A Drive to Scotland

Although they had driven up to Scotland every summer for fifteen years, they still felt a little stab of excitement when they came to the signpost at the top of Finchley Road which pointed to the left and simply said "The North." It made a kind of chapter-heading to their holiday.

They always started at seven after an early breakfast and shared the driving between them, changing over every fifty miles or so. This year it had been Clem's turn to take the wheel first, of which Mrs. Miniver was rather glad. It meant that during the dreary flat expanse between Biggleswade and Stamford she would be pleasantly preoccupied with driving, whereas she would be free, as passenger, to look about her at the beauty of the next stretch, which lay along the eastern fringe of the Dukeries. It was an ample, rolling, opulent beauty; Georgian, somehow, with a suggestion of full-bottomed wigs and old port. A trifle oppressive to live with, perhaps: but, as a rich dark-green tapestry drawn smoothly and swiftly past one, very satisfying. At Retford they changed places again. This landed Mrs. Miniver with Doncaster, the only big town on the whole route; but after that she had an easy drive across the Plain of York to Boroughbridge, where they stopped for lunch. The great point was that Clem now came in for Leeming Lane, a fast fifteen-mile stretch, as straight as an arrow, which he loved and could do justice to: while she herself could sit back, enjoying the speed but thankful that she wasn't at the wheel.

At Scotch Corner they swung off to the left towards Bowes; and this, they always felt, was where "The North " really began, spiritually if not geographically. For they were out of the plain at last and climbing up into a completely different country, a country of small steep tumbled fields, rough stone walls, crying sheep, skirting plover, and lonely farm-houses sheltered by clumps of sycamore.

"This," said Clem as they topped a rise, "is where we passed those gipsies two years ago."

"I know," said Mrs. Miniver. "I was just thinking that. With the skewbald horse." It was amazing, the number of little memory-flags with which, on their minds' map, the road was studded. There were dozens of them now, and every year added a few more. There was one, for instance, near Colsterworth, where their first car (a two-cylinder roller-skate with overhead valves and partially exposed viscera, very sweet and willing but extremely second-hand) had dropped a push-rod; which, after a long search, they had recovered from the gutter a quarter of a mile behind. And there was another flag at the point where their third car (a meretricious black beast of an obscure continental make, the only really disloyal one they had ever owned) had venomously run a big end, stranding them for fourteen hours at a tin garage by the roadside. It had rained nearly the whole day; they had played countless games of piquet on the top of a packing-case, and Clem had scored repique and capot twice running. There were flags, too, at all the places where they had ever stopped to picnic; and one at the place where they had seen a particularly fine double rainbow; and one at the place where, after rounding a sharp bend, they had come upon a man in a stationary car hurriedly removing his false black beard. An enigmatic flag, that, five years old. They had, of course, lurked in the next side-turning to let him pass, and then trailed him for miles; but he took the Rotherham fork at Barnby Moor, so they never discovered whether what they had seen was the aftermath of a practical joke or part of a real-life Buchan.

They were climbing steadily now; and presently the bones of the earth began breaking through the grass in rocky scars and outcrops; and higher still there were no fields at all, but only the bare moors. At the summit of the road, half-way between Bowes and Brough, they stopped, according to their invariable custom, and got out to stretch, smoke, and enjoy the view. They were standing on the spine of England, nearly fifteen hundred feet above the sea. Yorkshire lay behind, Westmorland in front Hunderthwaite Moor and Teesdale to the north of them, Stainmore Forest and Arkengarthdale to the south. The silence, after the monotonous hum of the car, was almost startling. The air was knife-keen and as fresh as lettuce. It seemed a far cry from the lush, matronly, full-blown landscape of the south through which they had set out that morning. Moving northward in space, thought Mrs. Miniver, they had moved backward in time; reversed the irreversible, recaptured in late summer the feeling of spring. By what analogous mental journey, she wondered, what deliberate pilgrimage of the heart, could one -- but she did not pursue that metaphor: it would give her the slip, she felt, like the man with the false beard.

Clem finished his cigarette and ground it out carefully with his heel: the grass was tinder-dry. They got into the car again, conscious that one of their most cherished flags was now stuck in more deeply than ever. Mrs. Miniver let the clutch in and set off on the long descent to Appleby. In the convex driving-mirror she could see, dwindling rapidly, the patch of road where they had stood; and she wondered why it had never occurred to her before that you cannot successfully navigate the future unless you keep always framed beside it a small clear image of the past.

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Internet Edition 2001 The Estate of Jan Struther