It rained hard last night in Oban. A lot. It arrived and forgot to leave. By the time I crawled out of bed for the 7am ferry to Coll and Tiree it had eased a little; but we didn’t get much respite from it all day long today. Luckily, the forecast is for better weather tomorrow, and indeed the next several days, or so they say. This, combined with the very limited road network on the island of Coll, means I should be able to keep up with my plan without getting wet or missing out on anything I wanted to do. It has also meant a day of very little activity in a very quiet place. But such is the nature of this trip. No two days are the same. Today was a non-event, at least on the cycling front; but that is OK every now and again. I have until 12.30pm tomorrow, when the ferry for Oban arrives, to make up for it. I will do my best.
Having missed out on Tiree yesterday, I cunningly got myself within spitting distance of it today, which is exactly what the weather was doing when the ferry docked there. We had already called in at Coll, in persistent rain; but the ferry crew were happy for me to stay on board an extra 90 minutes and disembark on the way back to Oban, when it made another stop. I don’t think this was entirely regulation behaviour and it caused a few confused looks; but in the event I was able to cycle the mile or so from the ferry terminal to the bunkhouse in the only village, Arinagour, before the next heavy shower kicked in. And there I remained, mostly in conversation with my fellow guests, for the entire afternoon. At one point some blue sky was briefly spotted; but not for long. The grey and the wet soon resumed normal service.
For the record, Tiree is a low, flat, treeless grassy island, with (according to last night’s hotel owner in Oban) better grazing for horses than the mainland. It is known for windsurfing, and even in today’s gloom I saw someone scudding along in the bay where the ferry docked. One day I will enjoy Tiree’s legendary sunshine, no doubt; but today my business was on Coll. This small island of fewer than 200 residents is also home to Project Trust, the charity that sends young British people around the world on year-long projects in developing countries, like Honduras, where my daughter Isabel spent most of her gap year between school and university. It was a life changing experience for her, cruelly cut four months short by the Covid pandemic. She spent a week here in Coll doing orientation for Central America, so I knew it must be worth a visit.
Even before I get back on my bike, I can report that it has been worth making the effort to come. For starters, in Arinagour it has a proper, cosy little village with white-painted terraced cottages around a small harbour, next to a sheltered bay with visiting yachts moored in it. There is a post office, a shop, a cafe and a gin distillery. Presiding over all of this is the smart but modest Coll Hotel, run by the superbly named Oliphant family for several decades. It is a cut above anything else I have seen anywhere comparable. The view of the bay and the village from their swish dining room is worth the ferry trip alone, not to mention the menu that goes with it. It’s a bit of a treat, not to say a surprise in this quiet backwater; but when in Rome. I’ll ride it off tomorrow.
My hostel companions for the afternoon have included a friendly Swiss family from Berne, escaping the Swiss heat, and a remarkable (my word) old lady (her words) from Glasgow, who seems to have spent a lifetime walking and climbing the remotest parts of northern Scotland, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. She claims to have developed an instinct to survive and cope with most situations through a combination of experience and self-belief. She uses a map, she says, to show her where she has been! The Swiss struggled to follow her Glaswegian brogue, so I acted as translator when required. It was a strange collection of people in an unlikely location. All part of the fun when you come to a place like this.
Weirdly, on a day when I have done little but sit, I feel quite tired. That could be the beer, but since I am in a shared dorm room tonight, perhaps it’s a good thing. Anyway, I made it, albeit in reduced form, to OS map 46, and tomorrow will move me ahead in my quest once again. Sort of. Map 47 is not reachable from here without your own boat, so I will be taking a circuitous route. More of that to follow. I’m not finished with Coll just yet.