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Isle of Coll

(Click on the picture to see a larger one)

One of the Inner Hebrides, Coll measures some 13 miles by 4, and lies just to the north-east of its near neighbour, Tiree. The modern car ferry from Oban takes about three hours to reach the island and runs five times a week in summer, three times in winter.

Back in the 13th century Coll was owned by the MacDougalls of Lorne, bitter enemies of Robert the Bruce. When, notwithstanding the best efforts of the MacDougalls, Bruce came to power, he gave their lands to Angus Og MacDonald of the Isles, but the island then changed hands between several clans before being granted to John MacLean, otherwise known as Iain Garbh (John the Rugged). He had to flee to Ireland when his stepfather, MacNeill of Barra, decided to annex Coll, but Iain had the last laugh, returning with an army to defeat the MacNeills at Griseabull.

The MacLeans went on to build Breachacha Castle at the south end of the island. In the 16th century, however, the Coll MacLeans fell out with their near neighbours, the Duart MacLeans from Mull. There were several skirmishes between the two before Lachlan Mor Maclean of Duart decided that the death of one of the Coll MacLeans was a good opportunity for an invasion. The Coll men were on their way to the funeral when they saw the Mull galleys approaching and they were able to rally and win the day. The slaughter was great and the heads of the dead invaders were thrown into a nearby stream which was subsequently known as Sruthan nan Ceann, 'the stream of the heads'. However, it was only putting off the inevitable as Lachlan later returned with a stronger force and took the island. It was perhaps a sign of the times that when the Coll MacLeans regained the island they did so not by force, but by a petition to the Privy Council which ordered the Duart Macleans to vacate the island. It was an even greater sign of the times that they complied.

The Coll MacLeans held Breachacha Castle against the Campbells in 1679, but in 1750, seeking something a bit more modern, Hector MacLean built a mansion nearby. The family duly moved into that and, indeed, entertained Dr Johnson and Boswell there when the pair were marooned on Coll for 10 days because of storms. The old castle was abandoned and became ruinous. In 1856 the crumbling castle passed to the Stewarts of Glenbuchie, but in 1965 Major MacLean Bristol, a descendant of the MacLeans of Coll, bought it and restored it. It now looks very fine indeed.

By 1841 the population of Coll was just over 1400. When the Stewarts bought the island, however, they modernised the agricultural system and imposed savage rent increases that the crofters could not afford. Many were forced to leave, with a large number going to Canada and Australia. In 1857, for example, when the ship "Persian" sailed for Tasmania, there were 81 Collachs on board, eight of whom died during the voyage. Today, Coll has a population of about 150 of whom a large proportion are incomers.

I have to say that we were not too impressed when we first saw Coll - from the ferry the island appears bleak and rocky. In fact, Coll is a tranquil, peaceful island with beautiful, uncrowded sandy beaches and fertile machair which belie that rather forbidding first impression. The island is home to over 120 species of birds and there is an RSPB nature reserve where corncrakes, in rapid decline on the British mainland, can frequently be heard, and where there are hosts of waders as well as a wide range of seabirds. In summer the machair is alive with wild flowers. There's also a good hotel. We ended up liking Coll very much indeed.

Our cross stitch map of Coll measures 10 x 8 ins. (271 x 207 mm) when stitched on the recommended Linda 27-count evenweave and has 7 buildings, fishing boats, a ferryboat, yachts, and place names, with Celtic Cross as compass.  Stitch count is 144 x 110.

Chartpack 8.95 UK pounds
While we cannot supply the material required for this kit we may be able to supply the necessary threads. Please email us if interested.

87 Charleston Village, Forfar, Angus, Scotland.
Tel. (+44) (0)1307 840451

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