One of the highlights of my occasional work in Glasgow is the train journey and specifically the River Tweed crossing at Berwick upon Tweed. It is significant for a number of reasons; like the arrival into my home city of Durham, the train crosses a viaduct whose height gives panoramic views. Look to the west and you have the broad expanse of the river where salmon fishermen once caught a hundred fish or more in a single net, whilst to the east you have the river mouth with its pier and lighthouse and the defensive walls of the town, linked to the south by the repeating loops of two very different road bridges. It is also symbolic or returning to England. (The actual border is slightly north of Berwick, but crossing the Tweed seems far more significant than passing a sign on the road or at the side of the railway).
The border has a fluid history, being much further north in Anglo-Saxon times when the kingdom of Northumbria extended to the Firth of Forth, but prior to the Norman Conquest the Scots has pushed it back to the Tweed though it was only formalised by treaty 200 years later. England recaptured a small area around Berwick in 1482 establishing the line we have today, though for centuries the whole area was a lawless area where the Reivers, held sway through robbery, extortion and livestock rustling. In a single year the town reportedly changed sides 13 times!*
Despite, or perhaps because of this instability Berwick was a prosperous market town doubtless seeing trade from both sides. Consequently there is a wealth of fine (and quirky) architecture to see in the town, some of it inspired by its martial role like the Main Guard building on Palace Green. The barracks, which I didn’t see, are by Nicholas Hawksmoor. There’s a wealth of Georgian properties too that could make Berwick a good location for filming historical dramas and obvious attraction for me.
Perhaps the same reasons brought a more gifted artist to these parts. L S Lowry was a regular visitor to the town and there’s a walking trail with helpful signposts that point out the landmarks featured in his paintings. The neo-classical town hall, built in the 18th Century, is an obvious subject and was the main subject of The Town Hall. (Click the link to see Lowry’s painting)
Less obvious is the shelter pictured here, which is in his painting On the Sands. The building is clearly no longer on the sand, but whether this is due to coastal changes or relocation I’m not sure. It feels like the right location.
There is one point on the trail that I felt was a little tenuous. Having walked the half mile of breakwater to the lighthouse, the information board suggested this as a location for The Sea, a painting completely devoid of landmarks. The accompanying text suggests that it must be of the North Sea because it looks so cold, but in fairness the Irish Sea which is nearer to his Salford home is just as uninviting. Even if it is the North Sea, Lowry was also a regular visitor to Sunderland, staying at the Seaburn Hotel (now the Marriot) which overlooks just such a stretch of open water.
Nevertheless my walk wasn’t wasted. It isn’t very Lowryesque, in fact I think it has a French feel to it, more minimalist than naive maybe. All the same I really like this one.
*There’s an urban myth that because of these fluctuations the town was often separately included in legal documents distinct from England and Scotland and that this led to its inclusion in an act of war against Russia but not in the peace treaty, leaving the town at war with a global superpower. In reality the town wasn’t specified in either document.