Driving Scotland Tips for your Scottish road trip

Scottish Highland Sheep

Driving Scotland; 2000 miles of Scotland at that, was one month of my life I shall cherish for an eternity and I learned some things I hope will help you on your journey driving Scotland.

First off, you do not need an SUV or 4WD truck in order to drive the Scottish Highlands, unless you’re hauling sheep shit, or maybe a gaggle of screaming kids. But I got talked into a plug in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander… ironically making me an Outlander in an Outlander.

Outlander at Brough of Birsay Orkney Driving Scotland
Mitsubishi Outlander. Brough Birsay, Orkney Mainland Scotland photo by Januarymoon aka Elizabeth Whitener

I flew into Gatwick and stayed in London for the first 5 days of my month long journey of mostly driving Scotland. Quite frankly, driving in London just outright sucks. Last thing you need is something long, heavy and wide with 500 controls you don’t understand and I’ve driven in Rome, Berlin, NYC, Boston without even batting an eyelid. I say avoid driving London at all costs. If you must, avoid the rush hour and definitely get a small and easily maneuverable vehicle.

If you are comfortable with a manual stick shift, I still suggest you pay the extra money for an automatic. I have no issue driving a stick, I rent stick shifts in countries all over the world… but driving in traffic on city streets or navigating one track roads with unexpected wildlife crossing your path, on a different side of the road than you are accustomed is asking for trouble and I do NOT recommend it. The start and go style of traffic in both of the above mentioned scenarios, will making shifting gears a huge and potentially dangerous pain in the ass.

Parking (as in any major city) even more than outright sucks and seriously, anyone that tells you driving on the other side is easy, is an asshole.

Parking an Outlander in London before driving scotland
Parallel parked my Mitsubishi Outlander in London on first attempt

You do get the hang of it. Once you’ve hit a few curbs, and lopped off a couple of side mirrors. By then, if no one has been decapitated or mutilated you’ll likely be right as rain. But it isn’t easy. Yes you’ll get the hang of it, but still it isn’t easy. The second you’re a wee bit tired, or have taken even a short break, it’s a little daunting again, and you’ll find yourself chanting “left side, left side, left side” for a bit. Remember, driver is always closest to the center line, wherever you may go.

When driving Scotland, the motorways are ok. You’ll get the hang of them pretty quick. But only pass on the far right lane, don’t dawdle there. It really pisses people off if your not hauling ass in the fast lane. They will tail you within inches. Flustered in the fast lane, on an uncomfortable side of the road,  is not where you really want to be when driving Scotland.

When driving Scotland after England, expect traffic to drive 10 miles per hour faster than what you got accustomed to in England. If you are not confident enough to drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit, then stay out of the far right (the fast lane) once you’ve hit Scotland.

If you’re driving in London or Birmingham (God help you) or into the countryside… last thing you need are distractions. Rent a car similar to the one at home. If you drive an SUV or truck at home, rent a similar make car. Then gag the kids, put the damned phone away (or have it set only for GPSing), stick some reminder in front of your face on the windshield to stay left, and you’re on your way!

Make sure you know if you’re running on diesel or not. Petrol nozzles are interchangeable unlike in the US where diesel nozzles won’t fit into non diesel tanks (and still people manage to make the error here). There are a ton more diesel cars there. The noxious scent of diesel permeates every truck stop with glee. If you make the error, DO NOT START THE CAR. For an exorbitant fee most garages are ready and willing to drain your tank. That’s far less expensive than ruining the rental car with the wrong gas. You’re not covered for it either.

Most onboard navigation systems created for automobiles outright suck. Where do bad UI designers go once the game industry has snuffed them out? They go on to make onboard automobile navigation systems, or so say my UI industry friends. So if you have a decent data plan (and are NOT relying on ATT) then WAZE is by far the best navigation option, google maps is second. Both are free, easy to use and extremely reliable, as long as your service provider is NOT ATT.

NC500 Rainbow Driving Scotland
North Coast 500 rainbow, not a lot of signal out there

You need a local provider, especially when driving Scotland. Anywhere North of Inverness with ATT (and likely other non UK providers), there are times when you are shit out of luck. If you put a map of Scotland in front of you, take a ruler and line it up with Inverclyde and Inverness then draw a line across from ocean to ocean. When driving Scotland, north of that line, is pretty much where your connections will get dodgy, and even non existent the further North or East driving Scotland that you go. You need a solid local provider, direct, not through your provider if you plan to rely on your cell service anywhere North of that line. In places like Durness, the Orkneys, deep in Glenelg to Arnisdale or way up in Skye you’re still going to struggle with signal at times.

When off of the highway, even the main roads in the U.K. are skinny, windy, at times surprisingly congested. Many roads are expected to manage two way traffic, when only one vehicle barely fits. Many roads (London) are built for horse buggies (London), and now carry anxious and impatient motorists (London), from sunup to sundown. Did I mention London? Oh and Birmingham (holy shit, Birmingham) what a cluster fuck. Next to the word Clusterfuck in the dictionary, should be traffic in city center Birmingham.

London is a driving nightmare. Logistically speaking not only are there far more motorists than it can handle, London drivers, especially in the business districts, are relentless and impatient. They know you’re a tourist driving the wrong side of the road, and they don’t care! In fact I think they hope you die. I now know why they have such strong gun control in the U.K., otherwise there’d be hourly gun battles in the streets of London and Birmingham.

Driving Scotland’s more remote roads are skinny, often one track for two way traffic and many are open range. If you see a sign that says “Sheep Road” or “Feral Goats” expect to soon come upon said creatures in the middle of the road, usually after a blind turn.

Scottish Highland Sheep Driving Scotland
Surprised sheep in Arnisdale

Surprisingly (especially for an American where the entire US road system and infrastructure is crumbling beneath us) the roads in the U.K even many of the remotest roads in Scotland are very well maintained. Here’s the fun part though, the speed limit on most of these roads is 60. Yeah, you read that right. And I mean 60 mph, not those silly kphs the rest of Europe so much enjoys screwing up Americans with.

Passing Place Scottish Highlands Driving Scotland
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

On the above picture yo can see a “Passing Place” sign, these are here for you to let people pass on one track roads. Be courteous, pull to the left and let them go, especially if you are not willing to go the speed limit. Visit Scotland has a great guide to utilizing passing places and driving safely on the other side of the road.

I found Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow fairly easy to navigate. Driving was not stressful and signage was clear and abundant. At the time I was driving Scotland, there was no excessive traffic. I was able to find parking in all three cities with ease. Although I was there off season and I assume it is more difficult during season especially when it is festival time.

You’ll find that a great deal of the remotest areas when driving Scotland, the Borderlands, the country roads of Aberdeenshire and along the NC500, roads are freshly and recently paved, I simply don’t recommend that beyond the obvious reasons, such as a larger group of people, that anyone needs an SUV when driving Scotland.

Seems to me the entire country, especially the “wilds of Scotland” and the North Coast 500 aka NC 500 have been trampled on well enough from tourist driving Scotland, tour buses and the like. Just take it easy. Treat the areas you visit with respect. Park in designated parking areas as much as possible and be aware of where and on what you are parking when you choose to pull over in areas with no parking. Be alert so as not to block anyone’s way, and move over to the left at passing places if someone wishes to pass, and you’ll be good to go.

Also, Lallybroch doesn’t REALLY exist. Jamie isn’t hanging out at the other side of Clava Cairns. Midhope Castle  aka Lallybroch (which isn’t  castle at all) is often overrun by overzealous tourists, causing havoc with the locals and the busy farming community. So let them be. How’d you like people parking all over your neighborhood, running over the local livestock, flora a fauna and blocking your way in and out all day and night. Sure you can visit these places, but just be considerate… please.

Outlander in an Outlander Driving Scotland

I’m not sure that the Mitsubishi Outlander was named after the series or the book, or if it’s just a coincidence. I cannot imagine it’s named after the movie Outlander, which really kinda sucked and had nothing to do with Scotland. I’m not sure if the Hertz guy had a sick sense of humor or just needed to move out extra inventory, but there I was… an Outlander in an Outlander. Hogging the road in an unnecessary SUV.

I semi enjoyed the vehicle in some ways, but not that I allowed the Hertz guy to talk me into it last minute. It was after midnight, I’d just flown 8 hours and I just wanted to get into London, connect with my Airbnb contact, have a big glass of wine and sleep.

“Only $75 extra” he said. It sounded great until I realized he meant $75 a day (that’s a standard Hertz upgrade trick, so beware)

“But I’m driving Scotland for a month, that’s a lot of money.” I replied.

“I’ll give you a great deal!”

… now I know this trick well. I’ve rented cars a lot. They will give you a deal on a sports car or SUV when they have an abundance of them and are light on or actually out of the car you had reserved. Always haggle at this point! ALWAYS (especially if you’re footing the bill). I knew this trick. I don’t know what happened. I was tired. It was after 1am now. I just wanted the fucking car and to be on my way. So nearly $700 later, (far more than I could  spare) off I went into the dead of a moonless, starless night driving from Gatwick into the heart of London, in a plug in hybrid (not even knowing what that was) with all sorts of buttons and levers, driving the other side of the road for the first time in almost 30 years.

Learn from me! And enjoy!

Great Britain, Ireland & Colin Farrell (What You Didn’t Know About The UK)

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Johnny Rotten wants to save the Queen

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

That is Johnny Rotten standing in front of said flag… to me he is about as British as one can get. He really has a thing for the Queen. Although he goes by John Lydon these days and he lives in LA. LA is in fact not part of Great Britain.

Now the flag of Great Britain, consists of the English flag

St. Georges Cross
St. Georges Cross aka The English Flag

The flag of Scotland

Scottish Flag
St Andrews Cross aka The Flag of Scotland

and Northern Ireland’s flag

St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick’s Cross aka The flag of Ireland

Wales, you don’t get a mention.

Already united with England when the Union Jack was created, Wales ends up screwed and does not get a represent! (You’d think for stickin’ it out with the imperialist monarchy for so long, they’d at least get a mention.)

GB Great Britain
GB ‘Great Britain’ logo

Great Britain is not a country. Really, it’s not! It is an island consisting of England, Scotland & Wales.

The U.K. (United Kingdom) is a country consisting of four (4) nations or perhaps provinces, that are really also technically countries depending on to whom you speak.

For centuries many Scots have resisted being part of the U.K. and pockets of daring souls have periodically risen up through time against the English to gain their solidarity.

Kildrummy Castle
Kildrummy Castle. Kildrummy prospered for centuries until that little English rebellion bit.

Scottish rebellion against the English pretty much has always lead to the complete ruination of everyone involved including ancient dynasties…

Ireland is NOT a country. It is an island, like Great Britain. It is mostly not part of the U.K., beyond that wee little Northern bit. Many of the Irish had rebelled against English rule for centuries.  The Irish Free State officially gained their absolute independence in 1922 when both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the 26 county Irish Free State. Ireland dropped the “Free State” part in 1937, and declared itself a Republic in 1949. The 6 county Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Map of Ireland
Map of Ireland

Cork is in Ireland and it makes great gin. Colin Farrell is from Castleknock, which is 2.5 hours from Cork and completely irrelevant to this post, but now you know. Remember it! Oh and I’m pretty sure Colin lives in LA. LA is not in Ireland.

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Colin is not a Brit.

Ewan McGregor is a Scot and as you can see, wears a kilt. He is also a Brit. I kinda think he may also live in LA. LA is not in Scotland.

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Ewan is a Brit and a Scot. He doesn’t look unhappy to be in a kilt

I have no fucking clue why Colin Farrell is wearing a kilt. He certainly does not look very please about it.

Colin Farrell in a kilt
Colin Farrell is not a Brit, is not from the UK, is not a Scot.

As mentioned before, Ireland is made up of two (2) provinces or countries, depending on to whom you speak. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., The Republic of Ireland is not.

Everybody knows this but for Americans. As in those from the United States, not North Americans, because Canadians know this. They learnt it in school. Unlike Texans, who learned Texas history over US history.

Now I’m not sure if Mexicans know this, because I’m American and know little to nothing about Mexicans, even though they boarder us and I’ve visited there a few times.

What I do know is that all of Great Britain and all of Ireland (even those in the Republic of Ireland) and likely even Ewan Mcgregor and Colin Farrell… maybe even John Lydon, drink far too much tea. Not that yummy herbal stuff but that caustic, tannin filled, black, black tea shit you must add milk to or die. They also almost all think Nescafé is actually coffee and not an insult to coffee.

coffee in a tea cup
Coffee; not that very black tea shite and not that crap called nescafe’

That’s real coffee in that enormous I ❤️ Tea cup. Thankfully my Airbnb host in Arnisdale Scotland provided me real coffee, yet also provided the ironical cup.

In much of Great Britain, showers look like this.

British shower
Shower in Great Britain (actually Glasgow Scotland)

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ne dials the power, the other controls temp. And they don’t have clothes dryers. Clothes dryers are made up of clothes lines with clothes pegs (not clothespins)

bathroom heater towel warmer
Bathroom heater/towel warmer

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ut they do have bathroom (aka toilet) heaters that function as towel racks. Which don’t suck! Many Brits end up hanging their wet laundry bits to dry upon these heated racks. Apparently, dryers are not energy efficient, but turning your heat up so that your knickers dry quickly, is.

Wine Glasses
Wine in Great Britain

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; hen you order wine in the U.K. they ask you, small, medium or large? I’m not kidding! Order the large. It’s the American way. Oh yeah, they also drive on the wrong fuckin side of the road. And their yield signs say ‘give way’. (how polite)… and you can’t fucking turn right, you must circle first. Once miscounted, you must turn about the fucking circle again. There are rules to this, but no one knows them. They just close their eyes and pray to the Queen. In Inverness a roundabout ends you up at the police station, because it imitates exit number 4, when actually it’s the damned police station. I did it numerous times and shared the experience with confused tourists every time and likely a few Scots as well. But it was Sunday so the police station was closed. Because police stations actually close in the UK. But Inverness is quite lovely, once you’ve found your way out of the damned police station car park.

Glasgow scene
Inverness

< lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;ell so, I’m in Glasgow. Three (3) large wines in, filling the tub as the towel rack warms and have little more to give than this post. Hope it suffices.If not “give way” man. Give way!<<<<<<<<< t;<<<<<<< lt;<<<<<< <<<<<< ;<<<<< t;<<<< gt;<<< ><< p>< /p>

Standing Stones of Avebury A Stone Circle Better (& Older) Than Stonehenge

Avebury Standing Stones
Avebury Stone Circle Wiltshire England

Yes, we all know of Stonehenge, but Avebury Stone Circle aka Avebury Standing Stones, felt much more magical to me. The Avebury standing stone circle is the largest series of stone circles in the world. A stone circle believed to be much older than Stonehenge, Avebury is not technically a “henge” because it does not have stones crossing the top of two others, which is what essentially makes a stone circle a stone henge. Yet Avebury is rather remarkable. The stones are large, and are part of other less prominent circles. The Avebury is about a mile round, which dwarfs stonehenge stone circle of standing stones, significantly.

Avebury buildings
Homes in Wiltshire near Avebury standing stones

Standing for millennia, this lesser known stone circle is enormous, extremely accessible (you can actually touch the stones) far from remote. Wiltshire is a small farming community and only 20 miles from Stonehenge. It is an active, working, countryside village of ancient origins only 20 miles from the extremely contained and tourist laden Stonehenge. It too is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as part of the UK National Trust and if you get there on a sunny day you can stroll the stone circle for an easy hour, likely meeting up with locals, tourists, sheep herding dogs, sheep and sheepherders.

Wondrous structures, including barns, homes and cottages from the age of the Tudors dot the rolling green hills, full of sheep and other farm creatures. Free from the fences and touristy contrivances of Stonehenge , an extremely contained, roped off and overtly commercialized location, that is pretty much in the middle of a field, far from anything but their own gift shop, cafe, vendors and some sheep. At Avebury you may stroll amongst the ancient rocks at commune with them and the lovely countryside, at your leisure. There are even other things to enjoy and see, such as Avebury Manor & Garden, an interesting site in and of itself.  If you are a member of the National Trust then parking is free. If not, I believe it was only about $5 american to park for as long as you wish. Entrance to the stones circle is free, just lift the lock at the gate and in you go.

Standing stone of Avebury
Standing stone of Avebury stone circle

Avebury Stones are of varying size and shape are found in the backyards of homes still active with life today. It is a truly lovely stroll if the weather is agreeable and does not tend (at least when I was there in 2017) to be overrun with tourists.

Avebury Standing Stone next to Tudor Barn

Avebury Manor & Gardens and the surrounding buildings and village are well worth the visit. The house has an odd history and the decor spans from a variety of eras. The church , graveyard and gardens are sublime. In the end, yeah Stonehenge is worth it, but for it that experience was underwhelming compared to the the mile round, older stones that continue to be part of a thriving community today.

To think of all the people who have looked upon them with awe and touched them in just the same way you can today touch them as well.

Tudor church in Wiltshire

Avebury Manor and Gardens
Avebury Manor and Gardens

Good to note: It is difficult to find the Avebury Standing Stones without a GPS. The signage is small and obsolete. The roads extremely rustic and signage not always clear. Give yourself at least an hour to stroll the entire circle. I believe there to be a restaurant and hotel there but little house beyond the quaint farmhouses and such.

I’m on my way to my next adventure. I’ll write more about my travels soon!