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Anglo-Saxon Origins
For much of the 7th and 8th centuries, the Christian kingdom of Northumbria shone as a beacon of civilisation in the period often called the "Dark Ages". At its greatest extent, Northumbria stretched from the River Humber northwards to the Firth of Forth. Its royal capital was at Bamburgh, some 20 miles south along the coast from Berwick. Bamburgh's fortress rock is visible from Berwick's ramparts, as is the Holy island of Lindisfarne, the "cradle of English Christianity", where the first monastery was established by St. Aidan in 635AD. During this Anglo-Saxon period, a township grew up at the mouth of the River Tweed at a place called Bere-wic, or "Barley-farm".

Scottish Royal Burgh
In 1018, the area of Northumbria to the north of the River Tweed was ceded to Scotland, after the Northumberians were defeated by the Scots in a battle at Carham on tweed, a few miles upstream from Berwick.

Around 1120, King David made Berwick one of Scotland's four royal burghs, giving its freemen a number of valuable rights and privileges that allowed the town to prosper and become Scotland's greatest seaport and its largest and wealthiest town by the 13th century. The port thrived on the export of wool, grain and salmon, and traders from Germany and Flanders set up homers and businesses in the town to make it a major international commercial centre, described by one medieval writer as the "Alexandria of the North".

This golden age came to a violent end in 1296, when King Edward I of England captured and sacked Berwick, beginning a period of some 300 years of warfare between England and Scotland.

Anglo-Scottish Wars
The Borderlands to north and south of the River Tweed became a fortified frontier district, its once-rich farmlands devastated and its landscape dotted with castles, towers and battlefields. Between 1296 and 1482, Berwick was besieged and assaulted on more occasions than any other town in the world other than Jerusalem, changing hands no less than 13 times!

Now click here to see an Anglo-Scottish Wars Timeline......

Elizabethan "Star Wars"
Berwick's medieval defences could not withstand the powerful artillery of the 16th century, and Queen Elizabeth I engaged an Italian engineer to design and supervise the construction of an ambitious system of fortifications, employing the most up-to-date technology of the time.

This circuit of ramparts and bastions is unique in the United Kingdom and still stands virtually intact. This was truly a "Star Wars" project in terms of scale of expenditure in money and labour. Berwick's Elizabethan defences ensured that the town has remained in English hands to this day.

A Garrison Town
From the Middle Ages to the 1960s, Berwick was a garrison town. Cromwell's soldiers occupied it during the Civil Wars in the 17th century, Jacobites threatened it in 1715 and 1745, and the town's fortifications were again upgraded to ward off possible French assaults in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In 1882, Berwick Barracks became the depot of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, who still have their Headquarters there, though the Regiment has been barracked near Edinburgh since the mid-1960s. All around the town are reminders of Berwick's history as a Border fortress town, from the ruins of its medieval castle and town walls, its unique Elizabethan fortifications, the 18th century barracks, gunpowder magazine and guard-houses, to the emplacements for guns that defended Berwick during two World Wars.

Now Berwick is at peace and its fortifications afford a wonderful walk with superb views of the town, and along the Northumberland Coast and the Tweed Valley.