Bordering on Insanity


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Published: August 20th 2008
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Berwick upon TweedBerwick upon TweedBerwick upon Tweed

Looking back on the town from the furthest point of the ramparts. The Town Hall has an awesome clock tower.
Staying in the historic city of Berwick Upon Tweed was a tactical decision, because it’s within easy reach of Holy Island, (and because I found some really good books in the hostel lounge.) It struck me as a curious place, so I took a brisk walk around before leaving for Scotland.

The quintessential border town, Berwick (pronounced Berrick) was claimed by both Scotland and England, and changed hands numerous times during various scuffles. In the Middle Ages the Scots finally ceded it to the English, who promptly fortified it as a border defence. The township is still encircled by the same city walls, strengthened by enormous grassy ramparts on the eastern side during the reign of Elizabeth I.

The views from the ramparts were marvellous, the air was fresh, and the accent strange. Berwick is further north than some of Scotland, so it’s fair enough that the accent is more Scottish than anything else, but bred with the Newcastle area’s Geordie accent, it has become a voice all its own. My own hybrid New Zealand/English accent stood out weirdly when talking to the locals.

Hauling myself and my pack on board the bumpy bus out of Berwick, I
Who said the mediaeval military weren't publicly minded?Who said the mediaeval military weren't publicly minded?Who said the mediaeval military weren't publicly minded?

If the volatile gunpowder stored in this shed blew, the massively thick, heavily buttressed stone walls would direct the explosion upwards, so it wouldn't wipe out the houses nearby. Much.
said goodbye to England. Not very far away, on the opposite bank of what did indeed look like a very cold river, was the most famous of the border towns. Welcome to Coldstream, welcome to Scotland!

I looked out for a glimpse of the abbey as we passed through Kelso, but the only indicators were an Abbey Gym and Abbey Lane. (The ruins are still present, but to hop off and visit would have stranded me. Ah, the joys of relying on public transport in rural areas.) A little later, I was in Melrose - another stop on the great School Houses Tour. Modern day Melrose Abbey is not St Cuthbert’s version, (which used to lie two miles further east,) but the mediaeval expansion, a beautiful church.

Durham-disease had struck the town - told “anyone could be a terrorist these days,” I was denied permission to leave my rucksack at the tourist office, but the lovely staff in the Abbey gift shop held onto it for me so I could wander around unfettered. The ruined church is gorgeous, and climbing the partly collapsed tower gives a gargoyle’s eye view of the roof.

Having an hour between the
GargoyleGargoyleGargoyle

The roof of the church at Melrose Abbey is covered with these critters. This one is on the edge of the partly collapsed south tower.
abbey closing and my bus arriving, I opted for a cup of soup, and had a rather bizarre experience in a hotel bar. One of the hotel employees went into fits of laughter when she saw the Kiwi keyring on my pack. She couldn’t recover enough to speak to me, and someone else took my order. The only other occupants were an aged group of locals, who appeared to have gathered in order to watch Friends on the TV bolted to the wall. Needless to say, I was back at the bus stop in good time!

Unfortunately, the coach wasn’t. Darkness fell. After some phone calls back and forth, the National Express man and I worked out that the driver had skipped Melrose to save time! An hour later, I was on a local bus with an extremely friendly Polish driver who seemed to power his vehicle by conversation. He was keen to hear all about my travels, and only reluctantly allowed me off his bus at the Galasheils interchange for my connection to Edinburgh.



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On the rampartsOn the ramparts
On the ramparts

Elizabeth I had the city walls on the sea facing (eastern) side of Berwick upon Tweed reinforced with huge earthworks, known as ramparts.
The tide is outThe tide is out
The tide is out

View out to sea from Berwick upon Tweed's city walls, next to the estuary.
Foundation studiesFoundation studies
Foundation studies

The foundations of Melrose Abbey are marked out, and can be explored with a fascinating audio guide, but apart from some of the walls, the church is the only part still standing.
The north from the southThe north from the south
The north from the south

No, Melrose's south tower (which I climbed up to take this picture) was not in quite such a state as its counterpart!


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