IT was raining but the heavy grey skies and swirling mist only seemed to make the desolate moors of Sutherland even more beautiful.
I was on the rough B-road to Ben Hope that runs up Strath More from Altnaharra when a glance in the rearview mirror showed the peaks of Ben Klibreck trying to push their way up through a sea of grey. I had to take a picture.
I stepped out of the car and was suddenly engulfed by a horde of adoring females. Not a dream, a nightmare. The midges were back in force - and it’s the females who do the biting.
Now, I may just have been lucky with my walking venues, but this year has seemed surprisingly free of the little pests.
The elongated winter meant they had a longer lie-in than usual and then the blisteringly hot weather continued to keep them at bay. Just like vampires, they don’t like the sunlight. They are also less prevalent in the east of the country - west is best as far as midges are concerned.
Now, however, the conditions were perfect: warm, damp, overcast, with hardly a breath of wind.
Everyone else at the foot of Ben Hope was either wearing full cover head nets or spending their time unsuccessfully tried to bat them away.
At one point the clouds of midges were so thick it seemed they were morphing together to form super-midges. It was a reminder of what we Scots can expect in Hell.
Another month or so and they will be gone. It was like they were determined to go out with a bang.
Strange to think that just a few weeks ago I was almost pining for the midges. But that was only because the horse flies were out in force.
Boy, do you know when they’re around. A few summers ago in Knoydart, you could hear the shouts and yelps of walkers every few minutes as the clegs bit through two or three layers of clothing, drawing blood.
There are various remedies to ease the midge effect. Smoking can keep them at bay though it seems a bit extreme to start lighting up now if you’ve been smoke-free all your life.
A wild session in the pub the night before a walk can also do the trick, though again it’s not the healthy option. I remember myself and two friends stumbling up a mountain in Glen Coe like zombies after a particularly vicious bender. Our faces were pasted black with dead midges that had drowned in our sweat but at least we didn’t have any bites.
There are creams and sprays available, one from a well-known cosmetics company which I’m sure didn’t intend it for this purpose. After all, how do you market this as a female beauty aid when it is so repellent to little pests - unless, of course, it has the same result in nightclubs.
There’s also a new one on the market, Smidge, which seems to do the job.
But I sometimes shudder when I think of the old-style insect repellents. You could almost feel it burning through the skin as you sprayed it on. They seemed to be a version of Agent Orange, perfect for defoliating jungle canopies but not so kind to humans. Maybe that’s why so many older hill walkers have so little hair.
(First published Daily Record, August 22, 2013)