We are finding that much of the beauty of Scotland lies outside of the major cities and towns. Based on a little research and a recommendation, we rented a car and set out to explore the countryside with an outline of sites to see.
So, what’s it like to drive in Scotland?
It didn’t take long for us to learn that not all of Scotland is paved with two lane highways. In many cases, the best sights and most charming of towns can only be reached via single track roads. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am not always a good passenger on major thoroughfares, let alone on a single track road!
The single track roads have “passing places” where the road widens enough to allow two cars to pass each other before narrowing back to a one lane road. On most roads, the passing places are fairly frequent and often marked by white diamond shaped signs. The passing lanes also tend to alternate sides of the road. The only solace I have is that the single track roads are not on the side of a cliff. Outside of hitting another car, a cow or a grazing sheep that has wondered into the road, the worst that can happen is that you find yourself in a grassy ditch.
At first, it was a little unsettling to navigate single track roads. I found myself questioning the GPS (we had a very scary ride in Croatia the previous year compliments of our GPS). I immediately started to think about what we would do if we broke down, ran out of gas (I constantly have an eye on the fuel gauge) or had a flat tire (which is an even scarier proposition since a flat tire days earlier left us without any sort of spare). It seems counter-intuitive that tourist attractions would be located down a single track road. However, it is true, some fantastic sights require long journeys down these sometimes nail-biting roads.
Rules of the (Single Track) Road
Driving these roads can elongate the trip, as there are frequent starts and stops to allow oncoming traffic to pass, or to allow the wildlife (sheep or cows) to move off the road. Over time we started to pick up some of the nuances of driving the single lane road, such as:
- The flash: if someone flashes their brights at you, they’re giving you the go-ahead to proceed
- The thumbs up: if you receive a thumbs up from the oncoming driver, it means that you are in an acceptable position for the oncoming car to pass (no further action needed)
- The wave: if you receive a wave from the oncoming driver, it is a “thanks” and let’s you know they can pass
- Anticipation: If you swing far left into your passing place (especially on blind hills or turns) it will provide you a little time to react to any oncoming traffic.
- Stay on your side: If the passing place is on your side of the road, pull over and allow the oncoming traffic to pass
- Right of way: If there is a large arrow on the sign (for a single lane bridge crossing), then you have the right away
- Reverse is your friend: If you meet oncoming traffic, get comfortable driving in reverse to retreat backwards to previous passing places
- Teamwork: If possible, tag team to watch for oncoming traffic; It is best to try and scout the oncoming traffic that is a couple of passing places in front of you
In the end, we made it to all of our destinations in one piece. It has made for some colorful rides—riding on the barely-there shoulder, dodging grazing sheep, waiting for cows to pass, meeting 18 wheelers or logging trucks, slamming on our breaks, and throwing the car into reverse—but in the end it has made the drive across Scotland memorable…especially since some of the best scenery is found along these narrow routes.