Lying in the seemingly timeless world of the Celtic west, the island of Coll, with a population of some 130 hearty souls, is rich in history. Distances from one place to another are small, since the island averages about 5km (3 miles) in breadth; at its longest point, it stretches for some 21km (13 miles).
Coll has a partially restored castle, Breacachadh, rising majestically from its southeastern side. A stronghold of the MacLeans in the 15th century, it is now a private residence, although on some occasions it's open to the public. Immediately adjacent is the so-called New Castle, built for Hector MacLean in 1750. It provided shelter for Samuel Johnson and James Boswell when they were stranded on the island for 10 days because of storms at sea. The castle, still a private home, was altered considerably in the 19th century and embellished with pepper-pot turrets and parapets.
In the western part of the island at Totronald are two standing stones called Na Sgeulachan ("Teller of Tales"). The stones predate the Druids and are thought to have been the site of a temple. The highest point on Coll is Ben Hogh (103m/338 ft.), which you can climb for a panoramic view.
On the road to Sorisdale, at Killunaig, stand the ruins of a church, from the late Middle Ages, and a burial ground. Going on to Sorisdale, you see the ruins of houses once occupied by crofters. Hundreds of families lived here. Some were chased away in the wake of the potato famine, and many were forced out in Land Clearance programs.
A fertile island, flat Tyree has a population of some 800 residents, mostly in farming communities, who enjoy its gentle landscape, sandy beaches, and rolling hills. As you travel about the island, you see many 1800s crofter's houses with thatched roofs. In 1886, the duke of Argyll caused a scandal when he ordered marines and police to clear the crofters off the land. Many were sent, destitute, to Canada.
Most of the population is centered in Scarinish, with its little stone harbor where lobster boats put in. Fishing isn't what it used to be; the appearance of fast and dangerous squalls and storms are said to scatter the fleet as far as the shores of North America.
Bird-watchers are drawn to the shores of Loch Bhasapoll, a favorite gathering place of wild geese and ducks, and to a cave on the coast at Kenavara, where many seabirds can be observed.
Ancient duns and forts are scattered around Tyree. The best of these is a broch at Vaul Bay, with walls more than 3.5m (11 ft.) thick. At Balephetrish, on the northern rim of the island, stands a huge granite boulder. Locals call it the Ringing Stone -- when struck it gives off a metallic sound. In the island's western part, at Kilkenneth, are the ruins of the Chapel of St. Kenneth, dedicated to a comrade of St. Columba.
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