Border Lines

From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

Archive for the category “Escape”

MP rides bear-back as Berwick sculpture trail officially opened.

Today was the official opening of the wonderful sculpture trail here in Berwick’s Coronation Park. Local MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, joined the friends and families of the children who’d designed the eight-strong sculpture trail; the sculptor who realised the children’s designs – David Gross; Parks Development Officer, Kate Dixon; her team of volunteers – Friends of Castle Parks plus the local Cadets; and various local and county councillors. The sun shone!

The Berwick Bear

Anne-Marie Trevelyan atop ‘Bari’ the Berwick Bear

Robin

This chirpy chap is one of the eight sculptures designed by local schoolchildren and realised by sculptor David Gross.

The idea for the sculpture trail was hatched during the five-year HLF-funded project to regenerate and refurbish Coronation and Castle Vale Parks in Berwick – which will complete in June this year. It’s a fun, creative way to encourage more young people and families to enjoy the parks and take ownership of them. Funding came from utilities organisation, SUEZ, the Town Council and a private donor.

The mole

The mole, made of reclaimed walnut

The sculptures were installed in two batches, plus a one-off for the Berwick Bear which, by popular demand, has been dubbed ‘Bari’ – Berwick dialect for ‘really nice’. All the sculptures are made of reclaimed wood.

If you live in Berwick or are visiting, do take a wander in the parks. Coronation Park and Castle Vale Park fall either side of the station – you can walk between the two by road or by dropping down to the River Tweed, strolling along the riverside path – New Road – and walking up again.

A couple of dates for your diaries:

Saturday 2nd June 2018: Open Parks & Gardens, 11-4pm

Staff and volunteers will be in the parks to answer questions and sell you a leaflet (£3) to guide you around the various private gardens that will be open on the day – stretching from the YHA, to Bankhill, Castlegate, and Castle Terrace. Plants and refreshments will be available at various points. Donations will support the work of the Friends in the parks.

Saturday 23rd June 2018: Picnic in the Park, 12-4pm

A family picnic day in Coronation Park (no BBQs and well-behaved dogs on leads). Bring your picnic, enjoy the park, some live music, a community dance performance and children’s activities.

Bear and Cadets

Local Cadets with ‘Bari’, who they helped to install.

 

 

 

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Autumn Festivals: Save the dates

My family arrived in Berwick-upon-Tweed from North London on the last Saturday of August 2010. Our new house was piled high with packing cases and all the loose shoes, clothes horses and pillows that seem to self-seed when you move house. The Husband announced that he had signed us up for litter picking duty at some Food & Beer Festival in a place called The Barracks the following day.

I wish I could say I merely waved an arm at the mountains of unpacking  that needed to happen before our then eight-year-old started her new school in a few days’ time. Over the sound-blast of my fury, The Husband said: ‘It’ll be a way of getting to know people.’ And, of course, he was right. Eight years later, we know an awful lot of people in Berwick, the now 16-year-old is well-established – and we’ve nearly finished unpacking!

And here we are again, looking forward to the Berwick Autumn Festivals. History and buildings, film and media arts, the written and spoken word in all its forms and genres, eating and drinking ethically and locally – Berwick’s got a festival for that! So get the dates in your diaries and plan your trip and stay.

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Discovering Paxton House – by radio

I was privileged to be invited by Tony Henk and Colleen Henderson-Heywood to help create a show for local Alnwick-based community radio station Lionheart Radio.

I knew that Tony and Colleen had bona fide credentials – I’d listened to a previous show they’d done together about the Berwick Stoma Society. The programme was revelatory, entertaining and darn good community radio.

So, how to make a radio show that conjured the atmosphere, sights, history and stories of a stunning attraction in the Scottish Borders in Berwickshire – the marvellous Palladian Mansion, Paxton House?

Swans above Paxton House

During the making of the show there weren’t swans above Paxton but we did hear and see a skein of geese.

The answer was careful planning and fab support and access from Paxton House – including super shepherding and storytelling from Paxton tour guide, Jim Casey. And, of course, a brilliant creative team including classical singer, Tamsin Davidson and her ten-year-old daughter, Tilly, lithe-fingered pianist, James Tweddle, and patient and sympathetic editing (done in his front room!) by producer, Tony Henk.

The result is a blended radio show that allows the listener to enjoy the sights and sounds of this lovely stately home without leaving their armchair. I’m proud to have been a part of the programme. The first airing went out this morning (Tuesday 6th March) and there’s a further transmission today at 9pm and an additional chance to catch ‘Discovering Paxton House’ at 2pm on Thursday. Do tune in by following the link to Lionheart Radio above.

It’s amazing what you can create with an enthusiastic team and determination. Hats off to Tony Henk for driving the project and seeing it through.

Salmon netting at Paxton House

Traditional salmon netting at Paxton House

 

 

Ghostly bridge

Misty Royal Border Bridge

Walking home from Berwick railway station after waving The Husband off to London, I turned the corner to see the magnificent Royal Border Bridge treading a ghostly path across the Tweed. I think you’ll agree it’s a surreal sight. Whenever I look at the bridge I think about its construction and the human stories locked in the ashlar along with the rubble that fills those mighty piers.

As one person who saw the picture on Twitter said: ‘Can imagine the ghostly figure of Mr Stephenson surveying his masterpiece.’ He’d probably have been accompanied by George Barclay Bruce who, at the tender age of 25, was the resident site engineer for the project. Robert Stephenson went to Barclay Bruce’s father’s school in Newcastle, so there was a family connection. George became Robert Stephenson’s apprentice at the age of 15. Robert Stephenson was engrossed in other projects – including being MP for Whitby – during the construction of the bridge.

The story of the building of the bridge is fascinating. It took just three years. But what an intense three years it must have been! There are tales of Irish navvies, who dug the foundations, running amok in Berwick. After the navvies had gone and the construction workers took over, there was often conflict between the company and the men whose pay was frequently delayed. There was a strike over the hated Tommy Tickets (paid instead of cash but only redeemable in the company Tommy Shops where inflated prices were charged for goods) which threatened to delay the project. Barclay Bruce battled with the tricky gravel substrate of the Tweed – traditional piling would not suffice and Nasmyth’s new pile driver was brought in and won the day. And, of course, there was a human cost – a fair number of workers fell to their death from the scaffolding and various other accidents brought tragedy to mainly local families – including that of two women hit by a train whilst they gathered coal in their skirts from along the tracks.

On August 29 1850 the royal train carried Queen Victoria into Berwick (a tad late). The whole town was pomped and pumped. A special viewing platform, built at the station, awaited Her Maj’s dainty foot. Queen Victoria was pleased to declare the bridge worthy to be called the Royal Border Bridge (rather than the Tweedmouth Viaduct as it was called during construction). On that day, the Queen spent eight minutes in total in Berwick. I often wonder if she gave a thought to all the people whose lives were shaped and changed forever by the building of the bridge.

Glad tidings

Glad Tidings

Haiku-ing in Japan

I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. Fascinated by bonsai, tea ceremonies, geisha, sushi and a culture that seems so very, very different to anything I know and truly understand. Well, I’ve been lucky enough to spend 12 amazing days in this extraordinary country. Between my marvellous London Daughter, Lonely Planet and Instagrammer HungryNYC, we have soaked up food, culture and Japan-ness in liberal quantities. The fact is, you really do need a leader on a tour like this: someone who knows that you have to collect you Japan Rail passes from the station before you do anything else; and that you can reserve seats on Shinkansen if you arrive half an hour or so before your bullet train departs; who’s checked out about dumplings and sushi and fluffy pancakes and teppanyake and sprawling markets; who knows about naked bathing in onsen (hot spring baths); and who’s had the foresight to book tickets for the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo before your trip (no tickets are sold at the museum).

I decided to record our trip with daily haikus. I wasn’t totally religious about my application of the exacting rules of haiku which The Poetry Foundation summarises as:

‘A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time.’

Frankly, Matsuo Bashō, the great 17th-century Japanese writer, has nothing to worry about. According to my guide book (not a patch on Lonely Planet) Bashō was so moved by the building of Shin Ohashi (that’s New Great Bridge) in Edo in 1693 that he wrote this:

How grateful I feel

as I step crisply over

the frost on the bridge

Nevertheless, my haikus captured the essence of our days travelling from Osaka to Koya-san, Nara, Kyoto, Hakone, Tokyo and back to Osaka. If you’re going to Japan (or, actually, if you’re not!) I can highly recommend a daily haiku.

Day one: Osaka

A lid is lifted

on a paintbox of colours

our senses are blurred

Jetlagged, we stumbled from our hostel into the streets of Osaka. In Dotombori, neon signs were stacked on neon signs. We hoped for okonomiyaki (a kind of-everything-in, cooked-at-your-table omelette – more later) and tako-yaki (octopus dumplings). In the event we were slightly overwhelmed by this first stop in Osaka but started our Japanese odyssey with a senses-overload wander around the breathtaking Kurumon Ichiba market, too dazed to take pictures or try the sumptuous and frequently startling food that bubbled, sizzled and winked at us as we passed. However, we did have a cracking meal at Mimiu Honten a traditional-style restaurant where we had their famed udon suki and a bento box of delights.

Day two: Osaka to Koya-san

For a country known

for reserve and zen Japan

is very noisy

In Japan there is a sound or melody for everything. Pedestrian crossings make bird sounds, music plays over tannoys, recorded voices speak over one another, there’s a tinkle and bing-bong when a train is arriving and when it’s departing, when the doors open and when they close… you can even play a sound in the toilet to mask any embarrassing noises you may make!

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Day three: Koya-san to Nara

Come to prayer early

on Koya-san you may hear

one hand clapping there

The journey to Mount Koya from Osaka is pretty amazing. Using our pre-booked World Heritage Ticket we took the  Nankai line which dawdles away from the tightly packed city and begins the steep ascent up the mountain. The final vertiginous climb is courtesy of a cable car included in the ticket. In Koya-san we explored Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and stayed in the most welcoming gorgeous guesthouse where the boys tucked themselves away in capsules. We walked, after dark, through the amazing and vast Okuno-in cemetery to Kobo Daishi’s (founder of the first temple on Koya-san in 861) mausoleum following lantern-lit paths. We went again early in the morning for daily prayers at Kobo Daishi’s temple: we didn’t achieve enlightenment but we did find a pleasing sense of spirituality.  

Day four: Nara

Myriad platefuls

sparkling scented in your lap

breakfast Nara-style

 

No pagodas here

cries the woman who has eyes

but no map to see

In Nara we wandered the quaint back streets of Naramachi filled with traditional merchant houses, saw the black and bronze Buddhas encased in the Daibutsuden temple – the largest wooden structure in the world; and we answered questionnaires from just about every school child in Japan. Our favourite foods will be pored over in classrooms across the country! We all loved the many dishes that makeup a Japanese meal: the rice, the meat or fish, the pickles, the omelette and tofu and the miso soup – we won’t mention the miso soup in the lap mishap. In Nara, we got our okonomiyaki (delicious – although not cooked at our table), had lunch at a little café in the woods, met a clueless tourist, and had our first encounter with people dressing up in traditional costume to enjoy ‘a fun day out’. 

Day five & six: Nara to Kyoto

Ancient kimonos

hang on pre-fab walls wings spread

like huge butterflies

 

Sensation-drenched streets

demand all attention but

beware bikes behind

 

Through orange arches

to the mountain top to find

peace, truth and nice view

It rained while we were in Japan. A lot. However, dealing with rain is so normalised, it’s almost a pleasure to carry an umbrella. There are machines that dispense plastic covers for your brollies when you enter buildings and shops, and racks outside temples and restaurants to leave them in and collect them when you’re done. Above all, in Japan there are beautifully kept toilets everywhere;  most have heated seats and a funky control panel that includes an in-built bidet. Bliss. In Kyoto, we loved Nishiki Market full of (to our eye) weird and wonderful offerings, we met up with my niece and her friend who happened to be in Japan at the same time. We trailed through hundreds of orange shrine gates (and rain and cloud) on the pilgrimage loop of Fushimi Inari-Taisha – I pushed the extra footsteps to witness the ‘nice view’ which, although murky, was at least vaguely visible (the whole sky was muffled by the time we descended). And we managed to escape Kyoto on the fabled bullet train before Typhoon Lan arrived. The niece and her friend were not so lucky. But drowned their sorrows in beer and fluffy pancakes.

 Day seven: Kyoto to Hakone

Naked laughter wrapped

pink under trees and hot springs

soothes body and mind

 

Waiting for Fuji-san

the typhoon below the cloud

could go either way

Every holiday has a blue day. Our arrival in Hakone-en was ours. The cloud was low and the typhoon gusts building. We were deposited in a weird and rather bleak development focused around a hotel complex, The Prince Hakone, on Lake Ashinoko. Planned walks and excursions on the Komagatake ropeway for views of Mount Fuji were abandoned (were we even in the right place to see Fuji-san???)and we ate a rather sulky and dispiriting bowl of noodles (our only mediocre meal) wondering what we were doing  here. What a difference a day makes!

Day eight: Hakone to Tokyo 

As far as the eye

brimful to the horizon

Tokyo is aglow

 

Wide high-rise squat streets

bo peeps moist dumplings scenes of

Ghibli animé

 

Tax-free Uniqlo

and BIC Camera bliss-out but

watch for Oliver

We headed straight for Roppongi Hills for panoramic views of Tokyo skyline and sunset photos of Fuji-san . Perhaps the most surprising hit of the holiday was the Mori Art Gallery (entry included in the ticket to the tower view). We returned to the Shibuya district and committed sushi gluttony at Uobei Sushi: good-value , high-octane and your dishes are fired at you on mini bullet trains. The Ueno-Yanaka walk was a gorgeous nostalgic blend of market, cemetery, temples, shrines and galleries and a glimpse of how Tokyo once was. BIC Camera was impossible to pass for some members of our party and The Husband revelled in a whole floor of techno toilet seats! We saw cosplay stores and various costumed individuals, but the most eye-catching business around dressing up seemed to be in basement stores where young girls dressed and made-up to take social media photo posts – I think!

Day Eleven: Tokyo to Osaka

Row on row of fish

for sushi, fish for noodles

you taste very nice

 

The bullet departs

Tokyo for Osaka and

melodies come too

Before leaving Tokyo we had to visit Tsukiji fish market – another odyssey into food extremes – and seek out ikura don (salmon roe rice bowl). With samples being touted and attention-grabbing shouts, this felt like the most touristy market we visited – but was nonetheless thrilling. In Osaka, we met with my niece and friend for our final night. Our huge blowout consisted of teppanyaki in an izakaya (pub/eatery) Robatayaki Isaribi cooked in front of us and handed out on a huge wooden paddle – it was loud, fun and simply delicious. We could eat no more. Nevertheless we made a mad dash to grab the last three of Uncle Rikoro’s wibbly-wobbly cheesecakes

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 Day twelve: Osaka to Helsinki to Heathrow to Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed 

Anchored in Finnair

view captured in oval frame

reflections released

Japan. So many things to digest (literally and figuratively) and an on-going desire to eat Japanese food. Forever. So many questions (including the need for a definitive answer about the face mask thing). A longing for a techno toilet, for a rigorous outdoor shoes, indoor shoes and toilet shoes policy everywhere. Also, a craving for one of those marvellous little van/cars that are so practical in such a space-hungry country. And so cute. 

Eating & drinking in Berwick

For last year’s Literary Festival in Berwick I compiled a post about Berwick’s eateries. It was by no means exhaustive and was a personal take on eating and drinking in and around Berwick. As we approach the tourist season this year, I thought I’d update my listings. There’s also a post about wandering in Berwick – again tailored to the Literary Festival – but useful enough if you just want to make sure you’ve got the town covered on foot.

If you’ve not been to Berwick before, you’re in for a treat and, if you have been, you’ll no doubt relive past pleasures as well as uncovering new delights.

Berwick has evocative and historic streets to wander, with cute and enticing independent shops as well as the usual suspects. There are also watering holes a-plenty to delight and surprise you.

This post offers a potted lowdown on a some venues where you can chew some fat (literally and figuratively) and sup a beverage or two between Festival sessions. My next post will highlight some short but enjoyable walks to enjoy as you make your way from venue to venue.

The cake display at the brand new quayside café, The Lookout

Cafés

  • The Corner House on Church Street which is a super haven and delightful bohemian retreat. It’s home of an open fire and bookshelves to browse, purveyor of fine local coffee (Northern Edge), cakes (fully-leaded and gluten free) and light lunches with vegan and vegetarian options.
  • Fantoosh on Marygate serves light lunches and lush cakes (it’s my local, I often grab ‘cakeouts’ to serve guests!), and offers dainty trinkets and gifts.
  • Just over the old bridge in Tweedmouth, you’ll find Riverside Café – good scones and excellent breakfasts – but beware it gets busy so it may be wise to book.
  • Mielle Patisserie is an artisan French-style café on West Street serving excellent cakes and tarts and light lunches.
  • A new addition: The Lookout on Berwick Quayside. The quiches and soups smelt lovely when I stopped by and a customer told me the coffee was ‘delicious’. It is a bijoux outlet with tables and chairs by the river and great views.
  • On the opposite corner of Berwick Quayside, you’ll find Lowry’s a popular café serving light lunches and with outside riverside outside seating.
  • Not a café or a substantial eaterie, but if you continue along Dock Road towards Spittal Point from Riverside Café (above), you’ll come to Berwick Shellfish – it would be hard to resist one of their crab/lobster snack platters, particularly on a fine day when you could sit and enjoy the view back across the Tweed to Berwick.

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    The perfect bench to sit and enjoy your shellfish snack pack – and it’s bang opposite Berwick Shellfish

Fantoosh at the northern end of Marygate

Riverside Café, Tweedmouth

The Brown Bear

 

Cafés plus

  • Enjoy the view from The Maltings Kitchen over a scone and a cuppa or a fresh-cooked lunch and glass or two of wine – in The Maltings arts centre, Eastern Lane. Open for early evening meals on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Foxtons on Hide Hill is a café-cum-wine bar which also offers lunch and evening meals using local produce – it has a loyal local following and can get busy.
  • Pier Red on Castlegate is a cake-serving café and gallery by day and a relaxed and elegant wine bar on Friday (cocktails from 5.30!) and Saturday nights. Cheese and meat picking platters are also available.
  • The YHA Granary Bistro in Dewar’s Lane offers a full range of drinks and family friendly meals in a relaxed atmosphere at excellent prices. You can get up to the lovely Granary Art Gallery from here for a quick look.
  • Upper West Street on West Street straddles this category and the one below. It’s a café/bistro serving a tasty range of lunches/evening meals and roasts on Sunday.

More substantial eateries

  • Gasparro’s on Bridge Street is the go-to for Italian staples.
  • Audela on Bridge Street is a tad more expensive than some Berwick eateries but the prices are matched by quality food. Evening meals only – fabulous local fresh produce cooked imaginatively and beautifully.
  • The Queens Head Hotel – lunches and evening meals which often make inventive use of lovely local produce. Venison is usually a good choice. Again at the top end of the price range.
  • If curry’s your thing, Amran’s on Hide Hill is the place to go IMHO. It offers a great range of fine-tasting Indian food to suit the frailest and the most asbestos palates!
  • I should also mention Magna Tandoori on Bridge Street which I know has many fans too.

Drinkeries

  • I’ve already mentioned Pier Red and Foxtons – both popular and pleasing drinking haunts.
  • The Brown Bear on Hide Hill is a pub with a heart that serves a super pint and a grand pie and gravy. There is outside seating.
  • The Curfew, tucked down an alley off Bridge Street, is Berwick’s super-popular micropub, serving fab craft beers – including those from excellent local brewery Bear Claw, local game and pork pies, scotch eggs and it’s the only place in Berwick to serve gouda and Dijon mustard – the ideal snack with beer. It has an outdoor patio.
  • The Barrels Ale House on Bridge Street is Berwick’s long-serving real-ale pub and live music venue. It’s a firm favourite with locals and visitors.

Outside the Curfew’s secret alleyway on Bridge Street

This brief meander through the eateries and drinkeries of Berwick is by no means exhaustive. I’ve enjoyed a substantial number of the places listed, others have been recommended by friends. However, just as my shelves are full of books that I have yet to open, the streets of Berwick are teeming with venues that I have yet to sample. If I’ve missed any of your favourites – or if, when you visit Berwick, you find your own hotspot – please do leave a comment below so that we can be sure to check it out!

For those of you who like to keep your step quota up, there are lots of lovely walks in and around the town. Tune into my Wandering in Berwick post to get some ideas.

Wandering in Berwick

Welcome to part two of my brief look at Berwick as the star of the Literary Festival (fitting, as a new film about Robert the Bruce, ‘Outlaw King’, is about to start filming in the town). My last post encouraged you to wet your whistle and whet your appetite in Berwick’s cafés and eating houses.

After all those stimulating Festival sessions, you’ll probably need some fresh air and the opportunity to wander and ponder. Berwick is the ideal place to do just that, enjoying views and wildlife along the way:

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Berwick to Spittal: Looking back at Berwick from outside Berwick Shellfish, Dock Road, Tweedmouth.

Wanders

  • The Walls: No visit to Berwick is complete without a walk round the historic Elizabethan walls. This 20- to 30-minute stroll offers vistas across the mouth of the Tweed, out to sea (with views to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh on a clear day) and takes in many of the town’s historic highlights including a great view along Marygate from atop Scot’s Gate – as seen and recorded by Lowry.
  • The Lighthouse: Pop down to Pier Road and take a blustery stride out to the lighthouse and back – it’s always possible you’ll see seals or dolphins – you’ll certainly enjoy views out to sea and across to Spittal.
  • The River: New Road is actually a footpath that runs inland from town along the Tweed to the base of the Stephenson railway bridge and beyond. Spot herons, seals and otters (if you’re lucky) and pop back up to town along one of the relatively steep paths leading through the beautiful Castle Vale parks.
  • The Bridges: If you’re pressed for time, why not simply walk over one historic bridge and return by the other? You’ll be rewarded with lovely views of the railway bridge along the river and, the other way, the coast.

  • Spittal: The historic seaside town of Spittal across the Tweed is home of St Paul’s, one of the Festival’s venues. When you pop over there to enjoy the programme, do take a moment to walk along Spittal Prom. It’s a classic Victorian promenade – a place to take in the air and savour the views out to sea and across to Berwick lighthouse. If you’re lucky you may see the pod of dolphins that frequents our coast.
  • Berwick to Spittal via Tweedmouth: The walk from Berwick to Spittal is an interesting and scenic one but do allow 20 to 30 minutes to get round to Festival venue St Paul’s. Turning left off the old bridge you’re in Tweedmouth and you’ll find Riverside Café. As you head on towards Dock Road, several lovely shops including the florist Buds and new additions Dockside Gallery and vintage store, From the Attic are worth a look. You could always stock up on shellfish or grab a seafood lunch at Berwick Shellfish on Dock Road before heading on round to Spittal.
  • The Boat Trip: If your sea legs fancy an outing and you have an hour or so between sessions, why not take a trip out from Berwick quayside? The ‘Border Rose’ makes regular trips up and down the River Tweed and out to sea to the end of October.

Bridge Street with second-hand bookshop, Slightly Foxed, foreground

Cookery & lifestyle shop: Cook+Live+Dream, Bridge Street

Gazing up West Street from Bridge Street

Grieve the stationers on the corner of Marygate & Church Street

  • The Town and Shops: Of course, you may just want to peruse a few shops and take in the general gorgeousness of Berwick. Such a stroll might include a jaunt north through Scot’s Gate and along Castlegate where you’ll find Pier Red (café/wine bar), and some independent outlets including a couple of lovely vintage shops and second hand bookshop Berrydin Books. Walking back through Scot’s Gate take the right turn just before Fantoosh (café/gifts) and drop down Bank Hill past The Loovre ice cream parlour, into Love Lane and on to Bridge Street. This street is packed with delightful independent shops and galleries such as Marehalm (gifts), organic outlet The Green Shop, and The Market Shop and second hand bookshop Slightly Foxed. At the far end of Bridge Street turn left up Hide Hill and poodle up the hill past gift shop Decorum to the Guildhall and Buttermarket. From the steps of the Guildhall take time to gaze along Marygate and the facades above the now predominantly chain store outlets for a hint of what the high street once was. Also, don’t be fooled, there are a number of pleasing independent shops here such as local craft collective Serendipity, the cornucopia that is Vintage upon Tweed and various cafés such as Deyn’s Deli (in the Rum Puncheon building). Another street well worth a look is the cobbled West Street which links Marygate and Bridge Street and is home to Upper West Street and charming independent shops including the jewellery outlet Bijoux and house of handmade artisan chocolates Cocoature.

There are many lovely walks around Berwick and, as you stroll, you’ll probably find some of the narrow back streets and footpaths too enticing to resist. Enjoy!

The Old Bridge

Community green spaces: a precious commodity

One of the most cherished and central aspects of community life is shared green spaces – areas where people congregate, walk the dog, go for a run, enjoy a moment of contemplation, take in a stunning view, or sit on a warm bench and flick through their copy of the Berwick Advertiser!

            In Berwick, we are blessed with some gorgeous bits of the great outdoors. Over the last four years or so it has been a delight to see the parks around the castle and the station – Castle Vale Park and Coronation Park – become welcoming and cared-for spaces once more. This renaissance was spearheaded through the County Council’s Strategic Parks Project and largely funded by Heritage Lottery money. The parks – and all the community events that take place in them – are lovingly tended by Parks Manager Kate Morison and her small band of volunteers. It’s a massive job and always a work in progress. That’s gardening for you: it is frustrating and demanding; it’s also life-enhancing on a range of levels.

Coronation Park

Meadow flowers in Coronation Park. Even ‘relaxed’ gardens require careful planning and attention.

            Events in the parks (mostly free) are instrumental in engaging the community and ensuring our common spaces are used in ways that are positive and beneficial for all – and for raising funds for tools and plants. We have a Dawn Chorus walk, an Easter Bunny Hunt, a ‘Meet the Ancestors Day’, a Beastie Hunt (see below), and a Halloween event. There will soon be a new sculpture trail. Sculptor David Gross specialises in large wooden sculptures and is workshopping with local schools to develop a sculpture trail in the parks based on the children’s designs. It’s so exciting to see young people engaging with our open spaces in constructive and dynamic ways. Such initiatives are surely a massive investment in the future of our parks.

            The recent Open Parks & Garden Day (pics below) was an opportunity to buy plants, chat with Kate and volunteers about the parks, and visit seven private gardens. From Tintagel House at the foot of Bank Hill, to Castle Hills House (the former maternity hospital) you could meander from garden to garden, meet gardeners, enjoy the eclectic mix of gardens on offer, guzzle huge quantities of tea and cake, and support the upkeep of the parks along the way. It’s the second year Open Parks & Garden has taken place – this year we raised over £600: thank you! – and we’re already planning next year’s event. If your garden is reasonably near Castle Vale Park or Coronation Park, why not join in next year? Just get in touch with Kate (see below).

            Mind you, things may look quite different next year. Lottery funding for the parks ends in June 2018 and so, therefore, does the funding for Kate’s job. With no paid parks manager to co-ordinate volunteers, devote time and expert knowledge to maintaining the parks and the rolling programme of events, it will be a tall order to keep these beautiful spaces as accessible and cared-for as they are now. It seems mad that so much money should go into refurbing these green spaces, only for them to decline again a few years later.  Of course, the Friends of Castle Parks are doing our best to try to ensure that will not happen and it’s possible (but by no means certain) that Kate’s contract may be extended for a year. But then what? These public green spaces bring communities together in so many ways, it’s worth fighting to keep them professionally managed. It’s a tough battle: resources are being taken away from parks all over the country. The Friends need all the support we can get. Do make your voices heard by speaking with your local town and county councillors, joining the Friends group and/or volunteering in the parks.

More information:

www.friendsofcastleparks.org

kate.morison@northumberland.gov.uk

(A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser 20 July 2017)

 

Today is the time and place for miracles

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We invest so much into beginnings. We wish for better. Or for different. Or for change. And New Year is the classic time when we decide this is the moment that it’s all going to happen. It’s a time to breathe in new possibilities and exhale what’s past. Despite all the partaaays!, and Auld Lang Synes, and live-like-every-day’s-your-lasts, an indefinable profundity drapes itself around the start of a year. And what better place to be at such a time than the home of Hogmanay: Edinburgh.

Even before we’d arrived at the top of the Waverley Steps by the station, there was an expectant thrum about the place. It was New Year’s Eve or, in northern parlance, Old Year’s Night. Roads were being cordoned and stages erected amongst the shoppers and sightseers of Princes Street. Unlike London at times of mass gatherings, Edinburgh did not appear to groan under the weight but rather to expand happily to receive the flood of anticipation, awe and anxiety that comes with one year’s end and the next’s beginning. I deposited my daughter at the hip eatery Indigo Yard on Charlotte Lane with an agreement to meet in a couple of hours’ time.

Free! I tripped along Queensferry Street, past Randolph Crescent (which always makes me think of its namesake in London’s Maida Vale where I used to live), towards the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Suddenly I was in Alexander McCall Smith’s book A Work of Beauty ‘under the towering Dean Bridge’ and in the cobbled streets of Dean Village. I’ve been there before, but in that moment it felt fresh and new.

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To arrive moments later at Nathan Coley’s illuminated installation There will be no miracles here, is surreal in the very finest way. What more thought-provoking piece of art could you wish for when mangers and shepherds have still to be mothballed. I am perhaps particularly sensitive to the concept of the miraculous: this time last year I had just come through a major operation and, in truth, was not sure whether I would still be around a year later. But here I was. Here I am. A miracle of sorts.

The Joan Eardley A Sense of Place exhibition at Gallery Two (until 21st May 2017) is a profound experience in its own right. Eardley tenaciously sketched and painted the tenements and people of Glasgow’s Townhead and the brutal and evocative landscape around Catterline just south of Aberdeen during the 50s. The exhibition is a tour de force that encapsulates the human and, specifically, one individual’s relationship with time and place. For Eardley this began with buildings in Glasgow and then extended to people – particularly children – who she portrayed with a curious and memorable blend of gritty macabre and Pierrot sentimentality. In Catterline, her initial focus was on the ramshackle fishermen’s cottages, rather than the stunning coastal views below the village. As you progress through this well-curated exhibition you are drawn into Joan’s world of urgent painting. From fishing creels to graffitied shopfronts, her’s is an emotive and at times jarring vision. You feel that she wanted to capture this moment, this place, to stop them being lost.

As I walked back to the meeting place I’d set with my daughter, I enjoyed the failing light and the drizzle. There was something about the water-smeared festive lights that brought a fitting wistfulness to the glitzy shop windows, fairylight-draped hotels, and spinning fairground rides. The fireworks later would be fabulous, but we were not staying to see them this time. Our moment here was done. As we sat on the train back south to Berwick-upon-Tweed, I felt strongly the creative miracle of time and place. And I thought how I would love to live 2017 not as if each day were my last but as if it were my first. Now that would be a miracle.

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