Single Track Roads and Cow Congestion!

Posted by True Highlands in Kit and Caboodle | 9 comments

As Hamish Macbeth meandered through the Scottish Highlands he approached the most inspiring road zig zagging up to a high mountain pass. At the bottom there was a warning sign which said Narrow road – no more than three sheep abreast. The sign is of course fake but the road, Beallach Na Ba in Applecross is very real.

beallach na ba
If you would like a bit of driving therapy to cure your contemporary motoring blues then help is at hand in the form of Highland single-track roads. Drive back in time to a more civilised era of politeness, slow, care free and scenic motoring. It can be an absorbing and involving experience, but daunting if you are not used to it. So here are a few tips from us on getting the best from our roads.

Single-track roads are essentially a strip of surfaced road wide enough for one car, with passing places built at regular intervals to allow cars passing in the opposite direction to safely pass. These roads sneak their way to all the most fun places in the Highlands and Islands, so it is inevitable that visitors will encounter them at some point.

Ideally, if you see a vehicle approaching then adjust your speed so that both of you arrive at the nearest passing place at the same time. You should always pull into a passing place that is on your left. If a passing place is on your right then you should wait opposite it until the other vehicle goes by. Never pull into a passing place on the right.


Give way to vehicles coming uphill, where possible, on roads like the above mentioned Beallach na Ba.

Be prepared to reverse to the nearest passing place so that oncoming vehicles can pass.

Passing places are not parking places so please do not stop there for a picnic or photograph.
Always, always acknowledge when someone has stopped for you with a wee wave. If dark, simply dip your lights as a thank you rather than flash, which can be dazzling.

There may well be other cars travelling in the same direction as you who are moving much faster than you. The Highway Code is very specific in that you must let them overtake by using passing places. It also means everyone is happy!


In rural areas you should be aware of sheep and cattle beside the road, if there are large numbers blocking the road then patience is the only solution. Aggressive driving is only likely to result in injury to the animals and damage to your car.

Many roads are not wide enough to allow you to pass a cyclist – wait until they pull to the side of the road before attempting to overtake them.

In rural areas petrol stations can often be long distances apart, and in the North West of Scotland and the islands, frequently closed on Sundays. Due to high transport costs, fuel is more expensive up here than in the city. Empathy with the locals will get you further than complaining about it.

Deer are a problem on rural roads, especially after dark so here are a few tips on minimising the danger of a collision.

Be aware of your situation, after dark in places where there are warning signs then you should pay close attention to the road ahead. In places where woodland borders one side of the road, deer can jump out without warning.  Don’t over-swerve to avoid hitting a deer. If a collision with the animal seems inevitable, then hit it while maintaining full control of your car. The alternative of swerving into oncoming traffic or a ditch could be even worse.

Most of all, enjoy the scenery, the country and the experience!

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Comments (9)
  1. Claire says:

    Hamish Macbeth was a character we all loved on our TVs – thanks for the reminder and smile! Thanks also for providing folk with information needed and no essential asked for. Our guests are grateful to receive and have a fuller experience as a result. Love the roads on west coast of Scottish Highlands: Applecross of course and ‘The Wee Mad Road’ wishing all a wonderful journey.

  2. Pingback: North Coast 500: Part 1 – West Coast Wandering :: True Highlands

  3. Sue Callcutt says:

    A copy of this should be handed to every tourist and a copy should be left in every hire car.

    • True Highlands says:

      Thank you Sue – I wish it was!

    • Helen Menzies says:

      Excellent suggestion!

  4. Erwin says:

    But maybe, Sue, just maybe, some local folks (especially local youngsters)might learn a thing of two from the leaflet too. For example not to cut a blind corner on a single track road at high speed…

    • Sue Callcutt says:

      People shouldn’t be doing high speeds on single track roads ANYWAY!

  5. replistv says:

    It is very well possible that you use these single track roads for the first time when you arrive in Scotland and most people from abroad have to get used to these somewhat strange roads .

    • True Highlands says:

      I hope the blog helps those who haven’t come across them before.

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