With the Tourist Season starting soon it might be good to point out that a good number of roads on Islay are Single Track Roads. These typical roads can be somewhat troublesome if you drive them for the first time, especially if you do so in your hired motorhome. Former Ileach Editor Calum Murray wrote a nice article a while back about his view on the behaviour of some of the islands visitors. It's a great piece of advice and mandatory reading for all the visiting motorists to Islay, and some of the locals too!
Calum Murray: "There is no doubt that visitors to our island identify the Islay Wave as one of our most endearing conventions. They certainly find it worthy of mention as proof of our conviviality when telling their friends about their encounters with the islanders. In fact, we even let them join in though they are not au fait with all its subtleties. Visiting motorists all experience this distinctively Ileach practice of being waved at by passing car drivers. And mistakenly believe that this means we are accepting of the idiotic way some of them behave on our roads. Oops! I feel a rant coming on. But that's okay; sometimes you need to let off a little steam.
"It would appear that visiting the island is the first time that some drivers have ever come across a single track road. Some of them just don’t understand the protocol. We know that driving on single track roads requires the making of a lot of fine decisions: when you see a car coming towards you, you have to figure out who is nearer to a passing place and drive accordingly. Is it you that will pull in or will it be them? Usually the decision is easy. The passing place is somewhere between the two of you and you adjust your pace so that both of you arrive there almost simultaneously.Or there are two passing places between you and there is a slight war of nerves to find out who will stop first. Continue reading....
"It is my experience that a lot of local drivers both indicate that they are pulling in at passing places some hundreds of yards apart. This can actually be quite fun. Both of you, seeing the other stopping, pull out onto the road at the same time and noticing the other has done the same, slam on the brakes again. By some sort of Islay thought transfer, one reverses the one or two yards to the passing place he has just left, the cars are able to pass each other and you both go on your merry way. That’s the way the locals do it. (Though I could name a few people who consider it a point of honour or a macho principle to never pull in no matter what.)
"Inept visitors do it quite differently. They drive past the passing place and don’t stop till they are almost bonnet to bonnet with you. They then raise their hands, palms upward, and grin inanely. Though you won’t find it in any manual, it is sign language for, “I am a real bungler who managed to pass my driving test without having mastered how to reverse.”
"There is no point in waiting for them to come to their senses they are actually frozen like rabbits in a headlight so you just give in and reverse some fifty yards or so, sometimes round a bend and let them pass. Islay manners require that you still give them the Islay Wave, though you are tempted to make it one of the middle finger variety. Some of them try an even more interesting variation to get out of the predicament. They drive their two near side wheels onto what mainland folk call the hard shoulder and we call the grass, and expect you to do the same on your own side of the road. This you refuse to do because your local knowledge tells you the inviting bracken at the road side is masking a deep ditch dug by Currie's men over the winter. They get the impression that you are being uncooperative.
One of the narrower single track roads on Islay
"The worst offenders can be those who have hired huge camper vans with bikes attached to the back like you used to hang your enamel mug to your rucksack when you were a wee boy. They think they can drive these huge heavy contraptions round our windy roads though their experience of driving up to then is limited to taking their Robin Reliants to the car wash on a Sunday afternoon. Even on two lane roads they drive on the white line, their huge wing mirrors well on your side of the road.
"If I am perfectly honest, there are more than a few locals who have difficulties with passing places but they don’t indulge in the other habit much beloved by visitors as they wend their way along our (irony alert) wonderfully maintained roads.
"I am of course referring to the habit of stopping anywhere to jump out of the car, camera in hand, to take a photo of a buzzard. You come round a bend to find them blocking the road and have to slam on the anchors. The official Dealing with Daft Drivers manual suggests that in this situation you should definitely beep your horn as you manoeuvre past. The purpose is two fold: it tells them to get their car off the road, and spoils their picture because the bird flies off for some peace.
"I don’t have space to write about the other related issue: the visitors who toddle along admiring all the wonderful scenery that Islay has to offer but who will not pull over to let you past. That can wait for another day. There you are then, I’ve let off steam and feel the better for it. if you are a visitor reading this don’t take it personally but do learn to drive as the locals do!"
published with kind permission of the Ileach Newspaper