The Isle of Coll
The Isle of Coll is a small Hebridean island some four miles west of Mull. It is approximately 13 miles long and 3 miles at its widest, and has a population of around 220 all-year residents, with more in the summer. The island is a holiday destination for many seeking peace and quiet, and those who enjoy nature and the natural beauty of the Hebrides.
The Isle of Coll was home for some 500 years to a branch of the Clan Maclean. In 1590 the Macleans of Duart invaded their cousins on Coll with the intention of taking the island for themselves. A battle was fought at Breacachadh Castle where the Coll clan overwhelmed the Duarts, chopped off their heads and threw them in the stream which is still known today as "the stream of the heads". The Macleans of Coll retained their baronial fief and Castle of Breacachadh until 1848. Ah, the joys of family!
The Isle of Coll, like other Hebridean islands, has several crannogs (artificial islands) located in some of its lochans. One such crannog is Dùn Amhlaidh, which is thought to date to at least the later Middle Ages. Local tradition states that the dun was the fortress of a Norse chieftain who was defeated in battle by the Macleans.
There are two castles, both at Breacachadh and at the head of the bay of the same name. The earlier castle dates from the 14th century and both castles are family homes and NOT open to the public. They make for a formidable sight but please respect the families' privacy.
Coll is also the inspiration for the fictional name of the Isle of Struay. Mairi Hedderwick, a well known author and illustrator, set her series of Katie Morag children's books around her experiences on Coll. She says she'll never tell if any of her fictional characters were for real! You can visit many parts of Coll and recognise Struay from her beautiful illustrations.
The Isle of Coll welcomes visitors and, without doubt, is becoming more and more popular as a holiday destination. The island provides an antidote to many of the distractions of modern life.
You will soon find that many of the distractions of mainland life do not exist on Coll.
What Coll does have is quite special and often quite intangible. Coll definitely has lots of wild, raw nature that thrives due to the solitude. It is this that brings many to our island and, perhaps, that is why you too should consider coming to somewhere where there is still, even in this day and age, a lot of space for 'nothing.' To assist you in doing nothing, it is suggested you bring, or buy when you get here, an Ordnance Survey map (Explorer Map 372, Coll and Tiree). It'll help you get around and find the quieter spots.
Coll and the neighbouring island of Tiree, being so close, obviously get compared. We wouldn't dream of suggesting which is better! The topography, habitats, beaches and even the communities are quite different. One point that may be of help: Coll beaches are generally hidden from the road and need to be walked to. If you're not very mobile then you may find Tiree beaches easier to explore.
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The earliest inhabitants to Coll were probably Mesolithic hunter-gatherers followed by Neolithic farmers. Later, Coll became part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata before coming under Viking rule. At its peak the population reached 1500, but this was halved during the Highland Clearances when whole families were shipped off to Australia, Canada, South Africa and other obscure parts of the globe. Today, there are over 220 full time residents in a young and vibrant community. The primary school is nearly always close to overflowing and demand for housing is high. Occupations vary from farming to fishing but the largest employer is Project Trust, a gap year organisation that brings school leavers to Coll for evaluation and training before they start their big adventure. It is a great asset to the island and a major part in making Coll a valued, international dot on the world map.
Weather is very important on Coll – understanding it, forecasting it, experiencing it, surviving it, and talking endlessly about it. The most important aspect of weather is probably the wind.
The Isle of Coll enjoys a relatively mild climate, influenced by the Gulf Stream, with frosts and snow being a rarity. Tiree, the next island to Coll, has been recorded as being the sunniest place in Britain. The disadvantage of being out in the Atlantic is wind. We do get a fair bit of it, but at least it keeps what few midges survive here at bay. Being a low-lying island, rain often passes by to plague the higher peaks of Mull, Ardnamurchan and Rum. One is often rewarded with bright, clear blue skies whilst all around the panorama shows pendulous clouds over the distant hills (in particular, we often pity the residents of Mull). This is the reason national TV weather forecasts have little relevance to Coll and probably why every Collach is a weather guru!
One thing we all agree on, you will require high factor sun cream! Unlike many mainland areas, the weather here can change in minutes. Always be prepared for a complete change which can come without warning. The weather here is generally always exciting and in excess.
Our Post Office stocks a number of books about Coll and you can also read more on the Coll Magazine archival website as soon as we transfer the site to a new host. Watch this space!