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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

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Couple’s life-affirming art captures the light and rhythm of nature in the Borders and beyond

It’s a rare thing to meet people who are grounded in time, space and environment. But Pauline Burbidge (textile artist, quiltmaker and designer exhibited worldwide, including London’s V&A) and Charlie Poulsen (specialist in sculpture, growing sculpture, drawing) are rather like their respective art works. That is, inspired by and intertwined with the local landscape and its ambience. Charlie and Pauline have created a studio, home and gardens in Allanton near Duns that are an extension of their way of life. A place that breathes vitality, originality and joyful quirkiness.

Charlie & Pauline's marvellous kitchen. (c) Charles Poulsen 2006

Charlie & Pauline’s marvellous kitchen. (c) Charles Poulsen 2006

Charlie is my husband’s stepbrother so I knew the couple were artists. However, it wasn’t until I met them eight years ago, that I began to grasp what that means. Even then I was naïve. I was beguiled by their clothes – a collision of the practical (overalls) with the hippy-cum-homespun (knitted waistcoats, printed scarves); enthralled by their home – painted wooden floors, bunches of herbs hung artlessly but precisely, Kilner jars glistening with preserves, upcycled Marmite jars, feathers here, a bowl of stripy stones there – like a perfectly organised version of Kim’s game; and entranced by the garden – fronds of sculpted and entwined branches guiding you round beds of flowers and vegetables growing to the right height and in the right direction. And, yes, I was wooed into thinking that this kind of stylish artistry is, well, easy, for artists. Of course, generally, artists work incredibly hard, create beautiful stuff, and just about scrape by. Pauline confirms this, “Survival can be quite hard. Being a couple, we can be supportive of one another – we keep separate pots of money so we can borrow from each other from time to time.” Charlie owns up to being in debt at the moment, “You’ve got to keep your costs right down. If you don’t spend, you have all that free time to do the work you want to do.”

The Allanbank Mill Steading kitchen during Open Studio. (Image (c)  Jason Patient 2013)

The Allanbank Mill Steading kitchen during Open Studio. (Image (c) Jason Patient 2013)

Charlie in one of the exhibition spaces at Allanbank Mill Steading (Image (c) Charlie Poulsen/Pauline Burbidge) 2014

Charlie and Pauline came north from Nottingham (where they met, married and, until 1993, worked) searching for a property to make the most of Charlie’s small inheritance from his brother. Most people would have balked at the slightly dilapidated group of house-less farm buildings. Pauline says, “We knew within 15 minutes of arriving at Allanbank Mill Steading, this was it!”  Ten years passed in a whirl of camping on mattresses, developing studio and exhibition space, creating a home, producing work, and taking on supplementary jobs here and there to keep financially afloat.

Pauline at The Quilt Museum & Gallery, York. (Image York Press)

From the start, the yearly Open Studio was at the heart of the Allanbank Mill Steading ethos. “We came up with the idea as a way of letting people view our work and see it in the place it was made,” says Charlie. “Being in a rural location, we felt we needed buyers to come to us, particularly as my sculpture is heavy and difficult to move. The first Open Studio in September 1994 was a fairly basic affair but we attracted a surprising number of mainly local people.  However, we made more money on donations for the tea, coffee and home-made cakes than on the artwork!”

The garden featuring some of Charlie's living sculptures and a Nigel Ross sculpture in wood.

The garden (above and below) featuring some of Charlie’s sculptures in lead and living sculptures and a Nigel Ross sculpture in wood (foreground below).

Allanbank Mill Steading

Since 1999, Open Studio has featured the work of a guest artist each year – including architecture, furniture, ceramics, glass, photography and much more. Last year local artist Olivia Lomenech Gill (who has illustrated for War Horse author Michael Morpurgo) was there. This year it’s the turn of Halima Cassell and her carved ceramics. Open Studio now attracts some 500 visitors over four days. It is 21 years since Charlie and Pauline conceived Open Studio and the on-going renovation of Allanbank Mill. To mark the anniversary, they have published a vibrant visual feast of a book printed in Berwick by Martins. It’s a celebration of their life environment and a taster of their work – from Charlie’s epic growing sculpture (400m long and 150m wide) on the Southern Upland Way and playful, thought-provoking ‘ghost’ sculptures in lead and concrete; to Pauline’s stitch art and quiltscapes that hum with the colours, light and rhythms of places such as Holy Island Causeway, Pittenweem, and Puglia in Italy. The best way to appreciate this generous life-affirming couple’s work is, of course, in situ. And you can do that during their Open Studio 2014 from 1st – 4th August and at other times by invitation or appointment (details below).

Charlie & Pauline are marking Open Studio's anniversary with this gorgeous book. Printed by Martin's in Berwick. (Image (c) Pauline Burbidge 2014)

Charlie & Pauline are marking Open Studio’s 21st birthday with this gorgeous book. Printed by Martins The Printer in Berwick. (Image (c) Pauline Burbidge 2014)


Allanbank Mill Steading, Allanton, Duns, Berwickshire, TD11 3JX T: 01890 818073 E: or w:,

(This article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on June 5th 2014)

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)

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