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.

Snæfellsjökull National Park, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

We awoke to a wet and cloudy day, but the circular Stykkisholmur – Snæfellsjökull National Park – Stykkisholmur was on our itinerary for the day, so off we set in our 4WD. This route has much to offer, including many spectacular – wait for it – yes, waterfalls and mountains!

First stop was Grundarfjordur fishing village, where the Saga Center folk offered some nice hot coffee, with free refills, and sound advice on what to see/do in the area (should you be so lazy as not to already have a detailed agenda for the day). There are many local hikes. It is important to listen to the center’s advice about individual hike difficulty and safety – these are dangerous mountains.

Next up was pretty little waterfall close to the towering Kirkjufell. While Kirkjufell translates to Church Mountain, I think the mountain looks more like the talking Sorting Hat from Harry Potter – Griffindor! It was 8 C with a brisk wind so we were freezing – for Icelandic Summers remember to bring your woolly hat and gloves; thermal underclothes probably not a bad idea. 
    
 
Even though it was only 11.25 am, it was time for some of Anna’s famous fish soup at Gamla in the very small town of Rif – delicious!

The main scenic route in the National Park starts at Route 574 at Hellissandur, where you begin to skirt the rugged slopes of Snaefellsjokill volcano. We started to see lots of lava spurs coming down from the mountain, and many lava fields. We then took Route 579 (dirt track) to Skardsvik golden sands. As it was August, there were hundreds of Arctic Terns feeding their babies – quite the sight! 

    
   
We continued on the dirt track and then took a left onto another dirt track for Vatnsborg crater carpark. From the carpark, we walked for about 2 km through a somewhat tortuous lava field, spotted with mosses and alpine plants, until finally reaching the crater. It’s small but you get the feeling that something big happened here about 1000 years ago. 
    
    
 
After returning to our car, we went back to first dirt track and turned left and drove to the end of the road to Svortyuloft bird cliffs – impressive! And a nice light house. 

    
 
After the cliffs, we turned around and went back to Route 574. We went south on Route 574 and then followed the marked turn off to Saxholl crater. It is a quick 100m climb to the top for great views of lava flows. 
    
 
We continued south on Route 574 and then turned onto Route 572 to the black sand beach at Djupalonssandur (car park and toilets). 
   
We continued on Route 574 to Arnarstapi, which is the best place to organize snowmobile or snowcat glacier tours up the volcano/glacier. As there was quite a bit of cloud and the real possibility of hypothermia, we decided not go up the volcano and instead we walked part of the beautiful Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal hike (3km return).  We had good views of the volcano below the cloudline, with lovely twisting lava tubes. 
    
    
    
 After that we continued West on Route 574 and headed back to Stykkisholmur.
The day was completed with an excellent dinner at Sjavarpakkhusid (we had fish soup followed by local blue shell mussels).
So, that was Snæfellsjökull National Park and Surrounds. 

Stykkisholmur, West Iceland

By Paul S Bryers, August 2015.

Two hours from Reykjavik is the small fishing town of Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsular. The trip to Stykkisholmur is quite spectacular. Initially, you are close to the coast with high mountains immediately to the West. After a 6 km tunnel that takes you under the Hvalfjordur, the countryside starts to get pretty desolate with big lava fields and huge volcanic mountains visible in all directions. Some of the lower hills are very red in color, which contrasts nicely with the sage colored moss/lichen coating the lava fields. Small alpine plants appear here and there; they seem quite lonely.

   
  
Stykkisholmur itself sticks out into the Breidafjordur, with views to the distant mountains of Westfjords. While the town is small with only about 1100 inhabitants, it boasts some great accommodations (including the best hostel in Iceland) and restaurants, notably Narfeyrarstofa and Sjavarpakkhusid.  

 There is not a huge amount to do in the town itself, but two “musts” are the short walk over to the basalt island of Sugandisey, where you can sit and enjoy great views of the fjord, and the Vikingsuchi Adventure Tour operated by Seatours. On this tour you approach a number of small uninhabited islands – note the very strong ocean currents – and get to see lots of seabirds, including pretty Puffins, regal Shags, Fulmars, Kittiwakes.  

    
   
You also get to eat seafood straight from the sea. The crew drop, trawl and then hoist a net which comes back up from the seabed full of creatures – colorful starfish and sea urchins, slightly scary looking sea cucumbers, crabs and lots of scallops. The fresh scallops and sea urchin roe were excellent, especially when accompanied with a little soy, wasabi and ginger!  

   
   
   
After the tour, you might like to pop into the Volcano Museum. 
So, that was Stykkisholmur – definitely worth a visit.