The Scottish roads and especially those in the Northern Highlands have never been as popular. Whilst it is still quite possible to drive for hours without seeing another vehicle, there is undoubtedly on some narrow roads, a greater volume of traffic that requires slightly different driving skills to the average city drive.
The following information has been provided to help motorhome and campervan drivers have an enjoyable experience when visiting Scotland and we hope that with a little consideration and an awareness of some of the pinch points, we can help everyone travel along the roads a little more smoothly.
As well as the road type, there are many other things you need to consider….
Adverse weather conditions
Is it your first time driving a campervan or motorhome?
Campervan and motorhome driving etiquette
Are you travelling from overseas?
It is extremely important to take the time to familiarise yourself with all the required information that you will find on this page before your holiday. Remember that you can refer back to this information at any time. It only takes ONE person who is not used to driving a large vehicle to block a road completely to the detriment of other users, including those that use the road for work and importantly – emergency vehicles.
Be safe, be courteous, always be aware of your surroundings, follow the information below and you will without doubt enjoy the experience of touring Scotland.
Having the freedom of the road to soak up the amazing views, capturing all the sights in photos and not needing to stick to a timetable, are all huge benefits to travelling in a campervan or a motorhome. Whilst you may have all the time in the world being relaxed and on holiday you must bear in mind that there are local residents trying to go about their day to day business. Slow and increased road traffic can cause frustration, dangerous overtaking and delays on the busier routes and popular tourist areas.
Please follow these simple guidelines to help keep our roads flowing:
If you are travelling below the speed limit and traffic approaches you from behind, please pull in when safe to do so and allow traffic to overtake you.
If you are travelling slowly on a straight stretch of road with traffic behind you and it is clear ahead, you can signal left and slow down to let the traffic safely pass. Please look ahead for any road dips or bends and only do this if you are sure it is safe for them to pass in plenty of time.
If you are on a single track road and you wish to let traffic behind you pass, indicate left and pull into a passing place, always keeping to the left hand side of the road, and let vehicles go past if it is safe to do so.
If you are with a group, do not travel in a convoy. Especially not on smaller roads as this can lead to congestion at passing places and could cause an obstruction. There should not be more than two vehicles travelling together on single track roads as the passing places are not designed to accommodate more vehicles than this, especially larger motorhomes. Ideally vehicles should travel at least one passing place distance apart.
Some roads in Scotland in the more remote areas are not fenced and you will come across roaming livestock of sheep, goats and highland cattle. Reduce your speed to pass them safely and be aware they may run back out as you pass. You may also encounter wild deer, and other wildlife crossing the road…… generally they are unaware of the highway code and will just dart out, so please keep a good distance.
Even if you are used to driving on small or narrow roads, there are different road configurations you may come across in the more remote areas. For example, dips, blind summits, steep inclines and declines and very sharp blind bends. Always reduce your speed and be aware of your vehicle size in these situations.
It is not only motorised vehicles that use the roads – you will see cyclists, walkers and even horse riders. Always make sure to give plenty of room when passing and do not drive faster than 15mph when passing horses.
There are lots of European motorhomes who are exploring Scotland in their own left-hand drive vehicles. Sometimes they may accidentally drive quite close to the central white line. Try to be observant of foreign number plates, give them extra space and slow down when passing.
Although campervans and motorhomes may enjoy driving slowly to enjoy the scenery, most modern vans are capable of doing more than the speed limits of our roads. It goes without saying that you must be aware of, and stick to, the speed limits of the roads you are travelling on and be aware that your vehicle weight can change your breaking distance and speed.
If there is one message we ask all motorhome and campervan visitors to be considerate of, it is that some of the more remote roads may be used by doctors on call, business commuting and health professionals on tight deadlines for patient visits. It is not easy for these drivers at the back of a queue of traffic to communicate this, so if a driver is trying to get past, for whatever reason, please let them overtake in a sensible way. Who wants another vehicle sitting close behind anyway?
You are probably familiar with the terms “Four seasons in one day” or “If you don’t like the weather then wait 10 minutes”. These are the best descriptions to describe the ever-changing Scottish weather!
You can experience a change in weather extremely quickly in Scotland and it can create very hazardous driving conditions.
Torrential and sometimes horizontal rain can mean limited visibility and can cause flash flooding. Always reduce your speed in heavy rain conditions and do not attempt to drive through a flooded road – you will not know how deep the water is and you run the risk of getting stuck.
Heavy rainfall can make ground conditions extremely unstable. Always be careful of verges if you are pulling over in a motorhome as a tyre can easily clip the edge and slip off into the drainage ditch on the side. Usually this will require assistance to be towed out.
It is very likely you will experience snow and ice over winter, especially on higher ground. Make sure to pack winter essentials such as a shovel, de-icer, a small box of salt, warm clothing/blankets plus food and water in case you get stuck. A heavy duty tow rope suitable for your motorhomes weight is also helpful.
When travelling in winter it is also advisable to carry an extra gas bottle in case you are stuck for a period of time and need it for heating.
The advice for adverse weather is generally the same as when driving a car, except you may be driving something a lot heavier and this can also change your breaking distances.
Many of the roads in Scotland, and especially the Northern Highlands, were designed for horse and carts, not large motorhomes and lorries.
Whilst it is a great joy to travel around some of the most remote and smaller roads, getting ‘off the beaten track’, drivers should be confident and capable of manoeuvring their vehicle in some tight locations. The following roads have been specifically highlighted to us by local residents and professional drivers who know the roads. We would ask all drivers to ensure they are confident and are in a suitable vehicle before using these roads.
Beleach na Ba – This road travels through the historic pass in the mountains of the Applecross peninsula and is the third highest road in Scotland. It is listed as part of the NC500 route. It is notorious for it’s amazing views but also has tight hairpin bends. It is possible to travel around to the Applecross peninsula via the coastal route which is also beautiful and scenic so drivers do not need to go up and over the pass. The route is definitely not suitable for touring caravans or for longer motorhomes as the difficulties are in getting around the hairpin bends, especially if you meet oncoming traffic. Lorry drivers get stuck on here just as much as motorhomes, but it can cause hours of delays for local traffic stuck on the road with jams up and down the pass. Motorhomes of approx. 6m length or below should be fine, but drivers must be confident and able to reverse several hundred yards, up steep inclines if needed.
Drumbeg Loop – This is a section of road on the NC500 between Lochinver and Kylesku, which is very narrow and has limited passing places. Drivers of vehicles over 6m should be confident of their reversing abilities. Along the road edge is a water gully which has caught many motorhomes out. If reversing back into a passing place, we would advise vehicles to reverse back in the centre of the road and then drive forward into the passing place, keeping to the left at all times. This should help avoid rear wheels clipping the gully and being pulled off the road into the ditch. Often the only recovery option is for a tow truck to go around the loop in the opposite direction to tow a vehicle forward and back onto the road, causing the road to be blocked and hours of delay. If you need to reverse and cannot see clearly, ask drivers around you for help or guidance. It is better for everyone to be delayed by 10 minutes offering support, rather than 5 hours with a blocked road.
If you are considering a campervan or motorhome holiday and have never driven anything bigger than a car before, there are a few things to consider or to try:
Many motorhome and caravan shows offer motorhome test drives with experienced instructors. These are a great way to see how you get on with driving and manoeuvring a larger motorhome, before buying or hiring one.
If you have a family member, friend or colleague that has a larger vehicle/van, it may be worth paying for insurance for a day to test drive the vehicle, checking you are comfortable with the size and manoeuvrability of it. It is most important to make sure that you feel comfortable reversing the vehicle as you need to be able to use the vehicle correctly and safely on single track roads.
If you have bought your own motorhome and it is a larger unit, you may be able to book a driving lesson with an experienced local instructor who can offer valuable tips on how to drive larger motorhomes. Remember that drivers who passed their test after 1997 are now restricted to vehicles lighter than 3500kg and that tends to restrict them to smaller units. The extra lessons and tests that these younger drivers now have to pass for heavier vehicles, offer valuable skills that are just as valid for all drivers to learn.
As well as general reversing it is also important to be aware of the vehicles length, especially the rear overhang when turning. If you are travelling with passengers, we would always advise that someone gets out of the vehicle to help with any reversing procedure in tight locations. Reversing cameras do not always consider bike rack lengths and quite often do not give visibility of rear corner bumpers.
As the driver of a motorhome you should know where the spare wheel is located on your vehicle and ensure all the tools needed to change a wheel are available. Many newer motorhomes are not fitted with a spare wheel but instead have tyre repair sealant supplied. If you are not confident in changing a tyre, ensure you have a breakdown policy and keep the number handy in your motorhome. Carry a high vis jacket and if you have a breakdown, try to minimise the impact on local traffic by helping direct other vehicles or ask for other drivers assistance in moving your vehicle to a road section where traffic can pass, especially emergency services vehicles.
Below is a useful Safe Driving Leaflet created by one of our members, which provides great advice about driving in the Highlands. Underneath, you will find more helpful information on driving in Scotland.
There are also some useful videos from You Tube that cover driving in Scotland, the different road types and what you may come across. There is also one that shows the actual drive over the Beallach Na Ba.