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Driving in the Scottish Highlands - Experiences of an outsider

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I moved to the north coast of the Scottish Highlands from Adelaide three years ago and just thought I would share a few of my experiences of driving in this area as I know it can be extremely daunting! I'm a 32 year old man and already had plenty of driving experience but things are slightly different here.

There are three types of roads in the Highlands, dual carriageways, single carriageways and single track.

Dual carriageways have two lanes of traffic on each side of a central barrier so are like the highways all over the world, but unlike some countries you must always drive in the lefthand lane unless overtaking a slower vehicle; and most importantly do not overtake in the left lane! The speed limit is usually 70mph, but don't be surprised if you're passed by cars travelling significantly faster.

Single carriageways are the most common type of road and have a 60mph speed limit. There's nothing difficult about driving the major routes which are well surfaced with gentle corners, but in the more remote areas the "twistiness" of what appears on the map to be a highway really surprised me. The more difficult roads tend to be in the most picturesque areas so do yourself a favour and take it easy but also be prepared to pull over to allow following traffic past, there are usually lay-bys (parking areas) every mile or so.

Single track seem to be the stuff of legend! For those who haven't heard of them they're usually only 3 metres wide and so can accommodate only one car (hence the single) but there are regular wider parts called "passing places" marked by white signs. Simple rules are:

1. When you meet approaching traffic stop at the next passing place, if you are both between passing places the one closest should reverse.
2. If the passing place is on the left you should pull into it, if it's on the right stop opposite it.
3. Use passing places to allow following cars to overtake, you can actually be prosecuted for not doing so.
4. Never park in a passing place.
5. Always ensure you can stop in half the distance you can see.
6. Beware of "potholes" at the end of passing places, particularly if visiting in winter or spring.
7. Speed limit 60mph
8. Acknowledge the other driver with a wave! Seriously, it's considered very rude if you don't.

Single track are most common to the North and West of Inverness, on maps they may well be marked as "A" roads just like single carriageways so you may be surprised to find yourself on one.

I have to admit that in my first six months here I was very nervous on single track roads, but was fortunate enough to spend a month travelling the North Highlands as part of my work and being driven by a colleague vastly more experienced than me. The first thing I noticed was how far ahead he looked, the locals know the roads so well that they can often spot an approaching car minutes before meeting it (by knowing the lines of sight across the landscape) and are even planning which passing place to meet at. Speed was the second surprise, on sections with good visibility speeds of 80mph aren't unusual (speed traps are rare, and notified a week in advance in the local press!!). Third surprise was the level of concentration and effort required to make reasonable progress, if new to single track you'll be lucky to average 30mph and will need a break every hour.

If any of the above makes you nervous you needn't be, Scottish roads are amongst the safest anywhere in the world, so take your time and enjoy the scenery!

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