Mom and I started our travel adventures when she was a spry 79. Of course there were many trips when I was growing up (and a few later ones with various members of the family), but this was our first big mother-daughter trip and her gift to me. She knew I’d been wanting to visit Scotland, so she gave me such a lovely surprise. Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of a whole new connection that deepened our relationship.

At first I was a little nervous. Two weeks together is a lot of concentrated alone time with mom, something that hadn’t happened since childhood. Thankfully, mom and I get along well. We’d long since worked on our issues and had come to a place of acceptance and understanding. This isn’t to say that we didn’t have our bumps in the road, especially when a long-established button had been pushed or old habits arose. But we now knew how to deal with and diffuse those so they didn’t spiral into something more.

I don’t remember whose idea it was originally, but we decided on a road trip. Though it was my job to figure out exactly where. One thing about me, I’m notoriously indecisive, and even when I do decide, I second guess myself. And, of course, I don’t want to miss out on anything! I did a ton of research, but how to choose? It’s an impossible task… I think my “itinerary” (as in none…) was born out of not being able to make a decision and wanting to see as much as possible. So we hit the road without a set plan.

Hitting the road

Hitting the road

It turned out to be a spectacular decision. But first we had a couple of preplanned days in Edinburgh. We stayed at The Glasshouse boutique hotel. To this day, it is still one of mom’s favorite hotels. Once a church, the original stone façade remains and is integrated into the modern glass architecture. There’s a beautiful rooftop garden and, of course, a fabulous breakfast buffet.

While in Edinburgh, we also visited the nearby Rosslyn Chapel. This was only a few years after The Da Vinci Code was published, so it was bustling with tourists on Knights Templar tours. It was also a unique time to be there. The entire building was covered by a steel canopy, and there were steel walkways attached to the scaffolding, which allowed you to walk the length the roof. I found it fascinating. How often are you able to view such an iconic building from the rooftop? We were also lucky enough to take photos of the interior. A couple years after our visit, photography was banned from inside the chapel.

Exterior of Rosslyn Chapel - Rooftop

Exterior of Rosslyn Chapel – Rooftop

Once we hit the road, our first stop was Eilean Donan Castle, perhaps Scotland’s most iconic castle. It is set on a small island and the footbridge to the castle dramatically stretches across the water. It was a gray day punctuated by moments of rain, but seeing the castle surrounded by misty clouds fit the atmosphere perfectly. It was possibly my favorite part of the trip.

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Next was the Isle of Skye, a popular destination known for its stunning scenery. We arrived in the rain, so mom vetoed a scenic walk. Instead we ran into our first (and thankfully only) big challenge finding a room for the night. Travel note—lots of rain and no available rooms make for a very cranky mom. We drove up and down the streets, asking at each B&B and hotel, but were coming up empty. Mom was now testily questioning my “brilliant” idea of vacationing without reservations. Then we found it—possibly the last room in the town of Portree. Disaster averted! And I got to take one of my favorite photos of the trip, the famous shot of the colorful Portree seaside houses.

The colorful houses of Portree, Isle of Skye

The colorful houses of Portree, Isle of Skye

We next made our way to Loch Ness. We didn’t see Nellie, but we did visit Urquhart Castle, a medieval stronghold magnificently perched over the water. Then we headed west. The fun thing about a road trip is you never know what you’ll see. I noticed on the map that we were near Balmoral Castle. What an unexpected treat! Unfortunately, we arrived about 45 minutes after it closed to visitors. We continued our quest to visit castles (mom simply loves castles!) by visiting Dunnottar Castle, an impregnable fortress atop a cliff. I was happy to see wildflowers growing down the side of the cliffs, which is one of my favorite things to photograph.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

We wrapped up our Scottish road trip by visiting St. Andrews. I, of course, knew about the famous golf course and university, but I didn’t know that we’d find the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, Scotland’s largest medieval church. It cuts a beautiful silhouette as its remaining towers rise up against the seaside backdrop. It was a fitting end to our Scotland adventure.

If you ever have the chance to drive across Scotland, do it. Its beauty will take your breath away. It was the perfect choice for mom and I, and it influenced many of our subsequent trips. This was the beginning of our road trip tradition. And what a beginning it was!

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