Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

By Paul S Bryers, June 2016

I have been coming to Coll for family summer vacations, on and off, for over 55 years. Coll – 12 x 3 miles and pop. 200 – is located 3 hours sail from Oban on Cal Mac’s Clansman. There are flights from Glasgow and Oban, but I recommend the sail. Typically, you will need to spend the night in Oban as the Clansman leaves early morning. There are plenty of great B&Bs in Oban (I recommend the Corriemar House on the Esplanade). It is more difficult to find good places for dinner, but the Ee-Usk on the North Pier is excellent.


The sail to Coll is beautiful, with views to the Morvern and Ardnamurchan Peninsulas and the Isle of Mull. As you approach Coll watch for the Islands of Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna to the North. If you are lucky, you might get to see the Isle of Skye in the distance.

Coll is the best place I know for total relaxation. If you need to be with people, don’t come.

As the Clansman pulls into the pier at Arinagour, the Island’s vilage, you get a sense of the rest of the island i.e., lots of machar with a few houses here and there.

You can stay at the Coll Hotel (simple rooms, great little bar and restaurant), in the village bunkhouse or in self-catering cottages scattered across the island. There is also a walled campground.

Eateries are limited to the Coll Hotel and The Last Port of Coll – both good, with local seafood (and wifi). Food stores are The Coll Stores and a small shop attached to The Last Port of Coll. My advice is to bring most your own food (and wine) if you are going to be self-catering.

You can walk everywhere (if you like 5-10 mile walks), but it’s best to have a car. You might be able to get someone to drive you around, but I wouldn’t bet on it – you cannot rent a car on the island. The island is pretty flat, so biking is an option. Take your own bike or hire from Fiona Kennedy at the Post Office.

There are excellent walks and beaches along the West facing coast of the island, especially at the West End (e.g. Crossapol, Caolis and Feall Bays) where there is a RSPB Reserve (think Corncrake and Lapwing). The East End sports two very beautiful beaches – Sorisdale (famous for Bill Travis in Ring Of Bright Water) and North End Beach. Between the two Ends are plenty of other beaches (e.g., Hogh Bay). Vitually all have golden or white sands and turquoise blue waters. However, if you want to swim, a wet suit is preferable (OK, essential if you are over 10 years of age).


Kayaks are available for rent in the village, and you might be able to get a local to take you out on a boat trip. Seals are plentiful on the rocks off of many beaches, and are very inquisitive so come fairly close.  Finally, there are a wide variety of seabirds, including the very noisy oyster catcher.

Weather – This is Scotland, so it can be wet for a few days in a row. However, over the last 10 years I have found the weather to be consistently good late May and June.

Short Two Night Castle Experience in and around East Coast and Royal Deeside, Scotland

Having always travelled to the West Coast of Scotland while on vacation, it was time to investigate east of Inverness to see some famous castles. First stop, under 2 hours from Inverness, is Fyvie Castle. This National Trust property has terrific gardens (free of charge) and has a long history, reflected in the architecture. The original castle can still be seen in the two towers that rise above the exquiIte gardens. It is well worth doing a tour of the the castle itself – (£12.50 per adult: weekdays guided and weekends self-guided). Look out for the music room with the splendid tapestries – very good place for a classy wedding.  

Next up was Dunnottar Castle. En route, have lunch at the Ythank Hotel, Methlick – great traditional pub food with friendly locals. You can stay in Stonehaven for the night, it is just a short coastal walk to the castle – The Ship Inn is a good option for B&B and dinner with a great view of the harbor. 

And now for the big hurrah – Balmoral Castle, private summer residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This is a wonderful experience – just £11.50 per adult. Exquisite gardens – floral and vegetable. As for the Castle itself, you only get to see inside the Ballroom, but even from that you get a feel for the small scale, private splendor that makes this the annual retreat for QE2 and her family. And yes, there is a corgi trail for the kids to follow. After Balmoral, a trip to Braemar Castle is in order, and a walk along the Queen’s Drive with a follow up walk to Lion’s Head is very rewarding

And finally, stay the 2nd night in Ballater, a Royal Deeside town – in fact, The Royal Deeside town. You must stay at The Auld Kirk (try for Room 4) where you sign in at The Pulpit and enjoy your breakfast under the stained glass windows. Then enjoy dinner at The Lochnagar Indian Restaurant – great ambience. 

Rise early and do an easy 3 hour walk around Loch Muick – wear a deer stalker and plus fours as it is still on QE2’s Balmoral Estate. And finally, finally, a wonderful drive through Cairngorm National Park back to Inverness.

Isle of Arran, Scotland

By Paul Bryers, 2014

Situated about 1 hours drive from Central Glasgow followed by 1 hours sail from Ardrossan, the Isle of Arran offers great opportunities for scenic drives, cycling, walking, hiking and generally lazing around – depending on your needs and disposition.

We went there for 5 days in August and had a great time. There is a wide choice of accommodations and eateries – the former go from very basic to lavish, while the latter go from Do Not Eat There to excellent.

The Cal-Mac Car Ferry trip from Ardrossan on the Mainland to Brodick on Arran is only about 50 minutes, but it can be quite rough and breezy, so make sure you have your mac with you. Some people like to stand on deck and get blown around…

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We opted not to stay in Brodick itself, which is the main town, but rather stay in Lamlash Bay, which is just a few miles round the headland. Our accommodations were in the Lamlash Bay Hotel, which were adequate. The beauty of Lamlash Bay is the view of the Holy Isle, which rests just off shore. It’s also a good place to view rainbows. In addition, you can take an hour long Zodiac ride around the Isle to see sea birds, dolphins and seals, as well as have sightings of rare animals on the Holy Isle, such as Wild Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats.

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Visit Brodick Tourist Office, beside the Cal-Mac Car Ferry Terminal, to get a full description of Island activities. There are some great walks/hikes, including a guided walk up Goat Fell, which is the highest point on the Island (873.5 meters; 2,866 feet). A visit to Brodick Castle, for a briefing on Island history, and Arran Aromatics, to stock up on smellies like soap, body wash, creams, etc., are a must.

There are plenty of places to do lunch and dinner on the Island, but we prefer to make our own lunch on the beach or in nearby field filled with smelly sheep, and then splurge at night time. I was the lunchtime chef, making good use of a small stove, bread rolls and tins of baked beans or ravioli, with a little help from my mother. Families are also good for giving directions.

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We had dinner in number of good places, but our favorites were GlenIsle Restaurant in Lamlash Bay, and the Brambles Grill and Douglas Hotel Bistro, both in Brodick. Check out my reviews of eateries on TripAdvisor – http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/542PaulB

Tattoo anyone?

By Paul Bryers, 2014

I’ll show you mine if you show me your’s – not a chance.

However, I will introduce you to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The Tattoo is an annual series of Military Tattoos performed by British, Commonwealth and other International military bands and display teams on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in the Scottish capital. The music from the mass bands (primarily bagpipes and drums) will send shivers (good ones) down your spine, and make you feel proud to be Scottish, even if you are not born of this land – this was the moment Chris said “Maybe I would vote for Independence, if I could vote!” And he’s English! Then you have the dancers – Scottish, Maori, African – again, en masse, so it is a wonderful sight to behold. And the light show on the Castle walls is brilliant – sorry Magic Kingdom, but we are talking about a real castle and the light projections are better than Walt has to offer.

This event takes place each year throughout August on Monday through Saturday nights, is sold out well in advance, and is never cancelled. Prices vary from $40 to $600; the higher priced tickets include an excellent pre-Tattoo Scottish dinner, with a wee dram and wine. Dining is located within the secured Castle perimeter and you get escorted to your seats just before the event commences – believe me, it is well worth the extra bob or two!

The Tattoo occurs at the same time as the Edinburgh International Festival, which is the biggest coming together of the Arts anywhere in the World. The Festival consists of formal lah-de-dah operas, concerts and plays, but far more interesting and varied is the Fringe Festival, which consists of, literally, hundreds of musicals, plays, displays, bands, mimes, stand-ups, etc. Many now famous artists were discovered at the Fringe, and many of them still come back each year to perform and enjoy the many shows on offer. Chris’ cousin put on a one-man play this year about a drug addict dealing with the death of Princess Diana – intense. My favorite was Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, a drag comedy musical extravaganza – hysterical. All the venues are small and you can take in your pint. Prices range from around $0 to $30.

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