Don’t let the little things spoil your journey along the West Highland Way!
Aside from its outstanding natural beauty, Scotland is well known for its high population of midges and wee biting beasties. Often swarming and lurking in rural areas and vegetating fields, midges are a local nuisance who bite and feed off of livestock, deer and humans. However irritating they may be, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from having a run-in with these pests.
Midges are prevalent throughout summer and tend to be most active around dawn and dusk when the temperatures are much cooler, and the humidity high; their favourable conditions. Once the wind picks up to anything over 6-mph or humidity below 60%, midges become less enthused about flying and hunting for nourishment. However, there will surely be a few stubborn midges which will swarm and feed at any time of the day, and in adverse weather conditions. One thing we can be thankful for is that midges tend to stay outdoors rather than enter buildings and homes so you can rest assured that it’s unlikely they’ll be bunking up with you in the night – although, they do enjoy camping out in tents, almost as much as we do!
WHAT ARE MIDGES?
Scotland is home to over 35 different types of ferocious flying midges but is famed for the Highland Midge (Culicoides impunctatus). Despite their hungry blood-sucking nature and tendency to swarm on mass, one single midge has a measured wingspan of just 2-3mm!
Contrary to popular belief, not all midges will bite and feed on blood for nourishment; it’s just the females who swarm and feed to help keep their eggs healthy, whereas male midges tend to fill up on plant nectar and don’t really bother with us at all.
Did you know that midges are not a part of the mosquito family? That’s because they don’t have a needle, nor do they hunt individually, whereas mosquitoes do!
Unfortunately, there’s no real escape from midges as they are drawn to the CO2 we breathe out, and that goes for pets too! Once they have a whiff of our tasty CO2 emissions, they hone in on our body heat, movement and of course, exposed fleshy bits. And in the name of sisterhood, once a midge has found a tasty meal, they release pheromones to alert nearby swarms that food is nearby!
Unlike mosquitos, who have a needle to penetrate the skin to draw blood, midges have nippy little teeth that bite into the skin which can feel like a sharp prick. Once they’ve found a tasty bit, they can feed for a few minutes at a time, although, we’re often unaware until after they’ve finished and flown away. While feeding, midges release an anti-coagulant substance into the bite wound to which our immune system responds.
After a midge has had its fill, we can be left with itchy and irritating little bumps on our skin, which can redden in colour. They typically last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the individual. Of course, some of us will be more sensitive to their bites than others and some lucky folk won’t even get bitten at all! This is because we each have a unique flavour, a combination of scents, CO2 emissions and body temperature that can be more or less appealing to a hungry midge.
TOP TIPS FOR DEALING WITH MIDGES
While you may never be able to protect yourself from midges and beasties completely, there are a few things you can do to help reduce their irritating presence and appetites!
- Don’t Scratch – As difficult as it may be, try to resist scratching midge bites. It may feel like sweet relief, but you run the risk of damaging your skin and even developing an infection.
- Avoid Dusk & Dawn – Midges love transitions in the day, so plan your walk along the West Highland Way avoiding both dusk and dawn when possible. If you’re keen to experience one of Scotland’s magnificent sunrises or sunsets, then you can prepare in the following ways…
- Repellent Sprays and Creams – Invest in quality midge repellent products, like creams and sprays, but ensure they contain one of the following active ingredients: DEET (diethyltoluamide), IR3535 (Ethyl butyl-acetylamino propionate), Saltidin and Citriodiol.
- Anti-Histamines – It’s a good idea to carry some anti-histamines in your first aid pack, especially if you’ve not encountered midges before and are unsure as to how you would react to their bite.
- Midge Netting – You can buy netted covers that you can wear over the top of your clothing. These will often have hoods and face masks designed into them so you can cover your whole body. Just don’t forget to remove it when you have a drink!
- Clothing – Cover up as much exposed skin as you can and consider wearing lighter colours of clothing. Midges can detect highly contrasting colours, like dark clothing against a light background, so make yourself look less obvious! As midges tend to congregate in high-grass and places of vegetation, it’s especially important to cover up when walking through these areas.
- Camping – If you’re camping, it’s a good idea to build a small fire as this will deter midges away from the dry heat and open flame.
- Bog Myrtle – The Bog Myrtle plant (a.k.a Myrica gale) is packed with essential oils which have been known to deter midges when released. Try sticking a sprig of Myrtle into your hat or backpack for when you’re walking.
- Marmite – Love it or hate it, Marmite has also been known to deter midges. When you eat Marmite, its high content of yeast extract makes your blood less tasty. Chewing garlic also works similarly, but your walking companions may not enjoy it!
With some preparation and planning, you can help protect yourself from the ferocious beasties who you may encounter along the West Highland Way. Don’t forget to check the Midge Forecast for each day of your journey also!