The Scottish Highlands is a whole new terrain of driving, and it’s not as simple as driving around the countryside or in the city. Driving around the highlands of Scotland is like being on a rollercoaster with animals trying to hop on while going full speed and beautiful views zipping past you alarmingly fast.
But don’t you worry because this post is going to help you feel confident and calm before you go.
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So, without any further ado, let’s get into driving in the highlands of Scotland.
What is the right kind of car?
Although the Scottish Highlands look like rough terrain, you can drive any car here. I zoomed around in a Ford Fiesta for a month without any issues. The roads are well built, although be careful of potholes, so unless you plan on going off-roading, any car will work!
However, I recommend bringing jumper cables, a breakdown kit and a spare tyre. It is pretty remote in this area so getting help could take a while.
What hazards are there?
I would say there are 3 main hazards while driving the highlands of Scotland.
Sheep roam freely here, as do highland cows. The sheep look scarily like rocks until you’re about to run them over.
However, don’t fret! These animals have grown up near the roads and are very good at moving when a car is nearby. They do tend to sleep on the side of the road, and my heart jumped in my throat when I noticed them and couldn’t slow down enough but they didn’t even flinch. The sheep also have colourful markings on them which make them easier to see!
The other type of wildlife you’ll see are highland cows. These were my favourite to see, and they aren’t too common but since they’re so big and travel in herds, you’ll see them very far in advance.
2. Other drivers
Particularly around the east coast of Scotland, the roads are one car width and navigating around other cars can be difficult and frustrating.
In this instance, there are lots of ‘passing places’ which are sign posted. As long as you don’t drive too fast around corners, it should be easy to stay safe and pass other cars.
Police cars are more and more common on the roads, especially the NC500 route so they ensure people stick to the speed limit and drive safely.
Cyclists are very common around Scotland, and they can be infuriating on one-track roads since you cannot overtake them.
Common curtesy is for them to pull into a passing place if a queue is forming and let cars past, but this doesn’t always happen. In comparison to driving around England, the cyclists in the Scottish Highlands are good at moving out of the way for cars and they do use the passing places.
Just be sure to give them plenty of space when overtaking, and only do so when it’s safe.
How do I get to see the beautiful views while I’m driving?
It was tough being the driver, because you can’t just sit back and enjoy the views. One of the best things about Scotland though, is that they know how stunning they are and have placed a tonne of viewpoints around.
It was common for us to add an extra half an hour onto a journey because we would constantly be stopping to get photos of the view. Look at the photo above for an example!
Are there many fuel stations?
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fuel stations in the highlands. Although, we did follow the rule of filling up at every fuel station we saw, running out of a fuel wasn’t a huge concern of ours.
The cost of fuel is pricey though, ranging from 130 to 150 pence per litre for petrol, which is significantly more than the 120p per litre in the south of the UK.
Is it hard to get help if you break down?
Due to how isolated the highlands are, you will be waiting a while for a recovery team to get out to you. I highly recommend getting breakdown cover, because the call out fees are high.
As previously mentioned, you should pack jumper cables, a spare tyre and tyre iron, and a breakdown kit so you’re prepared for an emergency. People in Scotland tend to be very friendly, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
What is parking like?
I have never had such easier parking then I did in the highlands! A lot of the parking was free, and there was a lot of it. For some areas, like Durness, which have big tourist attractions, parking is a little harder and you normally have to pay in cash for the parking ticket, but this isn’t too common.
When is the best time to drive around the highlands?
Summer time is the busiest time for driving around the highlands of Scotland, mainly because it’s the best weather. The NC500 is a very popular route so if you’re driving that, or you just happen to use those roads, it can get a little blocked up.
However, winter can be rather difficult due to weather conditions such as ice and flooding.
Due to this, I would say that spring and autumn are the best times to drive.