Berwick? Don’t Go There

This week via Twitter, an extremely cheesed-off B&B owner pointed NOT BAd in the direction of an article written by Ian Midgley from The Hull Daily Mail.

Midgley had written a piece about staycationing in Northumberland and while he had waxed lyrical over Low Newton by the Sea and Bamburgh, he swiftly dismissed Berwick, advising readers “don’t go there” in tones dark enough to conjure up a plague pit.

Berwick – burying the bodies since the Anglo-Saxons

Ever curious, NOT BAd re-tweeted the link on Twitter and posted it on our Facebook page to see what response Midgley’s comment would provoke.  Would the people of Berwick rush to the town’s defence, or would they take a more phlegmatic stance?

As you would expect, there was lavish praise for Berwick in rebuttal and white fury directed at Midgley for being such a short-sighted, real ale dependent dunderhead.

However, Ross Graham, life resident and passionate devotee of Berwick, had this to say:

“The historic Border town has seen better days and we struggled to find anywhere to eat” is a sentence that may just cause a little bit of discussion, but I would have to agree.

Whenever asked for the whereabouts of a good place to eat, I usually reel off my list of here and there, but on the few occasions when I do decide to go for a meal myself I find myself quite at a loss. And that’s without putting children into the equation.

That one is so-so, that one varies between brilliant or terrible, that one is too expensive for what you get, that one is shocking. Fish and chip shop? Other fish and chip shop? Oh look, a Wetherspoons – that’s cheap and fills a hole; it’s not particularly good but is always the same and it’s got cheap drinks. Or get a take-away since you usually get x per cent off with it.

Berwick has seen better days and as locals we can stick up for it all we want, but in truth the shops and eateries are lacking; there isn’t anything to do – you can only walk round the walls so many times, and where are you going to park your car while you are busily doing nothing around town?

What do we have in the way of tourism? What do we offer? People come here and ask if you are English or Scottish and sure, they may follow the Lowry Trail, but what should they travel x amount of miles for?

Alnwick has its castle. People want to come and see that because, hey,  it’s a whopping great castle. The rest want to come because of Harry Potter. Will this film with Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth bring new life to the town? Just why would people be drawn to Berwick these days?

Yes, we do have a stunning location, breathtaking surroundings, brilliant architecture, and a history that you can see and touch, but how many other places will say that?Edinburgh has that and it’s just as easy to go there plus they have so much more to offer.

I love the location, the history and the architecture of our town but, to be honest, when was the last time they were a talking point? I re-noticed it myself the other day when I decided to take a nice deep breath one morning and look up.

The dreaming spires of… Berwick?

We forget what it looks like above the pavement and shop doorways. The upper levels of most of those buildings look amazing, each different and each with the potential to be even more striking. Look at the second floor of the closed down calendar shop – those lovely arch windows would be great for a café with a view of the high street.

As residents, we have no control over what shops go where, but we should be able to say: please, no more charity or card shops. Stores are closing and staying closed, or being filled with ones we don’t need or want when they should be replaced by shops to draw people in.

We need to change if we want Berwick to become a thriving tourist destination. I don’t really like change and from what I can see nobody else does, but out town is already changing by itself and for the worse. I have lived here all my life and we have never improved.

Berwick is Berwick. There is nowhere else like it. That is our selling point, the reason why people would want to come, but how can you advertise that? Unless you know the place and its atmosphere there is very little that words and pictures can do to bring someone here.

But here is a start:

“Welcome, I am Berwick. I brim with history and magnificent architecture that is here to be looked at and touched. Just take the time to stop for a moment and look up or down or around the corner or down that alley. Ask the right people and you will find the right places. I challenge you to find any characters more diverse, creative and surprising as the ones you will find here.”

Berwick, an atmosphere all of its own

How do you feel about Berwick – fiercely loyal or resigned to the fact that the town is past saving? Do you feel our councillors and town officials are doing the best they can or have they let us down? What can we do as individuals to help redirect the town’s future?

Simply click on the ‘leave a comment’ button at the top of the post and have your say.

All photographs have been reproduced by kind permission of Stevie Wonder (Paul Stevenson), an extraordinarily talented Berwick-based photographer with a real flare for creating atmospheric pictures.  Thank you, Stevie!

Find more of Stevie’s work here and be inspired.


9 comments on “Berwick? Don’t Go There

  1. Brilliant aspect from Ross, seriously.
    As I walked back home from the school drop off this morning I was pondering the very self same question with my slow-walking companion.
    She was musing about her ‘experience with Colin Firth’ last week. I was thinking to myself ‘is this Berwick now on the map?’. My companion is from Sussex. She is used to balmy summers spent on the south coast. Today was warm and the sky pale cerulean blue, slight breeze, perfect conditions. If Berwick was like this for the majority of the year, would the people flock here, we wondered? I thought so.She thought that given the choice of a weekend in Alnwick, Morpeth or Berwick, many would choose the two former. These she chose for their shopping credentials. I know nothing about local economy, but I do support the local shops, charity and independant, and this is not the be all and end all of a town for me.
    To quote Mark Twain ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society’. I take from this that those who ‘do’, make things happen and those who hide in the shadows have the opposite effect. We must be proud and confident of the heritage that is Berwick Upon Tweed and the unique situation it is set in. I for one am confident it is on the verge of a Renaissance!

    • Hi Tamsin

      Thanks for stopping by! Ross makes some great points, doesn’t he? Blind loyalty isn’t going to help our town recover.

      I am continually puzzled why Berwick is failing to capitalize on its many assets. Those who have the power to enforce change are focusing too much on why we shouldn’t, rather than why we should. As Ross points out, while our elected officials dither and scratch their heads, the town itself is deciding which way the future lies – down.

      There is a buzz in the air, which we can encourage as you rightly say by supporting our local economy and by being proud of where we live.

      Obviously it’s not as simple as “if we build it, they will come” – the money simply isn’t there. But I bet if we start putting down the foundations, others will come and give us a hand.

      Chastity x

  2. Hi

    Gosh you are good! Finger on the pulse, spot on with the observations.

    I agree, where does one eat? In a spirit of open-minded hunger, I took my wife into the Granary Bistro lunch time on Monday of this week.

    Now architecture aside and the tatty random posters hanging off the steelwork, on entry there were two tables littered with the detritus of the last families to eat. I ordered ‘beer battered haddock, with chips peas and tartar sauce’ and my wife went for bacon, brie and cranberry panini. About twenty-five minutes later – and we were the only people in – two plates arrived.

    On mine were two long thin triangles of brown; these catering pack items could have been, both from sight or taste, battered or crumbed. They and the chips were bone dry, clearly oven-cooked and just done to a temperature which couldn’t scald the vulnerable. The peas were lukewarm peas; the tartar sauce we found in plastic sachets on the table with the cutlery.

    My wife’s panini had thoroughly melted cheese which had gone off the heat – presumably while waiting for my fish and chips to defrost? When we left that made three tables littered with detritus.

    The term ‘bistro’ I looked up out of interest! Wiki came up with “Home cooking with robust earthy dishes, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet are typical.” So a bit of a rename needed there then.

    Just a couple of years ago I tried dipping the toe into this pond with a burger bar, based out of the Cashmere night club in Golden Square. I’m afraid the offer of low fat and healthy ostrich, etc, burgers – locally sourced and cooked to order – failed dismally to attract those flocking to the ‘know just what you are getting in advance’ fare of the Wetherspoon next door.

    There are of course huge issues with running small eateries, e.g. the much missed Café Curio as was. Just the cost of gas and electric these daysis an eye-watering item on the list of outgoings, along with business rates (what are they all about when you don’t even get the bins emptied any more?) and all the other overheads.

    I like the Maltings’ Kitchen; I like Foxtons. The Queen’s Head is of course in another league. But we are short of honest-to-goodness, middle-of-the road eateries which can offer nice grub at sensible prices.

    I fear a lot will have to happen – internationally, nationally and locally – before we see them back again.

    • Hi Mike

      You’re too kind, sir!

      This eating-out business really does seem to be a recurring complaint, doesn’t it? Do you think it is simply down to the cost of running food establishments, or a lack of motivation and creativity?

      Food and the socializing that takes part around food plays a huge part of anybody’s holiday. If Berwick can get that right, we’re halfway there.

      Chastity x

      • Well,on a positive note, I had a super meal for just a few quid more in The Cat on Tuesday night. Their ‘beer battered’ looked fish-shaped and tasted like fish and the chips were hand-cut super chips. By the look, they seem to be a family-run pub, who attract business or go bust.

        There is no excuse for not clearing tables for an hour plus in an empty cafe. Just look at the way it works in the M&S cafe. When they are swamped with custom, which seems to be quite frequently, their managers pile in and clear the tables to help the staff.

        I don’t want to focus on the Granary, it is a special case. The YHA have had five million quid of public money spent on a building which has been ‘given’ to them to run. I can only think it is the sheer cost of running establishments – plus hiring staff is a nightmare – which is restricting the choices.

        It is also a fact that Bourne Leisure are becoming better and better every year at keeping their clients happy, satisfied and spending within their sites. This creates a town which is, theoretically, a resort in the summer but pretty dead in the winter.

      • Hi Mike

        That’s interesting you mention Bourne Leisure. Surely we should be able to use them as a valuable resource rather than shrug our shoulders in defeat? They are bringing custom to our door but we’ve got to take responsibility for enticing visitors to leave their caravan and step over the threshold.

        Chastity x

  3. Left by Ian Beresford via Facebook:

    “What’s most upsetting about those original comments is that it’s by somebody who comes from a beauty spot like Hull!!”

  4. Hi Chastity,

    Loved the article. I have always loved Berwick upon Tweed – beautiful, historic – and never get bored of our town.

    I feel very strongly about the holiday camps. I don’t think they bring too much to Berwick, but sadly feel if it wasn’t for them there would be no foot-fall in town. But I honestly feel we have so much more to offer: the story about Berwick’s history being a town under siege many times, never defeated and always betrayed, a fiercely fought over prized possession. This should be marketed better – would make a great book or even movie.

    Anyway, that’s how I feel.

    Many thanks,

    Stevie Wonder

    PS: Thanks for using my photos!

    • Hi Stevie

      Hasn’t Berwick an incredible story? If not the hook on which to hang a marketing campaign, our history should certainly feature as a substantial element to it.

      You’re right about the holiday camps. They do bring much needed foot-fall to our streets and while we need to cater for those on a lower budget, we also need to raise our game to attract those with more disposable income to spend in our shops. This is where we are failing.

      Many thanks for leaving your thoughts, it’s much appreciate. And no, thank you for allowing me to use your wonderful photographs. You’ve captured the spirit of Berwick exactly.

      Chastity x

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