Saturday, September 10, 2011

Passing Places and Rumble Strips - Reflections on Driving in the Scottish Highlands

I've decided to post several different posts on our Scotland trip, rather than one big one.  I'll post about certain things, reflections or adventures of what happened over the course of our time there.  Here's my first post on driving... 

One of the most unexpectedly delightful - and harrowing - things we came across in our travels were the driving customs which are different from the ones we're used to in the U.S.  While we were driving in our rental throughout the Scottish Highlands for over a week, many of the roads are "single track" meaning only one car can fit on it.  So, if another is coming, you have to pull over to a "passing place" which is a spot carved out beside the road that allows room for one car to pull over while the oncoming car passes you (a friendly wave is de rigueur.)  This was all new to us coming from New Jersey!  There doesn't seem to be any set rule about who pulls over first, it's all very casual and civilized, after a while you get used to it and know what to do.  We became experts after a week.  The passing places are frequent and each one has a sign that says "passing place", so it's hardly ever an issue to find one.  In fact, I preferred the single track roads after a while, compared to the single carriageway roads since many drivers drive very fast on the lonely back roads and come barreling along in the opposite direction towards you.  Many of the single carriageways are narrow as well, and I'd often cringe when we'd pass an oncoming car at top speed - especially on a typically twisty, turny road with blind spots around every bend or summit.  Still, the panoramic views that accompany these kinds of roads were well worth it!  Below is a photo I took while driving through Glen Coe which is a stunning area of Scotland.  Pictures cannot do it justice, it's like the Grand Canyon or Sedona as far as immensity.  The green mountains surrounding the area are majestic and beautiful.   The second pic is of my husband viewing another part of Glen Coe.  As I said, pictures just cannot properly convey how huge this area is and the grandeur of the scenery.  Some parts have a preternatural feel to them, it was simply awesome with purple heather everywhere. (click on the photos for larger versions)

Glen Coe

My husband at Glen Coe

Another charming thing we noticed that was new to us while driving was a particular road sign - and I don't mean a billboard sign.  (As far as I know, they don't exist in Scotland, I never saw a single one.  Nice.)  The sign I'm talking about indicates "rumble strips."  What's a "rumble strip?"  They're a series of speed bumps designed to slow you down or keep you alert.  When you drive over them, there's a growly rumbly noise on the wheels  - hence their name!  
Another thing we loved was the speed limit signs that register how fast you're going.  They have them in the U.S. too, but the ones in Scotland have smiley faces and sad faces that indicate if you're obeying the speed limit or not!  When you come across a speed limit sign that tells you how fast your speed is, if you're within the limit, a happy face pops up, if you're going too fast, a sad face shows up instead.  Believe me, it works!  Whenever we saw the sad face, we slowed down right away - who wants to see a sad face?  I admire the psychology in these signs, they should do this in the U.S. too!  

Roundabouts.  The dreaded roundabouts in the U.K. I'm sure you've all heard of them.  In the Highlands there are virtually no stop lights, it's all roundabouts (traffic circles) to keep the traffic moving.  At first we were completely flummoxed by them, but then after you get used to driving on the left and jumping in and exiting, they make perfect sense!  The only time I saw stop lights were in the cities like Inverness and Edinburgh.  By the time we got to Edinburgh at the end of our trip, we got rid of the rental, since parking is impossible in town.  It's not needed or worth to it to have one.  Taxis and walking are the way to go.

I recommend hiring a car if you go to Scotland.  It's a great way to see the country.  I loved driving around the Highlands, I'm so glad we started our trip that way and had our own dear Mercedes which we really put through it's paces (more on that in a later post).  I hired an automatic.  I figured driving a manual and shifting with the left hand - and driving on the left - was pushing it.  Upon our arrival in Scotland we picked up our car and drove from Edinburgh Airport straight up to the Highlands.  We drove up the A9 and stopped at a great little inn with a tea room that served food and drinks in Pitlochry for a late lunch (great Cullen Skink - a chowder type Scottish specialty made with smoked haddock and potatoes).  I forget the name of the place, I'm afraid, but it was a little inn on the main drag.  That first day was a bit of a blur.  Pitlochry is a nice little town, sort of touristy but it's right on the A9 and it was a good stopping point for us to get a bite and go to an ATM machine.  It was then on to Loch an Eilean as I mentioned in my earlier post. 

After leaving Loch an Eilean, we headed on to our B&B on the quiet side of Loch Ness which was about another hour away.  Loch Ness - our home base for the next five nights.  

More tomorrow... maybe.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lovely travelogue post! We are getting more and more roundabouts here (in Ottawa) and I'm quite used to them now. One day while driving on a long road with lots of lights, my daughter (ever the practical one) said, "Why doesn't every intersection have a roundabout?"

The photos are beautiful and I'm so glad you're posting about your trip!


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Thanks for popping in and commenting, Tracey! It's funny about roundabouts, but they do make a lot of sense!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I love reading this - brings back such memories! We took the train from Edinburgh to Inverness and then walked everywhere - Graeme from Evergreen picked us up there after our week-long hike over Skye, Lewis and Harris.
Loved the single track roads. They seemed so simple. And yes, everyone is polite and you must wave and stop for sheep.
The Highlands are so magical!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia, I'd forgotten you went to Lewis and Harris! I'd love to do that eventually next time I go. We actually didn't walk around Inverness at all, just drove around several times and had dinner there one night. It's very pretty in the evening along the river.

Penelope said...

Wow! This looks so romantic and wonderful. I love the photo of your husband at Glen Coe. That is gorgeous! Can't wait to see more....

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Penny, thanks, it is a cool pic of my husband. A friend of his said it looked like he was contemplating the long trek to Middle Earth! LOL!

MichelleKCanada said...

I am loving this post. So perfectly insightful. Scotland is my dream trip so now I shall live through your accounts. Excellent.


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Michelle, welcome and thanks for commenting and I'll try to post another installment soon! I'm crazy hectic since getting back and I'm still sorting through my hundreds of photos!

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