How Coll inspired Katie Morag

Everyone has a favourite Katie Morag story. The adventures of the feisty, red-haired girl who lives on the fictional Isle of Struay are a staple of Scottish bedtime reading. She’s also the star of a BBC TV show. But did you know that the Hebridean island of Coll inspired these much-loved stories by Mairi Hedderwick? The author has lived on Coll on and off for the past 50 years and her Katie Morag tales are loosely based around her own experiences of life on the island.

Hedderwick first moved to Coll when she was 17. She answered an advert to be "mother's help" to the laird and fell in love with the remote Argyll island. In 1962 she moved to Coll with her husband to live in a farmhouse with no running water or electricity, bringing up their young family and earning money by rearing sheep and cattle and by fishing for lobsters. It was an idyllic time. She describes her first book, Katie Morag Delivers the Mail, as “nostalgic self-indulgence on my part, celebrating our young family times on Coll in the ’60s.”

The other stories of island life and childhood are also very much based on Hedderwick’s time on Coll. Her characters are too – although she’s too discrete to say whether any of her characters are based on real people! You can visit parts of Coll and recognise Struay from her beautiful illustrations. On the Visit Coll website, Hedderwick gives some hints: “Discover Coll and you will find a hint of Struay; a house here, a beach there and, most definitely, the row of whitewashed cottages by the old jetty of ferryboat days.” Study the map of Struay and you’ll find that the indent of Village Bay is the only geographic similarity to Coll. The mountains, place names and other features are stolen from neighbouring islands. For example, the mountain range called the Five Sisters of Struay have their mainland counterpart in Kintail.

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. There are wild beaches, boat trips, secret coves, incredible wildlife, ancient history, old ruins, ceilidhs and summer shows all waiting to be discovered!

From Oban you can take the ferry to Coll. It’s a stunning journey and all part of the Hebridean island adventure. Keep your eyes peeled for a host of wildlife, including dolphins, whales and basking sharks. As you arrive in Arinagour, you’ll see the little row of cottages that Hedderwick used in her first Katie Morag drawings.

Find out more about things to see and do in Mull, Iona, Coll & Tiree.