Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland: The spectacular border town with a castle that changed hands 13 times

Berwick-upon-Tweed spent centuries as a pawn in Anglo-Scottish conflict; today, it's a charming border town with spectacular sights. Clive Aslet takes a look.

The border town, which contained not only a royal castle, but a mint, spent the Middle Ages in a kind of no man’s land when the Scottish king David I pushed the border southwards.

A little over 100 years later, English king Edward I, furious at the Scots’ refusal to submit to him, stormed the wooden palisade, slaughtering all male inhabitants — the castle changed hands 13 times. The guns were fired for the last time when James VI of Scotland made his progress south to become James I of England. What a relief that must have been to the people of Berwick.

The architectural result of the town’s many crises was the greatest system of fortifications in all of England. Henry VIII’s master of ordnance began work on Lord’s Mount, a massive, two-tier artillery fortification, protecting a weak point in the walls.

In the 1540s, the ‘Rough Wooing’ raids intended to result in a marriage between the infant Mary Queen of Scots and the future Edward VI re-emphasised Berwick’s importance, but the greatest period of activity followed Mary I’s loss of Calais in 1558, when France egged Scotland on to attack England.

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It had become impractical to retain the full two-mile length of the old walls and, instead, the town withdrew behind a massive series of ramparts, earthworks and bastions that now forms a wonderful circular walk.

How to visit Berwick-upon-Tweed

This beautiful border town sits on the English side of the Anglo-Scottish border, overlooking the River Tweed as it empties into the North Sea. The town is easily accessed via road or rail: it’s just off the A1, and is on the East Coast mainline rail service from London to Edinburgh.

Berwick-upon-Tweed has a charming and historic centre.

The Berwick-upon-Tweed Viaduct

Rail is the most dramatic way to arrive at Berwick-upon-Tweed, since the viaduct is spectacular. Properly known as the Royal Border Bridge, this railway viaduct — built between 1847 and 1850 — is 659 metres (2,162 ft) long, has 28 arches, each spanning 60 feet (18 m). The railway is carried 37 metres (121 ft) above the river level.

Photo: Getty