Berwick-upon-Tweed is the most northerly town in England. It lies less than 4km south of the border with Scotland. However, over the centuries, the town has changed hands between the two nations on at least 13 occasions.King David I of Scotland made Berwick a royal burgh in the early 12th century. By the mid-13th century, it had become Scotland’s richest seaport.
In 1296, Edward I of England captured Berwick-upon-Tweed, which began a period of three centuries of almost constant warfare between the English and the Scots. It fell to the English for the final time in 1482.
The town’s railway station now occupies the site of the once-mighty Berwick Castle, although some of its towers and curtain wall have survived. Parts of the medieval town walls are also still standing. The sections facing the River Tweed and the entrance to the Port of Berwick were rebuilt and strengthened with new gun emplacements in the 18th century, to meet the threat from the French.
The most impressive feature of Berwick-upon-Tweed is its circuit of 16th century ramparts and bastions, constructed between 1558 and 1570 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The Elizabethan fortifications comprise five arrow-shaped bastions connected by 15 metre thick earth ramparts faced with stone.
Unlike other walled towns in England, the fortifications of Berwick-upon-Tweed are complete. The town avoided the fate of other towns and cities where sections of ancient walls were demolished in the 1960s to make way for new roads or housing. The entire circuit can be walked easily in about 40 minutes and the ramparts and bastions afford magnificaent views of the historic townscape and along the valley of the River Tweed and the coastline of Northumberland towards Bamburgh Castle and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 brought an end to the conflict between the two countries, but Berwick remained a garrison town until 1964. The first infanry barracks in England were opened in the town in 1721 and it remained the Regimental Headquarters of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers until 2006.
Today, the borderlands around Berwick-upon-Tweed are among the most peaceful and least spoiled by modern development in our country. Berwick-upon-Tweed is one of only six towns in the United Kingdom to have achieved the status of a Cittaslow town.
For more information about the town, its history and its superb fortifications visit the website of Cittaslow Berwick-upon-Tweed at www.berwick-cittaslow.org.uk