Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

IMG_5130by cheri

To a driver in the United (maybe) Kingdom, this scene is entirely normal, like fish and chips, haggis, nips and tatties, and overly-chatty cab drivers.

To a driver (and his passenger) from the United States, this scene jiggers years of stable neurotransmission in the wee part of the brain that synthesizes right from left and up from down.

How hard can it be to drive in Scotland? After all, our pre-trip planning sessions yielded a comfy statistic that eased any concerns we had about getting behind the wheel: there are more sheep in Scotland than people.

Living in the San Francisco  Bay Area, where a  large conglomerate of people behave like sheep but unfortunately are people, this information about Scotland and its wee population caused us to lower our shoulders, relax that part of our brains that signals danger, and hire (rent) a Mercedes tiny-coupe from Sixt Car Rentals in Edinburgh and drive off.

Sort of.

The lovely picture above, taken from the death seat, is on one of the only double-track roads on the Isle of Mull, a sparsely populated Island in the Western Hebrides of Scotland. Most of the roads there are single-track with petite turn-outs that help you avoid head-on collisions. Never once did we encounter a sheep crossing the road. Only large trucks carrying supplies to the outer edges of Scotland. Only the Mull teenagers driving at high rates of speed to cut the boredom that most teens must feel on Mull.

As I was saying from the death seat, the panoply of Scotland’s dramatic lochs (pronounced loccchhh, not lock), snow-capped softish peaks, and stunning coast lines, protected by castles such as this one, the Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, opened up, often revealing a car in our lane or trucks edging across their center line.

250px-Duart-CastleI have a bruised right shoulder from lurching to the right side of our front seat, an action I hoped would bring the left-drifting car out of the ruts and rocks and more toward the center line, which I might add, has no median. Speaking of shoulders, there were none on Scottish roads. If you broke down, you were in the fast lane, or should I say, the only lane.

In order to be ready to drive on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the seat (notice my husband’s calm hand in the photo below), I watched at least three You Tube shows narrated by driving instructors with  Scottish brogues as thick as  cable-knit sweaters. They calmly directed their students through every type of “roooned-about” we might encounter. Funny, not one of those You Tubes showed other cars or double-axeled trucks or tour buses entering the round-abouts. IMG_5085Before we left, all of our friends told us to KEEP LEFT at all times. I can’t tell you just how many times I called out from the death chamber, like General Patton himself might have done, “Left, stay left, go left, keep left!”

By the way, that photograph above with that calm hand–that hand suffered nerve damage from one week of gripping that steering wheel, yeah, the one on the wrong side of the car.

IMG_5088 2While in Scotland, we only had one bumper bender, in which the driver of our car scraped a parked car in a small town, where the locals park their cars. That’s what I just wrote: parked their cars. So, you are driving on the wrong side of the road and all of sudden you come to a parked car in your lane. You must go around the parked car in your lane, out into opposing traffic.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Would we do it again? Not sure.

And yet, to see the land of Scotland, perhaps it’s worth the risk.





About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life, My photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

  1. Cyberquill says:

    As soon as Scotland has seceded from the U.K., driving on the right (in both senses of the word) side of the road will be restored, after which time it will be safe to see the land of Scotland.

  2. Christopher says:

    “……lochs (pronounced loccchhh, not lock)……..”

    It’s my impression that English-speaking North Americans seem generally not able to make guttural speech sounds, as in the “r” in French, the German “ch”, and the Dutch “g”.

    I wonder why this is? I don’t know if it’s the same with English English-speakers. Perhaps Richard can enlighten us.

  3. Think of it as gargling while otherwise speaking clearly.

  4. Richard says:

    There are a number of explanations for this eccentricity of pronunciation, not all of which stand up to serious scientific analysis.

    Take, for example, the conjecture – I place it no higher than that – of descent from men and women garrotted and thrown into peat bogs, a common practice for four thousand years across northern Europe.

    I took 1000 men and women from rural locations all over England. I fed 500 on oatmeal and linseed, frequently identified in the stomach contents of such individuals, garrotted them and threw them into peat bogs within the British Isles. Although sounds strikingly similar to those described by Ladybugg issued from the larynxes of these samples for 32.6 seconds, on average, none survived sufficiently long after submersion in the bog to reproduce. By way of control, the remaining 500 were garrotted and thrown into bogs but not fed the oatmeal and linseed. There was no discernible variation in the results and the experiments were thus inconclusive. Interestingly, they do shed light upon the origins of porridge consumption in Scotland and explain why Hadrian found it necessary to build a wall.

    Another explanation derives from the law-abiding and docile nature of the Scots themselves. You will all know that it is forbidden to spit on a tram in Glasgow. There can be no doubt about this since the instruction is displayed in large black letters on the conveyances – NO SPITTING.

    I recruited 10 volunteers with laryngitis who had taken a course of VICK’S VAPOUR-RUB. 5 of them I instructed to cease applying the ointment, the others I allowed to continue the treatment, as a control. Without drawing their attention to the purpose of the exercise, I had them all board a crowded tram and noted the condition of the subjects as they alighted at their common destination. Of the 5 who had stopped VICK’S VAPOUR RUB, all five had been fined for making sounds like aarrch and awccch on the journey, while those who continued with VICK’S VAPOUR RUB suffered no such humiliation and damage to their reputation. Since “Loch” is pronounced in its peculiar fashion by proud and reputable Scots, with or without laryngitis, no relation was found between the sign on Glasgow trams and the Loch Ness Monster. The other passengers on the tram were pleased to purchase jars of VICK’S VAPOUR RUB, a large supply of which I happened to have with me.

    Others have surmised that Rudolf Hess brought the German way of saying “…ch” when he flew to Scotland during WW2, or that teetotal North Americans refuse to wash down their serving of haggis with the required draft of GLENLIVET, thereby denying themselves the opportunity of the first lesson of pronunciation. None of the mathematical models I wrote to simulate these conditions gave rise to any hope of verification.

    I hope this answers your question, Christopher.

    As for driving on the left, the custom is changing. Many drivers in the UK are adopting the American custom, and, indeed, it is a legal requirement to drive on the right in the forecourt of the Savoy Hotel. Altough this is undoubtedly a sign of things to come, I recommend, Ladybugg, that on your next visit to the UK you confine yourself to driving in that location.

    • Christopher says:

      Your explanation as to why English-speakers can’t pronounce guttural sounds in the way the French, Germans and Dutch can, is deserving of a Wikipedia entry.

      • Richard says:

        What’s Wikipedia ?

        • dafna says:

          LOL!!! thanks for the explanation Richard, it deserves a Blog of it’s own! I love your very “British” sense of humor. Love to You and Glenys.

          Ladybug, you must meet The Manchesters on your next trip. They are a destination unto themselves.

          • Ladybugg says:

            We had hoped to meet the Manchesters on this trip but there was not enough time to travel to England and they could not come up to Scotland. Meeting the Manchesters is tops on our list for England…I am hoping next year.

    • Ladybugg says:

      This history into the pronunciation of “loch” is highly entertaining and caused Ladybugg to laugh out loud. I held a piece of peat in my hands at the Glenkinchie distillery, I saw a haggis (and ate some), I did not go to Glasgow (but after reading your comment I have determined it would please me because I hate to see men spitting…why don’t women do this in public?), I saw Loch Awe, the Firth of Forth, the Firth of Tay, Loch Tay and the loch in Mull. My maiden name was probably Bloch (not Block) in Germany so I understand how to pronounce it.

      I did not see Hadrian’s Wall.
      I did not see the Isle of Skye or the Shetland Islands.
      I did not see Richard.
      I did not see London.

      That is why I will be back. If Richard will tell us where to rent a small house in the country of England, perhaps we will stay for a month and I can perfect my driving.

      • Richard says:

        Glenys and I have been chuckling all day over this account of your experiences, especially “Roonedaboots”, which we have been mimicking and grinning at each other over. Al thought it was a hoot too.

        I’ll have to think about the “small house”. There is plenty to see in Sussex within reasonable driving distance – never more than an hour and a half – Petworth House, Arundel Castle, Bodiam Castle, Dover Castle, Churchill’s house, Chartwell (in Kent – also really beautiful if you are careful where you choose), Virginia Woolf’s house, Rudyard Kipling’s house, the Bluebell Railway, for instance and there is easy access to London (NEVER take a car into London). The coastline does not have the elemental beauty of the Atlantic Riviera or the Jurassic Coast, but it does have its own charm with the White Cliffs of Dover (in Kent!), the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. There is some sand, Camber Sands, for example, near Rye (worth a visit along a busy road), but the beaches are mostly pebbles. Al lives in Bexhill, near Hastings and he owns the flat next to his. We are going there on Sunday.

        Happy Anniversary to Steve.

        • Ladybugg says:

          Well, I am pleased that I gave the both of you a good laugh, which at our stages of life, is the perfect elixir.
          Oh, don’t worry: I will never take a car into London without either you or Glenys driving.

          Regarding your selection of houses for us to rent: they are way above our price range. Please find a small house where we can “home base” and drive all around England and back up to Scotland.

          We will, of course, need to hire another car or driver. Any takers?

          • Richard says:

            While I fret over a near-empty petrol tank and a low battery on my mobile phone, an American copes casually with rocket failure on a trip to the moon. The heady days of Empire are long gone and an excursion to Bexhill is, for me, more hazardous than searching for the source of the Nile.

            Thus it is that I find it incomprehensible that anyone could even contemplate “doing” England and Scotland in a month from a small base somewhere or another in England.

            In September Glenys takes me to the Lake District for the first time. She, of course, has been before, being of a youthful and adventurous colonial stock. She speaks casually of the occasion her father was negotiating hazards alongside one of those remote lochs in the Highlands when he left the road with wife, sister and mother on board, rolled over several times and ended up roof down in the water, unscathed. His mother’s greatest concern was to rescue her knitting.

            We shall travel by train to Kendall and hire a car for our week-long stay in a b&b. I shall report back on the state of the natives. Though in England, I believe the Lakes are near Scotland.

            • Ladybugg says:

              Your trip sounds marvelous. I know you can do it (especially because you are taking a train for part of the trip). Your last line demonstrates the British propensity for prodigious understatement.

              Please read Romantic poetry before the trip. For your birthday, perhaps?

              You’d be surprised just how much territory we Californians can cover.

              I know. Instead of renting a house for a month, we will just become boarders at your place.
              You and Ron can stay up late and rant and rave about the condition of the world.
              Glenys and I will romp in the garden and do who knows what.

              • Richard says:

                Fine. But leave enough time to prepare the meals.

                The trip may be some time around my birthday. I forget what date that is on. People keep asking me. It’s one reason I refuse to go out.

              • Richard says:

                … I promise to clear the decks after the meals have been have been devoured and relished.

          • Richard says:

            I have checked with Al, and he tells me that it was her teeth his grandmother was anxious about, not her knitting. I should not you to get the wrong impression.

  5. Thank you Richard I’m glad you were able to straighten this out.

  6. bogard says:

    Drove in England once… Don’t they have tours for this stuff?? Y’all are very brave. They need some of the Google/Stanford self-driving cars ASAP, or at least by the time I get there. Keep on enjoying the trip…scotch please, and make mine a Lagavulin! (paid $35 for one at a Charlotte Westin last week…next night it was Dewar’s for $10. Need to check those prices FIRST).

  7. Brighid says:

    I shall have two fingers scotch & a cigar in honor of… of your driving skills in foreign service!

  8. shoreacres says:

    Well, by the time I got through your post, I was feeling quite disoriented myself. That attests to your skill as a writer, at least.

    Some things become so ingrained, so deeply, it’s just the very devil to work around them. I know this driving on the left would be one, for me. I’m trying to think of another. I do remember the first time I saw a Texas put gravy on rice. I was horrified, convicted as I was that rice requires butter, sugar and cream, even if unbaked. I did adjust in that case. Perhaps I could with the driving, too.

    • Ladybugg says:

      I, too, have seen gravy on rice from my mother’s kin in Anna, Texas when I was 14 years old. What??? No butter?

      From what I read on your blog and Oh, the Places You Have Been, I am positive that you, off all people, could drive on the other side of the road with no problem. ( I think maybe I could have as well…)

  9. wkkortas says:

    Scotland looks absolutely lovely (though I’m probably walking distance from decent hills with sheep upon them), but after reading about the travails of driving it, I’ll get my Edinburgh or Leith fix by listening to one of my Proclaimers CDs

  10. douglas says:

    My only experience with (what I call) The British Method of driving was back in the late 60’s in Hong Kong. I nearly got killed just crossing a busy street as I was so used to habitually first left and then right for cars and stepping into the street as I did so.

    • Ladybugg says:

      Hi Douglas,
      Always great to hear from you.
      In Edinburgh, they have “Look Left” stenciled in the cross walks.
      It was helpful.

      • Richard says:

        These warnings appear all over the UK for those who look down when crossing busy roads.

        You mistake their purpose. They are Orwellian. If you are dejected and about to advance into a stream of traffic on a one-way street, half the messages read “Look Right”.

      • douglas says:

        A habit learned and engrained over a lifetime (even one that only stretched some 20 years at that time) is hard to break. The habit said “Look left, then right” as the first danger on American roads will come from one’s left. If cars are not coming from your left, you step down off the curb (to be efficient), pause, and check traffic to your right because that is the next direction that cars will come from. However, in Hong Kong, I found that it doesn’t work well (that habit). A sign would not do much good but certainly couldn’t hurt. On one-way roads, of course, one should always look in the direction of oncoming traffic before stepping off the curb but these are reasonably rare occasions here. There are other habits… like veering to the right when faced with a sudden stop ahead of you that could create problems. Consider: you are happily tooling down the left side of the road when you see a wagon, or some sheep, or a car in your lane, coming up fast. Which way do you veer if there’s only time to hit the brakes and twist the wheel? And which way might an oncoming driver (if that was the cause of your predicament) twist his wheel (out of habit)?

  11. Christopher says:

    Since the motif of this posting is about what side of the road is best to drive on, I clicked on *a map* that shows, by country, the side of the road their denizens drive on.

    As you can see, in most lands they drive on the right.

    At the risk of boring you, I’ll tell you that in early 1967 I was travelling through Sweden when that land was in the midst of changing from driving on the left to driving on the right. It was quite a thing for the Swedes to do. But they did do it, and successfully as far as I know.

    This has left Britons as about only ones in the European Union who still drive on the left.

    As you may know, Britons aren’t happy about being in the European Union, and so may leave soon, despite most Europeans not wanting them to.

    So, I’ve been thinking: What might cause Britons to want to stay? How about if the lands of the European Union did as the Swedes did forty-eight years ago, which is change to driving on the opposite side of the road to what they now do. Hence Europeans would all drive on the left, as Britons do. This would be Europe’s gift to Britons, to make them want to stay. .

    Britons, as a result, would feel loved, and more importantly would feel really European, and would consequently vote to stay in the European Union, and everyone would be happy.

    And not only happy, but prosperous, for changing en masse the side of the road you drive on creates umpteen jobs. I mean, you have to change all the traffic signs and traffic lights, and exchange all cars for new cars whose steering wheels are on the opposite side.

    You’ll easily see that were my suggestion to be taken up, the many millions of Europeans now standing in the growing and unending soup lines would shrink to nothing.

    As for you in America, I’ve heard you, too, have many millions now standing in growing and unending soup lines. But, what if you in America were to change from driving on the right to driving on the left? In next to no time those soup lines would be gone, because all who want a job would have one, making the hundreds of millions of new cars that this change would entail, repainting all the road directions and signs and whatnot.

    The result would be a new Golden Era, last seen in the 1950s. America as a nation would again feel proud, and the world would again look up to America.

    It can happen. It needs only the courage to take the first step………

    • Richard says:

      A first step indeed. What I really wish to see is the restoration of the European monarchies, the return of all French land and the surrender of the rebellious North American colonies.

      Then I will begin to feel loved.

  12. Ladybugg says:

    This comment cracked me up. We Americans definitely need Something or Someone to make us feel proud again…

  13. Christopher says:

    Richard, your proposed return of “all French land” and the “rebellious North American colonies” to Britain, would more than compensate for the impending loss of Scotland. Your proposal therefore has merits.

    When you say my proposed car-driving changes would be a “first step indeed” I’ll assume you think it, too, has merits. If so, I feel vindicated, for yours is a voice that deserves, nay commands, the respect of all who hear it.

    I hope I can convince you that what I propose is more than just a “first step indeed” if I add that my plan is of the sort that can be repeated – and can keep being repeated – every few years, each time the economic benefits from its current implementation begin slowly to fade.

    Any re-appearance of any soup-lines would therefore be the signal for America (and Europe too) to return once again to driving on the side of the road that was the case before. Again, hundreds of millions of new cars would have to be built, and all the traffic signs and road lines altered – a process that would once more create the needed jobs that would again cause the soup-lines to vanish.

    The manufacturers of the various varieties of soups would of course not like this. But, you can never please everyone.

    I believe, and sincerely so, that my plan provides the best antidote to the many thousands of miles of soup-lines everywhere, that will otherwise be the inevitable consequence of the ever more intrusive computer, and the ever more ubiquitous robot, in the workplace.

    And, Cheri, should my plan take hold, and I have every hope it will, “Notes Around the Block” will enter the history books as the site where this revolutionary and civilisation-saving plan first found voice.

    • Richard says:

      Your proposal is a first step, to be sure, Christopher, and, may I add, somewhat superfluously, having refard to my charming habit of understatement, of groundbreaking significance not only in economics, where some credit has to be given to Maynard Keynes, but also in the fields of psychology, science and technology.

      The incidence of depression in its many manifestations has vastly increased over the last decades. Patients regularly cite the formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as the principal cause. Their despair relates to the ultimate fate of the Universe as a bland, featureless waste. Your theory revives hope. All that we know and love about our world will be reconstituted out of nothing.

      Then there is perpetual motion, the long sought-for prize that has baffled the finest technical brains. You have now established the means by which this may be achieved, securing all energy needs fior the infinite future. Leading authorities claim that an early benefit is likely to be the continuous use of mobile phones without the need of batteries.

      There will be no need for anyone to work and we shall be able to sit at home and enjoy such television programmes (note the preferred spelling) as Britain’s Got Talent on which you will feature as an honorary guest.

      I shall shortly, at the unanimous request of the committee, have added to my multifarious functions the award of Nobel prizes and I shall, of course award them all to you. I expect you will disdain them for, like me, one thing you can boast about is your modesty.

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