Sunday, September 4, 2016

Midges Galore

It has been a few years since I've had a really bad experience with midges, so just how bad they can be had faded from memory. And I did not give them a second thought during the first few days of my time on Lewis last month because strong winds were keeping them away. But they were there, hunkered down in the grass, hungrily waiting for things to calm down.

During that time I made a three-day trek from Morsgail to the Ardveg, and then up to Uig. The first evening of the walk I camped in the Ardveg, pitching my tent in the same spot near the old blackhouses where I'd camped in 2001 (see the May 23, 2013 post). As I set up camp, Joe came over to check me out, sticking his big nose into my tent and knocking over my pack. That did not bother me, for Joe is a friendly horse that belongs to the new owners of the Ardveg estate, some 2700 acres that covers the Ardveg and Ardmore peninsulas. 

Joe of the Ardveg
I crawled into the tent around 11pm, after being treated to dinner and drinks by the new owners of Ardveg (an unexpected treat in the back of beyond, and very welcome after eight hours of bog-hopping). A gentle breeze was blowing, and the last thing on my mind were midges. The tent is too small to keep my pack inside, and so I left it out for the night.

In the morning I looked out the tent's mesh screen to see what the weather was like. All I saw was a blur. 'Oh,' I thought to myself, 'things sure look fuzzy, I should put my glasses on.' On went the glasses, and I took another look. 'Uh-oh, things are still blurry.' 

What I was seeing was a thick mass of hovering midges, greedily drawn to my tent by the carbon dioxide venting through the mesh. A vast horde, just waiting for me to come out and play. It's then I realize that I'd made a tactical mistake. My bug net was in my pack, and the pack was... outside .... uh oh...

What to do....  Then I realized there is something useful in the tent. Inside my kit-bag was a bottle of the island-hiker's best friend - no, not Scotch - it's a bottle of full-strength DEET. Now there are certainly better ways to start a day than by smearing yourself with a gallon of insecticide, but that's what I had to do.

Prepared for action, the next step was to retrieve the bug net. I unzipped the tent, stepped out, and started to quickly dig through my pack to find the net. During this time I'm engulfed in a cloud of nasty, thirsty, teeny-tiny bugs. As I find the net a look at my DEET-drenched hands showed them to be covered with a black mass of dying, squirming midges. I also started to notice a tingling, itchy feeling in my scalp, the only exposed area not drenched with DEET. Spurred on by desperation I grabbed the bug-net and dashed uphill to find a spot with a breeze.

With the net on I was prepared to break camp and move on to seek out the beehive cells of the Ardveg. Lesson learned: keep all your defensive midge weapons with you inside the tent. A lesson I learned the hard way.

Note: The story of the walk through Morsgail to the Ardveg is scheduled for the November/December 2016 issue of Scottish Islands Explorer.

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