Berwick-Upon-Tweed is a historic fortified town on the borders between England and Scotland.
It has changed hands several times during conflicts between these two countries, and those interested should check the history section. The harbour is easy enough to find and enter, although should be avoided in strong onshore conditions.
Berwick has changed its attitude to yachtsmen and is now very focussed on improving the welcome for cruising skippers. Initially, a couple of years ago in 2018, they installed a pontoon just inside the dock entrance on the port side. This has shore power and water; the toilet and shower block has been refurbished but is still across on the other side of the dock' They have obtained funding to build an amenities block near the pontoon and the plans for this are well advanced; they hope to supply full amenities fairly close to the pontoon which will include showers, toilets and a laundrette.
Update 2022. The completion of the amenities building near the pontoon has been delayed by the pandemic but it is hoped that it will be completed by the winter of this year.
It should be noted that it is only about an hour and a bit cruising down the coast from Eyemouth which is still suffering a bit from silting.
The town is about 2 miles away from the Scottish border, and within it's ramparts visitor will find within the maze of streets a good supply of all town facilities. The town has good transport connections, being on the main railway line between Edinburgh and London.
There was talk a while ago of a Marina, but nothing has happened yet. The port authority here continues to "look at" the feasibility of a marina but basically it will be a long time, if at all, before there is one here.
If considering this as a bolt hole in bad weather be aware that there can be quite a strong stream on the ebb so with onshore winds it would be quite risky.
Berwick-Upon-Tweed is easy enough to spot from the sea....
.... the fortified town rises up behind the breakwater, the end of which is topped with a substantial white lighthouse (Fl.5s 15m 10M +Fl.G 1M).
There is an unstable sandbar just outside of the breakwater which is subject to frequent changes due to deposits from the river and longshore drift. Least depths in this area are as little as 0.1 m at CD, therefore it is necessary to wait for a rise of tide before attempting entry.
The prudent Mariner will probably wait until half tide if his craft draws more than 1.5 m. Strong onshore winds, especially when combined with an ebbing tide flowing out of the River can kick up very strong turbulence and overfalls in this area that is best avoided by small craft altogether. In onshore gales forget it.
Assuming more benign weather and a suitable rise of tide, entry can be made by closely following the breakwater while looking out ahead for a substantial green beacon (Q.G) just past a knuckle in the breakwater. A red can buoy (Fl.R.3s) is moored in deep water, and small craft should favour the port side of the Channel in this area to avoid Crabwater Rock which lies just past the knuckle, but before the green beacon.
Shortly after passing the red buoy, the Spittal leading marks will line up on 207°T, and this line should be followed until just past the green conical No.2 buoy (Q.G). At this point a swing can be made to starboard. The green buoyage should not be approached too closely as it lays just outside the channel.
On your port side you will pass a smallish quay with a couple of silos, then the lifeboat berth before the River swings to the north-west and ultimately to Tweed Docks on the starboard side again before the bridges.
There is now a pontoon (Nov 2018) just inside on the wall to port as you enter the dock transforming the usability of the place for yachts. There is a new HM here who is receptive to visitors and we are getting good reports. (See below for recent visitors in 2019and 2020)
Probably the best plan is to contact the harbour master before even attempting entry to Berwick. He will be able to advise you of any changes in the entrance, and berthing procedures. Contact him on VHF channel 12, telephone 01289 307404 or 07931710156. They are charging £20 a boat with an extra £3.00 if you use the shore power. There are disgressionary discounts for stays of several days.
There are plans for a new amenities block near the new pontoon but, for the moment, the old toilets/showers have been refurbished.
There is shore power and water on the new pontoon.
Town facilities will be found by crossing Berwick Old Bridge, which is close to the docks, and this will lead you into the walled town.
The historic town offers plenty including museums and churches, shops and banks, and most importantly pubs and restaurants. Stocking up shouldn't be a problem with a Morrisons, Sommerfield and Kwik Save stores in town.
Trailer Sailers will find a free slipway on the southern side of the River just upstream of the lifeboat station. Access is available at about three quarters of the tidal range, and the ramp is popular with fisherman.
As already mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed has excellent railway connections.
BERWICK BAY TIDAL STREAMS
Tidal streams. – In Berwick bay, the south-east-going stream begins half an hour after, and the north-west-going stream 4½ hours before high water at Dover.
The time of the turn of the stream in the harbour, and off the entrance, varies considerably as the duration of the ebb stream is dependent on the strength of the freshets.
Fishermen report that there is an indraught into Berwick bay after strong easterly winds.
Berwick-upon-Tweed situated in the county of Northumberland, is the northernmost town in England, on the east coast at the mouth of the River Tweed. It is situated 2.5 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border and forms part of the wider Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed local government district.
Being central to a border war between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England since the 11th century, the town has lain within England since 1482. However, Berwick has strong cultural links with Scotland. Berwick remains a traditional market town. It also boasts some notable architectural features, in particular its defence ramparts and barrack buildings.
Early history and Northumbrian rule
In the post-Roman period, the area may have been inhabited by the Brythons of Bryneich, who were in turn conquered by the Angles, who created the kingdom of Bernicia, which united with the Kingdom of Deira to form Northumbria. The area was then settled by the Norse, mainly Danes.
In 1018, Northumbria north of the Tweed was ceded to Scotland, after the Scots defeated the Northumbrians at the Battle of Carham, which occurred across the River Tweed opposite Coldstream. The town was referred to as 'South Berwick' by the Scots, to differentiate it from the town of North Berwick, in Lothian, east of Edinburgh.
Middle Ages and Scottish rule
Berwick's strategic position on the English-Scottish border during centuries of war between the two nations and its relatively great wealth led to a succession of raids, sieges and take-overs. Between 1147 and 1482 the town changed hands between England and Scotland more than 13 times, and was the location of a number of momentous events in the English-Scottish border wars. One of the most brutal sackings was by King Edward I of England in 1296, and set the precedent for bitter border conflict in the Scottish Wars of Independence.
In the 13th century Berwick was one of the most wealthy trading ports in Scotland, providing an annual customs value of £2,190, equivalent to a quarter of all customs revenues received north of the border. A contemporary description of the town asserted that "so populous and of such commercial importance that it might rightly be called another Alexandria, whose riches were the sea and the water its walls". Amongst the town's exports were wool, grain and salmon, while merchants from Germany and the Low Countries set up businesses in the town in order to trade.
The Scots also had a mint at Berwick, producing Scottish coinage. In contrast, under English rule, Berwick was a garrison town first, and a port second. In around 1120, King David I of Scotland made Berwick one of Scotland's four royal burghs, which allowed the town's freemen a number of rights and privileges.
Struggles for control of Berwick
In 1174, Berwick was paid as part of the ransom of William I of Scotland to Henry II of England. It was sold back to Scotland by Richard I of England, to raise money to pay for Crusades. It was destroyed in 1216 by King John of England, who attended in person the razing of the town with some barbarity.
Eddington remarks "Berwick, by the middle of the 13th century, was considered a second Alexandria, so extensive was its commerce". However, Berwick appended its signature to King John Balliol's new treaty with France, England's old enemy, and on March 30, 1296, Edward I stormed Berwick after a prolonged siege, sacking it with much bloodshed. His army slaughtered almost everyone who resided in the town, even if they fled to the churches. Some eight thousand inhabitants being put to the sword. "From that time", states Eddington, "the greatest merchant city in Scotland sank into a small seaport."
Edward I went again to Berwick in August 1296 to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish nobles, after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April and forcing John I of Scotland (John Balliol) to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. (The first town walls were built during the reign of Edward I.) The "homage" was not received well, and the Ragman Roll as it was known, earned itself a name of notoriety in the post-independence period of Scotland. Some believe it to be the origin of the term "rigmarole", although this may be a folk etymology. An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 5 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.
On 1 April 1318, it was recaptured by the Scots; Berwick Castle was also taken after a three-month siege. In 1330 "Domino Roberto de Lawedre" of The Bass, described as Custodian or Keeper of the Marches and the Castle of Berwick-upon-Tweed, received, apparently upon the termination of his employment there, £33.6s.8d, plus a similar amount, from the Scottish Exchequer.
The English retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. In October 1357, a treaty was signed at Berwick by which the Scottish estates undertook to pay 100,000 marks as a ransom for David II of Scotland, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17 October 1346.
In 1461/2 Berwick was recovered by the Scots and Robert Lauder of Edrington was put in charge of the castle. Scott relates: "About 1462 Berwick Castle was put into the hands of Robert Lauder of Edrington, an important official and soldier in Scotland at that time. Lauder kept his position uninterruptedly until 1474 when he was succeeded by David, Earl of Crawford. In 1464 Robert Lauder was paid £20 for repairs made to Berwick Castle."
On February 3, 1478 Robert Lauder of The Bass and Edrington was again appointed Keeper of the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed with a retainer of £250 per annum. He continued in that position until the last year of Scottish occupation, when Patrick Hepburn, 1st Lord Hailes, had possession.
In 1482 the town was captured by Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, although not officially merged into England. England has administered the town since this date.
In 1551, the town was made a county corporate.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, vast sums — one source reports "£128,648, the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period" — were spent on its fortifications, in a new Italian style (trace italienne), designed both to withstand artillery and to facilitate its use from within the fortifications. Although most of Berwick Castle was demolished in the 19th century to make way for the railway, the military barracks remain, as do the town's rampart walls — one of the finest remaining examples of its type in the country.
United Kingdom rule
In 1603, Berwick was the first English town to greet James VI of Scotland on his way to being crowned James I of England - upon crossing Berwick Bridge, James is supposed to have declared the town neither belonging to England nor belonging to Scotland but part of the united Crown's domain.
In 1639 the army of Charles I faced that of General Alexander Leslie at Berwick in the Bishops' Wars, which were concerned with bringing the Presbyterian Church of Scotland under Charles' control. The two sides did not fight, but negotiated a settlement, "the Pacification of Berwick", in June, under which the King agreed that all disputed questions should be referred to another General Assembly or to the Scottish Parliament.
Holy Trinity Church was built in 1650–52, on the initiative of the governor, Colonel George Fenwicke. Churches of the Commonwealth period are very rare. The church has no steeple, supposedly at the behest of Oliver Cromwell, who passed through the town in 1650 on his way to the Battle of Dunbar.
Berwick was never formally annexed to England. Contention about whether the town belonged to England or Scotland was ended, though, in 1707 by the union of the two. Berwick remains within the laws and legal system of England and Wales. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 (since repealed) deemed that whenever legislation referred to England, it applied to Berwick, without attempting to define Berwick as part of England. (England now is officially defined as "subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly.", which thus includes Berwick.)
According to a poll conducted by a TV company, 60% of residents favoured Berwick rejoining Scotland. The issue is to be the centre of a new BBC comedy-drama series, A Free Country, commissioned in 2008 from writer Tony Saint.
Slightly more than 60% of the population is employed in the service sector, including shops, hotels and catering, financial services and most government activity, including health care. About 13% is in manufacturing; 10% in agriculture, and 8% in construction. Some current and recent Berwick economic activities include salmon fishing, shipbuilding, engineering, sawmilling, fertilizer production, and the manufacture of tweed and hosiery.
Berwick Town Centre comprises the Mary Gate and High Street where many local shops and some retail chains exist. There is a small supermarket in the vincity too. A new office development is due to be built in the Walker Gate.
The old A1 road passes through Berwick. The modern A1 goes around the town to the west. The town is on the East Coast Main Line railway, and has a station. A small sea-port at Tweedmouth facilitates the import and export of goods, but provides no passenger services.
Relations with Russia
There is a curious apocryphal story that Berwick is (or recently was) technically at war with Russia. The story tells that since Berwick had changed hands several times, it was traditionally regarded as a special, separate entity, and some proclamations referred to "England, Scotland and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed". One such was the declaration of the Crimean War against Russia in 1853, which Queen Victoria supposedly signed as "Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions". However, when the Treaty of Paris (1856) was signed to conclude the war, "Berwick-upon-Tweed" was left out. This meant that, supposedly, one of Britain's smallest towns was officially at war with one of the world's largest powers – and the conflict extended by the lack of a peace treaty for over a century.
The BBC programme Nationwide investigated this story in the 1970s, and found that while Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris, it was not mentioned in the declaration of war either. The question remained as to whether Berwick had ever been at war with Russia in the first place. The true situation is that since the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 had already made it clear that all references to England included Berwick, the town had no special status at either the start or end of the war.
Nevertheless, in 1966 a Soviet official waited upon the Mayor of Berwick, Councillor Robert Knox, and a peace treaty was formally signed. Mr Knox is reputed to have said "Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds." To complicate the issue, some have noted that Knox did not have any authority with regard to foreign relations, and thus may have exceeded his powers as mayor in concluding a peace treaty.
The text on this HISTORY page is covered by the following licence
Berwick-Upon-Tweed offers reasonable choices for drinking and eating out. Pubs include a Wetherspoons (for cheap food), a couple of Italian restaurants plus a Chinese and an Indian. Traditional British food is catered for as well. See the notes below for eateries recommended by previous visitors
As usual it is not our habit to delve too deeply, so we provide a couple of links for further investigations: