The Journey - The Borderland
/ The Journey /
Northern England, as you approach the border, can feel a desolate place.
On the Scottish side of the border there are a number of towns – Gretna, Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso. The English side, apart from the town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed in the East, is mostly an undulating, heather clad landscape with clumps of forest scattered along it.
When driving, keeping to the English side of the border is not always straightforward. Due to the hills and lack of main roads, dipping in to Scotland, as you make your way across the 140 miles from west to east coast, is necessary to ensure tarmacked roads.
But this quiet landscape is famous for a lively and lawless past. It was once the frontier during the Scottish Wars of Independence in the late 13th and early 14th century, and later became part of a buffer zone with the creation of the Marches in 1249, which spanned both sides of the border and remained in place until the union of the Crowns in 1603. It was during this time that this region became semi-autonomous, resisting both English and Scottish control. Border Reivers, who carried out cross border raiding, terrorised the population, and castles and stone peel towers, erected for protection during these times, continue to stand as relics of this violent past.
At the northeastern tip of England lies Berwick-Upon-Tweed, a small Georgian market town which, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, was considered so strategically important that it was voraciously fought over by the Scots and English – switching sides thirteen times. Once it fell back into English hands, Queen Elizabeth I ensured it would stay there and spent more on improving Berwick's fortifications than she did on her entire defence against the Spanish Armada.
Today, northern England is considered of less strategic value. Residents scattered throughout this mainly rural region complain about the lack of interest or investment in the region. And despite its illustrious past, Berwick’s residents bemoan the fact that their sights, which include the fully intact Tudor walls and Britain’s oldest purpose built army barracks – built in 1717 - do not enjoy the national status they believe they should and lament the visible neglect by regional councils resulting in high unemployment, shabby high streets and a lack of political will to improve the roads.
Just across the border lies Scotland, which, on the 18th of September 2014, will decide on whether or not it wants to remain part of the United Kingdom. But even if Scotland votes to remain part of the UK, it is expected that they will still gain more control over their own affairs with a package of reforms known as ‘devo max’. But who knows how independence or devo max might impact the English border region.