Turning down the opportunity to watch the Premier League top two at the Etihad for the chance to see the Scottish League’s bottom two was always going to be a good call. I had a great day out in Berwick yesterday, spoiled only by the usual boorish England rugby fans drinking “cidre” from the bottle en route to Murrayfield.
I had been to Berwick a couple of times before, once even camping in the holiday resort there. Both those trips were in the summer though, so I thought a grey February visit might be a slight disappointment.
It wasn’t. The views from the railway bridge are almost on a par with those of Durham, with the sea, docks and Tudor ramparts prominent. From the station the walks around the walls is an hour well spent, allowing you to dip in and out of the town and its impressively varied pubs.
The town centre itself, based around one long main street, hasn’t changed much in the last dozen years, apart from acquiring the coffee chains and a smallish Wetherspoons, which served a bargain half of Maxim Anderson Scotch (NBSS 3).
I think the Leaping Salmon, while a decent Spoons, will struggle to reclaim its place in the Beer Guide with the extent of competition in a town of 12,000. Last time here I was impressed with beer quality and character, and the pubs were even better yesterday.
This being nearly Scotland, there’s a fair number of keg-only pubs in town, particularly south of the river. The famous Free Trade isn’t in the Guide, but has reintroduced a real ale, though my decent half of Northumberland Blonde (NBSS 2.5) was the first one pulled.
With conversation about Ozzy Osbourne’s recovery prospects before Download Festival, and TV horseracing, I thought this was as wonderful as ever. It evokes the basic pubs of South Glasgow, and whisky is probably your best bet. The pennies in the urinal trough are still accumulating.
Time prevented a return to the Pilot, an equally traditional and attractive terraced pub near the holiday park, where I enjoyed the traditional folk sessions before.
The two other Beer Guide entries are in Bridge Street, the main home of independent enterprise and attractive if austere alleys, like the one on the Lowry trail above.
The established Barrels is so good it deserves its own post, but the new micropub Curfew was almost as good, helped by banter with Berwick Rangers fans (all of them, I think), and a superb Titanic Plum Porter (NBSS 4), the beer of choice here. One gent travelled up from Whitley Bay for matches, and I shared a mutual appreciation of Seaton Sluice.
The football completed the cultural experience. A 2-2 draw with East Stirling (10 away fans) kept both teams bottom of League 2 and in danger of relegation to the regional league. Despite a bog of a pitch, the quality was pretty good, and contained the obligatory goalkeeping howlers.
The highlight of the day came in a polysterene tray. The battered haggis and home made chips were a gourmet experience, though making my run back to catch the train slightly dodgy.