From roundabouts to age restrictions, here’s everything you need to know about driving in Central Scotland.
When you drive the full distance on an out-and-back road, you’re inevitably going to backtrack.
I’d say it’s science, but let’s be real – it’s just logic. That simple trait my family and I threw by the wayside as we drove 24 backcountry miles from the base of Scotland’s enormous Loch Lomond to reach the tip. Like every single road trip we plan, the idea of driving the length of Loch Lomond was smart in theory; it’s a still, peaceful lake that reflects Scotland’s rolling hills as clearly as a mirror.
But, again, like every single road trip we plan, we way overbooked ourselves to the point that our drive started – yes started – along those S-shaped, 25 MPH roads less than an hour before sunset. We eased into the drive with leisurely stop offs and photo shoots, embracing the golden hour and tourist-free isolation. Then, after say four stop offs and just about reaching the turnaround point, that little oversight called logic hit us right upside the head.
Oh, crap. We simultaneously thought without saying anything (because once you say it, it’s real…). It’s PITCH BLACK and we have zero street lights.
My logical boyfriend, Frank, who was joining my family and me for this epic Scotland road trip finally bit the bullet and spoke up.
Guys – this is only getting worse. He said, anticipating the motion sickness headed his way. And we’re almost late for dinner.
LATE FOR DINNER? Fat chance – the Vermillion family does not miss dinner.
As expected, Frank’s revelation led to some terrifying race-car style driving and – even worse – rough twists and turns that left him almost too sick to eat dinner. (Fear not: He recovered just in time to join the clean plate club).
This treacherous drive was only the start of our Central Scotland road trip, which took us from Edinburgh to the hills, coasts, lighthouses and castles of Scotland before finishing off at Edinburgh once again. We only had six days (I’m a sucker for London, so had to fit that gem into the trip), which meant those 144 hours were jam packed with sights, scenery and plenty of adventure.
If you’re planning a road trip through Central Scotland (do it, do it!) here are a few things you should know.
1. Roundabouts are all the rage: The Scottish love a good roundabout. In fact, roundabouts pretty much replace traffic signals in most cities. They’re a little tricky for us U.S. drivers given that whole driving on the opposite side of the road thing (minor detail), but know this: If you’re getting off at the first stop, you should stay in the outside lane. Otherwise, take the innermost lane.
2. Scottish drivers are friendly: Toto, we’re not in New York anymore. The drivers in Scotland let you in when you’re trying to merge (a rarity on the East Coast), they only honk at you if you’re doing something idiotic and, for the most part, they leave the passing lane open for – wait for it – passing. What a novel idea!
3. Expect curves: Outside the main highways, the roads in Scotland are crazy curvy – just ask car sick-prone Frank, who spent most of the trip on one of many anti-nausea meds. If you get car sick easily, bring that ammo. My favorite cure is actually ginger; health food stores typically have ginger tablets you can take before driving that help keep the queasiness at bay.
4. Get a GPS: I mean, you could totally do it without if you’re map savvy, but things get a little dicey when you’re driving through cities like Edinburgh, or when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. I’m always pro-GPS on international road trips.
5. Name your GPS: OK, so absolutely not a necessity, but if you have that extra accented voice in the car, why not give it a name? Ours is typically Nevaeh, a name my brother hears in the hospital regularly (it’s heaven backwards, guys!) but my dad’s go-to is Shirley. (If you have a regular name for your GPS, share in the comments below!)
6. Know the age limitations: Each rental car company has different insurance rules on who can drive what type of car. For example, we had planned on having Frank drive to avoid the whole car sickness thing (he says driving helps), but when we got there, we found out only those above 30 years old could drive the much-needed SUV. Therefore, my brother drove and 28-year-old Frank rode shotgun for a week full of curvy roads and queasiness. Each company has different policies, we just failed to do our research in advance. #SorryFrank
7. Park in the lots: Most of our stop-offs had adjacent or nearby parking lots that made getting to the actual destination much quicker (a necessity when you’re short on time which, um, we always are). In some cases, the lots are free, in other more popular tourist spots like Stirling Castle, you should expect to pay a small fee. Note, meters are typically change-only, so keep those spare pounds.
8. Choose a smart pickup location: If you’ve never driven on the left side of the road, picking up your car at the Edinburgh train station during rush hour may not be the smartest idea. The better option would be Edinburgh Airport, so you can get straight on the highway without dealing with traffic and small streets while, um, reteaching yourself everything you’ve ever known about driving.
9. Think twice about stick shift: Even if you’ve driven manual your whole life, switching over from left to right side driving in manual is significantly tougher than making the switch in automatic (we didn’t try this, just heard from a friend who did – and struggled).
10. Pay attention to manual vs. automatic: On that note, absolutely do not choose manual if you only know how to drive automatic. Scotland is not the place to learn stick shift for your first time, and while the price drop may seem tempting, once you get in the car you won’t be able to get anywhere … so there’s that.
OK, now it’s your turn! Have you road tripped through Scotland? Please add your tips to the comments below!