Scotland is a rugged and beautiful country, but for someone who is more used to driving on either the flat roads of Norfolk or vast expanses of motorway, some of the narrower and more winding roads can be a little daunting! The drive from our house to our final destination (the Isle of Lewis, where my wonderful parents live) takes around 12 hours, if you don’t stop at all, which is pretty much impossible! This also doesn’t include the 2.5 hour ferry journey. On our way up to the Island we broke up the drive with overnight stays whilst on the way back we drove home in one day. As this is a journey we undertake a couple of times a year, I thought I would share our top tips for driving in Scotland:
- Don’t Let Your Fuel Tank Run Low. In more rural parts of Scotland, you never know when you’ll be able to get petrol next, and the majority of petrol stations don’t open 24 hours (or even very late in the evening). This is probably normal for many of you, but not for a city gal like me! If you plan on driving through the night as we did, be sure to fuel up before you get started.
- Take Your Toilet Breaks Where You Can Get Them! See above: you don’t know when the next toilet might be, so if you pass one, at least encourage the kids to ‘have a try’.
- Watch out for animals! We spent the bulk of our trip to Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, where we found we had to break for several sheep and, early one morning, even for two deer. The kids absolutely loved the animals that came out from nowhere, but they were borderline heart-attack inducing for the driver! Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what might jump out at you.
- Stop and enjoy the view! The scenery is breath-taking, but it can be so easy to focus on your destination and just keep driving. Take time out to pull over and soak up the views every now and again – it will also give you a chance to stretch everyone’s legs, and break up the tedium of such a long drive.
- Stick to the speed limits. In Scotland, the speed limit is 70mph on motorways and dual carriageways, 30mph in built-up areas (if you can see pavement then a good rule of thumb is that the speed limit is 30mph!) and 60mph on most roads outside of built-up areas. Remember that the speed limit is a maximum, not a goal: on rural roads you don’t know, you might want to slow down a little.
- Don’t Drink and Drive! Personally, I don’t drive after so much as a sip of a glass of wine (I like to take chances, but this isn’t one of them) but if you’re not opposed to a drink when you stop for lunch, and you’re traveling from England as we were, then you should know that the legal limit has been lowered in Scotland, and is now lower than it is in England, so don’t get caught out! The limit is now 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood (from 80 mg of alcohol)
- Be Prepared in the Winter. And remember that winter goes on much longer than you might think! The winter before last we made the same journey, but as we were travelling along the A9 the unexpected snow became so hard, and visibility so poor, that we decided to pull over. We sat and waited for the snow plow to pass, and then followed it all the way to Inverness: I have never been more grateful for the blankets that we pack in the car as I was that night!
- Don’t Panic! If you’re driving on a single-track road and a car is coming from the other way then don’t panic, just look for a passing place. These are periodically placed along the road (on one side of the other) and if the closest passing place is on your side of the road then you will be expected to pull in. It can feel daunting at first, but it’s an easy system once you get used to it!
Have you ever been driving in Scotland and have any hints or tips you’d like to share? We’re big fans of a road trip, so I’d love to hear about any other brilliant road routes you’ve explored!