Universally known as the English town whose football club plays in Scotland, Berwick-upon-Tweed overlooks the mouth of the Tweed in the far eastern corner of Northumberland.
Just as this town reflects its history of wars, raids and shifting frontiers – Elizabethan fortifications, Britain’s earliest barracks, the Royal Border Bridge – so this club, Berwick Rangers, hopped from England to Scotland to England, and then back again.
As author Alan Bell entitled his pre-1914 history of the club, Berwick play ‘An International Every Week’.
Starting life as a member of the Northumberland Soccer Association, the Black & Gold won regional silverware against fellow English opposition, switched to (and won) the Scottish Border League, switched back to English football then, then in 1905 and ever since, have been a special member of the Scottish football fraternity.
The first match to be played in Berwick, in fact, was between two teams from either side of the border, Dunbar and Newcastle, in 1881.
But Berwick, closer to Edinburgh than it is to Newcastle, owes its football to more than national affiliations. Fish played a part, too. Around the time that the club was formed in 1884, it was a Berwick fish trader who provided the space for its first ground. A team of fishermen from Seahouses, North Sunderland, handed Rangers their first defeat, in 1885. Berwick’s stint in the Northumberland leagues proved to be both competitive and relatively lengthy.
In fact, after World War I, around the same time that the A1 road was built, connecting London to Edinburgh and passing close to Berwick’s ground of Shielfield Park, Rangers tried several times to rejoin the North Northumberland League, without success.
With occasional exception – most notably, the famous Scottish Cup win over Glasgow Rangers in 1967 in front of a record attendance – Berwick have trodden a somewhat lonely and impecunious path in the lower reaches of the Scottish League. Low crowds, meagre gate takings and a groundshare with Berwick Bandits speedway club have typified recent decades. Rangers almost went into administration in the 1990s – in 2016, even the speedway club was put up for sale.
On the plus side, in 2009 the Berwick Rangers Supporters Trust took over the club and have kept it in the safety of League Two ever since.
There is no direct public transport from either to Berwick – once you get into town, by metro in Newcastle and by bus in Edinburgh, a regular direct train from each city is 40min and around £10-£15 single online. Note that Edinburgh Haymarket takes 10min longer than Edinburgh Waverley but both offer a direct service.
From Glasgow, you may have to change at Edinburgh Waverley – the direct service from Glasgow Central (1hr 40min-2hr) is every 2hrs.
Berwick station is north-west of the city centre a short walk away. The ground is on the south bank of the Tweed. The nearest crossing, the Royal Border Bridge, is for rail traffic only, and any walk would involve heading into town and over Tweed Bridge.
Several bus and coach companies serve Berwick, the main and most useful being Perryman’s.
For a local taxi, A1 Cabs (01289 308 524/07760 774 938) are based close to the football ground and offer £90 airport transfers with Newcastle and Edinburgh.
There are a handful of modest lodgings on the south side of the Tweed, halfway between town and the ground, but it’s a fair stroll to or from the centre. The best of them is the Rob Roy Inn, a family-run guesthouse of five rooms, a bar and restaurant, with views overlooking the harbour.
There’s plenty of choice of accommodation around the historic town centre north of the Tweed. The contemporary and business-like Kings Arms has its own café, cocktail bar and Italian restaurant. The Queen’s Head also appeals to the discerning visitor, its six rooms colour-coordinated and containing pocket-sprung mattresses, its restaurant one of the best in the region.
Halfway between town and the station, two hotels date back to the 1890s: the Elizabethan Town House was renovated in Portuguese style in 2005 while the Cobbled Yard features comfortable rooms around a bar and restaurant with an open fire.
Right by the station, the Castle Hotel offers a mix of rooms, both en-suite and non-, with its own restaurant and cosy lounge bar.
For a budget stay, the glass-fronted, quayside YHA Berwick is a cut above the average youth hostel, with private and family rooms as well as dorms, all en-suite. Its Granary Bistro hosts live music and comedy clubs.
Cosy, friendly pubs dot the town centre. Pick of the bunch is probably CAMRA award-winning The Barrels at 59-61 Bridge Street, a revered spot for live music and popular with supporters on match days.
Also near the waterfront, The Leaping Salmon, a former Wetherspoons, is a convenient find on Golden Square close to the Berwick Rangers Supporters Trust.
Round the corner, the Brewer’s Arms at 115 Marygate is known for its food but also brings in punters for football-watching on plasma screens.
If you’re coming or going by train, close to the station on Castlegate, the Free Trade Inn (No.75) is delightfully old-fashioned, dating back to 1847 and with Hadrian Border beers on offer, while the White Horse at No.89 goes big on TV football, darts and karaoke