Alastair Dalton: Single-track road etiquette lost on too many drivers

Are you a 'grinning jackass', a 'graceless bore' or a 'beardy weirdy'?

Those sobriquets were bestowed by my parents on some of the drivers they encountered on single-track roads in the Highlands on family holidays long ago.

They denoted the reaction from oncoming motorists after we had given way by pulling into a passing place – variously overly appreciative, rude or just odd-looking (it was the 1980s).

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Considerate drivers will no doubt have their own choice phrases for those they come across on such roads today, many of which have remained largely unchanged for decades.

With the English school holidays almost upon us, the hordes of drivers unfamiliar with such routes will be swelled, and it’ll be easy to tell the novices.

It’s also simple to spot the locals – rather than a raised hand in thanks, expect just an index finger lifted a few inches from the steering wheel.

Among the newbies, for a start, having to use passing places soon demonstrates how well you know the dimensions of your vehicle, not an issue on most other roads.

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This is particularly the case among some 4x4 owners and those renting motor homes for the first time, as they laughably underestimate the amount of space needed for anyone to get past at a passing place, or else overestimate – and risk toppling into the heather.

Then there’s the panicked confusion of other drivers, who spot another vehicle coming towards them and swerve across into a passing place on the right hand side of the road when they should have stayed on the left.

However, these are all forgivable errors compared to the wilful selfishness also regularly on display.

Some will speed on towards you past the nearest passing place and then try to bully you into reversing into the next passing place back so they can continue on. The worst of such “graceless bores” will keep edging closer and closer towards you as you do this.

You can never go terribly fast on twisty single-track roads, but there are motorists who think no one should drive faster than them, however slow.

On one occasion, a driver who I had tailed for miles because he had failed to pull over and let me pass – despite police road signs to allow overtaking – got out and started angrily remonstrating that we were “not on the M25”.

Goodness knows how he would fare on that Sutherland road now it’s part of the North Coast 500, although the reckless speeders that it has reportedly attracted are even worse than road hogs like him.

Arguably, with all this hassle negotiating such roads – and their traffic – it can be difficult to properly take in the scenery.

However, this year I enjoyed some familiar routes in the north west from an entirely new perspective – on a bike.

Unencumbered by the restricted views from a car – unless you’re lucky enough to have a open-top – and from a higher vantage point, and at slower speed, it’s amazing how much more you see when cycling.

Yes, some hills may be challenging – but having to stop in passing places for vehicles can provide a welcome breather, and the silent landscape you then suddenly become aware of is a stunning reminder of its remoteness.

There are also big rewards for the climb, while on some stretches you can drink in the scenery while freewheeling for miles.