“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands forever I love.” – Robert Burns
I’ll admit it… Scotland is, and always will be, my favorite country to visit. Not that I haven’t loved every journey I have taken to other countries, but there is something truly magical about Scotland. Whether it’s the people, the majestic views, with their craggy cliffs and rugged shorelines, like those in “The Coast,” above, Scotland is a place I can go back to time and time again.
My favorite part of the last trip was the several days we drove through the Highlands. In addition to the quiet roads and beautiful views, you can experience every possible weather scenario in the span of just a few miles. There were points where we could go from sun to rain, then snow and back to sun in what seemed like minutes. The shifts in weather meant that we got to experience double rainbows from the vantage point of the highest cliffs, making the drive all that much more magical.
Living in the city of Chicago, I don’t get much of a chance to break away from the everyday noise of city life. As much as I love home, to be able to immerse ourselves in the quiet isolation of the Highlands, even for a few days, was truly life changing.
“Hold company with yourself so sacred that, even when you are alone, you are whole.” – AVA
Oh to have a quiet, little cottage to spend even just a few months in, spending the days and nights photographing and creating. While I am normally drawn to vibrant colors in my photography, the neutral palette offered up by the coutryside, with it’s pops of bright greens and yellows here and there, was calming.
There were hours on end where we were driving and the only other living creatures were the sheep along the side of the road.
(A side note: If sheep think you are about to feed them, when you get out of your car, they will run towards you. Thankfully the ones we came across stopped and, in a moment of serendipity, did so in a very synchronized fashion. )
If you visit Scotland, I highly recommend renting a car and taking several days to drive through the Highlands, especially if you are fan of the outdoors. While driving on the left side of the road, and navigating very narrow, two way roads may seem like a scary prospect, once you get the hang of it, it’s actually rather easy. (Admittedly though, I did very little driving since I was trying to spot photo opportunities.) Towards the end of the post, I’ll give you a list of tips and rules for driving through Scotland.
Driving through the Highlands at your own pace allows you to see things you may not otherwise see on a tour, and, even better, take the time to stop and appreciate them. (and really, keep yourself, and others on the road safer as beautiful scenery can be quite a distraction.)
Here are several tips and rules on driving in Scotland:
- You don’t need an International Drivers Permit to drive in Scotland so long as you have a valid license from your own country and you will only be driving in Scotland for less than twelve months.
- Driving is on the left side of the road so be mindful of this when looking to cross a road.
- There are a number of very narrow, single laners (known there as single track roads) with passing places on the left; most marked with signs. These passing places are very important, especially when you’re in tight quarters, such as cliff side roads.
- Make sure you pay attention to oncoming traffic and either stop in the passing place, or stop on the road next to a passing place so that the other car can drive in it. Depending on how busy a road is, you may find yourself having to stop several times but please don’t try to “squeeze through” as that can prove dangerous.
- Never park in a passing place as that is not what they are meant for and you will only be making it difficult for everyone else.
- As far as designations go, M stands for Motorway, A is a Primary Road and B is a secondary road.
- Speed limits are typically reflected on both signs (white circles bordered in red) and on the roads themselves. Pay attention to the signs for danger warnings as well. When you get up in to the higher elevations of the Highlands this is especially important.
- Don’t let the roundabouts scare you (and, believe me, there are plenty of them) Just drive towards the left and be aware of merges from the right. Don’t let other drivers skills in the roundabout scare you. Take your time and pay attention to the signs so you know where to get off. (most GPS systems these days will tell you which lane to be in and how quickly you will need to exit)
- Just like many other areas, it is illegal to drive in Scotland while using a mobile device and seat belts are mandatory.
- When you’re driving through the highlands, gas stations are few and far between so plan ahead.
“Trees are the Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens.” – Ravindranath Tagore
I hope you get the chance to visit Scotland one day, whether on a self driven tour or a group tour as it is truly one of the most beautiful, and awe inspiring, countries you will ever experience. If you have already visited, I would love to hear your favorite locations as I am always looking for new places to add to my travel itinerary.
Find the rest of my Scotland photography, as well as all of my travel photography here on my website.