Travel writers should improve their game! Typically, they’re quite good at describing attractions to visit, places to stay, where to eat, and even what to wear. But all of that does not comprise a complete travel experience. As evidence, I offer our recent driving adventure in Scotland.
Last fall, my wife and I took our first trip to Scotland. Since we’re both independent personalities, we shunned group tours and set out on our own to see the countryside. Upon landing in Edinburgh, we picked up our rental car and drove into the city to our hotel. Despite some travelogue warnings, we did not find driving on the left to present a major problem, although we would not recommend doing so for your first time in a bustling city after an overnight flight. Still, we annoyed only a few native drivers (bus drivers seemed to exhibit the least patience) as we negotiated often confusing intersections.
The next day, we found our way to the major motorway heading north to the Central Highlands. So far, so good, since the driving resembled cruising on an Interstate highway in the U.S. But our false sense of competence dissipated quickly upon leaving the motorway for a two-lane road that would take us to Braemar. Every 20-30 miles, the road became more winding and, it seemed, narrower, especially on sharp curves. What had been a relaxed hour on the motorway suddenly transformed into a white-knuckled horror.
On the right side, a mere six inches beyond the center line, traffic whizzed by at 50-60 mph. This required the driver to be ever vigilant about not crossing that line and to confront the oncoming menace with nerves of steel. As bad as that hazard seemed to the driver, the passenger suffered continual fright because of the proximity of ivy-covered stone walls and bridge abutments on the left side. We eventually concluded that the passenger’s terror was worse because of complete lack of control. Upon arriving at our inn, we came to realize the utility of single malts for medicinal purposes.
Throughout our week’s journey, things did not improve. Tension was so high, especially when meeting tour buses and over-sized lorries, that we dared not listen to the radio. We needed all of our faculties to avoid utter catastrophe. At every stop, I felt the need of a muscle relaxer just to pry my arthritic fingers from the steering wheel. While we eventually became accustomed to making disparaging remarks about other terrified, inexperienced tourists who held up traffic, we never truly relaxed.
Would we do it again? You bet! Will we feel comfortable on Scottish roads? Never! Upon returning home, we reached two conclusions: (1) most roads in the U.S. are luxuriously wide, and (2) we have a much greater understanding of and respect for Scottish auto racing champions.
Enjoy Scotland, but be warned!