The remote Hebridean island of Coll is one of the best places in Scotland to watch the night sky. Located far from the obscuring haze of light pollution, Coll has some of the darkest skies in Europe. And that makes for truly spectacular stargazing. If you fancy a starry-eyed escape with optimum stargazing conditions, here are eight reasons why the island of Coll should be top of your list.
- In 2013 Coll was officially designated a Dark Sky area by the International Dark Sky Associationthanks to its dark skies and commitment to minimising light pollution. Coll is one of only two areas in Scotland to be recognised in this way and one of only two Dark Sky Islands in the UK.
- There are no street lights on Coll. In fact, the nearest street lamp is 32 miles away! Although their introduction has been discussed in the island’s community council over the years, the islanders have always resisted. And that means that Coll has a naturally unpolluted starry sky. The skies above Coll are dark in a way that is rarely seen these days, offering unparalleled clarity. Look up on a clear night and the canopy of stars will take your breath away.
- With a sky that dark, you can see a mind-boggling array of stars and there’s a good chance of spotting moving objects such as satellites, shooting stars, meteor showers and comets. Many deep sky objects can be seen with the naked eye. Some of these include star clusters like the ‘Beehive’ and ‘Double Cluster’, nebulae like the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ and the ‘Andromeda Galaxy’. The bright band of the Milky Way can also be easily seen arching over the night sky at certain times of the year.
- Coll is a top spot for seeing the ultimate night-time illumination, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Autumn and winter is ‘aurora season’. You’ll need a cold, clear night with limited light pollution and increased solar activity. These ‘dancing lights’ aren’t a common sight, but they’re stunning when they do make an appearance. And Coll’s dark skies will make them all the more spectacular. Keep an eye on Aurora Watch for alerts as to when there is a possibility of spotting the Aurora.
- There are three official night sky viewing sites on Coll: one at Totronald RSPB Reserve, one at Cliad football pitch, which offers a large open space with few obstacles for a complete 360° view of the sky, and one overlooking Ariangour village. But the reality is that pretty much all of Coll is great for stargazing.
- Coll is renowned for its stunning beaches and nothing beats a stroll along the sand under the stars. You’ll find beautiful bays all along the coastline. Seek out your own secret sands or head for the wide sandy sweeps of Crossapol and Feall at the west end of Coll.
- To immerse yourself in Coll’s incredible dark skies, why not take part in a stargazing weekend on the island? Coll & The Cosmos is a collaboration between Coll Bunkhouse and Cosmos Planetarium using state-of-the-art technology to deliver an amazing stargazing learning experience in a fantastic location. As well as the fabulous dark skies of Coll, there’s a six-metre indoor planetarium which provides a 360° immersive multi-media theatre experience, ideal for taking a journey through the solar system and learning about a range of astronomical subjects.
- Coll is an antidote to modern life. If you love stargazing and the natural beauty of the Hebrides, then you’ll love everything else that this wonderful island has to offer. Enjoy peace and solitude and discover a wealth of flora and fauna. Much of western Coll is an RSPB reserve and the island is a hot spot for birdwatchers.
Coll has a number of great places to stay, including the Coll Hotel and Coll Bunkhouse. There’s also a wide selection of self-catering holiday accommodation and a campsite. And did you know that Coll inspired the Katie Morag books? Coll is the ideal place for a family holiday. Kids will have great fun exploring the island and trying to guess the settings and locations from the Katie Morag books. They’ll also love to experience Katie’s island way of life - the slower pace, the sense of community and the space to run free.
Traveling to Coll
Header photo by George McConnachie, Coll Bunkhouse