Arriving into Newcastle from the south by train you are treated to view over the Tyne that includes a number of architectural gems; the Newcastle Law Courts, The Baltic and The Sage for example. You may spot the keep that gives the city its name as you arrive into the Central Station but the abiding image is of the bridges. The Tyne Bridge, the Swing Bridge, the Millennium Bridge and maybe the High Level Bridge (if your train isn’t travelling on it rather than the King Edward VII Bridge). The Tyne crossings inspired an album by Keith Emerson’s band The Nice released in 1970.
Similarly Berwick may be notable for its well-preserved girdle of stone and earth, but other feats of engineering inspired my to visit.
The view from the train is similar in many ways; a range of options to view as you cross the river and each the station, but all overshadowed by the bridges. The irony is that the greatest of the three structures that cross the Tweed here is the one you can’t see from the train. We’ll come to that in due course.
Let’s begin nearer the mouth of the river, where the original 17th century structure not only still stands, but still bears traffic heading south. The Grade I listed structure known as Berwick Bridge or also The Old Bridge was constructed between 1611 and 1624, a physical manifestation of the union created Elizabeth I’s choice of successor. There had been bridges before this of course but these wooden predecessors were vulnerable to storms, floods and military action. This first stone built crossing was never going to suffer in the same way and for three hundred years it was the only road crossing.
In the early 20th century it was time to supplement the bridge to accommodate the numbers of vehicles heading in both directions across the border and a second bridge was built. The Old Bridge may have been uneven in its design (the largest span being three times the width of the smallest) but it still had the greater charm for this second road bridge, The Royal Tweed Bridge, is made of concrete. If it were on its own, the four spans would not offend, but juxtaposed with a piece of Jacobean history they jar.
And so we continue upstream to the greatest of the three and a masterpiece of Victorian engineering; the Royal Border Bridge. This is the viaduct from which the rail passenger enjoys such fabulous views.
The Old Bridge has 15 spans, and the newest of the three has four, so perhaps you would expect a structure built after one but before the other to achieve a compromise between these figures but no; the Royal Border Bridge, designed by the son of railway pioneer George Stephenson has 28 magnificent arches lifting the tracks across the river at a height of over 120 feet.
It’s such a graceful piece of work that I can almost forgive it the consequence of its construction. The railway station at the northern end of this magnificent edifice was built on the remains of the castle. A castle long abandoned perhaps, but who knows what archeological treasures were lost with the arrival of the train. With this as compensation I can almost forgive that act.