Perhaps one of the most interesting and certainly the cheapest ways to travel, hitchhiking around Scotland is a lot easier than you would think. Although popular opinion would say hitchhiking in Scotland has more or less come to an end with recent polls suggesting only 9% of Scots would stop for a hitchhiker, despite this, success stories of people able to circumnavigate the entirety of Scotland using nothing but free lifts still continue. Hitching anywhere in Scotland is possible and can even allow you to get to places where train or bus would not. While wait times do vary greatly, you will often be surprised by how quickly you are able to get a lift especially in the more rural highland regions.
Edinburgh can make for an excellent place to start your hitchhiking adventure, with roads reaching out to all far regions of Scotland.
While it is pretty much impossible to hitchhike directly from Edinburgh city centre you do not have to go far to reach a better road. Queensferry Road is just a short walk or bus journey (Bus 41 to Barton Junction costs £1.50) from Princes Street and will have people going across the Forth Road Bridge and carrying on further up North. Alternatively, there is the option to take a train across the Forth Rail Bridge as a way to get to quieter roads. Once out of the city you will it much easier and safer to get a lift on the roads.
Statistically, the further South into England you go the harder it becomes to get a lift, with polls suggesting only 5% of Londoners would pick up a hitchhiker. This does not mean it is impossible though and one lift all the way from Edinburgh to London is not unheard of with many people travelling for business. If attempting to go far South, avoid lifts which will see you stranded in the Borders as they can be very remote and lifts scarce.
Much like travelling North, travelling East becomes a lot easier once you get toward quieter roads. Travelling North East toward St. Andrews can be very easily achieved along roads like the Fife costal where general wait time is usually around 5-10 minutes. Directly East toward areas like North Berwick and Dunbar can also be quite easy especially on sunny days and holidays when people will be heading from Edinburgh areas to spend the day at the beach. Finding a road that will lead onto the A1 will most likely be the quickest way to head East. Avoid hitching directly on the A1 as it a fast road with few places for cars to stop. Instead find a road that will link eventually lead onto the A1. A sign with your destination will come in very handy for this route.
Travelling to Glasgow and beyond can be fairly easy with a lot of daily traffic and people travelling to and from work every day. However, getting to a suitable spot will require a small bus journey out of the town centre to gain access to the M8 (the main road to Glasgow). Getting the bus from the city centre to Ratho Station and then walking to the roundabout before the M8 is one of the best options. Another possibility is going from Edinburgh Park and finding a good spot before the motorway. It is important to remember that the mega bus to Glasgow can cost as little as £3 if you can find a good deal, making it a better option if you include the price of finding your way to a good hitchhiking spot.
Hitchhiking through the Highlands be extremely easy due to the trustworthy nature of the rural Scottish areas. However due to the lack of traffic the waits for any car can be long on rural roads. Despite this, during nice days waiting in the beautiful Scottish landscape can be very enjoyable. Areas such as Aviemore can be great for hitchhiking as they have a small-town centre and large number of visitors travelling both to and from.
Much like the highlands, islanders are usually very trusting and welcoming to travellers and hitchhikers. Most of the islands have single track ring roads which run around the entire Island and will get a fair amount of use. Standing near a ferry port where new visitors will arrive is a great way to get a good flow of possible lifts on usually quiet roads. Other less used roads are to be avoided during the low season (October to April) as they will see very little traffic and often it will be faster just to walk.
– Hitchhiking is free. While traveling by train or bus through Scotland is not extremely expensive it can still cost more than many travellers are able to spend making hitching an excellent option.
– Hitching makes getting to the know real local people easier than ever. Any one who picks you up will probably be able to tell you things about their local area which you would never find in books or be told on a guided tour. If you are lucky enough and build up a good retort with a driver they may even tell you some secret spots or attractions which only the locals know about.
– Laws in Scotland mean that wild camping is legal almost everywhere, meaning that after a long day of travelling you can pitch your tent wherever you find yourself. Just be sure to be respectful of the environment and not leave anything behind.
– There is always a chance that something may go wrong. While 99.99% of the people who will stop and pick you up will just be kind hearted people who are looking to meet interesting travellers to share stories with and make long drives less lonely, there will always be a small risk of meeting someone with other intentions.
– It is important to not have your plans completely set in stone, travel times can very greatly and journeys that would only take a couple of hours to drive may take a hitchhiker days due to wait times and distractions. Don’t have a certain route in mind as this will only hinder the flow of your travels, leave with plans to head in a certain direction or toward a certain part of Scotland and see where it takes you.
Tips and Safety
– In Scotland there is no such thing as the wrong weather just the wrong clothes, when hitching you will be exposed to the elements any time you are left waiting on a lift. If you don’t enjoy getting wet, make sure you have some kind of waterproofs with you.
– Avoid fast roads with little room for people to stop as these can be very dangerous for you and anyone who stops for you. These roads will also yield very bad results as driver’s will be unable to respond quick enough to be able to pick you up.
– Hitchhiking is legal in the UK except where pedestrians are not allowed to walk such as motorways. Never attempt to hitchhike on the motorway and instead attempt to flag down a lift on a quieter road which will later lead on to the motorway.
– Travelling in pairs can be a great way to stay safe and gives you someone to talk to during the long waits beside the road. However, avoid attempting to hitch with more than two people as this will significantly bring down your chances of a lift.
– While a sign can be useful, it is not completely necessary, for busier roads it could allow you to get one direct lift all the way to your destination.
– Always make sure to smile, be presentable and be grateful to those who give a lift. Make sure to pay them back with good company as this is one of the main reasons people stop for hitchhikers.
– Do not be discouraged by those who tell you that hitchhiking is stupid, dangerous and impossible, these are most often the opinions of people who are too scared to try it themselves. Hitchhiking is as safe and possible as it ever was and remains a great chance for adventure.
Hitchhiking is certainly not for everyone, but for the few who like the challenge and adventure that hitchhiking brings, there is no better place to start than travelling through the beautiful landscape of Scotland. If you need any further advise on a certain route or are in need of accommodation while staying in Edinburgh, feel free to contact us anytime.