Isle of Coll

Situated in the Inner Hebrides, west of the Isle of Mull, is the small Island of Coll, one of Scotland’s hidden treasures. Coll is known in the Hebrides for its beautiful stretches of sandy beaches which are born from large and plentiful sand dunes. There are also miles of undisturbed meadows, and perhaps the most notable feature on the island is Breachacha Castle. At a population of approximately only two hundred all season residents; the Isle of Coll is a sleepy retreat. Small and quaint, at only thirteen miles long and four miles at its widest, Coll is a little island paradise.

The earliest residents of the Isle of Coll, known to modern day historians, appear to be Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. This was followed briefly by Neolithic farmers then becoming part of the Celtic kingdom of Dal Riata.

Then the whole region fell under the Vikings. At its peak the population of the Island reached 1,500, over seven times that of today, before the Highland Clearances. These saw half of the residents shipped to South Africa, Canada and even as far as Australia. For half a century the island was home to a rather raucous branch of the Clan Maclean. However at the end of the sixteenth century, the Macleans of Duart invaded their cousins who were living on the Isle of Coll.

They intended to conquer the island for their branch of the family. A battle commenced against the beautiful backdrop of Breachacha castle, the strength of the clan at Coll surprised the Macleans of Duart. They chopped the heads off their cousins and the heads of the Macleans of Duart were tossed into the stream which is still called up until this day ‘the stream of heads’. The Macleans of Coll lived there until 1848.

The two castles of Breachacha are located at the head of the bay of the same name. Although beautiful and one of them dating back as early as the fourteenth century, the castles are not open for public viewing. These are family homes, so please do your best to respect the family’s privacy; however they do make breathtaking subjects for artists or photographers. Other sights of man-made beauty which are popular with artists and photographers alike are the crannogs, which are artificial islands. Found in the lochans, one of them is Dun Amhlaidh, which is thought to date from the Middle Ages.

Twilight on the Isle of Coll.

Coll is sometime known in popular culture as the Isle of Struay. A set of children’s literature, written by Mairi Hedderwick who is a well known author and illustrator, was set and based on experiences on the Isle of Coll. Still a resident on the Island, Mairi Hedderwick is still writing about this beautiful hideaway. She is notorious for not giving away the names of any of her fictional characters!

The Isle of Coll is one of the friendliest islands amongst the Hebrides, and because of this the Isle of Coll is becoming more and more popular as a holiday destination for couples and families alike. However Coll retains its local and unique authenticity. It resists becoming ‘touristy’. Therefore there are not any official visitor points, tourist information boards or anything else to spoil the natural beauty of the island. Luckily this Island has a relatively mild climate which is influenced heavily by the Gulf stream: making bitter frosts and snow a rarity.

Only a distance of fifty miles from the west coast of Scotland, you can get to Coll on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. This scenic journey across the sea provides the opportunity to watch dolphins playing in the ferry’s wake. These carefree, fun loving dolphins can also be found during the early summer months basking in the waters around Coll. These waters are also teeming with other marine wildlife such as basking sharks, seals and a wide variety of fish. Also in the early summer the wild flowers are out in full bloom, making the Isle of Coll a haven for flora and fauna enthusiasts. The nature of the Isle of Coll is exotic, diverse and exciting. Some may say the beautiful view and the sweet fragrance of these flowers are the main attraction to the romantic Isle of Coll. The wild orchids which litter the island are a main draw, however there is also the amazing spectacle of the untouched machair which cushions the coast and beaches of the Island. For the more dedicated and the more observant travellers Coll has some more exciting species to offer. Pipewort is found in the remote lochans and excitingly, in 2004, the Spotted Rockrose was discovered, the first sighting in the whole of Scotland.

The remote and romantic location of Coll attracts many scuba divers to the island. From novice divers to the most experienced, the tranquil life at Coll has something to offer for everybody. The exciting and plentiful marine life are of interest to even the most well travelled diver. However it is the wreck of Tapti which attracts many diving visitors. Found at the south end of the island, this wreck provides undisturbed fun for any diver.

At the end of a day out walking, looking for wildlife, diving or even just enjoying your time on the island’s unspoiled sandy beaches, the Coll Hotel offers a warm welcome. Pop in for a dram of the Coll Hotel whisky before heading up to bed to appreciate one of Scotland’s most famous traditions – a fantastic malt nightcap. This peaty, mellow, golden and heritage whisky is bottled and distilled locally at the Adelphi Distillery in Ardnamurchan. This rare beauty of whisky is only found at the Isle of Coll Hotel. The local church at Coll has been recently restored, redecorated and the bell rehung in 2007. The church is beautiful and sits prominently on a hill at the head of Loch Eatharna which overlooks the picturesque village of Arinagour. It is rectangular in shape and in gothic style, the major features of this church are its square bell tower and buttresses.

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