Coll: Scotland’s answer to Ibiza with white sand beaches and raving until dawn

Coll: Scotland’s answer to Ibiza with white sand beaches and raving until dawn

As party islands go, it’s got some of the best white-sand beaches in the business, residents who can rave until dawn, and welcomes megastars every night of the week – provided it’s not cloudy.

It’s unlikely that the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides is going to give Ibiza a run for its money, but as the setting for an off-the-wall, as well as off-the-beaten-track, disco, it’s hard to beat.

Which is why, one weekend last month, a horde of partygoers converged on the island, more than doubling its 150-odd population, having braved wild weather and a three-hour ferry journey to attend Detour Disco.

Described by its founder as a “pop-up discotheque bringing peace, love and mirror balls to beautiful and unexpected places around the world”, this two-night event was a winningly mad mix of DJs and local musicians held in a village hall.

The island of Coll is a dark-sky community (Photo: Tony Oliver)
The island of Coll is a dark-sky community (Photo: Tony Oliver)

Last year’s location was the tiny fishing village of Thingeyri, in the Westfjords of Iceland, so why not the Isle of Coll, famous for its nature and one of the best places in the UK for stargazing?

And if the journey is as important as the destination, Coll certainly has that covered. In my case, it involved taking temporary possession of a campervan in Edinburgh, courtesy of its owner, Craig. Just getting out of the airport car park in “Ruby”, a gleaming VW Transporter, was an adventure.

Once on the motorway heading west to Oban, though, I fell in love with driving what was to be my accommodation for the next few days. My route took me through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and along the awesome Loch Awe and past the picturesque ruined Campbell stronghold of Kilchurn Castle.

The pretty port town of Oban – Scotland’s self-proclaimed seafood capital – was a great place to stock up on last-minute disco supplies, as well as the best fish and chips of my life at George Street Fish Restaurant.

The Modern Croft, meanwhile, offers chic homewares, accessories and cards – just the thing if you want a souvenir or gift that doesn’t involve tartan. Sadly, the week after I visited, one of Oban’s main roads, the A83, was buried by a landslide, due to severe flooding. The road has since reopened, following repairs.

By now, though, the dance floor was calling, and a pre-dawn ferry was the only way to get there. CalMac ferries run between the mainland and 22 of the major islands on Scotland’s west coast, and in autumn, there’s one ferry a day to and from Coll. Its route is via the Sound of Mull, and watching the tawny sun rise over the island after a fry-up featuring square sausage made for an unforgettable breakfast.

The tiny island has just over 200 residents (Photo: Glynn Parkinson-Short)
The tiny island has just over 200 residents (Photo: Glynn Parkinson-Short)

One passenger revealed that some islanders had already been getting into gear for the festivities. As well as seeing footage of a neighbour dancing on the hotel bar, “I saw on Instagram that my son had an after-party at my house last night. I’m not sure what to expect,” he said, wincing, before telling us that his youngest son would be on duty that evening, playing violin with the Coll Cosmic Ceilidh Band.

For Detour Disco founder Jonny Ensall, a journalist and DJ, involving those living locally isn’t just important – it’s the lifeblood of these events. “It’s all about community – bringing disco-lovers and Coll residents together for two nights of unabashed joy, amid plenty of stunning nature.”

And for an island that’s three miles across and 13 miles long, there is an incredible array of wild things to see, from seals and basking sharks to the skylarks, corncrakes and terns that can be spotted on Coll’s RSPB nature reserve.

Wilderness walks run by WildSmiths are a fantastic way to learn more about the landscape and its inhabitants.

The party animals, meanwhile, were gathering in Arinagour, the main settlement that has a general store, post office, church, hotel, bunkhouse and café.

Having disembarked and explored the sturdy cottages built for fishermen and marvelled at the views across Arinagour Bay, the focus became the An Cridhe community centre, where the magic would be happening. As night fell, the hall, with a gigantic glitterball, a forest of silver fringing and illuminated with a serious lighting rig, began to fill.

Inspired by the “cosmic discos” of the 70s and 80s, which married the deep percussion of African and Latin music with the space-age synths of Italodisco, the line-up featured Auntie Flo, Free Love, Delonte Rivers and Daisybelle as well as the Detour Discotheque DJs, clad in Nasa jumpsuits. But if you really want to get a big night started on a Hebridean island, what you need is a ceilidh, and the good people of Coll didn’t need much encouragement.

Detour Discotheque saw revellers dance through the night on Coll (Photo: Glynn Parkinson-Short)
Detour Discotheque saw revellers dance through the night on Coll (Photo: Glynn Parkinson-Short)

Watching generations fling themselves and their partners across the floor was truly joyful, and with everyone being encouraged to join the jigs, any too-cool-for-school posturing was impossible.

As the wind howled outside, inside the whisky cocktails (Ballantine’s and Irn Bru) flowed and the DJs hit the decks. It felt like being in an amazing, exclusive club with the fun and silliness of a school disco.

You’re never far from the weather on Coll, and as the night progressed, rain fell and the stars were, alas, nowhere to be seen. “If the wind really gets up, you might be here until Tuesday,” Lesley, who lived on the island, had warned me. I would have been happy to stay, but I had a pitch booked at the impressive new Oban Holiday Park with views out across the Sound of Kerrera.

So early next morning I joined the weary throng for the ferry that was, apparently, still coming to get us. On the way, we encountered a girl making her way home, having been to the after-party in the basement of the former church. An impromptu sound system had been rigged up, instruments had been brought out and they had partied till dawn. “The best party I’ve been to in my whole life,” she told me.

Getting there
CalMac Ferries operate services from Oban to Coll.

Staying there
Camplify offers rental of campervans such as “Ruby” from £131 per day for up to four guests (it is also pet friendly).
Oban Holiday Park has electric touring pitches from £24 per night.

More information
detourdisco.com
visitscotland.com
discoverhighlandsandislands.scot