In Scotland, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland (considered anywhere north of Perth) you will receive a very warm welcome! People are friendly and are delighted to share their beautiful, scenic country with you. No-one is in a hurry and it’s usual for people you meet in service roles such as shops and restaurants to take time to chat with you (this may not be the case in cities).

Here are a few things that will help you enjoy your trip, make yourself understood, able to access the services you need and fit in like a local!

Geography

Perhaps you know this already, but Scotland is one of the four nations of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.’

The four nations are:

  • Scotland
  • England
  • Ireland
  • Wales

Each of these nations are part of the UK.  They are all separate from each other as nations.  Please note that the other three are not ‘part of England.’ Scotland is the most northerly nation and when you look at a map of the UK it’s the top half of the map.

Some words that are a little different in the UK

  • Underwear = Pants
  • Pants = Trousers
  • Soda = Juice/Fizzy Juice
  • French Fries = Chips
  • Potato Chips = Crisps
  • Cookie = Biscuit
  • Biscuit = Scone
  • Pharmacy/Drugstore = Chemist
  • Sidewalk = Pavement
  • Store = shop
  • Parking lot = car park
  • Vacation = holiday
  • The ocean = the sea
  • Rent = hire
  • Garbage/trash = rubbish
  • Garbage can = bin
  • Restrooms/washrooms/bathrooms = toilet

Travel by Air

There are five airports in Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.  Inverness is the closest airport to Skye and is around 1.5hrs drive time from the island. Glasgow and Edinburgh are popular choices of arrival airport when travelling from the U.S.  It takes around five hours to drive from Glasgow to Skye and more than six hours to drive from Edinburgh. In Scotland, this is considered to be a very long way!

Travel by Car

In the UK we drive on the left hand side of the road.  The A9 is the biggest road north from the ‘Central Belt’ (that’s where Glasgow and Edinburgh are).

The roads on Skye are small and narrow in places.  You will notice the ‘passing place’ system.  You can be a courteous driver by using this not only to pass by cars going the opposite direction but also to let cars behind you overtake. To let a car pass, simply use your left indicator and they will accept this as an invitation to go ahead of you.

The majority of cars in the UK are manual, so if you are planning to rent a car, you must have a manual licence.  If you only have a licence to drive an automatic car, you must book an automatic (usually more expensive).

After you have passed Perth on your trip north, there are very limited facilities. The best place to stop is called The House of Bruar which is near Bruar on the A9.

Please be aware that if using an app to navigate it may direct you towards Fort William/Mallaig. This journey involves a ferry crossing and the ferry must be booked in advance, does not always run due to weather and has limited crossing times per day.

We call it ‘petrol’ not gas and we measure in litres not gallons.  We have diesel, petrol and electric and electric plug-in points are becoming more common (there’s one in the village of Isleornsay). However, ALL fuel stops should be planned in advance as there are not many petrol stations on the journey to the Highlands.

On the journey, if you need to stop for the bathroom/restroom look for signs or ask for Public Toilets.  Beware – there are not many on the road North to the Highlands – so if you see one, stop!

Other travel

The journey to the Isle of Skye via rail is beautiful and takes in the famous Harry Potter journey to Hogwarts.  At the end of the line you cross on the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale (on Skye). There is a car rental shop in Armadale.  All travel must be booked in advance.

Practicalities

In the UK we use a 3 pin plug system so you will need a UK travel adapter. It’s not the same one as used in continental Europe (just to be awkward).

There are no plug points in bathrooms!

We write the date the opposite way round (day/month/year).

You don’t have to filter the water – you can drink water straight from the tap!

There’s no garbage disposal in the sink.  All garbage (which we call rubbish) must be put in the trash can, which we call a ‘bin.’  Recycling is generally adhered to in the UK. So all glass, plastics, paper, tins and cardboard should be washed after use and kept separate from general trash such as food waste and non-recyclables.

Weather

The weather is the most important topic of conversation and we love to discuss this in detail.  Some words you might need on Skye include:

  • Dreich (when it’s a bit wet, grey and damp)
  • Smirr (a very fine rain that covers everything and gets you wet through really quickly)
  • Blowing a hoolie (when it’s very windy)
  • Squally (when there’s strong gusts of wind and the sea is choppy)
  • Haar (a thick fog that sometimes descends on everything)

We say: ‘If you like the weather in Scotland, wait half an hour and it will change.’ And also ‘Cast not a clout til May is out.’

So basically, pack lots of clothes that will keep you warm and dry. However, there’s beauty to be found in the weather too, with double rainbows a very common sighting on Skye and nothing beats that feeling of the sun breaking through the clouds when it has been raining heavily for hours.

In the winter, it starts to get dark around 3pm and doesn’t’ get light until around 8.30am. Often in the summer, it is light by 4am and it doesn’t get dark until around 11pm.

If visiting in the fall, you should know that this season is called the Autumn in the UK.

Health

Emergency Healthcare is free for U.S. visitors to the UK. Non-emergency care may not be free so please check that your travel insurance covers your needs.

If you have a medical emergency, the number to dial is 999.

The E&R (we hope you don’t need this information) is called A&E. By the way, there is an A&E at Broadford hospital on Skye.

Pharmacies are also known as ‘Chemists’ and the pharmacists are highly trained and able to assist with most non-emergency treatments on a walk-in basis.

Band aids are called ‘plasters’ in the UK.

Tylenol is not common in the UK. Rather ask for paracetamol or Ibuprofen.

When someone asks you ‘Are you alright?’ They don’t necessarily think you’ve had an accident.  This term can be used to mean ‘How are you?’

One of the biggest health hazards on Skye are the midgies.  They are not harmful but the bites are very itchy. They come out on still days when there’s no breeze. The best thing to do is to cover up. You can also get ‘Smidge’ which is an insect repellent and it is sold widely in local stores.

Dining Out

On Skye there are no fast-food chains or drive-throughs such as McDonalds/KFC/Starbucks.

Restaurants are rarely open late and often need to be booked in advance. Since the pandemic, many restaurants are only open Weds-Sunday.

Free refills are not a thing in UK restaurants. You will also find portion sizes smaller and ‘to-go’ or doggy bags are not usual either.

Tipping is not expected in most restaurants but is always appreciated by staff. Around 10% would be the correct tip for good service.  Tipping is only customary in restaurants.

Shopping

You should take your own bags to the grocery store (which we call a supermarket).  If you forget your bags, you can purchase ‘bags for life’ at the checkout in the store.  A store is called a ‘shop’ and a checkout is sometimes referred to as a ‘till.’ You pack your own bags at the checkout.

Liquor is sold in grocery stores alongside beer and wine.

American express is not accepted in many stores but Apple Pay, Mastercard and Visa are all accepted in most stores.

Sometimes you need a £1 coin to access a cart (which we call a trolley) at a store.

Parking lots are called car parks and the spaces are really small! Don’t worry, if you’re hiring a car the cars are generally smaller too.

The law

The driving limit varies with the national speed limit on most roads being 60 miles per hour (everything is measured in mph). There are average speed cameras on the A9.  Away from the A9, it would be difficult to drive at 60mph in most places as the roads can be narrow and twisty.  In towns and villages the speed limit is 30mph.

It’s not illegal to jaywalk in the UK.  In the north of Scotland, outside of Inverness we don’t have many pedestrian crossings and you can cross wherever you think it is safe to do so.

The majority of people, including the police, are not allowed to carry guns.  However, you may see people carrying rifles in the village as the local hotel organises hunting parties.  This is called ‘Deer Stalking.’

The legal drinking age is 18, rather than 21.

You need a licence to fish in rivers and lochs (you can get a permit from the local hotel). You don’t need a licence to fish in the sea.

If you think we’ve missed anything, please do email us: welcome@eileansionnach.com or get in touch via Facebook @EileanSionnachLighthouseCottage or Instagram @eilean_sionnach.

Have a wonderful vacation in bonnie Scotland and don’t forget to drive on the left!

Adventure awaits…

 

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