The hall is filled with fishing rods, golf clubs, wellies and duffle bags on wheels stuffed with each person’s idea of the essentials for a week in Scotland. The earthquake of departure is nearly over and what hasn’t been done by now will have to wait.
The dogs lie low, and I don’t have the heart to tell them that they are staying home. A keeper once told me that dogs don’t have a sense of time – a week is the same as a day. Still, it’s reassuring to think that the canine clock doesn’t know the difference between a trip to Waitrose and a week in Perthshire. Which doesn’t mean dogs are dumb, merely philosophical, like children sent away to boarding school.
Everyone else is asleep and I go from room to room saying goodbye, just as I went round the garden this evening bidding farewell to late roses. I apologised to the kitchen garden for leaving just as it begins to shine. I picked every last broad bean for our supper so that we won’t have to eat the tough big toes that they will turn into during out absence.
The truth is, I think that summer is the time for staying home. The water in the lake is warm enough to swim in every day now, sweet peas are in flower and the raspberries are at their peak. I have my morning coffee in the apple orchard with the chickens and every evening we eat dinner outside. We wait all year for this moment. Like a snail being pushed off its rock I wonder: why are we leaving?
You could say that Scotland is a compromise: a common language, no messy money, rivers, hills and no air miles. We cram the moulded Halford’s cockroach on top the car with all the outsize gear, leave an hour later than planned and hope to get to the farm cafe on the other side of Scotch Corner for breakfast outside with all our egos safely intact. The next stop is John Norris in Penrith, a concession to Sam who gazes at reels and flies with the same concentration that I bring to Georg Jensen jewellery on eBay. The only difference is that I have more buying power, a glaring injustice that feels more obvious on holidays. By the time we reach Dunkeld and the River Tey, the urge for reckless consumption will be replaced by the simple desire to fish.
And that is what the holidays are about finally. This is your inheritance, we say without saying: memories of summer and family. I have friends who are sane, intelligent people, who spend their lives planning holidays – and there are so many days to fill: half-terms, Christmas, Easter, two months in summer, each break an investment in the trust fund of memory.
I would like to pass on a different legacy: that you never have to be ashamed of staying put. That the world is wide but you don’t have to see it all at once. You don’t even have to see it all. That people are more interesting than places and mileage is no guarantee of excitement. I tell Sam that Beethoven never went far but left immortal travel notes: a 10-mile journey to Baden gave mankind his Ninth Symphony. ‘How random is that?’ he replies.
The confined space of the Peugeot 407 requires tact and tolerance. As soon as we see Scottish hills my heart will melt like ice cream in the sun. I know if Sam catches a salmon his joy will sustain him throughout the year. As we head north Michael Mupurgo is on the radio, filling in for Mark Tully in Something Understood. ‘Home is not where you belong,’ he says. ‘It’s where you are.’
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on July 28, 2005.