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