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Coll (Gaelic Cola) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. It's about 12 miles long by 3 miles wide and in 2011 had a population of 195, mostly in the ferry port of Arinagour (Gaelic Àirigh nan Gobhar). Coll is rocky and tussocky, dotted with little lochans and lochs, and with sandy beaches heaped up into sand dunes. If it looks familiar, it’s because the author Mairi Hedderwick grew up here, and used it as the basis for her “Katie Morag” stories set on the fictional island of Struay. Coll is separated by a short strait from the island of Tiree, and the two are easily combined for a visit.

Understand[edit]

The bustling main highway across Coll
"In the morning we found ourselves under the Isle of Col, where we landed; and passed the first day and night with Captain Maclean, a gentleman who has lived some time in the East Indies; but having dethroned no Nabob, is not too rich to settle in [his] own country."
- Johnson and Boswell were entertained on Coll in 1773

Coll is formed of Lewisian gneiss, creating rocky terrain poor for growing crops or raising livestock. Its name may derive from Old Norse kollr for such lumpy landscape, and it was part of the Norse "Kingdom of the Isles". In 1266 that entity was re-assigned to Scotland, but its Norse / Gaelic rulers remained semi-autonomous. ("Lord of the Isles" is now a title of the Prince of Wales, nowadays Prince William.) Medieval Coll was a stronghold of the Macleans, who built Breachacha Castle, but in the 16th century they feuded bloodily with a rival branch of their clan. In the 17th century the family united against the Earl of Argyll, who captured the castle but was arrested for treason, so the Macleans got to keep the castle. The island population peaked at around 1000 in the early 19th century but then came the post-Napoleonic slump and the Highland potato famine. There was mass emigration (even the Clan Chief left for South Africa), the estate was sold, and the new owners set about clearing out the rest of the population. There's never been employment or investment to draw people back, so Coll remains a rocky sparsely-populated landscape. Its south end however has sand hills and fine beaches similar to neighbouring Tiree, as if the channel between them was cut in not quite the right place.

Get in[edit]

By boat[edit]

Most visitors reach Coll on the Calmac ferry from Oban. The crossing takes 2 hours 40 min, with the ferry continuing from Coll to Tiree. There are daily sailings Apr-Oct, with one ferry on Wednedays continuing to Barra. Nov-March sailings are on M, Tu, Th, Sa and Su. Most sailings depart early from Oban, so you’ll probably spend the previous night there. You will need to do so if you come by bus or train, as these take 3 hours from Glasgow, with the latest service leaving around 18:15 the previous evening. The ferries from Coll back to Oban, if they’re on time, connect with public transport to Glasgow same evening.

Until 30 March 2023, return fares are £101.30 for a car (excluding occupants), £19 per adult and £9.50 per child. See Tiree#Get in for the “Hopscotch” ticket visiting both islands, which is a better deal than separate tickets. Pedal bikes go free.

A day-trip from Oban to Coll is possible in summer on Wednesday and Saturday, giving you 8-10 hours ashore. The other days' sailings only give you two hours, hardly worth the bother — it's pointless visiting Coll if you have to keep glancing at your watch.

The ferry follows a scenic route across the bay from Oban, through the narrows between Mull and Ardnamurchan (without stopping at either) then across the open sea. Unless the weather’s foul, stay on deck and look out for marine life such as dolphins, porpoises and seals.

The 1 ferry jetty on Coll is half a mile from Arinagour, the main settlement.

By plane[edit]

2 Coll airfield (COL IATA) is 6 miles southwest of Arinagour along B8070. Hebridean Air Services fly from Oban (Connel airfield) one day a week, usually Wednesday. The direct flight takes 30 min but it's a triangular route that also calls at Tiree. During school term, there are extra flights on Fridays and Sundays which can only be booked from the previous Wednesday. The whole operation is basically an airborne school bus, subsidised by the local authority, using BNF Islander light aircraft with a 10 kg baggage limit. Oban also has flights to Islay and Colonsay but no connection to the global air network. Coll "passenger terminal" is a cabin at one end of a field.

Get around[edit]

You need wheels. This 12-mile island has no public transport or taxi, and most people bring their own car on the ferry. The hotel can pick up guests from the jetty or airfield.

All roads on Coll are single track with passing places.

See[edit]

All aboard at Coll - cars for Oban drive forwards, those for Tiree reverse on
  • 1 Dùn Anlaimh is the scraps of a fortified dwelling on an islet within Loch nan Cinneachan. It's described as a crannog, which usually refers to a prehistoric wooden artificial islet, but this one has masonry and may have been used until 1500. That was about the time the Hebrides were wrested from Norse control to join the Kingdom of Scotland, and a plausible legend tells of sullen standfast Norsemen glowering within it. Confusingly, it's not within Loch Anlaimh, which is just south but may have been joined during the centuries the dùn was occupied. Anlaimh also means "heathen" or "Gentiles", often used to describe Vikings. A causeway to shore (now submerged) had a tight bend and a rocking boulder to slow up hostile advance. The smaller southern loch also has a crannog, known as Eilean Anlaimh.
  • 2 Dùn Dubh is the remains of a Norse redoubt. There are scraps of defensive walls and enclosures, but you mainly come for the clifftop views.
  • 3 Dùn Morbhaidh has traces of its ancient defences. It was presumably occupied in the same era as the others.
  • 4 Dùn an Achaidh is a fortified dwelling on a knoll, with some traces of its defences. A 16th century treaty offers an alternative explanation of the late occupation of all these dùns: they were quhair brokin men hes duelt. Broken Men were chiefless outlaws, not Viking but with squalid predatory lifestyles and lamentable table-manners, who may well have holed up here.
  • 5 RSPB Bird Reserve, Totronald PA78 6TB (follow B8070 past airfield, then turn right up the narrow lane). 24 hr. Information room and viewing benches. Their signature bird is the corncrake, a summer visitor, now rare in the UK. Here and throughout Coll you'll also see Greenland and Barnacle geese, lapwing and redshank - see RSPB website for expected and observed birds by season. Two suggested walks. Please keep dogs under close control. Free, donations welcome.
  • 6 Breachacha Castles. There are two - admire their exteriors from the lane, but neither can be visited. The old castle is a 15th-century tower house, now in private ownership. The “new” castle was built adjacent in 1750; in 1773 Samuel Johnson and James Boswell stayed here on their tour of the Hebrides. It’s structurally unsafe and its owner faces an immense repair task. Breachacha Castles (Q15116815) on Wikidata Breachacha Castle on Wikipedia
  • 7 Breachacha Crannog once stood in a freshwater loch. That was drained in 1875 and all you see now is a 2 m high mound in a field.
  • 8 Crossapol the southwest tip of the island has large sand dunes and pleasant beaches. Park at the end of the public road near the castles and follow the farm track along the shore. The name is Norse for "cross farm" and is a common Hebridean placename.
  • 9 Gunna is the small island just west of Coll, about a mile long by a third of a mile wide. It's grazing land, with a holiday cottage but no permanent residents or ferry, and only placenames remain of its monastic and Viking history. Boat trips sometimes approach to view the wildlife. West again, a half-mile channel separates Gunna from Tiree.

Do[edit]

The 15th century Old Breachacha Castle
  • 1 Coll Golf Course is nine holes on Cliad Farm, June-Aug. Visitor day-fee £10, which you leave in the honesty bottle with a note of your name, or pay at the Coll Hotel.
  • 2 Ben Hogh is Coll's loftest peak, at all of 348 ft / 106 m. Reach it by a short walk from the lane towards Ballyhaugh. Near the summit is a "rocking stone", a large balanced boulder.
  • Basking sharks: from spring to early autumn these huge beasts (Cetorhinus maximus, Gaelic Cearban) breed around the island. Sightings are sporadic but most often between July and September. They tend to gather in the narrow sound between Coll and Tiree, where the tides concentrate their plankton food. Basking Shark Scotland run boat trips from Arinagour.
  • Dark skies: There’s no street lighting, and Coll is far from mainland light pollution. On a clear night stand on the beach (or anywhere clear of car lights), give your eyes five minutes to adjust, and see the stars and planets brighter than ever before. Mid-summer is a lost cause as it's never totally dark.
  • Surfing is mainly on the exposed Atlantic beaches of Cliad, Feall, Grishipoll and Hogh, plus south-facing Crossapol. Check prospects at www.surf-forecast.com.
  • Folk concerts throughout the year, especially in summer, are usually at the community centre An Cridhe in Arinagour.

Buy[edit]

The 18th century New Breachacha Castle
  • Coll Stores, Arinagour PA78 6SY, +44 1879 230237. M-Sa 09:30-13:00, 16:00-18:00, Su 10:00-13:00. General store, stocks basics including fuel. You can order ahead by phone or email.
  • Coll Post Office is open M-Sa 09:00-13:00.
  • An Acarsaid 100 yards north stocks maps, woollies, crafts, gifts and postcards. There's an ATM here.
  • ReCyColl is a second-hand shop in the Old Hall at the west edge of Arinagour.
  • Saturday Market is held 09:00-12:00 in the hall next the bunkhouse, selling local crafts and baking.

Eat[edit]

  • Island Cafe, Arinagour PA78 6SY, +44 1879 230022. W-F Sa 10:00-14:00, 18:00-20:30; Sa 10:00-14:00. Open year-round. Licensed café doing lunches, dinners, take-aways and roasts.
  • Coll Hotel serves non-residents, booking essential, see Sleep.

Drink[edit]

  • Head for the bar in Coll Hotel, the island is too small to have its own pub.
  • Isle of Coll Distillery, founded in 2021, makes gin and vodka. No tours.

Sleep[edit]

Looking towards Arinagour

All the short-stay accommodation is in Arinagour. For longer stays, a dozen or so cottages around the island can be rented by the week, see visitcoll.co.uk.

  • 1 Coll Hotel, Arinagour PA78 6SZ, +44 1879 230334. Cosy hotel, far better than its 2 stars suggest, with good restaurant. B&B double £150.
  • 2 Coll Bunkhouse, Arinagour PA78 6SY, +44 1879 230217. 14-bed hostel constructed in modern pine, open year-round. One mixed dorm of six, one room of 5 and one of 3 for exclusive use. Self-catering kitchen. Dogs welcome by arrangement. Bunk £24 ppn.
  • 3 Tigh na Mara B&B, Arinagour PA78 6SY, +44 1879 230354. Seven rooms for B&B, plus “Wee House” for self-catering. Clean, comfy and friendly, Open Dec-Oct, 2 night minimum stay. B&B double £90.

Connect[edit]

As of June 2022, there is 4G from EE at Arinagour and along the road north, but a very patchy signal towards the airfield south. No signal from other UK carriers. 5G has not reached Coll.

Go next[edit]

  • Tiree is one hour away by daily ferry, and is best done on a Calmac “Hopscotch” fare (see “Get in”.) In summer a day-trip is possible on Wednesdays using the ferry to Barra, as this continues beyond Tiree giving you six hours ashore. The other days’ ferries are immediate turn-arounds so you can’t go ashore, but Saturdays in July and August have a double sailing that allows you nine hours on Tiree. It’s not possible to day-trip from Tiree to Coll.
  • Barra: in summer the Wednesday ferry takes four hours from Coll via Tiree (no winter service). From Barra you could return to the mainland on the daily five-hour ferry to Oban. Or you could take the 40-min ferry (4 or 5 per day) to Eriskay, which is linked by causeway to South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray, and thence by a further ferry to Harris and Lewis.
  • Oban, back on the mainland, can be the jumping-off point for most of the Highlands and Islands. The buses and trains will take you back to Glasgow.
  • Mull and Iona are seen to the southeast, but you have to double back via Oban to reach them.



This rural area travel guide to Coll is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.