This morning we stepped onto Scotland's most sacred shores - Iona. In austere gray and pink granite, the famous Abbey rose from the barren soils, framed by a steely sky.
Since its holy establishment by Saint Columba in 563 AD, this windy, water-bound island has attracted millions of people of all dominions. Gaelic, Irish, Scottish and Norwegian Kings are buried here, with the likes of Macbeth and John Smith (ex-leader of the Labour Party) lying side by side. It seems that even after death people travel vast distances to rest here.
But not only humans make the pilgrimmage. Blackbirds also.
In the darkly lit church, a service was coming to an end as we arrived. While local men, women and children sat silently, listening to the softly spoken minister, a mother blackbird clattered her clawed feet across the stone floor, two fledglings in tow. When the service ended and the congregation had moved out past the worn grave-stones and under the 10th century St John's cross at the Abbey door, she took to the wing and left her young bumping over the wooden chairs and bibles in useless pursuit.
I opened a psalm book and read the first words I saw: The old has gone, the new has come.
Leading away from the Abbey door is the funereal procession path, stones polished by the soles of countless pilgrims. Pausing amongst ghosts, one of our staff gave directions to a guest, whilst inside the mother bird began to sing, trying to coax her young out through the heavy wooden doors and into the cloisters. Here, amongst carved granite columns worn down by the hands of nuns and winter weather, the blackbirds have nested for as long as Abbey staff can remember.
Under the granite arches and towering candelabras, I sat down on a pew. I didn't notice the baby blackbirds seated close to me until their panic pushed them into the air and towards the huge glass windows.
Iona has such a presence, we are all drawn towards the light.