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Out of Berwick – delightful spots to visit (and escape the Berwick Fury)

It’s the time of year when The Husband and I like to grab a glass of evening wine and meander down the garden, chewing the metaphorical cud as we go. And, there’s been quite a lot of cud to chew lately what with one thing and another.

Sundowner moments are rather precious: time to catch up and wind down, take in our marvellous surroundings and simply to be. However, there are a number of relatively taboo subjects in our household right now. What with The Husband being on the town council. Many of the things we enjoyed mulling over – festivals, being a Portas town, local shops, buildings and gardens, Berwick itself – are, these days, topics laced liberally with anxiety and a desire to skip over the wall to other shores.

Sometimes it's good to get away - now matter how beautiful Berwick is

Sometimes it’s good to get away – no matter how beautiful Berwick is

So, in the interests of health and sanity, I am heading away from politics, from loud and publicly vented spleen, and from those who have the stomach to take the body blows. Although why any sane-minded person would want to be a town councillor, I cannot fathom. Ooops. That sounds a bit like, ‘I told you so!’ and, when The Husband became a councillor, I promised those words would never pass my lips. So, here are some family friendly places a few paces or wheel turns away from our feisty town.

Chain Bridge Honey Farm. Four miles out of Berwick – learn about bees and bee produce. I read on Facebook recently that a cream made from farm honey had triumphed over dermatitis where numerous prescriptions had failed. Tumble down the hill to the historic Union Chain Bridge – in 1820 the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world. Today you’re more likely to hear the call of a goosander (or perhaps glimpse an otter) than the thunderous sound of Captain Brown’s carriage crashing across his bridge, proving to the 700 bystanders that the structure would support their weight and save them the slog to Berwick one way and Coldstream the other.

Half a mile along the river is the 18th-century neo-Palladian mansion, Paxton House. The adventure playground (with zip wire) tucked into the woods above the river ticks the kid box. The house contains tales of doomed love and plantations and a fine collection of Chippendale. Plus there’s a café – and people who dress up. And it’s river-trip season (check timetables) – why not take a boat from Berwick Quayside and sloosh along to Paxton – spying out fishing shiels and wildlife along the way?

Boat trips along the Tweed from Berwick Quayside...

Boat trips along the Tweed from Berwick Quayside…

...a great way to see things from a different angle

…a great way to see things from a different angle

Plenty of walks lead you out of Berwick. One of my favourites circles the cliff edge by Berwick Caravan Holiday Park towards Eyemouth.  Although peering in windows is fun, the real views come later. About 30 minutes out of Berwick you’ll find the Needle’s Eye, a spectacular natural rock arch. This time of year cliffs are packed with nesting seabirds (kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills). You might spy puffin but the Farnes, a short sea ride out of Seahouses, is way more reliable for puffin spotters. Extend your walk from Needle’s Eye to Eyemouth and St Abbs for more coastal treats.

The Needle's Eye in the background - a short step north along the coast from Berwick

The Needle’s Eye in the background – a short step north along the coast from Berwick

In Eyemouth is the splendid Gunsgreen House. The hands-on displays and stories of smuggling skulduggery are compelling. Stroll over the estuary for fish and chips on the Bantry, some nosh at Oblo or a Giacopazzi’s ice cream. Yum.

There are many more delightful places just over Berwick’s threshold – hop on a bus to Holy Island, continue to Bamburgh for the castle and tales of sea heroine Grace Darling, mosey to Ford and Etal for steam trains, castle and a functioning corn mill.

Sometimes you need a nudge to get out and admire the exquisite things just beyond your doorstep. As the Berwick fury shows no sign of abating, I may be gone some time.

Plenty of spooky smuggling secrets to uncover at gorgeous Gunsgreen House, Eyemouth

(A version of this post was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 1 May 2014)

The rush of rural life

Fast Castle - just one of the wild and wonderful places near Berwick-upon-Tweed

Rural life is so hectic!

Despite being reared in the country I had forgotten the  relentless things to do, see and take part in – every town and village designs its own activities and fetes. Then there are music events, lectures, groups and societies. And, of course, the business of living.

It’s nine months since we moved to Berwick from North London. The Husband finds going back to London increasingly difficult. Even I have felt less need to book up advance trains for every school holiday. This must surely mean we are settling in. Even more radical than that, it means that we really have decided to make Berwick our home. Of course, we will never be locals. I remember my mother explaining to me that although she had lived in Suffolk for 25 years she was still an ‘outsider’!

I look back over these busy months and have to acknowledge that, as we’ve determinedly thrown ourselves into our new home and way of life, the highs have been way up there and the lows have been, well, low.

Our garden has given us enormous pleasure despite its daunting dimensions and landscaping. The installation of our three hens had the whole family in anthropomorphic clucks. We found it so easy to attribute ‘the ladies’ with human characteristics…they ‘enjoyed’ being with us, they ‘chatted’ to us and each other. In short, Nutmeg, Champion and Rose delighted us as they dug the garden, kept us company, ate scraps and, most importantly, produced impossibly luscious eggs.

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

The first egg

The first egg

I’m growing lettuce, cabbage, basil, coriander, radishes, garlic, tomatoes, peas and sweet peas. The Husband dusted down his tool box and found enormous fulfilment in fashioning a chicken run and a variety of other satisfying manly wooden items for the garden. We barely scratched the surface of such rural pursuits in London. We loathed the idea of pets – the campaign against the resident house mice and urban foxes filled any need for animal contact.

In Berwick, we’ve enjoyed delicious, locally sourced food as fresh as that found in any posh London restaurant. We’ve attended Slow Food events, we have a pig developing nicely over in Foulden at Peelham Farm, we’ve hurrahed the Riding of the Bounds, we’ve attended philosophy lectures, been to the theatre, cinema and art galleries (on our doorstep instead of a tube ride or two away), set out for marvellous walks on our own and with the local bird group, we’ve done a sailing course and we’ve received amazing hospitality, generosity and kindness from so many people. It really makes me smile when I count my Berwick blessings.

A marvellous birdwalk on Holy Island with North Northumberland birdwatching group

Of course, we arrived with our rose-tinted glasses firmly in place. We didn’t worry too much about locking garden sheds. After all, in this local community everyone knows everyone and crime is low, unlike the London area we hail from. We are more careful now after most of the husband’s tools went missing.

When we realised one of our hens had arrived with scaly leg, we regaled our friends with the picture of two inadequate Londoners wrestling
Vaseline onto the legs of said hen. How we all laughed. It was less fun when two of the hens died suddenly and inexplicably. And, when our remaining hen turned into a blood-thirsty hen-pecking murderer after we attempted to introduce a new hen, we were revolted. Our desire to apply human characteristics to our hens did not stretch to accepting power structures, territorial instincts and natural selection. Even if, as a Suffolk farmer I once knew used to say: “Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.”

So, the tint of our glasses hasn’t exactly been tarnished but it has cleared a little. Which is probably just as well. We have a lot to learn about our new life. But I don’t want to totally lose the thrill of what is a great adventure. And that seems unlikely as the pace of Berwick living hurtles us into the next new experience.

Garden pleasures

(A version of this article was first published on June 9th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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