Published: October 30th 2011October 29th 2011
US/UK mix up of the week: When I asked my coursemates what paracetamol (a medicine I've seen in drugstores) is*, one girl replied "Do you know Novocaine?" After a few seconds of "...WHAT?!" I realized no, that was not right and we had a laugh about it. Apparently she got the word "Novocaine" from a Green Day song and didn't know what it was, except some kind of medicine for not feeling pain. Which, to be fair, is true.
It has continued to surface as a funny in-joke between us, from when our Anatomy lecturer described the muscles targeted by the real Novocaine, to seeing Children's Paracetamol on shelves and imagining giving a dose of that to a kid for a headache or something.
Berwick upon Tweed is a small town just outside the border between England and Scotland. It is the farthest north you can possibly go and still be in England. So far north, in fact, that between the late 13th and late 15th centuries, it changed between England and Scotland 12-16 (depending on the source) times.
There is a local legend outlined in my guidebook and mentioned briefly on a plaque. Apparently a 1502 treaty mentioned Berwick as being "of" the Kingdom of England instead of "in" it. A small word with apparently huge consequences: every royal proclamation after that had to mention Berwick specifically, including an 1853 declaration of war on Russia. The trouble came when treaty at the end of the war failed to mention Berwick as one of the peaceful parties.
There are mixed reports about treaties and the like at different times in the 20th century, but none of them are official. Rumor has it the city of Berwick upon Tweed is in its 158th year of what my guidebook calls "a really cold war."
But we didn't see any anti-Russian signs or slogans anywhere. Although there is a military center still in use, if Berwick upon Tweed is in fact involved in a war against an entire country, they are hiding it very well.
I've mentioned before that my friend and former roommate is currently studying at the University of Edinburgh. If you check out this map
you will see that Berwick (B) is almost exactly halfway between where she is (A) and where I am (C). My "Best Walks in Northumberland" book has an easy 3-mile walk through the town center and around the ramparts that surround it, and Berwick is about a 45 minute train ride from each of us, so we met up.
(On the train ride up, I sat next to a guy from the states. Going on my 7th week here, I've met one half-American and that's it. Suddenly on the train, my reserved seat happens to be next to a guy from Seattle. How random is that?)
The walk conveniently began in the train station (which was apparently built on the site of a castle) and took us down through a park, by part of the ruins, down to the banks of the river Tweed.
As Julia astutely pointed out, once you get into the rhythm and routine of living somewhere, you tend to forget that you're in a foreign country, which makes sights like these all the more jarring when you suddenly remember that there is nothing like this at home.
Berwick is on a peninsula of sorts (zoom into the above map to see what I mean by "of sorts"). After that medieval period when it changed allegiances an average of 6-8 times per century,
King Edward decided that it would be a good idea to give it some military protection. Ever since, the city has been surrounded on two sides by old and well-preserved ramparts.
Also now a golf course. Try it, Russia. Just try.
The walk brought us on a couple detours into town to see some of the historical sites, including the Governer's house which we could not find (Dear guidebook: If you want us to locate a specific building in a northern English town, saying it's "old" and "gray" is not going to cut it), and a "Cromwellian" church. I did not know that was a thing. People whose knowledge of history is better than mine could probably come up with a few jokes about it?
The view from a bridge aptly named "Scotsgate".
In case any of you were still wondering if this is all an elaborate hoax, I tell you for certain that I am actually here. Ha.
A view from the top of a bastion (yes I had to google "bastion" - don't judge me) called Meg's Mount.
It's a lovely place, but truth be told there wasn't a ton to see and do here. I said the same thing about Chester when I visited last year: an afternoon is plenty of time to see everything. If you are truly fascinated by military history, and would read all the plaques and study all the guns and spend hours wandering the ramparts...you could probably stretch your exploration of Berwick to a whole day. Maybe. But we found that a few hours was plenty of time, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in a coffee shop or a pub, talking. Which was fantastic, don't get me wrong. It was great to catch up, but if you're looking at Berwick from a purely tourist perspective, it's probably best to have it as a quick stop on the way to or from something else.
Happy Halloween, by the way. This holiday isn't as big in the UK as it is in the States. Of course, nowhere does Halloween like Salem, but even without that, there isn't much going on. A few storefronts are decorated, and going out at night you see a few people in "fancy dress" (British term for "costume"...there were some amusing mix-ups before I figured that one out). What I find fascinating is that people who do dress up are limited to a witches/ghosts/werewolves/undead theme rather than the whatever-you-can-and-want-to-be-seen-wearing. Creative costumes (one guy was a penguin) are met with "...how is that related to Halloween?"
On the flip side, next weekend is a holiday that is huge over here, called "Bonfire Night." Some of you probably understand the 5th of November better than I do, and some of you may have a vague knowledge of it from watching "V for Vendetta." All I know is that it commemorates the day when Guy Fawkes was arrested for guarding explosives beneath Parliament. Apparently there will be fireworks. And bonfires (duh).
I hope everyone is doing okay in the snowstorms. People here have been trying to tell me that Newcastle winters are "terrible." Somehow that stopped (at least to me) when I mentioned that parts of New England are currently covered with half a foot of snow.