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Is It Easy to Drive in the Scottish Highlands?

If you are coming to the Scottish Highlands and planning on driving here are some things you need to know.

The Scottish Highlands are a fantastic place to drive but it’s quite different from other parts of Scotland and the UK.

Links You Might Find Helpful:
Check Out This Great Scottish Highlands Road Trip
Scottish Highlands – All You Need to Know

What It’s Like Drive in the Scottish Highlands?

Is It Easy to Drive in the Highlands?

It is as easy or as difficult as anywhere else providing you pay attention to the road, to other road users, to the conditions and allow extra time. Single lane roads with passing places require extra attention. You need to allow plenty of time for your journey as you won’t be able to travel anywhere at 60mph. The scenery is lovely!

There aren’t any motorways in the Scottish Highlands. Once you get North of Inverness there is a short 7-mile or so section of dual carriageway and that’s it. There are some sections of dual carriageway and overtaking lanes South of Inverness on the A9.

Most of the roads in the Scottish Highlands are single-lane carriageways.

This can make driving challenging. There can be quite a lot of traffic sometimes, including tractors and trucks. Sometimes drivers can get impatient and this can lead to some unsatisfactory driving.

Allowing some extra time for journeys is always wise. You aren’t going to be able to travel at 60mph on any road in the Highlands (other than the dual carriageway)

Driving in the Highlands

A9 South of Inverness

The main road that connects Inverness with the North and South is the A9. This road runs North from Perth. It’s a long 120-mile section from Perth to Inverness.

There are no roadside services on this section of the road. If you need fuel you will need to go off the main road. That’s also the same if you need to eat, drink or use the toilet. Many people make a stop at Perth and fill up with fuel and food before heading further North.

The A9 heading North to Inverness has sections of dual carriageways, overtaking lanes, and single-lane carriageways.

It also has average-speed cameras that run from Perth just about to Inverness. These cameras measure your speed between the two camera points and if you go over the speed limit you will get a fine and 3 points on your license.

The speed cameras can cause some drivers to brake when they see them. It can also lead to lines of traffic that are travelling at the same speed, often around 50mph, which is the speed of trucks on the A9.

These lines of traffic can also lead to some drivers becoming impatient.

The A9 can be quite a challenging road. There is the need to continually monitor speed, but also sections of dual carriageway and overtaking lanes. The overtaking lanes are not dual carriageways so the speed limit is not 70mph, it remains at 60mph for cars.

The scenery is lovely, especially as you cross into the Highlands South of Dalwhinnie. There is a lovely section through the mountains which looks lovely whatever the time of year.

You will not be able to travel at 60mph on the A9 because of the number of trucks using it. Allow plenty of time for your journey.

is it easy to drive in the scottish highlands post image highland cow

Drive in Scottish Highlands

A9 North of Inverness

There is a short section of dual carriageway and then for the rest of the length heading North and the last section of road, the A99, everything is a single carriageway. That’s about 120 miles.

Again this road can get very busy. There are often tractors and lots of trucks.

It is impossible to travel at 60mph on this road.

Whilst there are no fixed or average speed cameras there is occasionally a mobile camera van on this route.

Drivers can become impatient on this route and this can lead to frustration.

There are some stunning views as you drive – lovely beaches and as you head further North a really beautiful coastline.

There are some filling stations. There are roadside fuel stations at Dornoch, Brora, and further North. There are also some cafes along the way – the filling station at Dornoch has a cafe. At the bottom of the Berriedale Braes is a cafe called The River Bothy. It’s dog friendly and great to sit outside in warmer weather.

holiday cottages highlands

Driving Scottish Highlands

A96 East of Inverness

The A96 is the main road that heads East from Inverness and connects through to Aberdeen. It can be a challenging road to drive.

Until you get nearer to Aberdeen the majority of the road is single-lane carriageway. This can lead to drivers becoming frustrated.

It can be very busy in terms of traffic, trucks and there can be quite a lot of farming traffic too. Again this means you are not going to be able to travel at 60mph so you should allow plenty of time for your journey.

There can be bottlenecks in Nairn and Elgin due to local traffic and traffic lights too.

Highlands Driving

A82 South of Inverness

The A82 is the main road that heads South from Inverness. You can travel through to Glasgow on this road.

The top section of this road runs through the Great Glen. The road is single-lane carriageway and it can be quite narrow in places.

There are generally a lot of timber lorries using this route.

It is impossible to drive at 60mph along large parts of this route. There are very few places where vehicles can overtake slower moving vehicles on this road which can lead to frustration for drivers and some poor driving.

The scenery is lovely. The lochs at the top section of the road include Loch Ness.

The road does pass through some villages that have places for fuel and food – Fort Augustus, and Fort William for example.

sykes highland cottages

Drive in the Scottish Highlands

Single-Track Roads with Passing Places

Many roads, especially on the Western side of the Scottish Highlands are single-track roads with passing places. These can take a bit of getting used to when driving on them.

When you meet another vehicle you pass in a passing place, which is a small layby at the side of the road. There are passing places on either side of the road.

There is no rule for who gives way on these roads, you need to work it out for yourselves. Generally, though cars would give way to trucks.

These roads demand extra attention – not only do you have to keep an eye out on all the normal driving things you have to keep an eye out for vehicles coming up behind you or towards you.

It is customary for slower vehicles to use a passing place to pull over and let a faster vehicle behind them pass by.

Whilst these roads have a 60mph speed limit there is no way you can drive anywhere near that speed. Again allow plenty of extra time for your journey.

There are some stunning routes to enjoy around the West Coast using these roads so don’t be put off using them, just take your time.

It’s also customary to thank a road user who gives way to you in a passing place.

Drive in the Scottish Highlands

Highlands Weather Conditions

We get the weather in the Highlands so it’s something to be mindful of when planning a journey.

The weather can be challenging in winter and early Spring months with snow, ice and lower temperatures. This can affect the A9, particularly including coming up from Perth where there are two higher points in the road Slochd and Drummochter.

There are cameras along major routes that you can check weather and road conditions on, as well as traffic and weather alerts.

Potholes are an issue in the Highlands. The Highlands is the same geographical size as Belgium but with a population of 250,000 people compared to 10 million in Belgium. This can make maintaining the roads difficult. The teams that deal with keeping the roads clear in winter are also the team that repairs potholes in the summer.

This means driving in the Highlands requires keeping a lookout for potholes which can be difficult to spot, particularly if there has been rain.

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Scottish Highlands – All You Need to Know

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Further Reading

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