The Left Side of the Road

Less than an hour from the house where we stayed in Derbyshire, England is the Peak District. Not really known for its peaks, it’s a region of rolling brilliant green hillsides traversed by ancient rock walls,

With tree lined streams bubbling through the dales,

With caves hollowed out from ancient limestone outcroppings jutting from the hillsides

And with sheep

Everywhere.

It was my first real test driving on the left….well, driving on the left side of the road, but the right side of the car.   I’d been nervous about doing this ever since we arrived in England, but it is very difficult to see the Peak District or other parts of rural England without renting a car.  Lois was very encouraging, but on the drive home from the airport rental car lot, she seemed more fidgety than usual.  She kept flinching and cautioning me that I was a bit too close to the left side of the road.  At first I thought that since she was on the left side of the car, things looked disproportionately large to her from her vantage point, but I began to suspect that there was something to her concerns when the car ran up on the left curb (more than once) and pedestrians on the left side of the road started to scatter as I approached.

Roads are narrower in England.  I had to orient the car’s right wheels so that they seemed to ride on the white line in the middle of the road in order to avoid objects on the left.  So, naturally it appeared to me that I was about to crash head-on into every car that approached from the opposite direction.  I was pretty much a wreck after every driving experience.  The Peak District was a special challenge.  The country roads could only be called ‘two-lane’ in the sense that they allowed two motorcycles to pass each other.   The Peak District is a National Park, and in England the National Parks attempt to preserve ancient cultural artifacts; for all intents and purposes even the landscape is largely a cultural artifact, albeit a lovely one.  One of those ancient artifacts is the network of rock walls in the parks

Unfortunately for the American driver those rock walls also hug the left side of roads that were originally designed for horse-drawn carts.   As oncoming cars approached and I drifted left in a desperate attempt to make room, Lois was able to inspect those ancient walls in very minute detail as they flashed by inches from her window.  At the end of one particularly narrow, rock-lined stretch of roadway, I realized that all of my fingers had gone numb as a result of my death grip on the steering wheel.  Although Lois had no steering wheel to grasp, her fingers had gone numb simply because her body’s natural survival mechanisms had moved all of her blood from her extremities toward her heart.

Another charming cultural phenomenon one actually finds in small city centers throughout England is that cars are allowed to park on one side of certain stretches of a two-lane roadway in the town center, effectively making those roads into one-lane roads.

Somehow this car was able to make it through a roadway that was apparently built for tricycles

The idea is that if you find your lane completely blocked by a long line of parked cars, you glance ahead to make sure there is no oncoming traffic, pull into the wrong lane and gun it for all you’re worth.  If an oncoming car appears, you do your best to direct your car into the nearest driveway, bus-stop or pond.   I would feel jubilant at the end of the day simply because I’d had the unexpected good fortune of getting the car back to the house undamaged.

Toward the end of our stay in England, Lois mentioned that even though it would be more expensive to add her as a second driver when we rented a car in Ireland, she would really love to learn how to drive on the left side.  It was an offer that demonstrated that she possessed both tremendous tact and a robust survival instinct.   Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe in which the accident rate is so high that your credit card will not cover the collision damage waiver for a rental car.   Guinness and Jameson may be one reason,  but it can’t help things that Irish country roads are often just a pair of hedgerows lining parallel asphalt tracks with flowers in between.

An Irish highway

I gratefully accepted Lois’ offer to drive in Ireland.

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3 thoughts on “The Left Side of the Road

  1. When my friend Judy and I picked up our rental car in Ireland, we stepped outside to inspect it to note any preexisting damage. We noted to the rental person that the entire left side of the car was scraped from front to back “as if” it had been rocketing down a rock wall. Little did we know.
    The rental person said that the damage was probably caused by a “shopping cart accident.” Did she think we were stupid? We soon discovered why our car, like so many others were completely devastated on one side. Simply putting a white line down a road does not make it a two lane road. haha

  2. I’m with you, George. Driving in England was bad, but worse in Ireland. As I wrote to Lois, a small car is essential. There is just not room for a truck and a medium car. There were many times that I did my best and just hoped that I wouldn’t sideswipe the oncoming truck or large car. I even considered prayer, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that on such short notice.
    Once, in England, I started to make a blind entrance onto a road, but was stopped by Karen’s scream. Without that scream, a car could not have avoided smacking me on my side of the car. But in a “driving on the right” situation, my initial plan would have been fine. You and Lois should make a pact wherein it is OK to scream in order to warn each other as quickly and strongly as possible.
    A special challenge for me was to drive on a deserted country lane. I would drift to the middle of the road in order to avoid the left edge which was too close. Then, when a car appeared, I would, according to habit, move to the right side of the road. Hmmm.
    I hope Lois has good luck.
    Your pictures are beautiful.
    Wayne

    • Hi Wayne,
      Lois has been doing great — under even more stressful conditions than I encountered in England. There are still times when I can’t look — sort of like watching a horror movie. The way she words it is that she has more trust in the behavior of the person bearing down upon us from the opposite direction than I do. I do like your idea of prayer. Maybe we can just run off a few before each trip and bank them — sort of like indulgences.

      Ireland is just breath-taking. Lois and I are tucked away in a cottage on the southwest Atlantic coast, and I can’t even imagine how to try to describe the beauty in a blog.

      Hope you and Karen are well. Glad that you’re reading about our travels.
      George

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