Using Island Roads
Many islands have single-track roads, with passing places to allow for movement of traffic both ways. They can also be used to safely permit overtaking.
Passing places are clearly marked, usually by a white diamond or square shaped sign with black edging and writing.
- You should only use the passing place if it is on your own side of the road. Indicate that you are going to move into the space and wait there until oncoming traffic has passed before moving out of the space.
- If you are closer to a passing place than the oncoming traffic, it is good island etiquette to go into the space first and wait.
- If there is oncoming traffic and the nearest space is not on your side of the road, you should wait on the road beside the space, to allow the oncoming traffic to move into the space by going around you. Only cross onto the wrong side of the road if the other vehicle is large - such as a tractor, lorry or bus, which would have difficulty moving around you. You should always indicate clearly if you are planning to do this.
- If you are at a stop, and someone coming towards you pulls into a passing place up ahead and blinks their headlights at you, this is an invitation to go ahead. Many islanders have a unique wave or thank you gesture they use when driving - practice yours before you visit to make a good impression on the locals!
Please avoid driving off-road where this is possible.
Islands are agricultural communities - there may be livestock on the road at any time, please be mindful of this when driving. Accidents can happen - if you hit any livestock this must be reported to the local police officer, whether the animal is killed or not.
If you come across someone moving livestock, please be patient and remain inside your vehicle unless asked to do otherwise. Do not beep your horn at livestock or their humans.
Agricultural vehicles are also common on island roads - be sure to give them the appropriate space when driving.
The same rules broadly apply to cyclists, too. Please make appropriate use of passing places and stop and / or dismount at the side of the road where safe to do so, whilst ensuring you are clear of oncoming traffic.
Many islands have unique arrangements for their emergency services that you should check up on before you arrive. For example, in Tiree first responders may drive with their hazard lights on to indicate that they are on their way to an emergency. If you see this, you should allow the vehicle to pass as quickly as it is safe and practical to do so.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Follow the Scottish Outdoor Access code at all times. If you're not sure what the code is and how it applies to the activities you have planned, you can check the Guide for All here, for information on which rules apply in which areas and the outdoor activities covered by the Code.
For example, you have the right to wild camp, but this right applies only to camping in a tent - you do not have the right to wild camp in a motorised vehicle, or any right to access land in a vehicle. This guidance on wild camping applies exclusively to unenclosed land - the right to roam does not mean you have the right to camp wherever you choose. If in doubt, ask! Along with these access rights, you have the responsibility to leave every site as you found it and treat the land with respect.
You are similarly responsible for any pets you bring with you - you must pick up after your dog/s and ensure that they are under control at all times. Livestock worrying is an offence and landowners have the right to destroy dogs who are causing their livestock distress. When walking around livestock, dogs should be kept on a leash without exception. Where possible, stick to the edges of fields which have livestock in them, keep close to the fence line where there is one, and avoid going through fields where the livestock have young at foot.
If your route takes you through a field with livestock, you should ensure that gates are shut behind you. Never disturb or approach the animals.
The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code
As well as the general Outdoor Access Code, there is a Wildlife Watching Code with guidance that specifically applies to marine life. Take a look for some top tips on how to enjoy our marine life in the safest possible way for you and of course the wildlife!
Weather and Safety
Please be aware that island weather can change very quickly. If you are planning any outdoor activities, you should always check the forecast and prepare accordingly - XC Weather is popular with many islanders, Wind Guru and Magic Seaweed are popular for those who enjoy water sports, as these will also give an indication of sea conditions. If you have an emergency while in or on the water, you should ring 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
It is also a good idea to keep an eye on the weather while you are out; look carefully for any signs of change and reassess your plans if you need to. Bear in mind as well that certain routes and activities, such as coastal walking routes or being in or on water may affect how you experience weather; gusts may be stronger in coastal areas and water temperature will affect your body temperature. If in doubt, get out!
Amenities and Services
Please be aware that not all mobile networks will get a signal on the islands and that signal is generally not as constant as on the mainland. As a rule, EE, Vodafone and O2 powered networks get the best signal.
The same goes for WiFi and cellular data - we cannot guarantee coverage as there are too many factors outwith our control that can affect service.
Local shops and services may have more limited opening hours than mainland services - please bear this in mind when planning any shopping trips or fuel top-ups you may need.
Similarly, not everywhere will accept card payments. ATM services are not common on islands, please do not assume that these will be available to you during your stay. Money can be withdrawn from some local shops in the form of cashback, or from Post Offices.
Ferries and Flights
A number of the islands are serviced by Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, affectionately known as CalMac.
The CalMac app is something of an institution amongst islanders - you will often find us checking it! It allows you to check the status of your sailing, using a traffic light system. This service indicator is also available on their desktop website - you can use it to check up on your sailing and keep up-to-date with any new information. You will usually be contacted if there is any disruption, but it’s handy to have. If you've never travelled by ferry before and don't know what to expect, there is lots of information on the CalMac YouTube channel and on their website.
Northlink ferries service Orkney and Shetland - services run between the islands and to the mainland. For information on how to book a Northlink ferry and plan your trip, you can watch an information clip on their website here. Pentland ferries service Orkney, information about their service, including conditions of carriage can be found on their website.
If you plan on flying, please be aware that the baggage allowance for island flights is often less than other services; flying with Loganair (who service many of the islands), you can expect an allowance of 15kgs per person. Loganair also offer services between islands in Orkney, including the world's shortest flight from Westray to Papa Westray - the journey clocks in at just 90 seconds!