Only ten days after returning home, I have to get on the road again. I am not a sling-a-bag-in-the-back, take to the high road kind of person. I used to get on aeroplanes in the old days with a change of shoes and a paperback book, not thinking twice. Now, the very idea of going away from home fills me with dread. I am not proud of this. It is too much clichéd middle age, the awful clank of the closing mind.

I get fretful about missing the oyster-catchers or the arrival of the daffodils, or the first bloom of the apple blossom. I become cross about lost sessions of schooling with my mare or not seeing the vital things which are happening at HorseBack UK. In this mood, I think: if you confiscated my passport tomorrow, I would almost breathe a sigh of relief.

Once on the road, I become fatalistic. The five hundred miles must be driven.  The fury about having to leave recedes and I can look at the hills with pleasure. Every single one, from Perth to Shropshire, is still thick with snow.

I get off the motorway and go a new and winding route. There are sudden woods and banks covered in daffodils and the long rails and high stone gates of stately houses.  England is, in places, staggeringly beautiful. In other places there it holds an air of ancient resignation, as if the seventies never really went away: there are sagging terraces with weed-strewn front gardens and boarded-up windows, and brutalist shopping centres with no-one in the shops. In one storied market town, there is a gold exchange, where people can go and sell random gold items for cash.

On the other hand, every motorway stop now has its complement of lattes and flat whites and the new chic Spanish cortado, kinds of coffee never dreamt of in the days of polyester and Nescafé. Much to my chagrin, you can’t get a nice scampi in a basket any more. In one famous service station, there is even a farm shop, and a section where you can buy artisan olive oils and Charbonnel and Walker chocolates. As I drive through it, England feels as if it has a quiet identity crisis, caught between the gold exchange and the panini. Or maybe those kinds of things have always existed alongside each other and I just notice because I visit so rarely.
Everything in me is Scottish now. I dream of neeps and tatties; even the most glorious Shropshire hills cannot compare with my blue mountains. One must resist chauvinism with every fibre of one’s being. I’m not saying Scotland is better, which is the foolish implication of the Independence advocates. I’m just saying that it is the place which makes my own idiosyncratic heart beat faster. And for the moment, nowhere else comes close.