Earlier this year I took a break from my role as Conservation Assistant at The Grasslands Trust and headed back to the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, where I used to live. The winds and tides did their best to prevent our group reaching Coll’s exposed and rocky shore but we made it in to the pier (on the ferry’s third attempt!) and a true Hebridean welcome ensued. This has been one of the worst winters the islanders can remember and conditions some days were truly horrendous.
One afternoon we walked part of the West End of the island, squelching in boggy ground along the burn, then along the single track road until we reached a piece of ground known as Feall Strait. The grass was sodden and the line of the path hidden by vast puddles. In the fading gloom and lashing rain, heads bowed against the wind (but spirits cheery) it was hard to conceive what this part of Coll can look like in the summer. Then it truly is a rich and colourful tapestry of flowers – a spectacular display of machair.
Bright purples and yellows dominate the sward with Red Clover, Pyramidal Orchids, clumps of Bloody Cane’s-bill and Bird’s-foot Trefoil drawing your eye across the bents and down to the white shell sand of Feall Bay. With a clear blue sky and the sun sparkling on the turquoise waters you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else and will most likely have the beach to yourself. Seals bob past inquisitively and if you’re lucky you’ll see the unmistakable fins of a basking shark. It’s a magical part of the world and one of my favourite grassy spots.
One of our Trustees Bob Gibbons has recently published a book entitled “Wildflower Wonders of the World”. It contains stunning images of grasslands in Europe and further afield alongside tips for visiting them. Bob cites the machair of the Outer Hebrides as “unashamedly beautiful with its spectacular displays of flowers; lots of birds and wonderfully evocative scenery”. For all these reasons Coll in the Inner Hebrides is definitely worth a visit too. And if like me you’re there in stormy times and the return ferry doesn’t make it in, you’ll even get an extra day’s holiday!