here to visit key locations
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".
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
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.
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
click here to see an Anglo-Scottish
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.
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.
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.