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.
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.
I 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. Before 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.
While 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.