Virtually everyone I have met before travelling has never been to FYR Macedonia. Indeed, even my travelled, global and intrepid Balkan-loving friend, Yuan confessed last night, it was the only Balkan state he has not visited.

So where precisely am I?

The FYR of Macedonia is the middle of no-where, the crossroads to and from somewhere else, defined by what country or culture it once was dominated by and even its airport. That person - Alexander the Great - arguably never really knew this land and indeed his very legacy here today is dominated by assertion, assumption and lack of knowledge.

I am here for a conference hosted by the International Association for Religious Freedom... at first glance that might be a campaign from bible belt America. I'm delighted to say that this a conference about shared understanding, about tolerance and about dissent. We will be discussing and sharing our knowledge from communities that have emerged post-conflict and whose cultures are now at risk of being lost. Check out: www.iarf.net

I have met several Macedonian's and they all know about the UK. Most immediately draw a comparison with Yugoslavia and the United Kingdom. Their joke is that it will become England Previously the United Kingdom. In hushed giggling terms they substitute the work Previously with Formerly.

In some respects, they are right and as they sit in the crossroads between East and West, they regard the UK and all of its component parts as on the edge of Europe with no natural ally. Our conversation goes deeper - is Macedonia on the edge of collapse or on the verge of success?

My friends, drinking buddies, acquaintances, are phlegmatic and relaxed. "Everyone knows Macedonia, all pass it over and all need to pass through it."

Over the course of two, three and then a fourth beer we touch on the issue of East vs West, of the rise of Turkey, the reach of Russia and the allure of the European Union. We dip into the conflicts of modern times of those who live in the country of Albania, those who want to live in Albania, those who want to live in an enlarged Albania, those who regard themselves as of the Albanian race, those who are Yugs, but did not support Yugoslavia, those who are Yugoslav and regret the passing Yugoslavia. The truth, one of my friends reflects is that we are only ourselves but we discuss and cling to badges and identities.

I absorb this lesson in identify, in culture, in religion and think of my own country which is griped by issues of independence, culture, borders and change. Yet we English fail to see the consequences of such insular risk.

We finish our beers, I pay the bill and I walk back to my hotel. As I walk along the footpath at the side of the road it is clean and maintained - I did not see the path as I walked into town. But in a few hundred yards it is increasingly overgrown and after a short way it ceases to exist and I walk slowly, standing aside as cars or buses pass. And as the sign of my hotel comes into sight and I arrive at my home for the night I start to worry that the path tells me more about the future of the U.K. and the emergence of England. Independent, defined by what it was, and on the edge of everywhere and the crossroads of no-where. I fall asleep with crickets outside, loud and busy providing a little night music, as I fear for the future of my own country.

I'm attending the conference on Religion and Conflict Prevention on behalf of the UK Unitarians, the conference is organised by the International Association for Religious Freedom. www.iarf.net