This post was written by Iona, aged 13, who entered our Young Persons’ Writing Competition 2019.

As if an oil painting, a lonely white cottage perches on the dip of a hill. A stray sheep fears nothing, not even the blinding headlights or a moony pool on the tarmac from last night’s rain. Instead, it mistakes it for a beacon of hope in this God forsaken land. The valleys look like a green patchwork quilt clinging to every gentle curve on the earth amidst the lochs – nature’s blessings with fresh water.

Suddenly, a blustering gust ensues from nowhere accompanied with rain drizzling like tears down my cheeks, shaking the foundations of the trees around me. The weather is as volatile as a rusty metal wind chime, swinging every now and then, seldom calm. I soak in showers watching a discoloured waterfall merge onto a river; straight from the pages of a geography book.

On its banks, I notice sheep chew the cud, mother and child sitting stoic, a profound, philosophical look in their eyes.

Cows wag their rope-like tails dismissively, perhaps shunning off the Highland midges. The blades of dry grass seem to flow down the valley as if in a Mexican wave, while a rain-drenched conical mountain looks down broodingly on me. I watch the clouds gradually making way to reveal the blurry outline of the moon overhead.

Despite the downpour for days, an amber alert and a choppy sea, I am lucky to be sailed against all odds onto Mull by CalMac Ferries, from where a smaller boat will allow me to set foot on the island of Iona, the pivotal point of my trip. Miraculously, as soon as I step off the ship, the sun makes a shy appearance, taking the wind back into its clutches and gradually bathing the surroundings in monstrous beauty of gleaming sunlight. Ringing bells from distant Iona Abbey greet me, resonating as an earthquake through the grass.

From nowhere, a sparrow nips a single leftover whinberry crisp. Hydrangeas bloom as pretty as a baby’s face. I can see the steeped outlines of the dead kings buried on its grounds, my feet like a toddler holding a colouring pencil, careful not to go over the edges. I manage to handle the bittersweet rush of writing a picture postcard from Iona Post Office, destined some 350 odd miles away, as I aboard the oncoming ship to Oban, a sense of deep tranquility in mind.

Day breaks to golden sunshine and the steep mountains seem to have risen further dotted with wild magenta flowers in the wild. As I trod, the rocks seem to be clambering up behind me, like wolves on the prowl. As if an old VHS tape suddenly paused, some rocks hang on the very edge, a loose grip on gravity. Not afar in a loch, two men blindly throw their fishing bait beside a tree-clustered patch where sap greens soothe and otter browns match my eyes.

A dog plays catch with a soaking ball, shaking its fur to sprinkle a gentle shower. I stop by at an old church in Luss on the banks of the Lomond. Dried ivy clambers up a weather-beaten gravestone. ‘Killed in action in France’, it reads. The shoulders that once held the weight of saving lives, lowered when saving his own. I imagine his ashes scattered on the banks of the loch, now trampled by car tyres and soles of over-trodden shoes. A bagpiper leading a troop of enthusiastic tourists, much like the Pied Piper of Hamelin breaks the silence. Where else, but in Scotland!

In the cubbyhole of the ruined Inverlochy Castle, I scavenge two hand-painted rocks, left by one I will perhaps never meet, with the message to be left someplace else.

Before realising, I am in a spiralling queue, for a cruise on the Loch Ness. It seems I am in a Foreign Language Department with tourists gathered from all parts of the world. Guttural tones and rolled R’s fill the air. Eyes minutely survey every ripple on the loch in search of Nessie. The occasional screech of the audio guide on board and the tour guides voice ricochets across my ears, the mythically lost spiral floating on the surface, beyond the reach of an innocent eye. Alas, no monster in sight!

Commercialism has felt non-existent so far, till the site of this Hollywood famed castle – the Eilean Donan, meets my eyes. Cameras click from all angles, folks smiling crookedly; selfie sticks penetrating every corner for pouts, grins and poses. There is something so suffocating about artificiality, I feel.

Across bales of hay rolled up in rows on a field, as if shells on a sandcastle, I zigzag next day through the stony ruins of a derelict military barrack – Ruthven, resting in past glory.

It’s cold, jagged miscellaneous grooves are said to be haunted, from the unfound souls of soldiers, mourning for their sins. Thankfully, the sun relieves the omens to a breezy afterglow.

At Sweetheart Abbey, my next halt, I do not buy tickets, savouring the thrill of rule violation. I stand on the edge of the grass managing to zoom in my camera just enough. In its adjacent graveyard, I estimate the ages of each headstone, some encrusted with white lilies, others with engraved letters overshadowed with moss. The Hindu symbol ‘Om’ on the corner of one astounds me.

I glance from a distance; this heaven in hiding. In the grey hills, a solitary church rests silent. Only God’s whispers are heard on the stone-cold pews as the wrinkled, yellow pages of the Bible are turned over at evensong. The only light here is the glow of tea-candles, lit by a few souls entering this abode of the Almighty. The air smells musty, like it has never been breathed, as if only the eyes of God have lain upon this church.

About the Author

Iona Mandal, 13 years old.
Entrant- The Tourist Trail Young Persons’ Writing Competition 2019

“Iona is 13 years of age. Her travel blog is from her recent journey to Scotland in August, ’19 spanning about a week. Iona is named after the island in the Hebrides which she was lucky to visit on this journey. All photographs were taken by her”