The Highlands of Scotland have become increasingly popular, especially since COVID and staycations being the only option for many. Unlike other well-known places the Highlands are best seen on a road trip as public transport is scarce. We’ve put together this article to not only help our WildTrax guests but anyone visiting the Highlands. Our top tips for driving in the Highlands of Scotland will ensure you know what to expect, respect and follow the rules of the road. It’s important to know that driver etiquette and road awareness is of the utmost importance when driving in the Highlands especially on the NC500.
Not only are the old country roads used by holidaymakers but by locals as well as they link the local communities and provide access for workers, medical care and more. You’ll also find a variety of wildlife along the route who always have right of way.
1. Keep Left, Pass Right
Always drive on the left, and when on a single lane try to keep to the left as much as possible - especially on any roads without markings. If you feel nervous driving on the left of the road (for our international travellers) then we suggest hiring an automatic vehicle. Luckily we have 2 in our Land Rover hire fleet to accommodate you - the Discovery 4 and the New Defender 110.
2. Monitor Your Speed
All too often we’ve been out on the NC500 and had other vehicles come racing past us. Please don’t treat the Highlands as your personal race track. Technically the official speed limit on single carriage roads in Scotland is 60mph but we do not recommend you drive this speed very often in any car, and certainly not in a Defender. You should be able to comfortably come to a complete stop within the distance you can safely see in front of you. If you’re in a hired vehicle, you have even more reason to take it slow. The Highlands has a plethora of scenery, so take the time to and stop and take it all in.
3. Watch Out For Animals
The Highlands are known for their “free-range” animals. They are everywhere and it’s common to see sheep, goats and cows who act as if the road is as much theirs as it is yours. Keep a lookout, keep calm and be patient if sheep decide to dart out in front of you. You may be lucky enough to spot one of our famous Highland Coos. The abundance of domestic and wild animals found in the outlying areas (and sometimes villages too) is one of the many reasons we feel travelling 60 mph on some of the roads is not advised even if it is legal.
4. Watch Out For Cyclists
With its picturesque landscape, the Highlands have become a must-do route for cyclists. As a driver, you are expected to go all the way over the centre line markings when you overtake a cyclist in order to give some safe distance. A minimum of 1.5m between your car and the cyclist is required and sometimes you may need to wait before you’re able to safely pass. It’s a careless driving offence to close-pass someone cycling and puts lives at risk. You can get three points on your driving licence and be fined £100, or receive a criminal conviction for more serious offences. More info on Cycling Scotland.
5. Blind Rise or Corner
When exploring the NC500 and other rural parts of the Highlands, you’re guaranteed to experience a sudden sharp corner or blind rise as there are many twists and turns in the hilly countryside. They are usually signposted, but it’s your job to anticipate these and approach them sensibly.
6. Passing Place
You’ll find these periodically throughout the Highlands on single-lane roads. Essentially it is a small place (extended shoulder) for you to pull over to allow other vehicles to pass you. Please note that these are not for parking, picnic spots or overnight stays. If you become aware of a tailback behind you, signal and pull into the nearest passing place to allow others to pass you. It’s nice to be nice and this courteous gesture goes a long way. When two cars are approaching each other, the one to reach a passing place first is supposed to pull over and allow the other car to pass before proceeding. You’ll find passing places on both the left and the right of the road you’re to to pull into the one on the left. But if there is one on the right before the one on your left, stop opposite the right hand passing place to allow enough room that the oncoming vehicle can pass through the passing place to allow you to then continue on.
7. Be Prepared
Unlike the rest of Scotland, when embarking on a road trip through the Highlands you need to prepare and plan your route. In the more outlying areas, you won’t find fuel or food stops around every corner and mobile signal is poor at best. When planning your route add on at least an extra hour of time, not only for having to pull into a passing place but for stopping to capture the view for that perfect insta photo.
8. Enjoy The Adventure
Our most important tip in this article is to enjoy the adventure. Whether it’s a more populated area or off the beaten track you plan to explore you’re bound to love every minute of it. The Scottish people are generally incredibly friendly and you’ll leave already planning your next trip.