A Breath of Fresh Air: 5 Things to do on the Isle of Coll

Some places are like a breath of fresh air. Whether you spend five minutes or two weeks in them, they relax you, rejuvenate you, refill your energy reservoir and make you feel like you could take on the world. The Isle of Coll is such a place for me. I recently go to spend one day on Coll while island hopping in Scotland and I could not have felt better leaving the island – although, I really did not want to!

I visited the Isle of Coll as part of a paid project with Wild About Argyll.
All opinions are my own and there was no obligation to write this blog post.

 

The Isle of Coll is a hidden gem on the Scottish west coast. It is most famous for being a Dark Sky Park – an entire island without street lights where the night skies are more beautiful and clear than almost anywhere else in Scotland. 

Even though it is popular among locals and insiders, it is not on many people’s radars when they think about their own Scotland itineraries. Bigger islands such as Mull, Skye or Lewis are usually higher up on people’s lists, but if you ask me, you would be missing out if you did not consider Coll for your next Scotland trip!

This post is an ode to Coll, an island that hit me by surprise, captured me immediately with its hotchpotch of remote wilderness, warm hospitality and unique quirkiness and released me back to the mainland with a small bit missing from my heart. 

Read on if you would like to learn more about Coll: 

  • why should you visit?
  • where is it & how do you get there?
  • where should you stay and eat? and
  • what are the things to do on the Isle for Coll?

Highland Cow on Coll

Isle of Coll FAQ

Where is the Isle of Coll?

The Isle of Coll is one of the Inner Hebrides islands on the west coast of Scotland. Other islands in this archipelago are Skye, Mull, Islay and many more islands that are far less known than these classic Scottish island destinations. 

Many of the Inner Hebrides belong to a region called Argyll & The Isles, which covers a vast and varied area on the west coast stretching from Loch Lomond to Oban on the mainland. In includes mountain ranges like the Arrochar Alps, peninsulas like Cowal and Kintyre and an endless number of islands, big and small, inhabited and uninhabited. Argyll also has the longest coastline of all Scottish regions – the water is never war, but neither are the mountains. Can you guess why it’s one of my favourite regions?

The Isle of Coll lies at the outer edge of the Inner Hebrides – beyond Mull but not quite as far from the mainland as the Outer Hebrides. It is located centrally between many neighbouring islands such as Tiree, Mull and the Small Isles south of Skye. 

You might also like: 7 Outdoor Adventures in Argyll

 

Isle of Coll on the Scotland Map
Where is the Isle of Coll?

How to get to the Isle of Coll

The easiest way to get to the Isle of Coll is by ferry. Calmac Ferries runs a car ferry from Oban to Coll every day throughout the year. During the summer there are two ferries on a Saturday. Check the ferry time table here

Hebridean Air also runs flights from Oban to Coll on four days week during the summer. You can check their time tables here

I actually combined my trip to Coll with a stay on Tiree, its larger neighbour. I flew to Tiree from Glasgow with Loganair, chartered a tour boat from Coll to pick me up on Tiree and drop me off on Coll, and took the ferry back to the mainland. A completely car-free island hopping adventure!

A woman on the ferry from Oban to Coll.

How to get around Coll

There is no public transport on Coll, so it’s worth thinking about how you will get around the island before you go. 

Having a car gives you the most flexibility. There are very few roads on Coll, so it is very easy to navigate. Note though, that many of the most beautiful natural wonders on Coll can only be reached on foot – so even if you bring your car, prepare for some walking and hiking.

Hire bikes are available from some accommodation providers (like the Coll Hotel) or you can bring your own bikes across for free on the ferry. 

Where to Stay on the Isle of Coll

The vast majority of accommodation on Coll are self-catering houses and cottages. These usually rent by the week and start as low as £250 per week for a 2-person cottage. You can find all self-catering providers on Coll here.

There are also a few places to stay on Coll that book out rooms by the night. There are two B&Bs, one hotel and one bunkhouse/hostel, as well as a serviced camping site and a few spaces for motorhomes.

I stayed at The Coll Hotel, which is a welcoming family-run business in Arinagour, the main village on the island. The hotel underwent significant refurbishment and in 2019 the family added a new extension to house the new restaurant, bar and lounge area overlooking the hotel’s garden and the bay or Arinagour. 

They offer free bikes, pick up from the ferry terminal, homemade goodies, WiFi and many other amenities such as beach towels, buckets and spades for a beach day, board games for rainy days and teddies for the little ones. 

All rooms are on the upper level of the hotel (although new ground-floor rooms will be added in the next step of the renovations)  and have views of the village and the bay. From £135/night.

A double bed room at Coll Hotel.

Almost next to the hotel is Coll Bunkhouse, a modern hostel with more budget-friendly prices from £22 per person. The hostel has 16 beds in two mixed dorms and a 4-bed bunk room. There are a fully equipped kitchen and a cosy common area. The hostel is very involved in the local community and hosts regular events such as the Coll Bird Festival and Dark Skies astronomical workshops.

Why visit the Isle of Coll

There are many reasons to put the Isle of Coll on your Scotland itinerary – here are some of them:

  • Dark Sky Park: Stargazers and (hobby) astronomers will love the Isle of Coll and its incredibly dark night skies. There are no street lights on Coll and the island is far away from any other source of potential light pollution. Coll is an official Dark Sky Park -one of just two in Scotland. You will see more stars than you can handle!
  • Remote Getaway: The Isle of Coll requires some effort to get to, but once you’ve made the track, you will be rewarded with the satisfying feeling of remoteness and being away from it all. Whether you come alone and need time for yourself or bring your whole family to spend quality time together, Coll is the ideal place for a remote getaway.
  • Wildlife Watching: The Isle of Coll is sparsely inhabited – only 150 people live on the island – but there is a lot of wildlife to watch! There is an RSPB Nature Reserve on western Coll which is a great place to see corncrake. There are also many beaches on Coll where you can see sea birds, waders, seals and even otters. Bring your binoculars and keep your eyes open!

A sandy beach on Coll

One Day in Paradise: Things to do on the Isle of Coll

I spent only one day on the Isle of Coll, but that was enough to get a taster of all the island has to offer. 

IsleGO boat tours

I arrived on Coll from the Isle of Tiree. John started IsleGO – Hebridean Boat Tours as a retirement project. He spent his career travelling the world and now it is time for him to show the world his beautiful home. I could feel his passion for Coll and its neighbours, and I was not surprised when he told he would not want to live anywhere else – even though he has travelled wide and far. 

John picked me up from Tiree and took me on a leisurely cruise past Gunna – the small island between Tiree and Coll – and up the sheltered east coast of Coll. I saw beautiful archipelagos off the coast, white sandy beaches and remote bays and the ruins of Old Breachacha Castle. We sailed past lonely cottages and remote settlements that can only be reached on foot or by boat.

The highlights of my IsleGO boat tour around Coll was our journey to the Cairns of Coll, rocky outcrops and shallow waters near the northern tip of Coll. The waves picked up as we left the shelter of the east coast, but we also saw a lighthouse and many more seals basking in the sun on the sheltered bays of the Cairns.

A lighthouse at the Cairns of Coll.

Dark Sky Park

A Dark Sky Park is a recognised area with very little light pollution. Once an area has been declared a Dark Sky Park, there are also certain rules about installing new lights in order to keep it that way.

In an effort that took the whole community to come together, the Isle of Coll won the bid and was officially declared a Dark Sky Park in 2013. Without street lights, the island immersed in the dark night sky, but in turn, illuminated by a spectacular array of stars and planets. 

The idea of a Dark Sky Park is to promote astronomy, but also other scientific research and recognising our planet’s place in the Universe in general. Coll Bunkhouse hosts regular stargazing and astronomy workshops which usually last 2-3 days and include theoretical and practical parts. 

But even without guidance, you will be able to enjoy the night skies on Coll. This is the place to try out your night photography skills and whip out your favourite stargazing app on the phone. I walked up the little footpath behind the hotel to reach the church of Arinagour and took photos around there.

Top Tip: To photograph the dark sky on Coll, set up your camera on a tripod and set it to manual. You want to use a long exposure (like 30 seconds), wide aperture (f 3.5 or lower), wide focal length (set to ∞ if possible) and high ISO (mine were taken with ISO 2500). I find that my batteries die much quicker in the cold night air and so I always bring fully-charged spare batteries when I photograph the night sky.
 

Dinner at the Coll Hotel

When it comes to food, the Isle of Coll is famous for one thing: fresh seafood. On the menu, you will find locally caught lobsters, crabs or langoustines, served with locally grown seasonal vegetables.

Since I’m vegan, I don’t indulge in that myself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the vegan food offering in Coll’s only restaurant at the Coll Hotel. Julie and her kitchen team always have a few vegan options on the menu, such as home-made sweet potato gnocchi or to-fish & chips with the tofu wrapped in seaweed for a hint of sea. There are also desserts and homemade vegan ice cream.

I really appreciated that a restaurant so renowned for its seafood also has such a thoughtful vegan offering. As a vegan traveller, a great foodie experience comes down to not feeling like an afterthought. The team at the Coll Hotel really made every possible effort to stuff my face with delicious meals.

You might also like: How to Travel Scotland as a Vegan

 

Vegan dinner at The Coll Hotel.

RSPB Coll Nature Reserve

The Isle of Coll offers important habitat for a variety of species in flora and fauna, from nesting grounds for corncrakes to the unique machair landscape of the west coast. 

The RSPB Nature Reserve in the west of Coll was established to ensure that these species can thrive on the island in a managed way. There are wetlands for waders, sand dunes for animals like sand lizards, heather moorland and grasslands. Farmers use the area, but have agreed to low-intensity grazing in order to peacefully co-exist with the local wildlife.

A lovely 8-mile circular walk leads from Arileod around the nature reserve. You can find the full route description here. You can reach the starting point by car or bicycle – it’s quite a far walk from Arinagour.

Seabirds on Coll

Seal spotting at Cliadh Beach

There is no shortage of beaches on the Isle of Coll. A couple who was also staying at the hotel offered me a ride to one of them in the morning before the ferry. Nothing beats island hospitality!

They took me (and their dogs) to Cliadh Beach, a remote sandy bay on the west coast of Coll. We parked the car and walked through the dunes until we reached the beach – what a stunner!

I spent an hour walking up and down the beach, watching waters in the shallow water and seagulls resting further out. Waves crashed into one part of the beach, but the other end of it was protected by a series of rocky outcrops. Seals were basking on these rocks and some were so curious, they rolled into the water and swam closer to inspect me. 

We had the entire beach to ourselves and in retrospect, I wish I had brought a beach towel, bathing suit and another day on the Isle of Coll to make the most of this beautiful spot!

 

Seals on Cliadh Beach on Coll
Spot the seals!

While I don’t think 24 hours was enough time on Coll – can there ever be enough? – that one day gave me a right good impression of what the island has to offer. The beaches, the fresh sea air, the delicious vegan food, the lovely locals and the raw experience of nature on the island, made Coll feel like a fresh of breath air – a 24-hour holiday from reality. 

I can’t wait to return to the Isle of Coll and see even more. I hope I have inspired you to visit too!

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Disclaimer: I visited the Isle of Coll as part of a paid project with Wild About Argyll. My experiences with IsleGO, stay at The Coll Hotel and transport to and from the island were complimentary. All opinions are my own and there was no obligation to write this blog post.

 

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