers Arms and how much I love that particular delicacy. I always buy some when I am in Scotland to bring home and usually some Lorne / square sausage as well but I’ll tell you what that is another time. Unfortunately, I have a tiny freezer compartment in the tiny fridge in the tiny kitchen in my tiny flat (apartment) – OK, you get the idea. The upshot of that is that, much as I would love to, I cannot bulk buy and freeze. I am lucky in that my local supermarket stocks MacSweens haggis which is a very well known brand and very good so I don’t actually have to go “haggis cold turkey” if that is not an oxymoron but I do like proper butcher’s haggis when I can get it.

I went in to W.R. Skelly the butcher in Marygate purely because it looked like a “proper” old-fashioned butcher and that turned out to be the truth as I now know it is run by the seventh generation of the same family in a business stretching back over 250 years. It is said to be the oldest business in the town and I can believe it.

I enquired about Lorne sausage and the butcher was very apologetic that he didn’t have any so I asked about the haggis. I was in luck, he told me, as he had some freshly made that very morning. Morning for him would have been early as the shop opens every day except Sunday at 0600. I really cannot imagine what trade they get at that hour but they must or they would not do it.

I told him that I was cooking for one and a whole haggis as sold in the supermarket was a bit much so I asked if he did the sliced haggis which is the other way it is commonly sold. He said he did although that this batch was so fresh that it had not properly firmed up yet but if I told him how many slices I wanted he’d cut me a big piece to and a while in the fridge at home would make it easy to slice. This is what he did and it sliced exactly as he said not to mention being possibly the best (and freshest) haggis I have ever eaten. It wasn’t even from Scotland although I suppose if I had been here a few centuries before it would have been, such is Berwick.

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Time to hit the rails again – eventually.

I took the image of the butcher’s at 1350 and by 1400 I had gone back to the hotel, picked up my bag and said cheerio to the lovely lady on reception and walked to the station. Berwick is quite compact place which is yet another reason to visit.

As it happened I needn’t have rushed as all trains coming from Scotland were being delayed due to some accident. That wasn’t a major problem as I had plenty of time scheduled in Newcastle but it was a bit of an annoyance. Berwick station isn’t a bad place to hang about, if a bit cold and blustery that day and, as you can see, you can even get a bit of a history lesson both from the sign and the little bit of the castle that wasn’t either robbed out to build the Parish Church or flattened to make way for the station. You can just see it across the works yard in one of the images.


I certainly felt more than a twinge of regret leaving Berwick. In fairness to English Heritage, who were castigated by one of people interviewed for the Telegraph piece I linked above, they do have an excellent guide which is available free online here. The tagline is “three places, two nations, one town” and, whilst I had only visited one of the three places I feel that this is a fairly good summation of the town. It is definitely on my re-visit list when I get time, possibly linked with a bit more explorataion of the Borders which is an area I have spent far too little time in.

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Newcastle railway station.

When I alighted back in Newcastle I took a little time to look around the station there and, as promised a few entries ago, I’ll give you a quick potted history here.
The story of the station starts in 1846 when the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway commissioned that man John Dobson to design a central station to link the various services that were going to pass through the city, from London to the South, Scotland to the North and Carlisle to the West. The curved nature of the platforms was to accommodate the alignment of the tracks approaching form the different directions. Yes, as I told you before, Dobson really was responsible for designing about half of Newcastle.

Dobson produced a grand design which had thankfully changed very little and is unlikely to do so in future as it is quite rightly a listed building. Today, as it was at the time of it’s conception, it is a major transport hub with just shy of nine million passengers in 2018 / 19 with the figure rising to over 13 million if you include the integrated Metro station and, of course, the Metro is to a large extent just an upgrade of the former branch line.

As the station was to be built on the North bank of the Tyne a crossing was required which was the High Level Bridge, my vertiginous nemesis of the previous Saturday and this was given priority for resources which meant that construction of the station was not particularly speedy. I was surprised to learn that the contract was tendered at £92,000 which is the equivalent of about £8.5 million today. In light of the recent £1 billion refurbishment of London Bridge station I think this is quite reasonable. I know which one I would rather look at.

Due to money problems in the railway company at the time, Dobson’s original grandiose plan was pared back some with the covered carriage drive and attached hotel going by the board. This is quite unusual in that most major rail stations had their own hotels in those days. Two excellent examples are the Balmoral which many (myself included) still refer to as the North British and the wonderful George Gilbert Scott creation at St. Pancras in London.

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The station was eventually opened by H.M. Queen Victoria on 29th August 1850 and, naturally, she arrived by train to perform the ceremony. I am always fascinated by how inextricably steam railways and the associated engineering are so inextricably linked to the admittedly lengthy reign of that durable monarch. I often wonder how history will look back on the reign of our current monarch, who has reigned even longer. I do not mean in terms of Her Majesty herself but in terms of what is associated with this period of British history which has covered my entire life.

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Anyone here seen Carter?

Paul had texted me with his ETA and I still had a bit of time to kill, notwithstanding the delay, so I thought I might chance a pint and I didn’t have far to go as I spied the Victoria Comet right opposite the station. On the principle that I had not been in it before I thought I would give it a try and I was in for a treat. Having secured my pint and a seat, I took myself for a bit of look round and was utterly delighted to find the display you can just about see in the image. Sorry about the reflections, it was the best I could do. You can just make out that it refers to the 1971 film “Get Carter” which is a great favourite of mine.

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Starring Michael Caine, Britt Eckland and Ian Hendry and directed by Mike Hodges, the film tells the story of gangster Jack Carter (Caine) who returns to Newcastle to avenge the suspicious death of his brother. In the opening sequence of the film Carter travels to Newcastle by train and this really dates the film, not to mention commenting on how the railways have changed. On the train he dines in a proper dining car complete with white-jacketed waiters and proper food whilst in the carriage there is a man smoking!  Have a look.

Right at the end of this clip you can see him heading across the road, as I had done, and you can just see the outside of the Comet where the film then cuts to an inside scene. In this clip, narrated by Si King, who is himself a bit of a cooking hero of mine and a Geordie, there is a brief glimpse of the interior and it really has not changed much. I remember reading somewhere that when they were filming things got a bit lively as all the extras were drinking proper drink, presumably paid for by the film crew, and getting more than a little merry.

Get Carter is a great film and I do urge you to see it if you have not done so already. Apart from anything else, it shows the dramatic changes in the city in the last 50 or so years. It even features that damned High Level Bridge which looks as terrifyingly high in 1970, when filming took place, as it does today.

I thought I’d get quick bite to eat and the grub in the Comet looked great but all a bit hearty. I wasn’t terribly hungry after my excellent breakfast but I thought it made sense to grab a little something. I really didn’t fancy eating on the train as the food isn’t much to speak of and is priced in accordance with the tickets i.e. to put maximum profit in the pockets of the shareholders. Nothing else for it then but to head back to the Mile Castle for my favourite small Hawaiian pizza which is what I did.

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Yes, I am a creature of habit.

Paul had arranged to meet me in the Centurion Bar in the station which made sense as it meant he would not have to lug my guitar far and I theoretically shouldn’t miss my train.

I have mentioned that I generally don’t like station bars but when I walked into this one my jaw dropped as it is the most magnificent room. A 2015 article in the Telegraph newspaper mentioned above describes it as, “one of Britain’s finest bars”. I didn’t want to annoy people by using flash but I hope the image of the bar below gives you some idea.

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This really is something special.

Stunning as it is, the bar has not always looked like this and it has a quite chequered history. It was originally a waiting room under Dobson’s plans but in 1892 it was completely done up to provide a First Class Waiting Room and Bar. Not least in this makeover was the exquisite tiling which alone is now valued at £3.5 million and is said to be the best example of Bumantofts tiles outside a museum. No doubt a ceramicist could tell you what these are although I had no idea at the time but you can have a look at the link here. What I can tell you is that they are bloody impressive and there is currently a single tile on eBay for £29:50 which makes sense of the £3.5 million.

What beggars belief is the act of vandalism that took place in the 1960’s when these magnificent tiles were concreted over and the room was used as cells for the British Transport Police. It really is astonishing that anyone saw fit to do this. The tiles were thus hidden until they were “re-discovered” during building work in 2000 and someone had the very good idea to restore the Centurion to it’s former glory and use. I am so glad they did.

I also found out whilst researching this that there is a “secret” bar here and indeed it is. It is so secret that I had no idea of it’s existence even whilst sitting in the main bar and I still don’t know where it is!

Bidding Paul a sad adieu and with very heartfelt thanks I ambled over to my platform and settled myself down for the journey home. The train left bang on time but, being British railways, that punctuality was never going to last. Somewhere during the journey the guard, or whatever stupid name they have given them now, came on the PA system.  From what I could make out of the tinny squawk he told us the train wasn’t working properly. The result was that were were going to be late arriving which we were, about 35 minutes if memory serves. Brilliant. Two journeys and two delays that day, just my luck, or was it? According to their latest figures, only 43.4% of LNER trains over the network arrived at stations on time so I am not just making this up.

As I said, I had built in a bit of time to possibly have a drink in my local on the way home, which I did, but none of my mates were about and so I limited myself to the one and headed home to sleep in my own bed, which was becoming something of a rarity recently.

Time now for my usual round-up of the trip which I had thoroughly enjoyed for so many reasons. You’ll be glad to know that I won’t go on too much but one thought has struck me, especially whilst writing the last few entries.

I know I am always writing about how interesting everything was and how friendly people were and how tasty the food was and so on. I am becoming slightly concerned that I sound either like an advertising agency for various entities or else I am naive to the point of having a childlike wonder at everything I see and do. I can assure you that I do not receive a penny for any of my comments here, they are all genuine reflections of what I experienced.

As for my possible naivety, I do enjoy travelling immensely and my natural curiosity leads me to seek things out and then research them to within an inch of their lives when I write them up. If that is an unsophisticated approach to both exploration and writing then so be it as I am unlikely to change at my time of life.

Northumberland was a great trip and I really want to get back there soon. Paul, I know you read this so don’t forget me if you need a dep again!

In the next entry I am “confined to barracks” a bit for various reasons and have to find some diversions closer to home so stay tuned and spread the word.

A heavy blow in Berwick, in both senses of the term.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot”.

So runs the old children’s rhyme concerning the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy aka Guido Fawkes and others attempted to blow up the King and Parliament. I once had a friend who was affectionately known as “Mad Katie” who wore a T-shirt with the legend “Guy Fawkes – the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions” which always amused me. So here I was, 415 years later, waking up in a very comfy bed in the Castle Hotel in Berwick-upon-Tweed and, to be honest, attempted regicide was not really on my mind.

What was more on my mind was the weather as I had a day’s sightseeing planned come Hell or high water and a glance out the window confirmed that the latter was much more likely than fire and brimstone as the weather was disgusting. If you have read my earlier entries you will know that the day before had been appalling and it showed no signs of letting up. Still, it was November, where was this year going? It is a cliché, and like most clichés it is based in truth, that time goes faster the older you get and I had really noticed it in 2019 but I wasn’t going to let it get to me.

I was having a brilliant trip to Northumberland, I had a whole new historic town to explore and, best of all, a Regimental Museum to visit. I love military history and the Museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers was going to be added to my list of similar establishments already visited.

I had arisen with the lark, having unusually set my alarm clock as I wanted an early start to my explorations and also because there was breakfast on offer.   I thought if I had good feed now I could do with a quick bite at lunchtime or perhaps skip it completely and so have more time to look round. I don’t normally eat for a few hours after I wake but it seemed to make sense.

When I got to the breakfast room I was obviously the last arrival as they had most of the chairs on the tables, presumably to clean the floor although it looked spotless to me. Thankfully there was a table still in operation and so I parked myself there, ignoring the cereals on offer although I did have a glass of orange juice. A friendly lady came out and took my order for a full English which was indeed full, full on that is.

If you have read other posts of mine from my time back in Northern Ireland you will know that I cook and eat the most monstrous fry-ups but that is when my stomach has had a few hours to wake up. The breakfast was gorgeous, with special mention for the bacon which was first rate, but it defeated me and I just could not finish it which annoyed me as I hate food waste.

More than full up, it was time to hit the road, downpour or no. I had looked briefly online and decided to head down towards the sea to take in the Bell Tower and the Lord’s Mount before going round by town walls which would bring me to the Barracks which house the Museum I was so keen to see. A walk along the High Greens and the Low Greens brought me to the Bell Tower and I noted the pleasant looking Pilot Inn for later investigation.

There was a reasonable path to the Tower but couldn’t really explore properly as I still had only those silly white training shoes which I mentioned before. Memo to self – bring walking boots to Northumberland in November!

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Early warning system, 16th century style.

The Bell Tower was built in 1577 on an earlier 14th century base and formed part of the medieval defensive walls which are amongst the best preserved in Europe and were begun by Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307. He was known as “Malleus Scotorum” or “Hammer of the Scots” and herein lies a clue as to much of what Berwick represents.

Although it is now in England it is only a bit over 50 miles from Edinburgh and was for centuries the front line between the warring English and Scots. It has changed hands no less than 13 times over the years which in some ways defines the place. For example, I found the accent here much more akin to Scots than to that of their fellow Northumbrians in Newcastle.

The 1502 Treaty of Everlasting Peace between the two nations stated that Berwick was “of England but not in England” and for centuries was mentioned separately in all Acts of Parliament and this gives rise to a story you may have heard of relating to to the town, if you have heard of it at all.

It is popularly believed that an administrative oversight during the drafting of the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean war between Russia and the United Kingdom, omitted to mention Berwick and so the town had technically remained at war with the Russians until a peace treaty was signed in the 1960’s. Sadly, like so many great stories it is completely false and probably arose out of a talk given by a local cleric in the early 20th century. True or not, I doubt the Russians were ever too worried about the 12,000 or so residents of Berwick taking up arms and marching on the Kremlin.

My plans to visit the Lord’s Mount foundered on the rock of my pristine footwear and the prospect of a very soggy route underfoot so I stayed on the solid pavement of the charmingly named Low Greens until I came upon the delightful sight you see above albeit that it undoubtedly looks a whole lot better on a sunny day.  If this is the green referred to in the street name then it is certainly one of the smaller ones I have seen but they have made the most of it and the excellent information board gives a fascinating insight into the area.

This part of town is generically known as Greenses Harbour although I saw no evidence of fishing except for this decorative little dinghy. It is so named for a natural harbour here which was once home to a thriving fleet with herring being a popular catch, along with cod and haddock.  Illegally poached salmon also provided a good proportion of the local’s diet.

The locals were so swarthy and weather-beaten from their hard, outdoor life that they were known as “Greenses Arabs” which was partly due, in addition to the climate, by virtue of the fact that some were of Flemish, Spanish, Portuguese and French extraction although I am unsure how such a varied bunch found themselves washed up here. Perhaps that is the reason, they were all shipwrecked mariners. When I was later to catch sight of the wild North Sea battering the coast, that is perhaps not such a fanciful notion.

Walking further along Low Greens took me back in the direction of the town where I knew I was bound to come to the town walls sooner or later. On the way, I saw what I initially thought was a Church / Community Hall by it’s appearance but turned out to be a charity shop for the local hospice although I stick by my idea of what the building was originally. I am a sucker for charity shops to the extent that I literally cannot remember the last time I bought book in a conventional bookshop and I read a lot. What passes for my wardrobe, and I am certainly no fashion victim as some of you know, was similarly sourced.

Having just read on the information board about the very hard and impoverished conditions of the Greenses Harbour fishermen I came to the conclusion that it was very changed times round there as the items for sale were all top of the range, designer labelled and obviously priced at a fraction of what they had gone for initially. In the event I didn’t find anything I fancied but I did have a great chat with the lovely ladies in there. They were incredulous when I told them how and why I was in Berwick and wandering about on day like this but they wished me well for my sightseeing and I took off back into the teeth of the howling onshore wind.

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Do you fancy attacking this?

I came to the walls soon enough and was again amazed at how well they were preserved given their age. The next thing to do was find a way either onto or through them. As you can see, they are still fairly formidable and there was no way I could have scaled them.  To think of having to have assaulted them a few hundred years ago under enfilading fire, which was how they were designed, is a fairly daunting prospect.

I eventually found a gate behind which I could see the barracks which pleased me as the image shows just how much the terrible weather had deteriorated by this point.
Passing through the gate gave a very good illustration of just how solid these walls were, they must be a minimum of 25 feet thick and it would have taken a serious naval barrage to even put a scratch in it. The gates are still intact as well and they look like a pretty tough proposition as well.

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My first glimpse.

Immediately on passing through the gate I took the external image of the barracks which you can see and immediately I saw that something was wrong. I hadn’t checked on opening times and perhaps this was the one day a week it closed or perhaps there was another entrance round the corner or………. What I hadn’t expected, when I checked the information board was that it was seasonal and had closed for the winter the previous weekend. My main reason for visiting the town and I had missed it by two days. Sod that for a game of soldiers (pun absolutely intended).

I took an image or two of the now-closed barracks by threading my camera through the bars of the locked gate and it is a fine structure indeed which is no surprise as it was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor and brings me back to something I say often here which is that everything to do with my travelling and my life seems to connect and come round in circles. I’ll make this brief or we will be here all day.

Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1661 – 1736) was a famous architect who worked with Sir Christopher Wren, notably on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London as well as Hampton Court Palace and the Hospitals of Greenwich and Chelsea. Churches were very much his stock-in-trade and he was the beneficiary of an Act of Parliament of 1711 to build 50 new churches in and around the City of London.

As it turned out, only twelve churches were built with six of these to Hawksmoor’s designs along with two collaborations where he took a minor role. Three of them (St. Anne’s Limehouse, St. George in the East, Wapping and the grandest, Christ Church, Spitalfields) are all within 30 minutes brisk walk of my home. These three, along with some of his other designs were all places I wrote about on Virtual Tourist and I may well dig out the text and do a piece here if I ever get up to date! Hawksmoor and I go back a long way and my piece on St. George in the East was one of the first I ever posted on the internet and possibly where I got the bug for this kind of thing.

If you like a good conspiracy theory, and who doesn’t, there is a beauty about Hawksmoor and his churches. It is not conspiracy but documented fact that Hawksmoor and his mentor Wren were both Freemasons and Wren is supposed to have been fairly high up in the craft. He is also alleged to be part of the Illuminati, if you believe in that sort of thing. Geometry plays a large part in the symbolism of the Masons and both men, as architects, would have been well versed in that science. The basis of the theory is that if you plot some of Hawksmoor’s churches on a map they form a pentagram with St. Paul’s at the centre.

All the above may be complete nonsense but I have just spent quite a few hours diverted into a world I had never really considered and yet which I had been exploring unknowingly for years. Yes, that is a bit cryptic and no, I haven’t gone completely mad, at least not as far as I can tell.  On the back of this I can see a few new projects coming up for my explorations if I ever get this current lot written up, which seems unlikely at this rate.

If you want to have a look for yourself then just try an internet search on “psychogeography”, itself a gorgeous word, and “London” and see what you come up with. I do warn you that if you are as as inquisitive as me it can be a lengthy operation. For a quick start, all the hard work regarding the Hawksmoor idea is done for you here. I won’t go into more detail but that is the bare bones and I want to get back to a rainy day in Berwick.

To say that I was disappointed by my failure to visit the Barracks was would be an understatement and to have missed it by such a narrow margin was indeed a bitter pill to swallow. Still, I had the bridges to look forward to and I was quite sure I would find something else along the way, I always do.

The next “find” was a complete reverse of the Barracks and very close to it. Sadly, in this day and age, I do not really expect to find churches open unless they are very large tourist attractions or are open for a special purpose like a service and so I didn’t hold out much hope as I approached the Church of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary aka Berwick Parish Church which stands just opposite the Barracks. To my surprise and delight it was open.

I was just glad to be in out of the rain but I was soon back in exploring mode and this was a fascinating place. Given the bellicose nature of the town and the long-standing barracks a stone’s throw away it came as no surprise that there were a number of military memorials here and that suited nicely as it tied in with my practice of photographing such objects. As I have mentioned before I contribute to the excellent War Memorials Online project and there were rich pickings here indeed.

 

One memorial that particularly caught my eye was one to a Lt. Wanston of the Inniskilling Dragoons, the reason being that the Regiment was raised around Co. Fermanagh in what is now Northern Ireland, the country of my birth. The unfortunate Lt. Wanston had lost his life in 1900 in the Boer War which I think is a much forgotten part of British military history, possibly because it is not particularly glorious but that is a discussion for another time.

 

Apart from the numerous personal memorials, the main remembrance of the fallen of two World Wars is particularly impressive as it covers the entire lower wall behind the altar which gives it a position of physical and symbolic prominence in the church. I may have seen similar examples before but I really cannot recall where or when.
In a town that is only about 2 ½ miles from the border and boasts so many “furthest Norths in England” it is unsurprising that this is the Northernmost Church in the country, having taken that distinction from the now re-used St. Mary’s, Castlegate that I mentioned in the last entry.

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One of very few.

With my track record for such things it is almost inevitable that this building is of particular interest in that it is one of only a handful built during the Commonwealth which was the period between 1649 and 1660, after the Civil War, when England did not have a monarch and were ruled as a Republic by Parliament / Oliver Cromwell. It is also the only one still in use as a place of worship. This is where it starts to get little strange.

One of the other rare Commonwealth era churches is St. Matthias Old Church, now a Community Centre, which is in Poplar and not 30 minutes walk from my home.  Again, I had previously written about in my time on Virtual Tourist. It was merged in the 1970’s with St. Anne’s, Limehouse which was odd as St. Matthias had by far the larger and more active congregation. The reason cited was that St. Anne’s was too architecturally important to lose which is interesting as it was designed by our old friend Hawksmoor, as I mentioned above. Although I had no inkling of any of this at the time and only discovered it all today whilst researching this piece, it leads me inexorbly back to the concept of the “interconnectedness of all things” that I refer to often and am becoming increasingly convinced of.

Money to build a Church here had actually been granted by King Charles I in 1641 before he literally lost his head in 1649 and the building work carried on, to the design of John Young, using mostly stone plundered from Berwick Castle. It was finally finished in 1652 but was not consecrated until 1660 after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

There is a fine organ in the church which is the latest of a series of rebuilds of a 1773 original designed by Byfield and Green of London with the latest update costing a princely £160,000 in 2010. This was necessitated by a botched rebuild by the organist in the 1970’s.

You may wonder why a church that was consecrated in 1660 did not have an organ for over a century later and the clue to this lies in it’s date. The time of the Republic was a time of puritanism and so the church was built without chancel, altar, organ, tower or bells. The local Bishop ordered a chancel and altar built when he consecrated it but, as the image shows, of tower and bells there are none to this day.  This situation is remedied by the slightly unusual arrangement whereby the “church” bells were installed in the tower of the nearby Town Hall from where they are rung. Fearing another time-consuming digression I have disciplined myself not to investigate this state of affairs but I’ll bet it is pretty rare.

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As much symbolism as you like.

Another of my many loves is stained glass and, again, Holy Trinity and St. Mary’s served me well as you can see above. This is the Millennium Window designed by Ann Southeran and is absolutely loaded with symbolism. At this point I shall defer to an entry in an excellent blog written by a “Northern vicar” so he should know what he is talking about. He tells us,
“At the top of the centre bay the window holds the symbol of the Trinity, drawn as a Celtic knot, endlessly intertwining. Beneath is the Tree of Life also a Celtic veneration of growing things – God in Creation. The Tree is nourished by the water of life, also the symbol of Baptism for the window which is directly above the font. The image of the church is from a sketch by Susan E. Hughes. The water becomes the River Tweed, Tweed Dock and the coastline. The main cross is Celtic, with a circle representing encirclement, protection and eternity – it stretches across all three lights of the window. In each of the four corners are the four Evangelists. In the left is St Columba with the Scriptures overlaying Iona; the right hand is St Aidan overlaying Holy Island. Wonderful”.

Wonderful indeed, although I am always a little surprised at the use of Celtic symbolism in churches and gravestones as Christianity did it’s best to obliterate the older Celtic / pagan belief system and regrettably succeeded. A little subconscious triumphalism, perhaps?

A little warmer and a lot happier I went outside to brave the elements again, still with no plan other than those lovely bridges which were exerting some sort of siren song by this point.

Heading back towards the river I passed the rather grandly named “St Andrew’s Wallace Green and Lowick Church of Scotland” which sadly was not open as it’s Church of England neighbour had been. Perhaps the canny Scots are more suspicious of the modern world than their English counterparts. Although the Church and building dte to 1859 it did not become part of the Church of Scotland until 1971. I m sure that is an interesting tale but another one that will have to remain unresearched at present.

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Another one bits the dust!

Passing another sadly closed pub (the Cobbled Yard Hotel) which I photographed to submit to the Lost Pubs website and passing also my hotel I headed back towards the station where I knew there was the entrance to park which would lead me to the River and hopefully some good images of the railway bridge.

I hadn’t even got into the park when I met the cuddly looking and very cleverly carved chap you can see who I was informed by the attached plaque is Bari the Berwick Bear which I feel needs some explanation and it is rather clever. The sculpture was carved in 2017 by David Gross and it references the name of the town. Berwick is named from the old English “bere” and “wick” which mean barley and farm respectively. Simple enough. Transliterate this into modern English and you get “bear” and “wych” which is a type of elm tree. The logo of the town Council is a bear and an elm tree. I told you it was clever stuff. The name? Well, bari is a local dialect word for something that is really nice and I wouldn’t disagree.

Leaving my new-found ursine friend behind I finally made it into the Castle Vale Park which really was not seen to best advantage in these conditions. A very informative board told me that the park was built on part of a ravine which once formed part of the defences of the now derelict Berwick Castle which would have been to my right as I looked towards the river and beside the railway bridge I was aiming for. The railway station itself is actually built on part of the site of the castle. The board also indicated that there was a path along the river which would bring me nicely back into town via the other two bridges. Job done, I had a new plan.

The park is small, narrow and and the path is just bit slippery underfoot in weather like this was so be careful. In a town as ancient as this it is a fairly modern addition to the attractions having only been laid out in 1931 on land given to the people by a philantrhropic Mr. Cairns. Thank you, sir!

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I made it at last.

Getting down to the river I was treated to a wonderful view of the bridge I was so desirous of seeing and photographing and I did have quite a few attempts at it of which the one above is my favourite. The flat calm and a very temporary lull in the rain made for some great reflections on the Tweed.

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I wanted to get “up close and personal” and walked up to, and under, the bridge in search of a new camera angle but I didn’t improve on my previous efforts. What I found instead was a lovely, slightly brooding, River Tweed upstream. Not only had I managed my images of the bridge but I was also at the remains of the Castle, such as they are.

Berwick Castle dates to the 12th century and it was here in 1292 that King Edward I (yes, Longshanks again) declared John Balliol King of Scotland over the rival claim of Robert the Bruce. What I did not know until writing this was that the Count of Holland also had his hat in the ring for the Kingship although I am not quite sure how. Despite what appears to be a fairly strong defensive position on top of a steep hill, the castle was captured by both sides over the years so it was not at all impregnable. At one point King Richard I, the so-called Lionheart, sold the castle to the Scots to fund his ultimately ill-fated Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

With the building of the new ramparts in the 16th century the castle became largely obsolete and in the 19th century much of what remained was demolished to make way for the station. All that really remains now is what you can see in the images including the very aptly named “Breakneck Stairs”. Breaking your neck seems a likely fate for those attempting them in the dark, especially on a day like this was.

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They shall not pass!

With what remains of the castle duly photographed it was time for my riverside walk along the riverside path which was built in 1815 and is referred to as the New Road. Road it may or may not be but what it certainly was not that day was a thoroughfare as the image shows. Could anything else go wrong on this walk? All the way back up I climbed and I did manage another few decent images of the bridge but I won’t bore you with them here.

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Following a higher level path I soon came upon the the ramparts again, it is difficult not to. This particular portion of the walls is called Meg’s Mount and I can only surmise that Meg must have been a cannon of some description like the famous and monstrously calibred Mons Meg in Edinburgh Castle. If so, I can offer no explanation as to the use of the name Meg for heavy artillery. Can anyone enlighten me?

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I walked a little further and found this rather pleasing water fountain which was erected on the occasion of the Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee in 1897.

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By this point it was getting on for three in the afternoon, I had been walking a lot and so I was getting thirsty. Whilst looking at the pubs online the previous evening I had noted the Leaping Salmon and I knew it was nearby so, passing through the Castlegate which I was becoming quite familiar with, I headed on down towards the river. Of course, being that close to the river I was close to the bridges and so another few images were quickly rattled off.

In the course of taking the bridge images it occurred to me that the light was going and so I did the completely unthinkable and gave the pub a miss to get a bit more sightseeing done. Yes, really. I walked past the pub but I did return later that evening when it was dark and my photographic attempts were not calling.


I decided to try to walk a bit more of the ramparts and was heading back towards Meg’s Mount when I came upon the statue of Annie, Lady Jerningham and took a couple of images as I found it quite charming with the two dogs. Naturally, I felt compelled to do a bit of research as I had never heard of Lady J. or her husband and I was a little intrigued by the statement on the inscription describing him as “late and last member of Parliament for the borough”. I found it unlikely that notwithstanding Berwick’s unusual political history it had no parliamentary representation so here is the story.

Sir Hubert Edward Henry Jerningham had served as MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed which was redefined under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 and hence the phrase on the inscription. The good folk of Berwick are indeed represented in Parliament, at time of writing by Anne-Marie Trevelyan of the Conservative party. Unusually, this constituency is one of only two in the Northeast never to have had a Labour MP.

After leaving Parliament, Sir Hubert entered what might loosely be described as the Diplomatic Service and was first the Governor of Mauritius and then Trinidad and Tobago, taking his wife, Lady Annie with him. She was the widow of a man called Charles Mather when she married Sir Hubert. Sadly, colonial life apparently did not suit her health and she died in 1901 of an illness contracted in Trinidad and Tobago.
As another ridiculous aside, did you know that Trinidad and Tobago is named for the Spanish words for (holy) trinity and tobacco? You do now but back to rainy Berwick and my walk round the ramparts.

I had passed under Castlegate often enough but it was only when I walked over the top of it that I not only got a great shot of the Town Hall but also found out about a very unusual artistic connection with the town. As I was looking at the Town Hall from the rampart I could not help but notice the information board headed “the Lowry Trail” and with an image very obviously in the style of the painter L.S. Lowry and of exactly the view I was now looking at.

I know next to nothing about art but even I recognise the “matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs” style immortalised in the appalling 1978 hit song by Brian and Michael. I have juxtaposed my image and the facsimile of Lowry’s painting here to illustrate how little has changed in the intervening eight decades or so.

In my mind Lowry was inextricably linked with the grime of the industrial Northwest, particularly the area round Salford where he lived so why was there a trail here in this seaside Northumbrian former fishing town? It appears that in the 1930’s, up until the outbreak of World War Two he took his annual holiday here and did a lot of painting as you might expect.  After his stint as a war artist in that conflict he continued to visit right up until his death.

Lowry would have had plenty of views to choose from in this attractive place. There is more of him in a moment but for now it is useless trivia time again. L.S. Lowry was the official artist for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. I wonder if he worked in the style of “matchstick Queens and matchstick cats and corgis”.

Following the ramparts on round I found myself back at the sea, more or less where I had started that morning. Being slightly elevated gave me good view over the golf course, the undoubtedly closed holiday park and the North Sea which was still looking fairly unwelcoming. I was also treated to a view of how effective the defences must have been as shown in the second image above. Imagine trying to assault the walls over that completely exposed killing ground, it would have been complete suicide. It is easy to see that when they were constructed, these formidable defences represented the cutting edge of military engineering, largely inspired by Italian design and are today regarded as some of the finest remaining examples in Europe.

Another view of the Barracks did little to soften the blow of my earlier visit and when I came down from the walls I was not at all surprised to find that the Gymnasuim Gallery, equally unsurprisingly housed in the old Barracks gym, was also closed. I did allow myself a small smile at the thought of the amount of sweat that must have been produced in there by generations of squaddies being beasted by ackers. In conventional English that means generations of rank and file soldiers being trained hard by Physical Training Instructors!

Carrying on a bit further I discovered that I was still on the Lowry trail although I was making no conscious effort to do so. I found myself facing what had once obviously been a rather grand house and reading the Lowry information board about it. It is rather unimagintively known as  and is a listed building. It was refurbished in early 2019 although whether it still serves as a residence I really cannot say although somehow I doubt it.

There is a probably apocryphal story that Lowry spoke of buying the premises but a surveyor friend found it riddled with damp.  Lowry was a single man who would have had no use for such a large dwelling and used to stay in the Castle Hotel when he visited. When I found that out I couldn’t help but wonder if he had ever stayed in the room I was in. Possibly not but it is a nice thought.

As you can probably guess from the length of the description I had walked a fair bit that day which was good as I am supposed to exercise regularly but what was not so good was that I hadn’t eaten since that gargantuan breakfast and it seemed like a long time ago. Certainly it was large enough to keep me going but I was getting a bit peckish and so I decided to regroup in the Brewers Arms where I had been the day before and where the food had looked good. There had also been plenty of diners which I always take to be a good sign.

Approaching the pub, I not only had my choice of dining venue confirmed but also my menu choice decided before I even set foot in the place! They had a blackboard outside with an extensive list of the daily specials on it and that included haggis so there was no doubt in my mind. I know haggis is not to everyone’s taste being made from the lungs, heart and various other sheep offal mixed with oatmeal and traditionally wrapped in the intestine of the poor old sheep. Put like that it does not sound overly appetising but I love the stuff.


In I went, ordered my first pint of the day, if you can believe that, and the special of haggis which included a dessert so I went for the pear crumble with custard as any sort of crumble is another favourite of mine although I am not much of a sweet eater. The meal was duly served by a very friendly young lady and I took to it with a will. I had certainly earned it and it turned out to be a fitting reward for my exertions as the whole meal was excellent and obviously home made. OK, the haggis would have been bought in, but you know what I mean and it was very good, nice and spicy as I like it.

Quite replete I decided on a quick spruce up and an hour’s post-prandial doze which I duly did. Suitably refreshed I took off into the filthy night for the short walk to the Pilot Inn which I mentioned what seems like half a book ago now. Online I had seen words like “quaint”, “traditional” and “homely” bandied about and it was certainly all of those. It was also completely empty and I mean there was not even anyone behind the bar. I ventured a tentative, “Hello” and was rewarded by what I took to be the landlady who, after serving me, apologised and said that he was having her dinner in the other room but that if I required anything to just call her. There I was, a complete stranger, left all alone in the bar where I could have stolen just about anything I could have carried. It was very trusting of her.

I had a good look round and studied the various old pictures on the wall. I also took the image of the beer font you can see as I know the Broughton Brewery is a small brewery nearby in the Scottish Borders and this seems to reflect the policy here of having various guest ales available.

My solitary existence was interrupted, although not unpleasantly so, by a young girl who had come in to charge her mobile ‘phone and when I got talking to her she regaled me with a story about having had a row with her Mother who had thrown her out.  She needed the ‘phone charged to call round and found somewhere to stay. I’ve heard all sorts of spurious tales of woe from beggars but for various reasons I think she was telling the truth and, feeling sorry for her, bought her a drink after summoning the landlady from her TV soap watching in the other room.

I was a little concerned about the young lady, who was certainly not dressed for being outdoors in that weather but she assured me she would be alright when she had made a few calls. She thanked me for the drink and took off to wherever it was she was going. I do hope she was OK.

By about 2100 it was very obvious that I was going to be the only patron that evening and so I spoke to the landlady about when she was going to close. Although she invited me to make myself at home, which I already had done, and stay as long as I liked, I reckoned she would bar the door as soon as I went so I took my leave. When I was there I discovered that they held regular open folk music sessions so I’d love to get back for one of those. It was a great little pub and I was sorry to leave although it was clearly the decent thing to do.

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I missed it the first time but not the second.

As if I had not done enough walking for one day I trekked all the way back down the town to the Leaping Salmon which I had so stoically avoided earlier. The Leaping Salmon is quite unusual in that it was formerly a Wetherspoons pub but they had sold it which is something of a rarity as they normally hang onto places they own and make a roaring success of them. The Salmon is now owned by Great UK Pubs, a subsidiary of Stonegate which is quite a large chain all over the UK but it might as well still be a ‘Spoons as they follow exactly the same business model. I had a couple in there and then headed back to the hotel for an earlyish night.  Obviously, I had taken the image above earlier in the day.

I got back to the hotel with no problem but the problem with the early night plan arose upon entering the premises where I noticed the bar was still open. Well, rude not to have a nightcap I suppose. I got chatting to the barmaid who was great fun and had a look round the triangular shaped bar which boasts a lovely open fire that was somewhat inexplicably unlit. I don’t know if they wait for a full-on blizzard before they light it. I should add that the bar was perfectly warm without it. Up the stairs to bed and after my rather energetic day it was straight off to dreamland.

Well, it appears as if I have finally come to the end of this epic and I do hope I have not bored you overly.

In the next entry, which I promise will be shorter, I return to Newcastle to meet Paul, have a “get Carter” moment, visit an absolute gem of a station bar and then make my way back to London to conclude this trip so stay tuned and spread the word.

Bearing North to Berwick.

Up on the Monday morning and it was time to pack as I was back on the road again. More properly speaking I was back on the rails which made a pleasant change from being off the rails as I so frequently am. Paul’s time-critical project was becoming less time and more critical by the day and I thought I’d get out of the way and not overstay my welcome as he and Sue had been so lovely to me.

I was off to Berwick-upon-Tweed as I had already booked my ticket and I’ll explain the rationale for both of these things now. I had booked my ticket online the night before as buying a walk-up ticket on the British railway system is merely asking to be robbed. I could start yet another rant here about how appalling rail fares are in UK but I’ll spare you.

Why Berwick-upon-Tweed? Well, it was one of several options. I had considered popping up to Edinburgh and possibly meeting up with my friend as I had not seen her for a while but I have been to Edinburgh many times and, much as I love it, I thought I’d give it a miss this time round. I had considered Hexham for the utterly ludicrous reason that one of my favourite bands, Fairport Convention,have a great song called the Hexhamshire Lass and I had never been there. Honestly, I decide to go to places for such idiotic reasons. Carlisle was also in the frame as there is a direct cross-country train and I had only ever spent one night in that quite important county town decades ago but in the end I plumped for Berwick for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I have been up and down the East Coast rail line more times than I can remember and a highlight of it is always going over the wonderful railway bridge which spans the Tweed. I had often looked down at the peaceful looking town so far below and thought I would like to go there one day and this seemed like a good opportunity as it is only about 45 minutes on the train.  Another good reason and the one that probably swung it was that there is a military museum there, the Regimental Museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, or the Kosbies as they are known in the mob. There turns out to be a bit of a story attached to the Museum as you shall see.

My train was at about 1400 and Paul happened to be going into town and so gave me lift to the Station so after collecting my ticket from the self-service machine I had a bit of time to kill so I thought of going for a bit of a wander but it was never going to be anything major as I had the suitcase and the weather was pretty unpleasant and getting worse by the minute. At least I didn’t have to lug the guitar as well as Paul had very kindly let me plank it in his place with the arrangement that we would meet up for a drink when I came back through Newcastle and he would bring it for me. Nice one, mate.

I managed a few images, shown above, but the weather was just evil so I ducked into the nearby Wetherspoons for a bite to eat as I was getting a bit peckish. I really cannot believe, even now, how my appetite came back after my surgery. For non-regular readers, Wetherspoons is a large chain (1,000+ and counting) which utilises the economies of scale and provides inexpensive food and beverages and whilst it attracts criticism in some quarters, I like them and use them a lot, especially when I am travelling.

Wetherspoons very rarely buy over existing pubs but rather they go for old banks, cinemas, theatres and just about any other large building they can convert. I have even been in one that was formerly a postal sorting office! The outlet close to Newcastle station is called the Mile Castle and is in the lovely old building you can see in the image which was formerly a Savings Bank dating to 1861.

‘Spoons, as they are often called, always take their name from a local person, event or landmark and they always have old photographs, posters, paintings etc. on display with accompanying text. I always have a good look round in any new ‘Spoons I visit as is amazing what you can learn about the local area and you know how obsessed I am with that.

As for the name, it refers to the nearby Hadrian’s Wall which built by the Romans to keep the “barbarian” Scots at bay. There was a castle built every mile along it’s length to house the sentries and one of them stood near here, hence the name. I have to say that on a day like this I wouldn’t have fancied “stagging” (Army slang for sentry duty) in a draughty turret. Trust me, sentry duty is no fun at all!

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Just right for lunch.

Another thing about Wetherspoons that I like is the reasonably recent introduction of small pizzas. I like a pizza now and again but often struggle with a whole one, especially if it is regular crust as the dough just bloats me. Deep pan pizzas are a complete non-starter for me. The Wetherspoons ones are, I believe, 8″ and just the right size for a lunch for me. I usually go for the Hawaiian and I apologise to pizza purists for that but I love them and the little beauty you see here was just enough to keep me going. I was working on the principle that I would be eating out that night and it would probably be something fairly substantial so I didn’t want to overdo it early on.

Lunch over, I walked back to the station at a fairly brisk pace as I didn’t want to be out in that any longer than I had to be. I had a few minutes to look round what is one of my favourite railway stations in UK, many of which seem to be on the Northeast line like York and Edinburgh Waverley, along with this place. As they have often been described, Victorian railway stations were cathedrals to the god of steam and they always speak to me of a bygone age.

I’ll deal fully with John Dobson’s masterpiece here in a future post but for now let’s get back on the train which I thought was surprisingly busy for an early November afternoon. Perhaps it was because it was the “cheap train” which was certainly the reason I had picked it and I’ll explain that to you briefly here.

Once again apologies to those who have read it before but this quick tip is for those who may be visiting UK and travelling by rail. It really does pay to shop around when you book tickets online as I had done as the savings can be considerable thereby making your holiday £ / $ / € / Ұ go a lot further. For example, if I get the equivalent train tomorrow at 1352 (03/02/2020) it will be £12:70 advance single. The preceding train at 1335 is £29:80 as is the succeeding one at 1455. The trains are exactly the same and it is not as if you are paying for a quicker service as the “cheap train” in this instance is marginally the quickest of the three. Don’t ask me why, it is yet another mystery of the modern day Great Train Robbery.

The journey was quick and uneventful, indeed it would take me much longer to get from my home to, say, Twickenham for a rugby match and both of them are in London. However, the change was much more marked than my notional journey in the capital. I know there is some pleasant scenery on this stretch although it was impossible to appreciate in this murk but when I alighted at Berwick-upon-Tweed I was in very different environment to the bustle of Newcastle city centre.


Stepping down onto the platform at the fairly quiet station I could not help feeling a little like Michael Portillo and, again for the benefit of non-UK readers, a quick explanation follows. Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo, or Miguel Portillo y Blyth as he is named on his Spanish passport (his father was a refugee from Franco’s Spain) was formerly a British politician, achieving Cabinet rank in the Conservative Government.

He incredibly managed to lose his very safe seat in a Labour landslide election in 1997 but was parachuted into another one shortly thereafter. He described his finest achievement in politics as “saving the Settle to Carlisle railway” and I would echo that sentiment as it is arguably the most attractive line in the UK which was threatened with closure.

After leaving politics in 2005 and carved out a career as a broadcaster with his signature TV series involving him travelling by train in various parts of the world, often accompanied by a Bradshaw’s antique railway guide, and I simple love them. Coincidentally I was watching some earlier today on the BBC iPlayer. I shall not post any links here as I know they are not available in all parts of the world but I do recommend you try to find them if you can.

I often find myself mentally scripting “pieces to camera” as I am in railway stations or on trains and I was “doing a Portillo” as I took off into the drizzle for my short walk to the hotel. Many of these mental telejournalism exercises end up here in my blog entries so now you know. Yes, I did warn you I was odd.

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Castle Hotel, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

With Mr. / Senor Portillo having the resources and budget of the BBC licence payer’s fees behind him he habitually stays in the finest hotels and one of the episodes I watched today had him holed up in the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, having been transferred there in one of their fleet of 14 Rolls Royce Phantoms. Your humble narrator does not have access to such resources and so walked the couple of hundred yards to the Castle Hotel where I was greeted by a very friendly lady. This was to be feature as all the staff were lovely. I told her I had a reservation and this appeared to cause a bit of consternation. I had booked a single room with shared facilities as that does not bother me at all and it saves a few £££ but for some reason which I wasn’t actually told, my room was not available. After a bit of muttering and jiggery pokery on the computer I was informed that I had been upgraded to a double en-suite room for the same price. Happy days.

I cannot remember how much I paid but it was a last minute deal and, if memory serves, was only about £40 or £45 a night. I wasn’t expecting the George V at that price but I am a man of simple tastes and all I require is a comfy bed, preferably long enough for my lanky frame, not too much noise and some hot water for a shower. The Castle certainly had all that and rather than describe it in detail I’ll let the images speak for themselves. I still have this habit of taking loads of images when I go into a hotel room which is a throwback to the days when I wrote tips / reviews for Virtual Tourist. I had to include the image of the toilet roll holder as there was no way I was going to run out, even had I stayed there a month, I thought it was very practical but slightly amusing. Perhaps it is just my odd sense of humour again.

I had booked room only as, even with my newly re-acquired appetite I still rarely eat breakfast, at least not at conventional breakfast time but the lady had told me breakfast was included, so another bonus. I think you’ll agree that I had scored a right bargain and I was well satisfied.

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Lest we forget.

Having dumped my kit I headed back out quickly as I reckoned that in the conditions I had probably about an hour of semi-daylight left and I wanted to make the most of it. Almost immediately I found the local war memorial which I took images of for the War Memorials Online project that I contribute to although it was difficult to get any sort of an image in that light.

 

In what appeared to be a private dwelling just beside the War Memorial I spotted the display you can see above in the front window, commemorating a Private William Edward Currins of the 1st / 7th Battalion, Northumberla

nd Fusiliers who died in Flanders in 1916 and is buried there. He was 23. I don’t know if there was a family connection there or if he was just one of the fallen chosen at random.
I should explain that the time of year is relevant here as it was the 4th of November which made it exactly one week before Armistice Day and six days before the National Act of Remembrance which is always held on the Sunday nearest to it. I attended in central London as I do if I am not travelling at the time and shall report on that here in due course.

I am glad to see that Remembrance Day, poppy selling et, seems to be important as ever but I was particularly struck by the extent of the observance in Berwick. Perhaps it is because this is historically a military town and homeplace to the Kings Own Scottish Borders Regiment, which was one of the main reasons I was here, but it was noticeable.

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Former St. Mary’s church, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Overlooking the Memorial was the church you can see and I thought I might take a look because churches fascinate me as regular readers will know. I could see that th front door was not open so I thought I would go round the side, which I did and something just wasn’t right. It clearly wasn’t a Church. A quick internet search reveals it was formerly the Church of St. Mary, Castlegate, was built in 1857 – 8 and once had the distinction of being the most Northerly Church in England. It is Grade II listed with Historic England, was de-consecrated in 1989 and now serves as an adult training centre. I do like to know these things.

So, no Church to see and frankly I wasn’t too bothered about seeing much else of anything as the weather was steadily deteriorating if such a thing was possible. Nothing else for it but to hit the pub and purely at random I picked the Brewers Arms which turned out to be a good choice and a place I was to return to during my stay. The Brewers had an extensive menu with inexpensive daily specials and the food is good as I was to find out later on but I had set my heart on having a curry that night for no particular reason other than I had not had one for a while.

The pub was not too busy and I sat myself down at a table beside a fireplace which I was desperately trying to date. I had taken a wild stab at about 1930’s and this may or may not be correct as the building dates to 1905 and was previously called the Heavy Battery. Although there is not much online about the pub, it is described on one website as being art deco style which is a favourite of mine when I manage to recognise it. This is beautifully illustrated by the funnel shaped entrance which I have never seen before and really is attractive so I am going to stick to my 1930’s guess for the fireplace and surmise that it was a refurbishment at that time!

Whilst I was in there Paul texted me to find out if I had arrived safely and enquired where I was. When I told him he recommended that I take myself off to the Barrels pub down by the river. He knows Berwick pretty well and has played there so I was definitely going to take his tip. Come to think of it, Paul has played just about everywhere one time or another. I finished my drink and took off in the direction he had told me heading for the Barrels. On the way I marked a decent looking Indian restaurant for later use but, in the event, I never got there.

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You know I love bridges!

I found the Barrels easily enough, pausing only briefly to take a night shot of the bridge.  Well, you know by now what I am like about bridges.  I walked into a very small bar but I found out later that it is only one of several bars on the premises including the basement which is home to the town’s major live music venue  It is still a live venue despite the attempts of a litigious neighbour to have it shut down a few years back. I explained my “drinking problem” to the cheerful barman who dispensed my odd cider concoction sympathetically and I took a seat at one of only a few tables in there.

I should have stayed at the bar which is my normal practice as the adjacent table was occupied by two men, one of whom was obviously slightly the worse for wear and he had shortly managed to upend my pint as he tried to stand up. Fortunately I was quick enough to dodge most of it and at least he had the decency to buy me another albeit he could not quite believe it when I told him what I was drinking.

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Sorry about the quality.

I didn’t take any images in the pub as I really did not want my “friend” starting asking awkward questions about what I was doing so the pretty poor external image above will have to suffice along with the poster of forthcoming events which was in the gents. If you look at it you will see that there was an open mic night the next evening which I might have even considered had I not very helpfully left my guitar behind in Newcastle! It would have been nice to tell Paul that I had played there as well but such is life.

Once again, I did not retrace my steps but rather continued along Bridge Street, knowing that I could loop round and find my way back to the Indian restaurant I had on mind but not too far along I spied the Magna Tandoori which looked OK from the outside and the menu posted outside looked fine so in I went. I have included an image taken in daylight the next day from which you can see that the windows are fairly high up and partially over by some attractive window boxes so I couldn’t actually see inside.

It was a dismally wet Monday night in November and I wasn’t expecting many people to be out but having negotiated the desk and been shown into one of the two huge dining rooms I hadn’t expected to be the only person in the whole place. The dining room you can see is only one half of the restaurant which is massive. The building was apparently formerly a Georgian townhouse and it must have been some dwelling in it’s day. I am sure the Magna is very pleasant with a few people in it but it was a bit like eating in an aircraft hanger with just me there. However, I just wanted a decent feed and there was certainly plenty of choice.

Apart from the “usual suspects” the chef’s specials included venison and duck dishes as well as regional specialities from Bengal, Goa and Bombay. Trapped in the indecision of another fine menu (go on, Google that phrase!) I inexplicbly played very safe and ordered the mixed pakora followed by the lamb dansak. As is my way, I did not order rice which always seems to amaze waiters but it just bloats me and opted instead for some chapatis. I do so love Indian breads. I also treated myself to a Cobra beer as I reckoned it would not tip me over my self-imposed daily limit and it’s not really a curry without beer, is it?

The meal was fine with just a couple of things worthy of mention. The first was the sauce accompanying the pakora which was mango but much thinner than the usual chutney and served warm which I had never encountered before. The second little oddity was that there was pineapple in the dansak which was another first for me but it was very good and I am particularly fond of that fruit. Normally pineapple is associated with the milder curries and I like a bit of oomph so that worked well. I am sure the staff wanted rid of me so they could close up but they didn’t rush me in any way which is to their credit.

Having settled the pretty painless bill I zipped up my leather bike jacket and stepped out into a night that had somehow managed to get even more unpleasant if that was possible. I was glad that jacket was well-padded. If you’ll pardon the indelicacy, it was a case of head down, arse up and go like Hell which I did until I reached the sanctuary of the hotel and my nice cosy bed.

In the next entry I brave appalling weather, have an utter disaster of a day sightseeing and still manage to thoroughly enjoy myself so stay tuned and spread the word.