Today I’m here to tell a tale. One of adventure, intrigue, and death-defying stunt moves. Ok, I exaggerate a bit, but not much when I am talking about our family’s experience driving the streets of Scotland.
Let me begin at the very beginning…a very good place to start. Wait, I think that’s a song. Hmm. But really, here we go. You know how much I love Scotland, right? I suppose I’ve mentioned that fact a few times.
So I was excited to bring my family over for their first visit. My youngest son, Jack and I arrived in Edinburgh last summer after a veeeeerrrry long journey from Shanghai. To say we were exhausted upon our arrival would be an understatement. However, I knew the moment I had been dreading for months had finally arrived. I was going to have to get in a rental car and drive in Scotland. There was simply no way around it. We had a busy 16 days in front of us traveling hither and yon throughout the country so we needed wheels.
Why was I so scared to drive in Scotland you ask? Well for starters, the Scots drive on the wrong side of the road, according to us Americans!!! I had nightmares of pulling out into the wrong side of traffic, or making a left turn into the wrong lane. Needless to say, I was pretty worked up. However, being the cool, calm and collected mom that I am, I put on my brave girl pants and told Jack to climb in. But before we took off into the wild blue yonder with the wind whipping through our hair, we had to inspect our rental car and note any prior damage. At first glance, I realized this was no ordinary car. It was a Mercedes E-Class Estate Wagon. Why make me even more stressed out by giving me a super expensive Mercedes?! And even worse, it was a brand, spanking new car. I’m talking we were maybe the second drivers to rent this car. Ever. Ok, no pressure.
Now let’s take a moment to review: I’m exhausted, sitting in an airport parking lot in an unfamiliar foreign city, expected to drive a brand new Mercedes on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to. Ok, just making sure you’ve got a clear picture in your head. Let me add to the story a bit. The Christmas prior to this trip, we rented a car in the States. I got persuaded in to buying the additional insurance on the rental. I never heard the end of it from my husband, saying I never should have agreed and it was a waste of money because our credit card already offered insurance. So this time, I confidently said no to the offer of extra insurance. “Haha, I thought. You aren’t gong to get me this time!”. As we slowly (and when I say slowly, a turtle may have gone faster than us) pulled out of the parking lot, I began questioning that decision. I don’t think I have ever held onto a steering wheel tighter than I did those first few days driving in Scotland.
So we made it out of the parking lot (woohoo!). Jack was my official navigator so I could focus on nothing but the road. Well, I don’t know how many of you have used a 12-year-old to help navigate, but this can be a bit of a challenge. They can be a bit clueless when it comes to map reading (sorry Jack!). We literally went dizzily around a roundabout three times before we could figure out the right exit, and passed our B&B twice before we could find it. My heart was racing the entire time, and I drove, white-knuckled and owl-eyed the entire way. Funny thing, I wasn’t feeling so tired anymore. As we parked, I accidentally ran over the curb and decided right then and there we would return to the airport in the morning and pay whatever the ridiculous fee would be for the extra insurance, pride be damned.
It just so happened that as a special treat, Jack’s favorite person in the world, his older brother Hunter, was flying in the next morning to surprise Jack and continue our first week in Scotland with us before the last two members of our family to come would arrive (this is a bit complicated to follow I know, so just don’t even try. 😉 ). We had a lot to do and see in that week, and a lot of driving to do in order to get to all of our destinations. But now I had a 21-year-old navigator in the passenger seat so things were sure to go better right? Ha!
Let me interject here quickly and say that I’m usually a very good driver. I’ve been on the road for many years and have had a very minimal number of accidents (2 to be exact). However, streets in Scotland are old, small, and complicated. There is a different type of roundabout what seems like every 500 feet, and driving a surprisingly wide car like the E-Class Estate is not exactly an ideal way to take on these types of driving conditions for the first time.
But, onward we went. I was still nervous, but a bit more emboldened when Hunter came up with a safe word I must have heard 1,000 times…“LANE!”, meaning I was drifting to the left and about to run into the curb on the passenger side. It was so hard to get a feel for exactly where I should be especially since most of the lanes were really narrow, and oncoming cars were zooming past us so close we could feel the wind from their speed shake the car.
Although the scenery was beautiful, I don’t think Hunter and I noticed much of it that first day.
He was busy keeping my lane positioning in check, and I was concentrating with every ounce of my being on the road ahead. But, we had been driving for a while and were getting thirsty so we began looking for a place to safely pull over in order to buy some water. Finally, along came a promising looking gas station on our right side. We all spotted it and as we were looking at it, I somehow drifted over to the left (remember these lanes were small so there wasn’t a lot of drifting room). Like a slow-motion scene out of a movie, the car hopped the curb, continued down the road for what seemed like a mile but was really only a foot or two on only three wheels, and made a horrible scraping sound against the road. “AHHHHH…HHHH…HHHH!!!” All three of screamed in unison, but I managed to get off the curb and pull into the gas station. Hearts pounding, and fear of the damage that may have just happened coursing through our veins, we all sat there for a moment just looking at each other incredulously. I peeled my fingers away from the death grip I had on the steering wheel, and we reluctantly got out of the car in order to assess the damage. Peeking through one eye, I saw that two of the car’s rims were scraped, there was a gash in the tire, and somehow the front fender of the passenger side was scraped up pretty substantially.
“Boy am I glad I got the extra insurance,” I giggled nervously. Thankfully the car was still completely drivable. So we bought our waters, took a deep breath, and slowly got back on the road.
The next few drives went about the same way. We drove along narrow two-lane roads throughout the Highlands, missing most of the beautiful scenery around us because we were focussing intently on not crashing the car.
Perhaps Jack would have enjoyed it from the back seat but he slept most of the time since he felt car sick due to the windy roads. After the Highlands, our next destination was the beautiful Isle of Mull. I didn’t sleep at all the night before we journeyed to the island. Instead, I had horrible visions of driving the car off the ferry into the ocean, or something else equally devastating. But lo and behold, the ferry ride went fine. Whew!
It was when we got off the ferry that things once again got interesting.
Have you ever heard of single-track roads? Oh boy, now these are something that will get your heart pumping. Single-track roads are exactly how they sound. One-lane is available to drive on in either direction with passing places for oncoming traffic available at certain points along the road. Imagine playing a game of chicken with cars and you’ll get the gist of the driving conditions on these roads. And to add to the fun, not only is there only one lane, but many times you are driving on very winding roads on the side of a cliff with consistent blind spots as you go up and down hills.
Let me just say, Hunter is a pretty laid back guy. Not much rattles him. However, driving on the Isle of Mull managed to get even him stressed out. We had a lot of quick, face-to-face car encounters that would require one or both cars to back up to a passing area and wait our turn to continue. One such incident occurred right after we a took a tight corner. As we rounded the corner, a car was coming right at us. The driver was kind enough to back up so we could pass. The problem was, he backed up right into a ditch. Two wheels spinning in mid-air, this guy wasn’t going anywhere without a tow truck. We felt terrible. Not that it was our fault, but I could see myself doing the exact same thing.
Still, after a couple of days driving those single-track roads, I came to kind of like them. They were quiet, could be peaceful, and when there were no other cars to be seen in the distance, it was fun picking up some pretty good speed feeling like I owned the road. Sometimes our only company were the Highland Coo’s that simply stood sleepily in the middle of the road staring at us as if silently daring us to just try and make them move.
When we left the Isle of Mull and worked our way back to Edinburgh, The roads became divided and wider again. It felt like such a luxury having two or more lanes available on which to drive.
When Brett and Elijah finally arrived, I had become pretty comfortable driving. Brett was actually thoroughly impressed by the way I navigated the city streets. I just looked at him and said, ”oh you know, it’s no big deal”. So Brett tried his hand at driving. After the 15th time I yelled, “LANE!” in an hour, we decided to leave the driving to the pro…me.
Who would have guessed? 😉