Laurence Stephen Lowry visited Berwick-upon-Tweed several times from 1935 and his paintings of the town form an unexpectedly sizeable part of his oeuvre. In Lowry’s time, Berwick was more industrial and more like his native Lancashire than today; now it is a miniature Chester or York in waiting, with its fascinating nooks and crannies. No British city has a more dramatic arrival by train, across the breathtaking, 28-arch viaduct of the Royal Border Bridge. Spanned by two further smaller bridges, the town accompanies the river, tumbling downhill to the sea through broad cobbled streets and alleyways.
The best way to see how Lowry passed his time in Berwick is to follow the Lowry Trail. In an imaginative touch, the trail is supported by 18 prints of Lowry’s pictures in situ, overlooking places that he depicted, such as the narrow alley of Sally Port, graceful Palace Street or The Stanks, where he painted a football match staged in a dry moat. You can’t help noticing that Lowry wasn’t above indulging in the odd piece of artistic licence – adding a chimney here, a curious inland islet there – but what is really striking is just how unchanged the scenes he depicted have remained.
Make time, as Lowry did, to visit Berwick’s beaches. Low tide reveals rockpools, but Lowry’s pictures remind you just how far north you are: most of his seaside figures remain buttoned up with coats and jumpers, even in sunshine.
Just three miles from the Scottish border, Berwick has been English since 1482, but changed hands at least 13 times before that, which explains the Elizabethan walls hewn from local sandstone. The rest of the town is sealed up by a medieval wall, making Berwick the only completely walled town in Britain. It’s an easy walk around the walls, taking in sensational vantage points, such as Meg’s Mount, looking north to the Lammermuir Hills, southwest to the Cheviots, but most stirringly of all, down the coast to Lindisfarne, and Bamburgh Castle, 25 miles as the oystercatcher flies.
Berwick’s cobbled, steep streets boast evocative names such as Foul Ford and Easter Wynd. The place to head for though is Bridge Street, a sleepy, eclectic lane awaiting discovery by the world’s guidebooks for its coffee houses, galleries, antique and interior design shops, a music store selling curiosities such as Austrian mouth harps, and where many buildings remain decked with 1940s fittings straight out of a post-war film noir.