Isle of Coll: unsung Scottish gem

by Jenny.McKelvie

With its epic scenery and white sandy beaches, the little known Isle of Coll, one of Scotland’s hidden treasures, gives the likes of Harris and Bermuda a run for their money

My job has taken me to dozens of islands around the world and one of my favourites is the Inner Hebridean oasis of Coll. With its epic sandy beaches, this little known Scottish retreat gives the likes of Harris and Bermuda a run for their money.
The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry trip from Oban out to the island is all part of the fun. On my last visit to Coll the Clansman treated me to jaw-dropping views of the Ardnamurchan peninsula and the Isle of Mull, as well as to the Isle of Skye, the Small Isles and the distant Outer Herbrides. This dramatic landscape came bathed in deep blue skies and warm sunshine – weather that I was lucky enough to enjoy throughout my visit.
At first sight Coll, if I am honest, looks a bit disappointing – appearing like a flat, rocky and fairly featureless landscape. First impressions, though, could not be more wrong.
The base for my island exploration was the Coll Hotel in Arinagour. The only real village on the tiny island (Coll is just 13 miles long and four miles wide at its extremities) is also the ferry terminal. Boasting a small shop, post office, café, hotel and petrol station (just a couple of pumps really), Arinagour caters to the needs of the islanders and tourists. With a clutch of whitewashed cottages skirting an attractive bay, it is also improbably pretty. It may be the hub of island life, but with limited opening hours and a relaxed atmosphere, the pace of life is pleasantly laidback.
It may be the only hotel on the island, but the Coll Hotel is still one of the best that I have stayed in during my myriad trips around Scotland. This family-owned retreat has just six rooms – four of which have stunning views of the sea, the Treshnish Islands and the peaks of Mull.
It is also at the heart of the island’s social scene, with a public bar and the first-rate Gannet Restaurant. Running alongside the standard menu is an extensive list of daily specials. I recommend ordering from this. On my last visit it featured the likes of Coll lobster and delicious scallops.
Tempting as it is to spend lazy days just eating and drinking in Arinagour, Coll’s main attraction is its 23 beaches, and these puffy white strips of sand are definitely worth seeking out. My favourites include the picture postcard Hogh Bay and Crossapol, but whichever you visit you are unlikely to meet anyone else.
Virtually traffic-free, the island is also great for cycling and walking, although some of the hills (gentle as they feel in a car) might be a challenge for more casual cyclists, particularly on a hired cycle (bikes can be rented at the Post Office). I really enjoyed exploring the RSPB reserves and coastal pathways on foot. A harder walk takes you up to the island’s highest point, Ben Hogh. Those who make the 104-metre ascent are rewarded by distant vistas of the Paps of Jura and a panorama that takes in whole swathes of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
However active, or not, you choose to be, spending time of the Isle of Coll is a sure fire way to recharge your batteries. Waiting for the ferry to take you off the island, as you sip a coffee bought from Coll’s only (and very part time) burger van, you, like me, will find yourself hoping to come back soon.
Getting there
Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) run ferries to Coll from the mainland port of Oban and the neighbouring island of Tiree. You can also fly from Oban to Coll with Highland Airways.



Childhood holidays in Cornwall, Spain and the USA stirred my appetite for travel. Back in 1997, when I was travelling around Eastern Europe, I met my husband, Robin McKelvie, who was already working as a full-time travel writer. With his encouragement I began writing professionally a year later, combining a part-time career as a travel writer with teacher training and then my role as a primary school teacher in London. The year 2003 saw us move north, and with my relocation to Edinburgh I started writing full time. Over the past six years I have written for a wide range of magazines, newspapers and Internet sites, as well as co-authoring guidebooks and conducting market research in the field of travel and tourism for Mintel. My travels have taken me to myriad countries and cities around the globe. I have written for more than 30 publications worldwide. Favourite places: Northwest Highlands of Scotland, Croatia, Slovenia, Tallinn, Riga and Prague.