On The Road: Once bitten, twice shy of tiny scourge of the Highlands

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Dangers are few and far between in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland: getting rained on is an obvious one, getting stuck in the middle of nowhere on the Sabbath is another, or perhaps, if you're really unlucky, a spot of light cattle rustling by a rival clan. And there's Culicoides impunctatus – or the midge, as it's more commonly known – a tiny flying creature that is savage and merciless in the extreme and hunts in huge packs.

I'm on the Isle of Mull, wild camping in a bid to get close to nature. However, after a few days being slowly driven insane by these bloodthirsty little devils I want to be as far away from nature as possible. Preferably somewhere inside, with 16-foot walls and airtight doors and windows.

Every time I leave my tent they descend, getting into my eyes, ears, nose and mouth – and a few places I'd forgotten I ever had. They're even penetrating my tent. I begin to suspect that a group of them is unzipping it when I'm asleep.

I remember that midges don't like direct sunlight (fat chance of that), heavy rain (always a chance of that), smoke and wind. I consider taking up pipe-smoking, or maybe standing in front of the nearest wind turbine.

Then I discover that the village pub boasts the latest in midge-defence technology. Meet the Midgeater, a trap that emits carbon dioxide to lure the little blighters within range and then sucks them in at high speed.

As I sit outside the pub on a balmy evening enjoying a pint in peace, I spare a thought for the grave-digger from Rùm. According to legend, as punishment for not burying a body properly he was stripped naked, tied to a post and left outside with only the midges for company. The poor chap eventually died of the countless bites. I wonder if one of his descendants invented the Midgeater?

Footprint Scotland Highlands & Islands is available now (£14.99)