Good Morning UK! - First Time Driving on the Left

· 2444 words · about 12 minutes

I'm sorry, that I haven't been on the tube for a while. I don't wanna give excuses, I tell you honestly, my thoughts just have been much elsewhere lately. But now I'm back and we'll continue our memorable trip to Scotland. :)

On the next morning I woke up a bit tired in our ferry cabin. My sleep was uneasy because I was excited how the next driving is going to be. It was our first time in the UK and for me also the first time driving on the left.

While our ferry was approaching Kingston Upon Hull, we went to have breakfast to the same restaurant where we had dinner last night. The Portuguese waiter - with who we had a good chat yesterday - immediately recognized us and in the middle of a big rush he showed us to our table. Even though he had a hurry I sensed that he was a bit more casual with us then with the rest of the guests. I even got a "touch on the shoulder" which Portuguese waiters often do (in Portugal) when the want to be welcoming.

After breakfast we went back to our cabin, collected our stuff quickly and headed to the car deck. We got out from the ship after some time, but got only until the roof of the terminal, where the crew was collecting the cars. You'll never guess, but it was raining! Whatta surprise. :) After some time the cars got down slowly (in a queue) to the check out. All the cars were asked for papers, so we were expecting a big hustle. However, from us they checked only our tickets and our passports. The young lady officer was polite and the whole procedure didn't take longer than two or three minutes.

The Port of Hull

After we were allowed go, I had turn around the corner where were the gates. But when we got there, I only saw No Entry signs. And that was the only way out. There were only fence and buildings around us. Then my Hungarian temperament got out of me. I just I spread my arms, stopped the car and ask:

-WTF?! Is this a joke? How da hell we're supposed to drive out from the f**king harbor if there is No Entry on every gate???

Then Gabriella, my savior, replied to me gently:

-Honey, you see that one gate on the left? It doesn't have that sign.
-We keep left... You remember?
-Oh, yes indeed... Thanks. :)

The first kilometers were quite exciting to me actually. After 10 years of driving, again, I had to really think and concentrate to every little thing I was intending do in the traffic. My luck was, that we were merging to the local traffic right in the rush hour. I call that luck, because the traffic was so slow that I had plenty of time to consider my movements. Basically I just had to do like the others did in front of me. At that point, the whole left side driving turned out to be easy. Later, when I was alone or the first in the line, I had to be more careful. Because we have a US car, the speedometer shows km/h and mp/h as well, so there was no problem to comprehend and follow the speed limits. All the roads that we used were in a very good condition in England. Most of the drivers were very polite. Really, it's not only myth or a legend. English drivers were really flexible and took each other into consideration a lot more often than other European drivers usually. I think the most easiest was to drive on the highway. I had to remind myself a few times to keep left (overtake from the right and then getting back to the left). But because everybody else was doing that around me all the time, I got used to it very quickly. What I also loved in England was that there were often three lanes to one direction on the highway. It made driving (especially overtaking) more easier and safer than usually.

Our destination was Ballachulish, Scotland, on the West Highland (next to Glencoe). It was about 600kms from Hull. Luckily for most of time our route was going on highways in England. We had to drive on country roads only in Scotland, after leaving Stirling behind. Have to tell you that in England, on the highways there were "just a few" people taking a good long look on us from other vehicles. :) American car with a Finnish plate and the driver's sitting on the left... We were definitely the UFOs of day for some people.

Our route

After a couple of hours of driving in the non-stop rain, I had to pull over to a gas station because I got a very bad headache. I slept half an hour, then we had a cup of tea and I got better. After Newcastle the fuel warning light started to burn. Until that, there were plenty of gas stations along the highway. Well, there weren't anymore. Of course. There were some signs showing us off from the highway for several miles, but we wanted to wait until we get to one which is right on the highway. I can you, there wasn't any. So after a while, we just had to go off from the highway and follow the signs to a gas station. When we got there, we found out that it, was closed. The memories of our gas station dilemma in Sweden started to come back into our mind. :) I was suspecting very much that we didn't had enough fuel to get back to the highway and find there another gas station. However, we saw some signs showing to the next gas station which was only 2 miles away. We got relieved a bit and started to follow the signs, again. After 4 miles we were sure that either somebody cheated us or we got lost. We saw a coffee shop on the side of the road and I decided to pull over and ask for guidance.

First of all, entering the yard didn't go so well. I was a bit nervous because of the situation so I forgot the keep left while entering the yard. That would not have been a problem, if somebody (an older gentleman) would not have been coming out at the same time. So we meet and I was on the wrong side of the safety island. The situation was a bit embarrassing. Just a bit. I really have to give the credit the to that gentleman, because after he saw our plate, he looked us and calmly reversed. Of course I thanked him with a hand wave.

We went into the coffee shop and asked for guidance from its keeper, who was polite on a typical English way:

-Good afternoon.
-Could you please tell me where's the nearest gas station?
-The only one which is open at the moment is on this same road you were just driving on, but you have to continue maybe about 10 more miles forward.
-10 miles? Oh, damn it...
-What's the matter?
-Nothing, I just have fuel left only for 8 miles.
-Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Then I'm sure it's less than 10 miles.
-You're kind, thanks anyway.
-You are perfectly welcome.

We had no other option but to do according to the advice of the coffee shop keeper. Those were one of mine longest miles. We were keeping fingers crossed and then, there it was! A real gas station. Which was by the way also OPEN! \0/ I wasn't many times that happy seeing a gas station like then.

Then started the level 2. But this time, it wasn't a real level 2, just a formal. More like funny one.

For some reason the fuels had some names I hadn't heard about before, and the octane numbers of the petrols (like 98 or 95) were missing. After scratching my head for a second - I wanted to refill the tank with 98 - I though I'll ask a fellow driver who was refilling his own car at the same time. Of course, he was also very helping and polite:

-Excuse me, sir. Could you please tell me which one of these is the 98? (The gentleman looked our plate and he asked.)
-Do you have a diesel or a petrol engine?
-A petrol engine.
-Then you should use one of these two pumps. From these you will get petrol.
-Yes, but which one of them is the 98?
-Uhm, this third one is the diesel. If you a have a petrol engine, do not put diesel into your tank. Otherwise you car will break down.
-Yes I understand that, but from the petrol pumps, which one is the 95 and which one is the 98?
-This is the diesel. Don't use it. Those are the petrol pumps. Use only those if your car goes by petrol, OK?
-OK but... well, thank you anyway!
-You are very welcome, sir.

I filled the tank with some petrol. I'm still unsure what was it, but surely not sunflower oil, because when Gabriella came out from the shop, after paying the fuel, she said that it was the most expensive tank of gas she had ever paid for. Fuel is quite expensive in the UK comparing to most of the European countries.

Soon we got back onto the highway and continued our trip. Some time after we crossed the border of Scotland we started to feel hungry. We pulled over in small town called Haddington and had a good late lunch in the Tyneside Tavern. There we had our very first Scottish meals, which we actually liked a lot. They had haggis, so for me it had to be the first thing to be tasted. Gabriella was holding her self back yet, so she had a soup and a salad. Many people say that haggis is one of the most disgusting dishes they've ever had, but I have to disagree. I liked it. Its taste reminded me a bit of the Hungarian liver sausage.


After our lunch (or late lunch) we didn't stop anywhere else. When we passed by Stirling the roads got narrow. Especially while crossing the beautiful Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Nation Park. Also the condition of the roads started to get a bit bad here and there. The traffic was surprisingly dense. I had concentrate a bit more than usually, because the narrow serpentine road was a bit tricky, especially when you're also driving on the left and you're wheel is also on the left. Once we even meet an armored vehicle right in a narrow turn! Gabriella, who was sitting on the side of the incoming traffic, found these situations sometimes a bit scary. The national park was truly beautiful. Mostly forests, lochs and mountains. When we reached Glencoe Mountain the road got a bit wider again and also the traffic disappeared somewhere.

Altnafeadh - They put the sign for a reason. We saw several deers around there.

Glencoe Mountain

Loch Achtiachtan

It was early evening when we arrived to Ballachulish. I immediately made friends in one of the first crossroads of the village, where (again) I almost - this time only almost - forgot to keep left. Luckily my dear wife is often observing what I'm doing in the traffic, although she has no driver's license.

-Leeeft. Left, left, keep left!! (I laughed a bit while correcting the turn.) Honey, it's not funny. You almost turned to the wrong side of the safety island. Again.
-Yes, but eventually I didn't turn to the wrong side. I think that's good news, ha. So what's your point? :P
-There was a another car coming up.
-No there wasn't.
-Yes, there was!
-OK then, maybe just a tiny car. A small one.
-Small one is your brain...

I'd like to take the opportunity in here to send my thanks to that patient and calm local Scottish driver who didn't freak out! Although we didn't get that close to each other, I surely made us look crazy for a second or two.


The Saint Munda Glencoe church in Ballachulish.

We stayed in Strathassynt Guest House, where the extremely friendly owners, Chris & Mike, were receiving us. Because it was Friday evening, after walking around a bit in Ballachulish, we went to The Laroch bar situated right opposite of our guest house. We had a very tasty Scottish dinner while we were sitting next to an American family. After we finished our meals and we were moving to the bar side, we had a small chat with them. Unfortunately I managed to throw an own joke of mine and I think the family was pretty much thinking that I'm a weirdo. Then I learned not to throw jokes to unknown, foreign people because... even though the awkward situation may be over in seconds, they may be staying in the same guest house and they may be sitting in the same breakfast table with you on the next morning. Yep, that can also happen... :)

The Laroch bar

On the bar side we talked with the very friendly owner of the place, Sybil. After she asked us where we're from, she told us that the cook of the restaurant is actually also Hungarian. Heh, it is a small world. We're a small nation, but still we are in every place. :) Later another guy, who first talked with Sybil, joined our table by asking in Hungarian: "Guys, are you also from Hungary?". After knowing that the cook in the back is also Hungarian, we weren't that surprised, but still we didn't expect the fact that there will be more of us. :) After all, we were on the West Highlands, in a pub of a small Scottish village. What are the odds that there will be even more Hungarians? As it turned out, this guy was also a cook, but in Glencoe, in the neighbor village. He used to play as a goalkeeper in a soccer team back in Hungary, but then he moved to Scotland, started work as a cook and coached goalkeepers in the local team. (I really hope that I remember and understood everything correctly, because this situation happened five years ago and it was after a few McEwan's pints and a couple of whiskies, in a crowded, noisy bar in the late night hours...)

However, the greatest adventure of this trip wasn't what I told you now. But the next day when I planned to propose Gabriella and yet, I had no clue whatsoever how to do it. But that all will come up in the next post.

Cheers for now!