Driving in Shetland - some advice for visitors (do not collide with a pony)

by Tom Morton -

Many, indeed most of the roads in Shetland are single track. This is not the same as the mountain biking term, which refers to (mostly downhill) paths to be taking a terrifying speed and with great risk, on a pushbike.

Single track roads should not be taken at speed. They are for driving on gingerly and with care, especially as, in Shetland, sheep and wild ponies often wander freely and the single track roads are normally UNFENCED.

Sheep and ponies are unpredictable. Be very careful. Even on two-lane roads (notably through the island of Yell) which you may be tempted to drive at high speed, sheep can wander in front of you and have caused numerous accidents.

If you hit a sheep, even if runs off, you should report the accident at the nearest house, shop, garage or police station.

If you hit a pony, you are likely to cause serious damage to yourself, the pony and the vehicle you are driving.

Do NOT hit a pony. If you do, wait for help. Hitting a Shetland Pony is like hitting another car.

All sheep and ponies belong to someone.

As for rabbits and birds, you should be driving slowly enough to scare them off. Do not, however, cause an accident and drive off the road for the sake of a rabbit, a bird, or for that matter, a sheep.

All sheep and ponies belong to someone

A single track road is one wide enough for only one car. Nevertheless, it is not a one-way road, so cars travel on it in both directions. This means that sometimes, indeed, often, you will find a car approaching you from the opposite direction.

Then you must look for a passing place.

This will usually be clearly marked, with a pole and the word ‘passing place’. It is very like what is known as a lay-by - a patch of tarmac by the side of the road. But you can park in a lay-by. You MUST NOT park in a passing place. Because it is for PASSING, NOT parking.

Gaps in a fenced road with gates are for access. Do not park in front of them

So the general rule is, whoever is nearer a passing place (either in front of you or behind you) should pull off into it (if it is on the left hand side of the road, remembering that the in the UK, we drive on the left) or, if it is on the right hand side, stop OPPOSITE it. (do not swerve to the opposite side of the road and stop in the passing place).

If two cars meet on a hill, and both have passing places behind them, in general it is the car coming DOWN hill that should reverse and find the passing place, as it is much easier to control a car reversing uphill.

If you are sightseeing and a faster car comes up behind you, it is polite to let them past by pulling into a passing place (or opposite one). It is rude to flash your lights or sound your horn if you are driving the faster vehicle and wish to pass. One famous musician in the Western Isles, annoyed by someone doing this behind him, simple abandoned his car, locked it and walked home, blocking the road.

It is common in Shetland to salute (a cheery wave) anyone who stops for you. It is also common in Shetland to wave at everyone you meet on a single track road.

Shouting at ponies does not work.

Offering ponies carrots or other vegetables through a window will bring them and indeed their distant relatives flocking to your car, almost certainly damaging its sensitive bodywork. And indeed, will bring them flocking to your car (or the unsuspecting person who has hired it subsequently for many decades to come, as they have very good memories.

In general, though, driving in Shetland is a delight. Go safely.

Oh, and if camping, do not pitch your tent in a graveyard. People get upset and there is the possibility of serious haunting.

Offering ponies vegetables through a window will bring them and their distant relatives flocking, almost certainly causing damage to your car