Coll-Scotland’s first Dark Sky Island

Just off Mull is the secluded Isle of Coll, which offers peace and quiet to enjoy nature at its best. Coll lies 10 km west of coastal Argyll and boasts about 200 permanent residents. The island attracts dozens of bird species and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds owns an extensive reserve at the west end of the island. As the setting of Mairi Hedderwick’s series of children’s books, visitors may recognize spots from her enchanting illustrations.

But what really puts Coll in the spotlight is, well, the lack of light. A sparse population, geographic isolation and outdoor lighting management make the night skies over the Isle of Coll among the darkest in Europe, garnering it a designation by the International Dark Sky Association as Scotland’s first Dark Sky Island.

The island is so committed to ensuring that Coll remains dark for many future generations of residents and visitors, residents adopted a quality outdoor lighting management plan.

Coll Dark Skies Group includes Julie Oliphant, owner of the Coll Hotel, Paula Smalley who runs Tigh Na Mara Guesthouse, and local stargazers Tony Oliver and Olvin Smith. Tony said: ‘The first winter on Coll I was in awe of the night sky, it’s on a par with many of the high arctic regions I’d visited. Soon I discovered Coll had some real stargazers, which eventually led, over many pints, to where we are today. The island community is very nature aware. Now we have the opportunity to share our darkness with others and I hope anyone visiting Coll offseason will be equally inspired’

You’ll experience the wondrous night sky as our ancestors did, but with all the modern comforts. There are several welcoming accommodations on the island, such as Tigh na Mara and Coll Bunkhouse, which offer friendly Scottish hospitality and are great bases from which to being your astro-tourism holiday.

Take advantage of a range of astronomical equipment (up to 16" telescopes), practical hands on instruction in using telescopes and developing observing techniques. Observe the planets, stars and moon as you’ve never seen them. Always dreamed of experiencing the Aurora Borealis? You just might get your wish, because in the winter there is always a chance of seeing nature’s awe-inspiring northern light show.

And if it rains, no worries, because you can immerse yourself in an indoor aquarium 360° immersive multi-media theatre experience, ideal for taking a journey through the solar system and learning about a range of astronomical subjects.

Whether you are looking for a festive family holiday or a romantic getaway under the stars, why not do something different this year and consider a stargazing break on the Isle of Coll? For more information go to visitcoll.co.uk.

During the day, Cliad Beach On The Isle Of Coll is idyllic, but at night, the heavens put on a show of their own. Image credit Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland

Best places to stargaze on Coll

RSPB Totronald.

There is a car park just past the RSPB centre at Totronald and this place has been offered with the kind permission of the RSPB. The car park lies in a slightly sheltered hollow and is surrounded by wonderful dunes and machair.

Cliad football pitch.

Cliad pitch is also part of Coll's only gold course and offers a large open space with few obstacles for a complete 360° view of the sky. This space has been kindly offered by the Wainwright family.

Arinagour

Chosen on a high point overlooking Ariangour village, just above and close to the kirk. The location is convenient for those in the village and offers spectacular views of the village and bay.

Getting to and around the Isle of Coll

Most people bring their vehicle over on the ferry from Oban, but you can also fly or sail to Coll. Once here, there is no public transportation or taxi, but you can hire bikes and, often, can get a ride with the locals or other visitors.

By ferry. There are five winter sailings a week from Oban and one from Tiree. The Caledonian MacBrayne Oban vehicle ferry takes about 3 hours. www.calmac.co.uk.

By air. 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. Flights are run by Hebridean Air Services. www.hebrideanair.co.uk.

On your own. There are anchorages for yachts, or you can charter a boat from Tiree or Oban. Services such as Coastal Connection offer great private services on your timetable.

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