on driving in Scotland

Three words:  don’t do it.

Unless you have nerves of steel or worked for Blackwater in Kabul, I recommend you find a friend who has and convince them to travel with you.  I’m not saying “don’t take a driving trip through Scotland,” because you absolutely should.  It’s amazing!  And after 3 days of white-knuckled drama, I am beginning to get the hang of it.  Will I need a year of massage to work the kinks out of my neck and shoulders?  Yes!  On the other hand, once my fingers straighten back out, I will feel like I’ve really conquered something.  Roughly the magnitude of summiting Everest.

Our driving adventures started at the rental car counter.  The agent, with her adorable accent, spun me a tale about how wonderful it would be to upgrade to a Mercedes SLR.  I imagined myself as in a Mercedes commercial, magically thinner and more glamorous, hair blowing in the wind but never tangling, speeding along the beautiful Scottish coastline completely relaxed.  Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right?   The price, an extra $90/ day.  Fat chance.  That was 3x our rental car cost.  I was strong-armed into purchasing the wallet-crushing full coverage.   Though I cursed our agent as I left the lot, I sang her praises soon enough.  I’m pretty sure I recouped those monies before our first stop.

To remind you, people in Scotland drive on the LEFT side of the road, but drivers sit on the RIGHT side of the car.  Not only did I need to figure out how to turn right across oncoming lanes of traffic, navigate roundabouts going left instead of right, and drive on lanes narrower than a nail file, I had to learn how to shift using my left hand, use my rear-view mirror on my left side (somehow this was the hardest) and remember how to drive a manual transmission.  And of course, I had to do all this before leaving the rental car lot.

Within the first 15 miles, I burned out the clutch.  I was confused why I kept dumping the clutch and why it was so hard to get started.  Especially when I tried to exit a gas station through the wrong lane (yikes!) on a 60 degree incline.  Mystery explained – I was starting off in 3rd gear, not 1st (no wonder I could go 50mph in 2nd gear – it was really 4th!).  Not to mention by this point Rick and I were at in an all-out shouting match about which way to go and whether or not we should have returned to the rental desk to get an automatic transmission.

It should have been smooth sailing once I figured out the gear issue, except that we got off the highway and ended up on the world’s narrowest two way road.  Maybe 8 feet across.  In short order, I managed to hit the curb so hard that my little station wagon jumped into the middle of the road (thank God there was no oncoming traffic at that moment) and give a love nudge to a parked car’s side mirror while barreling down another impossibly narrow street.  Seriously, I feel like I need to go on a diet just to ride down the roads here.  The Knight Bus from Harry Potter would be REALLY helpful.

I promised myself after driving in Italy on our honeymoon that I would research street signs before driving again in a foreign country.  Oops.  That certainly didn’t make things easier.  Yesterday I managed to drive the wrong direction on a one-way street and receive flashing lights from 2 different oncoming cars (wonder what that was about).  I also had a couple of drivers pass me while honking, but I choose to believe this was more of an Indian “Honk Please” rather than a “Get off the road, you inept foreigner!”  I’m hoping not to hit anything else before bedtime.

Here are two of my favorite Scottish traffic signs:

lanes narrow
Impossibly narrow lanes will become more narrow
oncoming vehicles in middle of road
The narrowing lanes sign is often accompanied by this sign. Thank goodness they warn us!

Luckily the country I am driving through is breaktakingly beautiful with softly rolling hills and a green and yellow quilt of agricultural fields.  The driving is also interspersed with a lot of walking and photography, which calms my nerves before getting back in the anxiety-torture-chamber that this Vauxhall station wagon has become. DSC_0053

I promise food posts tomorrow.  Sneak peek:  Haggis balls!




  1. Love your stories. Please keep them coming. Also be careful driving, tell Rick to give you a massage. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I was thinking this trip would be mightily improved by the addition of you and Chris and Amelia and Andrew! Then Chris and Andrew could take turns driving.

  2. Your travel posts are gems!!! Wish we were there, but I do think we would have added to the hilarity, not the safety.

  3. Hysterically funny, so vivid I can see it all! Maybe next time you go, hiring a driver would be a good alternative to all the money you will spend in massages!