Features

Published on November 14th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Beer-wick upon Tweed

According to press reports, people in Berwick have been urged to “wake up” to the town’s potential. Townsfolk, the papers say, should recognise what it has to give the world in terms of historical significance, independent spirit and economic advantage. The recent Scottish referendum had the world’s media crawling all over Berwick, eager for opinions and snippets and that’s when it’s reckoned the town should have realised its power (or so says “pub talk”).

It’s never too late, so let’s start by showing the nation what some of the North East’s best pub towns has to offer.
(Research by Alastair Gilmour)

THE CASTLE HOTEL
Castlegate (tel: 01289 307900)

ARE WE THERE YET?
The lounge bar is a quiet, almost sedate room with a lot of potential. It occupies a lovely corner site with tall windows all round, lending it a light spaciousness. It’s comfortable and almost soporific. It would make a great family or workplace gathering.

WHAT CAN I GET YOU?
Maxim Brewery Swedish Blonde (4.2% abv) is refreshingly hoppy with grapefruit undercurrents, while Double Maxim (4.7% abv) is a complex brown ale with a malty palate and dry, bittersweet finish.

ON A PLATE
The hotel’s restaurant is high on local produce with Northumbrian beef, Eyemouth haddock, venison and lobster (when available) regularly on the menu.

UPSIDE
Its position at the top of the town and its stylish architecture mark it out as a significant Berwick attraction – somewhere to sit and ponder the day or relax before your evening meal. It’s also only yards from Berwick station – on the East Coast Mmain Line.

DOWN
Huge potential waiting in the wings. Perhaps for some it has a “clubby” feel – plus a few more “site-specific” prints and paintings could adorn its walls rather than the present off-the-shelf abstracts.

CHE45_30THE CURFEW
Bridge Street, Berwick
(tel: 07842 912 268)

ARE WE THERE YET?
Blink and you’d miss the entrance to a narrow alleyway that opens out into a courtyard – and the attractive, functional beer garden.

WHAT CAN I GET YOU?
Thornbridge Black Harry (3.7% abv), a richly, flavoursome stout; Woodford’s Wherry (3.8% abv), a former Champion Beer of Britain, and Rising Sun Pale Ale (5.3% abv). Yup, we tried all three on a wooden paddle holding three thirds.

ON A PLATE
Simple, unfussy dishes include Foreman’s local pork pie with chutney or mustard; Chicken paella (£3.50), lamb meatball (£4) and pan Catalan – bread with Serrano ham and tomato pulp (£5). Very continental.

UPSIDE
The Curfew is small, intimate and a delight. It uses its space well – that sort of thing is at the heart of what micropubs do for a living – with as little space as possible taken up by the counter and preparation/serving area.

DOWN
Not a lot really, but there’s not much room for staff in a busy bar.

CHE45_31THE BARRELS
Bridge Street
(tel: 01289 308013)

ARE WE THERE YET?
Superb (award-winning) pub with walls dripping in music memorabilia – autographed Beatles’ photos, Elvis with Muhammad Ali, Frank Zappa, a chilling Liverpool Echo front page blazing “John Lennon Shot Dead” and a Berwick Rangers “dream team” banner. We can all dream. The lounge is a deep-buttoned upholstered, quieter area that seems to also act as an art gallery.

WHAT CAN I GET YOU?
Cullercoats Polly Donkin (4.2% abv) is a tasty stout; Stewarts Edinburgh No3 (4.3% abv), a typical malty Scotch ale; Holts Two Hoots (4.2% abv), Dark Star Hylder Blonde (4.2% abv) an elderflower-infusion, and Tyne Bank Barrels Blonde (3.5% abv) the pub’s light and hoppy session house beer.

UPSIDE
Terrific banter. Great range of collectables – lots of actual barrels around the place, either small ones as (padded) seating, or part of the counter. Immaculate gents’ toilets.

DOWN
Again, nothing negative springs to mind. If pushed, it would be the slightly unnerving photo of Keith Richards in the gents’ cubicle. Don’t know why.

CHE45_31aTHE PILOT
Low Green (tel: 01289 304214)

ARE WE THERE YET?
It sits off the main road, away from the shops and services, along a quiet residential terraced street, easily reached from the station. It’s one of those bars that has never changed in decades.

WHAT CAN I GET YOU?
Beers include Alnwick Gold (4.2% abv), a golden IPA, Deuchars IPA (3.8% abv), plus Firebrick Tormit Heed (4.4% abv), a fine fruity, amber ale from the Blaydon-based brewery.

UPSIDE
Four words – what a canny pub. An attractive fireplace sits at one end. Paraphernalia such as brass ships’ optical instruments. Music in the lounge (“playing fiddles, moothies, whatever”).

DOWN
Within two pints you might find yourself missing your train.

THE FREE TRADE INN
Castlegate (tel: 01298 306498)

ARE WE THERE YET?
The pub was closed on the day we visited, but Halloween-style window decorations suggest it is still open, as in open. The Free Trade is a gem so we’ve included it here; it’s of huge social and architectural significance with terrific potential – like Berwick itself. Built in 1847, it’s a grade II-listed building. Let’s use it more. Here’s to busier times and open-all-hours doors.


About the Author

Alastair Gilmour



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