Saturday, May 27, 2017

Scotland: Sunday Driving

In order to see more of Scotland, Dear Husband and I rented a car. I had driven on the left before when in South Africa, but it was DH’s first time. Knowing us, a predictable comedy of errors ensured from which, thankfully, we and the car survived more or less intact. The first bit of fun was just finding the car rental place, which according to its website was located within walking distance from the airport, or they would send someone to pick you up. We considered getting off the double-decker bus one stop early and trying to find it ourselves but didn't. At the airport, we asked for help in finding a courtesy phone to call the company, and the volunteer mentioned he thought they had moved to the airport, but I stuck to my online instructions. However, the phone number posted online and on the pillar didn’t work, so I called the hotel—the car company had in fact moved its office to the airport. So we just walked up the ramp. There we discovered that the little automatic I had reserved had been returned the night before damaged. Our options were to wait half an hour for a similar car to be cleaned or to pay an extra 150 pounds for a fully protected new little BMW. I didn’t want to wait, and DH wanted the insurance coverage, so we opted for the beemer with the integrated GPS. 

Sweet, right? Except first we had to figure out how to work the toggle/dial navigation system. (Thankfully it was not stuck on trying to direct us to Seattle.) Then we had to ask how to actually, you know, start the car. It was one of those new-fangled fob and button deals. Next we had to figure out where we were going. Street signs seem to be at a premium in Scotland, such that they are typically small and posted sparingly, but after a few wrong turns, we managed to get on the path indicated by our polite, female voiced guide...which led us right to a pile of dirt that might or might not eventually become an entrance ramp onto the A96. Thankfully I still had Google maps up on my phone to get us to the airport, so DH used that to find me the correct turns onto the highway.

Alas, the reprieve was short lived, for no sooner had we gotten on then She directed us to get off again onto a little road. You might ask why we believed her this time, and DH did ask, but I had typed out general directions into our itinerary, and they seemed to match, so we continued along the long and winding road. The GPS was otherwise helpful—maybe too helpful with her repeated cheerful instruction to “Please leave the roundabout at the second exit to continue to follow” the highway we were on—until we actually needed her to help us find our AirBnB houses. To our consternation, She was 0 for 2. This meant numerous wrong turns while we circled around until we finally happened upon them, both times thankfully well before dark.

DH and I each found that driving on the left was not as difficult as the curvy, narrow, rural Scottish roads. Whenever one of us made a turn, we would sing a little ditty to remember where to put the car: “Left, left, left, LEFT, left,” intoned DH. “To left, to the left,” I sang with Beyonce ("Irreplaceable"). It was some of the most careful and defensive driving either of us have ever done, although we each jumped or bumped the curb once or twice. Thank goodness for the full warranty, as we managed to damage one of the rear tires.

But wait, it gets worse. After we had finished touring Balmoral Castle, we took one of the B roads north through Cairngorm National Park. This one was, no joke, a one-lane road, sometimes with stone walls on either side. Occasionally there would be a “passing spot” like the one above for one vehicle to crowd into while (an) other(s) passed by—even a motor home! With all the turns and vegetation, the sight lines were terrible, so it was only with great luck that DH managed to squeeze us by. The one time I was happy to be “stuck” behind a logging truck on one of those little roads was because I knew that it was wide enough that no other vehicle could pass it and surprise me coming around a bend. As it happens, driving on the highway, in towns, and in cities was no easier. Highway frustrations included construction, farm equipment, and slow drivers (see below). Town obstacles included cars parked in the driving lane, a mail truck, and a garbage truck. City obstacles included buses, traffic lights every 50 yards, and endless roundabouts. You know how they say putting together furniture is a good test of the strength of a relationship? I think that driving in a foreign country is another.

Whoever was driving had to pay very close attention to the road, but whoever wasn’t driving got to enjoy the gorgeous views of rolling Scottish countryside, with trees and moss in every shade of green; cattle, sheep, and occasionally horses grazing in green fields that swept up into hills; and mountains that were patchworks of rock, sedge, and the brilliant gold of gorse bushes, all dappled with sunlight and shadows. We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather on our trip, which only added to the beauty.

If you made it this far, you might enjoy the "Sunday Driver" song by the Scottish folk group The Corries [click for YouTube video of them singing it at what looks like a house concert].

Well I've been a Sunday driver noo for many's a happy year
And I've never had my Morris Minor oot o' second gear
I can drive at fifty miles an hour on motorway or track
With me wife up front beside me and her mother in the back

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Jean

In a crowd of fifty trippers you can always pick me oot
By my "Don't blame me, I voted Tory" sticker on the boot
Wi' my bunch of heather stickin' in ma radiator grille
And me stick-on transfer bullet holes and licence for tae kill

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Peg

I've a hundred plastic pennants for to tell you where I've been
And my steering wheel is clad in simulated leopard-skin
Up front fae the drivin' mirror hangs a plastic skeleton
And in the back a dog wi' eyes that flicker off and on!

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie May

I always drive as though my foot was restin' on the brake
And I weave aboot the road just so's ye cannae overtake
I can get ye sae frustrated that ye'll finish up in tears
And the sound of blarin' motor horns is music to my ears!
There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Liz

Now if ye wonder how these weekly trips I can afford
It's because I'm on a stipend from the Scottish Tourist Board
You're supposed tae enjoy the scenery, the finest of its kind
And that is why I have a convoy followin' behind!

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Rose

There's just no way of escaping me, no matter how ye seek
For the simple fact that I'm a traffic warden through the week
I'm boostin' my efficiency, and here's my master plan
I'm savin' up my pennies for to buy a Caravan

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
And Auntie Gertrude

There was me and my daddy and my daddy's mammy
And her sister's Granny and four of her chums
"Yer gaun too fast!"

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