Driving in Scotland

Since I drive so much now I thought it might be worth telling about my experiences with driving on the left and in Scotland in general.

The first time I had to drive on the left was back in 2012 when I did a roadtrip with my little sister through Ireland. I don’t think the driving on the left is the hardest part but the gearing with the left hand. Especially when you are a right hand user in general.

Generally I would call myself quite a good driver as I am used to drive a lot. I got my driving licence when I was 18. Since then I had to drive regularly because I grew up in the countryside and it was the only way to get around. Especially when I lived 50 km from Cologne and had to to drive the A3 from Mettmann to Cologne every morning and evening to work and then to my parents on weekends. It is one of the worst Autobahn part to drive in Germany because it is super busy and loads of accidents happen there every day.

The second time I had to drive on the left was on my first trip to Scotland in 2016 with my friend Verena. But we shared the driving so it was not that much for each of us. I then found driving in the city – like in Edinburgh the worst because I had difficulties to estimate how far away I am from the cars parking on the left. And how much space there is between me and an oncoming car – this was really scary. And again I ended up grabbing the driver’s door instead of the gearing multiple times…

I or we could have taken an automatic car as well of course but that is so much more expensive! Plus I never drove one so was not really keen on it to be honest.

In 2017 I then had to drive all by myself for the first time. If you have read my blog entry about the trip from August 2017 you know that the first thing I did was getting lost in Glasgow after I took a wrong turn coming from the airport and landed in Glasgow city and almost drove into a one way street. I can tell you I was sweating buckets. I was so relieved when I was finally out of the city circle and on the A82 along Loch Lomond only going straight.

But the more you drive the better you get and when I came back again last year in March and September it went all much easier already. When I came over for good then in February this year I took my little German car with me. A Ford Fiesta I had for 4 years at that point. I loved that car. Driving it all around Scotland was great fun. I only had to focus on driving on the left and not on gearing. But – sitting on the left in a country where you drive on the left is trickier than you may think. First of all, you cannot really see when you come out of a street and want to turn left. You just hardly see if a car is coming. Overtaking is a real thrill too as you have to go quite in the middle of the road first to be able to see if a car is coming towards you. AND and I only realised that when I was creating a traffic jam at the toll of the Newcastle tunnel – you obviously have to get out the car to reach the check point of a toll or when you want to drive into a parking deck where you need a ticket for.

So this got really complicated and impractical at one point and because of insurance and in general, I had to take the car back to Germany and needed to get a car with a right hand wheel.

Now I have my little Scottish blue Ford Fiesta which is great fun to drive. I had to get used to the non key starter I kept trying to turn a key to start the car lol. I am now not even irritated anymore by gearing with the left hand. It became quite natural. No more wrong gearing and torturing the engine ;). I now need to take more care of speed limits… The more confident you get the more you tend to drive fast. And obviously I am not in Germany here…

The funny thing now is though that I can totally relate to locals who must go mental with the amounts of tourists in their leased cars and camper-vans going up North, making you stuck behind them as they go on the roads with 40 miles per hour. And most roads are not made for overtaking here… Then you have those using passing spaces as parking slots on single roads and create chaos. You have people pulling to the wrong side when you come towards them, because they get scared. You have tourists stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures of their surroundings almost creating heavy accidents. You have them trying to park in the fields and along the roads getting stuck in the mud.

Scotland is definitely not made for the amount of cars and camper-vans going on its roads every year now. The pot holes already ruined one of my tyres too. I don’t get it though. The government must see that tourism is booming in Scotland and should invest into better infrastructure to prevent that people park all over the place, destroying more than if actual car parks would be built at hot spots like the Old Man or the Fairy Glen and roads to be improved. People will go there no matter what. And they are destroying the grounds and fields and create stress for everyone who either wants to visit the place or lives near by. Or they need to shut the streets there at one point for cars to go down and make people walk from a place they can build a car park or wider roads.

I have to say though it was by FAR not as busy when me and Verena were here for the 1st time 3 years ago. This year really topped it for me. The amounts of people and cars I have seen all over the place really makes you think twice if you want to go as well. I now have the luxury to go to more unknown places or at times where it is not as busy but I would not have had that choice before I lived here myself. What makes me furious though are the tourists who only want to take one picture of lets say the Old Man and then drive on. Just to say “I was here”. This annoys me especially with the big coaches coming to the Highlands from Edinburgh and Glasgow spitting out crowds of people who take a selfie, leave their rubbish, hop back into the bus and off they go. Or those coming in their fancy boots, sandals and flip flops making a real scene to get the perfect picture only to then hop back into their big Audi, Mercedes or BMW and drive on. No one can tell me they are actually really seeing the beauty and awesomeness of the country.

Enough of my ranting ;).

My tips for driving in Scotland:

  1. Make yourself familiar with the rules. Like how to enter a roundabout and leave it. (when you go the 1st out stay at the outer lane and already indicate left, no indication when you go straight. When you go out the 3rd for example, use the inner lane, already indicate right when you enter the roundabout.)
  2. Read about how to drive on Single Track Roads and what Passing Place means.
  3. Be careful and watch out. Not only for other drivers but also animals. Loads of deer, rabbits, foxes, pheasants on the road. And sheep and cows…
  4. Rather stop and wait when on single track roads than just drive on and then no one can go back and forth anymore.
  5. Stop at the side if possible and let faster cars pass you and do not create a huge queue behind you.
  6. Park sensibly and not all over the place or get stuck in worst case. Rather park a bit further away and walk the rest if necessary.
  7. Get a rather small car when you lease one so you won’t have problems with parking and also don’t get too scared when bigger vehicles come towards you on narrow roads.
  8. Make sure you are fully insured. You may regret it otherwise.
  9. Take your time. It may “only” be 235 miles from Edinburgh to Portree on Skye but it will take you up 6 or 7 hours and you will be tired. Plan in stops!
  10. Enjoy the views while driving 🙂

4 thoughts on “Driving in Scotland

  1. Wow, seeing Scotland through the eyes of a stranger, it’s been a long time since I was a stranger in Scotland and I had only travelled there from England with my family in 1958. I still visit regularly (I moved back to my home town in 1997) but given half a chance I would gladly move back North of the Border.
    I have to agree with you that there aren’t enough dual roads in the Highlands, we wanted to stop at Loch Katrine in the Trossachs in the summer but the car parks were all full, passing places had 2 or sometimes 3 cars in them and the road sides and fields were full of cars as well. I think the Scottish Government should certainly think about widening some of the roads since there are a lot more tourists travelling there these days.
    I still love the scenery and will visit Edinburgh from time to time (never by car) and I never had to change my driving style either (I no longer drive but that is another story). Must be hard for you coming from Germany to Britain, so hats off to you for doing it and living to tell the tale. I have never been to Germany but would love to visit Hamburg, Munich and Berlin, maybe one day I will make it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We spent 3 weeks as tourists in Scotland this summer and had no issues. We drive many back roads here in Canada and the single track roads didn’t phase us. My husband loves the challenge of the wrong side of the road and is very confident.
    I would agree with the busses dropping off hoards of people for 5 mins and then moving on. We did a lot of hiking in our 3 weeks and spent time at each site & not just for a picture.
    Glad you are enjoying your move and new country.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I think it is different when you are used to back roads and driving in the countryside and generally are a confident driver. But many are not which makes it dangerous. When I was driving around Scotland for a week or 2 as a tourist I did not pay that much attention to the issues I mentioned. But now that I am out on the road every weekend it does make you aware. It is just a change of perspective I guess 🙂

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