However you travel to Coll it helps to be flexible in your travel plans.
This is a remote island, out in the Atlantic, where ferries and plane schedules are sometimes disrupted by bad weather, particularly in the winter months.
Getting here by ferry
Most folk travel to Coll on a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. In the summer there are daily sailings from Oban, three sailings per week from Tiree and one from Barra. In the winter there are five sailings per week from Oban and one from Tiree. The boat travels to Tiree on many other days enabling links with their air service or a hopscotch approach to island travel!
The journey from Oban takes between 2.5 and 3 hours, depending which vessel you have. MV Clansman and MV Lord of The Isles are the two vessels allocated to this route.
The cruise itself is a beautiful experience gliding down the Sound of Mull, past Tobermory and then Ardnamurchan Point (the most westerly tip of the UK’s mainland) for a short crossing in more open sea to Coll – click to see route.
In the summer, the chances of spotting dolphins, whales and basking sharks are quite high and amongst the wealth of bird life you may see shearwaters, petrels and perhaps a white-tailed eagle.
There are summer ferry sailings allowing day trips from Coll to Tiree on Wednesday and Saturday; and a link to and from Barra (via Tiree), once per week on a Wednesday. There is even a Calmac Hopscotch supplement for those wishing to combine Coll/Tiree with an outer isles experience.
If you are travelling inter-island, you may have to reverse your vehicle onto the boat, but don’t worry, staff are there to guide you.
Getting here by air
The Isle of Coll has an airstrip situated at the west end of the island next to the helipad. Scheduled flights operate on Mondays and Wednesdays. The morning flight runs from Oban to Coll then back to Oban via Tiree and the afternoon flight runs from Oban via Tiree to Coll before returning to Oban. The runway is unlit and flying is governed by visibility. Flights are run by Hebridean Air Services.
There are additional flights for High School kids to return for the weekend. During the summer the timetable flights are Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, in the winter the flights run on a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. Seats are available (for anyone) on the flights to pick up the school kids and these are often offered at reduced prices – contact Hebridean Air Services for times and availability – The tel no. for flight bookings is 0845 805 7465. Depending on the number of school kids travelling, seats may be available both ways, so it is always worth asking about availability.
Light planes and helicopters often come to Coll, usually landing at the new airstrip or the helipad. The helipad is lit if there is a night-time emergency. There are no facilities at the airstrip other than a payphone, a waiting room and a toilet.
To land at the airport please contact Oban Airport for permission – 01631 572910.
A private helipad is operational in the Coll Hotel’s garden for those wishing to visit the hotel. Landings by prior arrangement with the hotel on 01879 230334.
Get here under your own steam
Alternatively, you are very welcome to come to Coll under your own steam. Coll is an increasingly popular anchorage for yachts people.
Many visitors charter a boat from Tiree or the mainland (Coastal Connection, Oban). The more energetic come by sea kayak, but that’s not for the inexperienced.
Once here, even though there is no official taxi service or public bus service, you can hire bikes, take a very good chance of a hitch, or ask around.
Prepare for disruptions
However you travel to Coll you should always be aware that you may not get away exactly when you plan. This is a remote island, out in the Atlantic, where ferries and plane schedules are sometimes disrupted by bad weather, or the knock on effect of earlier bad weather. The ferries have also been known to break down!
If you have an important flight to catch on the mainland or really, really must get somewhere then consider leaving early.
If the weather is very bad, the ferry will often call only once. If you were planning on taking the second boat, think again, and be ready for a quick exit to make the sailing to Oban via Tiree.
Please keep in touch with the CalMac pier office (01879 230347) before the first ferry is due.
Getting around while here
To assist you to get around Coll, there are three detailed map displays: outside the main pier office; next to the public toilets/telephone box at the middle pier; and by the recycling compound beside the grocery shop.
To see the best of Coll you are advised to bring an Ordnance Survey map or buy one in the village Post Office (OS Explorer map 372, Coll and Tiree, 1:25,000). Free maps are not available as an island this small just does not have the resources.
There is no taxi service on the island. Many of the locals will offer you a lift, even if you don’t stick your thumb out!
There is no public transport on Coll so travelling around is more of an adventure. If you don’t have your own transport then you can walk or hire a bike. Cycling is popular as there are no huge hills and the experience can be very pleasant. Using a bicycle means you can take the circular route, making use of the sandy track that goes behind Hough Bay linking the RSPB Centre at Totronald to the Hebridean Centre. This track is closed to vehicles.
For the more adventurous, a wonderful way to see the coast is a circular sea kayak trip. There are many little islands to explore off Coll and a wealth of wildlife to discover. How about going back to Oban on the ferry from Tiree after a short paddle between the islands? CalMac ferries will bring your kayak over to Coll.
Driving on Coll
The roads on Coll are all single track with passing places, although there is one 10m (yes, 10m as in metre, not mile) stretch of dual-carriageway near the top of the island!
Whilst driving is usually free of hassle, please remember that locals sometimes need to travel a bit faster than sightseeing speeds. Please use passing places to allow others to overtake. Should you see a car either behind you or coming towards you with flashing headlights travelling atypically fast – it is probably one of the volunteer fire-fighters, volunteer coastguards, the nurse or the doctor on a real emergency. Please get out of their way. Unlike the mainland, they do not have blue, yellow or green flashing beacons on their cars.
If you are pulling over into a passing place, stay on your left. If the passing place is on your right, come to a stop alongside and the oncoming vehicle will stay left and go into the passing place.
Most of the off-road tracks on Coll are on environmentally sensitive ground and should be avoided.
There is a fuel station in Arinagour which sells both unleaded petrol and diesel which has very limited opening hours. It also stocks a basic range of engine oils and other car fluids. It takes credit/debit cards and cash (no cheques). The fuel station is run as a community social enterprise on a non profit basis and fuel is typically 20p – 50p dearer than the mainland due to freight charges and the relatively small purchases.
Cycling around Coll
Cycling on Coll can be quite the experience. The single track roads and lack of traffic makes it very safe. Consequently, many come to Coll with bicycles either as their sole means of transport, or bring them on their car or hire them here. Bicycles travel free on CalMac ferries but cannot be carried on Highland Airways flights to and from Coll.
Collachs wish to promote this healthy activity – but please consider the following – our roads are proper roads and the rules of a highway still apply. Cyclists should stay on the left especially when meeting other traffic. When a group of cyclists stop for a car to pass it is much safer if ALL the cyclists go to the SAME side of the road. By doing so the car/van/lorry can go off the tarmac a little and give YOU more room.
The emergency services here do not have special vehicles or flashing lights. Please give way to anyone driving abnormally quickly with headlights flashing. They may be in the fire or coastguard service, the doctor or nurse. Please get out of their way on the correct side of the road so they may pass quickly and without danger.
Please contact the Cyclists’ Touring Club for more advice.
Day trips to and from Coll
By ferry – On Wednesdays, the CalMac summer ferry timetable allows a 9 hour stay on Coll. You leave Oban at 07.15 and can spend most of the day on Coll, returning to Oban at 21.30. Think of the possibilities! This must be one of the best day trips one can take from Oban and replaces the previous day trip that was available on Thursdays.
Once you get to Coll you can hire a bike (or bring your own of course) or just saunter around and enjoy some Hebridean hospitality & cuisine, it’s completely up to you.
New for 2016 – from 25th June to 27th August – you can also enjoy a 10 hour day trip from Oban on Saturday. Click here for the summer timetable.
For a shorter 2 hour stay, throughout the summer, you can come on a Monday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. In the winter this works on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday assuming the boat calls twice. The cruise itself is well worth the while.
By plane – On Mondays and Wednesdays you can fit in a day trip by plane from Oban airport in Connel, just north of Oban. The flight itself is quite an experience and on a good day the views are spectacular as you fly between the mountains and hills of Mull. For more information on plane times please see Hebridean Airways’ timetable.
Both the ferry and plane timetables enable day trips to Tiree.
Walking across Coll
You can walk and wonder around and across most of the island. Even though many tracks are fenced, access to remote beaches and wilderness areas is possible. Of course you must be sensible and, if in any doubt, just ask at the shop, hotel or nearest farm. Please don’t leave your car blocking fields’ gates. However, many areas are sensitive in the spring and summer with nesting birds, often rare species. Be careful not to walk on too many orchids, although this may sometimes be quite difficult!
Signposts were introduced in 2006 in fenced areas to encourage the use of footpaths to the many beautiful beaches. Inland, there are lots of surprises in store. Crannogs can be found on many of the lochans and you will stumble over remains of ancient civilisations and communities in most parts of the island.
A climb to the top of Ben Hogh is always a favourite. It’s relatively easy and you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of all the surrounding islands. On a good day you can see as far as Jura in one direction and South Uist in the other.
The beaches of Coll are one of the hidden delights and best kept secrets of all the Hebridean islands. There are approximately 23 beaches to cater for most tastes and one thing you can be sure of, they will not be busy!
There are no beaches near Arinagour so day trippers may find it difficult to get the full flavour of Coll without a long walk or bike ride. The quickest beach to get to from the village is probably Cliad, on the other side of the island from Arinagour. The walk will be worth it, particularly when the outer isles are visible, and you are likely to see inquisitive seals, and maybe an otter.
Most beaches will show the signs of otters as they scurry to and fro the dunes after rabbits or fresh water. The early morning is always a good time to spot one.