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 In tourist season the Co-Op is busier and we hear different languages in the aisles. Shoppers wearing lots of goretex wandering those aisles looking slightly lost. 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. The confusion inside the shop is nothing to that outside. 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 and are very impatent. The Italians forget to drive on the left. 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.The Belgians make little or no impression on us at all.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. One of the enormous convoys of military lorries heading to and from the ferry at Uig traveling to the missile range in South Uist would have a permanent effect on the sidecar passengers mental health. 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 more considered 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 puttering loudly with a happy Guardian reading, soya milk in my latte please, metropolitan couple inside. They are smiling contentedly while the occupants of the vehicles in the enormous queue behind them don’t look so at peace with the world. 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 join the classic cars on a recovery vehicle.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 the abutment of a nearby narrow bridge. Really made a mess of the narrow bridge warning sign.
Hire cars are becoming a bit of a problem. Cars are hired by people who haven’t really thought through where they will be driving. They pootle along ever narrowing roads increasingly populated with deer, sheep and cows panicking more an more until they are in a state of unremitting hysteria. This creates some interesting driving… We have even had our house rammed. One day there was an almighty crump and the house shuddered a little bit. Rosie ran out to see what had happened just in time to see a car drag it’s front corner down the side of the ramp outside our house. The driver and passenger kept their eyes fixed firmly ahead so as not to see the owner of the house they had just dunted waving at them. The car was quite a mess and our wall had a little scrape on it. I would have liked to have witnessed the conversation when they returned the car. “We were driving quietly along when suddenly this big wooden house appeared from nowhere!”
How do we know it was a hire car? It had a fuel type warning label on the petrol flap. Another indication of impending erratic driving is a little green “e” on the boot or it being a Fiat 500. They are everywhere.The tourist season is heralded by the sight of the first 500. Usually it’s that funny blue colour that nobody would normally buy. Anyway after the first trundles or charges past out house then an ever increasing number appear creating an increasing amount of chaos.
Single track roads are a constant source of entertainment and terror for us 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 are no sides 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 a real paper book 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 and fail to find their destinations.
Our scenery causes inconvenience by being photogenic. That combined with our relatively quit roads encourage visitors to stop wherever they pleas, and not where would be sensible, to take a photograph. Barreling round a corner to be confronted with a parked car on your carriageway and some bloke with his phone held out in front of him is something that tests our ABS regularly. Interestingly as I slither to a halt inches from them my main thought is that the picture they are taking I going to be crap. The light’s all wrong and your composition is atrocious. I’m a photographer first it seems.
A glaring, quite literally, clue to the car in front not being local especially at night is the bright light coming from the sat-nav stuck to the windscreen. The sat-nav never lies. That’s a lie. It can be very confused or vague, sometime spectacularly, when a post code covers an entire village or more. You must be aware that it might not be 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. Driving along our road that has one crossroads half way along. It also has 9 croft entries on it. A croft entry is basically a track that runs up the side of the croft(or field to everybody else) to the croft house. Some of these entries haven’t had a vehicle, be it a car or a horse and cart, on them for generations but they are all marked as roads. Our sat nav sounded like a scratch mix if you drove fast enough as it tried to tell you you have reached your destination as we passed each entry and it randomly decided we lived there. Watching cars circle round and round our village looking for a specific house which the sat-nav has pin-pointed as being at the T-junction at the centre of the shore road when the house is actually at the far end of the village on the far side of the A87 at the end of the track tucked in beside the big house that makes it almost impossible to see.
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 and a lot more wacky.