Scotland has produced several world class rally drivers. One of the reasons is, no doubt, that the driving here can be challenging. It’s sort of amazing that anyone who has learned to drive in another country can hire a car here and be confronted with our sometimes challenging roads.

It’s a fairly common occurence. We have arranged to meet a client for a fishing trip, let’s say 9am at the boat launch and at 8.50am I get a phone call. I see it’s today’s client and answer the phone with “Let me guess… you’ve blown out the front left tyre.

They say “How’d you guess?”

I say “You’re not the first.”

If you’re planning on heading into the Highlands and Islands in your hire car we have some tips for you.

Speed limits

Our speed limits are given as a maximum limit, not as a recommendation for the speed you should be doing. As I understand it from some visitors, speed limits in their home countries are interpreted as a speed that they should maintain, and that doing less than will annoy other road users.

However in Scotland sticking to the limit is too fast for many roads. It’s a maximum you might legally do on a safe stretch, but not one you should try to do round tight corners.

If you see a circular white sign with a diagonal black line through it, it means ‘national speed limit applies’. Usually that’s 60mph. That’s the maximum speed you can legally do, not a speed that if you do less than people will be upset.

Most locals are understanding of the challenge our visitors experience on Scotland’s roads, but if a line of cars builds up behind you, pull in to let the locals pass. Don’t be pressurised into trying to drive faster than you’re comfortable with.

Single track roads

In the Highlands and Islands there are a lot of single track roads. If you want to go anywhere off-the-beaten-track (or quite often ON the beaten track) you will come across single track roads. That means cars travelling in opposite directions on a single lane.

How can that work? Only by both drivers keeping a level head and being patient. Don’t dive off the road if you see a car coming the other way. They have eyes, they can see you, and probably have a plan of where to pull in.

The rule is that the closest car to the passing place (usually marked with a white diamond shaped sign) should pull into it, even if that means backing up. The exception to the rule is if you are at the front of a line of cars, then the other driver should pull in. Several cars have priority over one car.

That said, a relaxed attitude is required; not everyone is an expert at reversing and tolerance and patience are appreciated.

Choosing a hire car

Most Scots, in fact most Europeans, are accustomed to negotiating narrow roads. However if you’re from a country with big, wide, mostly straight roads and you’ve rarely had the experience of squeezing through narrow gaps, don’t hire a flimsy car.

One of our recent clients hired a small car and burst two tyres in 14 miles of single track road. It’s likely, though not certain, that a more robust vehicle with bigger wheels might have escaped this driver’s offroad dips without any trouble.

“Oncoming vehicles in middle of road”

This road sign is not a joke, as one client asked me. It means you should be prepared to slow down or stop quickly and you should approach the upcoming bridge or narrow spot with caution. Slow down and be prepared to stop if you see another car coming.

There is often a sign telling you whether you or the approaching vehicle has priority. If the small, red arrow is pointing the way you’re going then slow down or stop and let the other car through. If the big white arrow is pointing the way you’re going then you have right of way, so keep going, unless that would cause a crash.

Animals on the road

It’s not uncommon to get stuck behind a flock of sheep which are being moved from one field to another. Rural roads are often unfenced, so grazing cattle can wander across. Sometimes there are red deer stags fighting in the road. Collisions with wildlife, especially deer, are common (around dawn or dusk is the worst time). The sensible response is to take your time and be prepared to wait. Waiting for animals is an opportunity to take in the scenery, one of the reasons you’re here, right?

So leave plenty of time, try to relax, be courteous and pay attention to the road signs. You’ll be fine.