Single Track Safety on the North Coast 500

28 September 2017

lochinver road

Photo: Ben Larpent via CC

The North Coast 500 has been a tremendous success. This loop around the most scenic parts of the Highlands has captured the imagination of motorists the world over and has, in the space of a few years, become a classic must-do excursion for any visitor to the area. The success of the route is not without its drawbacks though.  Many visitors are unprepared for some of the narrow single track roads, steep passes and hairpin bends. Here are our top tips for making the most of the NC500 experience, and the best ways to make sure your drive round it is as safe and stress-free as possible.

Passing places on single track roads can often cause confusion for those not used to them. When you see a vehicle approaching you should always pull in to the left. If the passing place is on the right then stop opposite it to let the oncoming traffic pass. The one exception to this is if you see a large vehicle such as a lorry or a bus approaching that would have difficulty negotiating the passing place - then it is acceptable to pull in to your right. The driver of the oncoming vehicle will often signal to you if this is required.

Passing places should also be used to let faster vehicles travelling in the same direction pass. Part of the joy of the route is taking it easy and enjoying the scenery, the car behind you could be a local resident on their way to work, so it is only polite to pull over and let them by.

Passing places should never be used for parking overnight or even while you have a picnic. Likewise access to farmer’s fields that may look like a great place to stop and take a photo should be avoided as access could be required at any time.

Sheep and deer are a common sight in the Highlands but unfortunately they do not have a well-developed road sense. A collision with a deer can easily right-off your car and cause serious injury. When driving at night animals can be blinded by your headlights so extra care should be taken and speed moderated.  The areas where deer are most prevalent are sign posted but be aware that they can jump out in the road at almost any time.

Cyclists are an increasingly common sight on Highland roads. The combination of narrow roads, wide camper vans and windy weather has the potential to cause accidents. Drivers should be aware that in windy conditions cyclists cannot hear them approaching and sudden gusts can cause them to wobble all over the road. Attempting to ease past them before getting to a passing place should be avoided. Cyclists in turn should pay increased attention to the traffic behind them and pull over at the earliest opportunity to let vehicles pass safely.

Vehicles should never travel on the route in a convoy. There is an obvious appeal to doing the drive with a collection of like-minded friends, weather it’s a group of Porsche owners or as part of a political rally, but the potential impact to other holidaymakers and local residents is massive. Traffic can easily become congested with passing places completely full and caravans struggling to reverse. If you must travel in a group, at the very minimum, ensure that there is always at least one passing place between you and the next vehicle you are travelling with.

Before setting off on your journey you should check the NC500 website for the most up to date information. Currently the official advice regarding the Beallach na Ba for example states that if your motorhome is more than a standard VW T5 conversion (about 16 – 18 ft. in length) then you should take the alternative route. If you cannot accurately reverse your vehicle several hundred yards on a narrow single track then you cannot safely drive over this road. The route was blocked several times last year because of this.

Another thing to be wary off is relying on your car’s GPS too closely as in rural areas a postcode can cover a large geographic area. You also need to take into consideration that this route purposefully sends you on the scenic, long way round the country whereas a sat nav will typically guide you the quickest way to your destination. It is also easy to underestimate your journey times as the ‘Highland Mile’ may take considerably longer than its motorway counterpart.

On a more light-hearted note, there is an important convention that visitors should be aware of. Waving. As you pass another vehicle it is important to acknowledge the driver, make eye contact and wave. Just a raised hand will suffice to maintain this tradition, most likely a legacy of the time when everyone on the roads knew each other.

LHH have more than 20 properties right on the official route and many more just a short distance away. Call us now and let us help plan your trip, after driving on some of the most spectacular roads in the country what could be better than retiring to some of its most stunning properties.