Parking Breakish Style. This happens quite often as the ditches fill with plants in the summer and people don’t realise that they are more than a metre deep. Actually, a lot less humorously, years ago a fire engine went into the ditch at the same spot and a house burned down
It’s tourist season. We can usually tell when it starts.The Co-Op seeming busier and we hear different languages in the aisles. Shoppers wearing lots of goretex wandering those aisles looking slightly lost are another strong indicator. It is ironic that they can make their way up to the Inaccessible Pinnacle and back but have no idea how to locate the maple syrup. It’s usually in the Co-Op car park that we first notice tourists going the wrong way and/or parking badly. We see some scary stuff there.
Having tourists from all over the world congregate here has given us an insight into how the world drives. Here are some sweeping generalisations for you. The British drive too fast. The Italians forget to drive on the left. The Belgians are boring. The Germans, surprisingly, drive any damned way they please. They can be really scary, my stereotypical preconceptions made me think they would be really well behaved, but no, they are reckless drivers.
Some of the hazards that we encounter are a little different from those that most people come across in town…
People who are used to driving on the right, or wrong, side of the road get confused when trying to do a u-turn at a junction. They turn in the wrong way and end up on the wrong side of the road trying to get back out. As we live by a junction we spend quite a lot of time at our kitchen window shouting “The Left! The Left!” at hire cars.
I’m not looking down on other drivers from some sort of horseless carriage high horse. I bet I was just as bad when driving on the continent especially when I was driving our right hand drive car on the right in France. I’m sure I left a few “zut alors!” and probably a lot worse in my wake as I carved my haphazard way through Brittany.
It seems like thousands of motorbikes visit every year. I feel sorry for the riders when it rains, they look so uncomfortable as they ease themselves off the bike at the petrol station. They are usually better behaved on the roads than the cars. Though they all seem to have forgotten to put a silencer on their exhaust. A convoy of accountants, dentists and actuaries on their Harley Davidson (with leather saddle bags and tassels) brapping their way through the village is a deafening seismic experience. I hate to see side cars when I’m driving. There are a few bikes from Europe with sidecars attached and since they are on the wrong side of the bike I see a lot of helpless, hapless frightened eyes staring out of helmets approaching me at a high closing speed. It must be terrifying being in a little aluminium or fibreglass pod with no control over your destiny as cars, vans, buses, campervans, lorries and other bikes and enormous lorries zip past so closely. You must be very aware of your fragility and mortality. Wouldn’t it be ironic though if they were hit by another motorbike and sidecar?
I always like watching the vintage cars go past…then I get another look as they come back on a recovery vehicle. It’s the same with quite few of the old VW camper vans that have become so trendy to hire. They usually come on to the island at the head of an enormous queue of traffic. We like that they are so slow they keep everybody to the 40mph speed limit through our village. The attrition rate is high though, and a significant percentage of them leave on the back of a lorry.
A classic car enjoying a brief flirtation with tarmac before returning to it’s natural habitat – the back of a recovery lorry.
Hiring camper vans is becoming more popular. I think it is a great idea but there is a problem when people unused to such a large vehicle encounter the narrow highland roads. An almost brand new hired camper van came to halt outside our house with no front passenger side wheel after leaving it behind at a nearby narrow bridge wall. Really made a mess of the narrow bridge warning sign.
Single track roads are a constant source of entertainment and terror while visitors get to grips with them. I have to admit that we locals don’t help sometimes with our impatience and we do sometimes bully visitors. But only because they are in the way and we are in a hurry… However the wrong side of the road problem is just as bad even when there is no side to the road. People who are used to driving on the right tend to dive into the passing place on the wrong side. I have had a few near miss head on crashes because of this. The perfect storm of disaster is when you get an inexperienced UK driver up against an equally inexperienced foreign driver on a single track road. It’s because of this that I always carry something to while away the hours with me in the car. When the above perfect storm hits you are stuck for ages while the wreckage is disentangled. I have e-books, audiobooks, games and films on my phone as well as real paper books for when the phone runs out of charge.
There are problems that are unique to the tourist season. Sudden stops (Look! An eagle/seal/whale/otter/deer/highland cow/sheep/ crofter!). Bizarre u-turns and speeding up and slowing down as visitors search for their destinations. The sat-nav never lies, but it can be very confused or vague when a post code covers an entire village. That’s not a road it’s sending you down it’s a croft entry and it’s going to finish in a bog in a 100 metres and you will have arrived at your destination whether it’s the one you want or not, at least until someone comes to tow you out.
I’m not saying that when the tourists are here the driving goes downhill, far from it. Outside of tourist season we can, all by ourselves, make the islands roads look like a cross between the Smokey and the Bandit and Wacky Races. It’s just that when you add the visitors into the mix it gets a great deal smokier and wackier.