That I think Coll is the finest island in Scotland for beaches sounds like high praise enough. It gets even when higher when I – hand on heart – say that the best beaches I’ve even seen on my travels to over 100 countries are right here in Scotland’s Hebrides. Join me now as I explore this magical beach kissed island and reveal the myriad charms of this deeply special wee isle.
Even getting to Coll is a remarkable experience as the CalMac ferry ekes down the Sound of Mull from Oban before funnelling out into the Sea of the Hebrides in search of this distant isle. En route I always watch out for porpoises, dolphins and even whales, as the waters around and north of Coll are famous for encounters with these marine mammals.
The capital of Coll is the only village on the island. Although Arinagour is little more than a sprinkling of pretty little houses that huddle around a wide bay. From here you can often spot herons, seals and even otters. My two daughters love Coll and on this most recent visit both agreed the number one attraction is ‘Nature!’. Katie Morag comes a close second – the island doubles up as the fictional Struay in the kids books and TV series.
Our base was in Arinagour at the Coll Hotel, one of my favourite hotels anywhere in the Hebrides. It may only have a three-star rating, but it’s got service to match any five-star. This is topped off with epic views across towards Mull and the Treshnish Islands. It is run by the Oliphant family, who really take care of their guests and make them feel at home.
Self-catering on Coll
This time I also checked out another couple of places to stay. With only one hotel on the island self-catering is very popular. For large families or groups the epic White House Lodge is ideal. It sleeps eight in serious designer comfort and sports great views too. It’s hard to find anywhere in Coll without a view though! A fun new option is the Coll Storm Pod. Run by a local lady, this bright wee pod is built into the landscape, and even has a turf roof. I loved this cosy space, the homemade jam they leave for guests and, yes, the views!
The Pod looks out over the cobalt Atlantic – the next landfall in these parts is across in the Americas! Before you get there, though, there are Coll’s epic white sand beaches. When you consider there are 23 (or 28 as an honorary Collach friend of mine, Will Tunnell, insists) of these stunners Coll can definitely lay claim to be the best island in Scotland for beaches.
Colls’ Secret Beaches
The Collachs tend to be quite protective of their favourite ‘secret’ beaches. Many are quite hard to find as you can’t see them from the island’s sinewy single-track roads. Some also involve quite a yomp to reach them. Amongst my favourite beaches is Torastan – park up at the graveyard or pop your bike here (the Coll Hotel offers free bikes) and the sands are just a short walk away. We spent all day here paddling and playing with a seal colony for company. My wee girls loved messing about in the water with the seals within touching distance. Meanwhile I savoured the epic views north to Rum and the Skye Cuillin.
Two other beaches that really catch the eye are the wide sweeps of Crossapol and Feall at the west end of Coll. Again there is a small car park. This time it’s run by the RSPB, as this corner of the island is a protected bird sanctuary. Coll is famous for its population of ultra rare corncrakes. It is also home to many other species including striking birds of prey and myriad seabirds.
Feall is perhaps the most dramatic of these brace of beaches with rugged hills framing its arc of golden sand. Crossapol, though, tends to be more sheltered, as it lies on the less exposed side of the island. I recommend visiting both, trekking across the glorious machair sand dunes that separate the two in a riot of brightly coloured flowers in spring and summer.
Scotland’s first Dark Skies Island
Coll isn’t just about its beaches. Handily when the mercury dips the darker nights bring out the best in Scotland’s first Dark Skies Island. This accolade relates to the often clear skies and the minimal light pollution, which make Coll one of the best spots in Europe for stargazing. Coll is also a great place to watch out for the ethereal Northern Lights.
Meet local Collachs
At the end of a long day discovering the beaches and epic wildlife of Coll the welcoming arms of the bar at the Coll Hotel await. It is a great place to meet the colourful locals and also handily is right next to their Gannet Restaurant. If you are staying at the hotel you can dine in the resident’s dining room and drink in the residents’ bar. However I normally prefer a bit more local interaction.
Wherever you choose to dine at the Coll Hotel the menu is the same and it’s brilliantly local. You can feast on the likes of Coll langoustine, crab and lobster if you like seafood or Coll lamb if you prefer meat. Sitting here overlooking the bay and a sprinkling of islands is one of the great Hebridean experiences. It’s only one side of an island that sports world-class beaches and a whole lot more besides.
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