Not so long ago, I was minding my own business reading a book, when GB entered the room wearing something akin to a Darth Vader mask. Brody, who had been lying beside me, immediately switched into guard dog mode while I fell about laughing (unaccustomed as we both are to Darth Vader popping round). Before things turned nasty, GB removed the mask and explained that this attire was our latest weapon in the battle against the dreaded Scottish midge. If I remember correctly, I said something along the lines that I wouldn’t be seen dead in this ridiculous get up. GB reminded me that I may not be saying that when we were diving into our van to take cover from a swarm of angry micro vampires a couple of months down the line. He certainly had a point.
Highland midges, known for centuries as the scourge of the Scottish summer, are tiny blood guzzling scoundrels who hunt in swarms and have been known to send grown men running for the hills when they strike. Interestingly, it’s only the female midge who actually bites, sending a signal to her girlfriends when she tracks down a human victim thanks to the presence of CO2 in our breath. That signal then leads to a riotous girls night out as a swarm of hungry females take over. Although not dangerous, anyone subject to attack from these tiny terrors will tell you it makes for a pretty unbearable experience. As Wikipedia states, midges are ‘generally regarded as pests’ (and they have been called a lot worse).
Although we can’t get rid of these stalwarts of Scottish existence, there is a lot we can do to mitigate against them. So here are a few tips to guard against becoming a midge banquet as you enjoy your Scottish adventures this summer:
KNOW THE CONDITIONS
Midges like low light conditions, and so tend to be more active first thing in the morning, in the evening, and when it’s cloudy. More problematic in the north and west of Scotland, they like damp, muggy air and can often be found in forest areas or next to still waters. They are less common in the south and the east, in sunny or dry spots and at altitude (Munro bagging anyone?)
BE GRATEFUL FOR A BREEZE
Midges only have a teeny weeny wingspan, so they don’t tend to fare well in anything more than a gentle breeze. Be thankful for wind speeds of over about 7mph as they won’t be able to get those little wings flying.
TRY A MIDGE REPELLENT
There are several repellents on the market which can help in the fight against midges. Smidge is a popular family-friendly option, and Avon Skin So Soft Body Oil, although not marketed as a midge repellent as such, has been well known in Scotland as an effective remedy for years. If you prefer a more natural solution you could try options like garlic, or bog myrtle (Highlanders used to tie sprigs of bog myrtle to their clothes to keep midges at bay). Burning citronella candles is also said to deter the tiny terrors. Just find a remedy that works for you.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
How you dress may also be a factor in your attractiveness to the Highland midge. Midges appear to be fond of dark fabric, so you may want to cover up in white or light coloured clothes. If things get really bad, you could add to your apparel one of the midge hoods mentioned in paragraph one. Needs must!
RUN FOR IT
If you’ve tried everything and still manage to get caught out by a swarm of hungry midges, your best bet is probably to make a run for it – they’ll have trouble keeping up with you. Try not to shout/squeal/swear as you do so (remember the carbon dioxide detection system? – you’ll just attract a whole lot more midge attention).
Hopefully these tips have given you a few pieces of armoury in your defence against the Highland midge. Whatever you do, don’t let them spoil your holiday or put you off visiting the area. They’re just another part of the unique landscape of the Highlands, and anyway, a midge invasion always makes for a good holiday story (‘remember that time we got eaten alive on the west coast?’).
Speaking of which, a trip to the west coast is on the cards again soon. Now where did I put that Darth Vader mask?