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IT is a ferocious and much-feared beast, one that has long wreaked misery across Scotland, emerging at dusk – or dawn – to feast on human blood.
The dreaded midge isn’t to be trifled with. We’ve all been there, sitting outside on a warm summer’s evening and enjoying a sunset, when there comes a tell-tale nip upon exposed flesh. The arm, the leg, the neck, the face, the scalp – the midge isn’t fussy – and before you know it, you’re under siege.
With more of us set to enjoy staycations this year, we need to learn to coexist with these tiny flying brutes, which is why I’m offering up my services as a human guinea pig. I’m a good test subject given I’ve never met a midge that doesn’t like me.
I still bear the scars – mental and physical – of a long weekend in Glen Coe a few years ago. It was July. There was cloud cover, no wind and a sticky humidity. I was almost eaten alive.
Believe me, I have tried everything to keep the midges at bay. Among the long list of suggestions that I’ve given a whirl are eating Marmite sandwiches, spraying a fine mist of Listerine and taking garlic tablets (that one isn’t bad logic considering they are mini vampires).
Smoke can act as a deterrent, which has seen me huddling next to barbecues and bonfires like they are two-bar electric fires on cold winter mornings.
I’ve donned midge nets that give me the forlorn air of a beekeeper who has lost her hive, or a grieving Victorian widow. I’m considering putting up bat boxes after reading that a lone bat can eat 3,000 midges in one night.
Citronella and Saltidin (also known as Picaridin and Icaridin) are among the ingredients that midges are said to find repugnant and give a wide berth. Essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender and lemongrass have been credited with similar properties (more on this in a moment).
The midge has a mighty reputation for such a miniscule insect. Weighing just one 8000th of a gram, it has a teeny wingspan of 2-3mm. Midges breed in vast numbers across 25 per cent of Scotland’s land mass.
Midges are said to enjoy the smell of our natural body odour and sweat which is where using certain scents can come in handy.
Avon Skin So Soft (150ml), £3.50
This moisturiser wasn’t designed with midges in mind but has famously been adopted for that purpose. When I interviewed the ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes in 2011, he mentioned that a friend had advised stocking up on Avon Skin So Soft would be prudent before a visit to Scotland.
The Royal Marines are said to swear by its midge-repelling powers when training or based in and around the west coast.
The secret to Skin So Soft creating a no-fly zone for midges has been widely attributed to the citronella that it contains. Skin So Soft has been my go-to over the years, clocking up a decent midge-busting hit rate.
Application/consistency: A dry oil spray.
Smell: Baby talcum powder.
Verdict: Still a classic. It has won an army of global fans for good reason.
Smidge (75ml), £8.15
Wandering around shops and supermarkets across the Highlands during the summer months, you will see tourists clutching this elixir.
Smidge has been about for a decade now. Its development was led by Dundee-based Dr Alison Blackwell, an authority on midge behaviour and leader of the team behind the Scottish Midge Forecast.
The active ingredient is Saltidin which, according to the blurb, “has been molecularly designed to effectively block the antennal receptors of biting insects – basically, it throws them off your scent.” Smidge is also billed as working on mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies, fleas and ticks.
Application/consistency: A lightweight, aluminium cannister with pump spray that dispels a fast-absorbing, water-based lotion.
Smell: Chic unisex scent. Think CK One.
Verdict: Did a stellar job as I sat in my tree-covered garden on a still, humid evening.
Mary Jean Highland Midge Lotion (100ml), £10
The idea of making a midge lotion is one that Elizabeth and Mary Quinn struck upon by chance. The owners of family-run Mary Jean in Fochabers, Moray, were selling their skincare products at a Highland Games in 2012.
The midges were biting and in a moment of inspiration, Mary soaked some kitchen roll in lemongrass oil and hung it from their stall. It worked a treat and an idea took seed, leading to the creation of Mary Jean Highland Midge Lotion.
Ingredients include lemongrass – of course – as well as bog myrtle, aloe vera, jojoba, neem and mango. It is a wholesome product: handmade, organic, palm oil-free, vegan-friendly and non-toxic. Available in a 30ml travel size. Can also be used to deter mosquitoes and horseflies.
Application/consistency: A luxurious and light-feeling cream from a pump dispenser.
Smell: Delicious citrus overtones.
Verdict: A brilliant product that kept me midge-free. It also helped soothe redness on existing bites.
Anderson Aromatics Beastie Be Gone (50ml), £7
Beastie Be Gone, which launched in May, was coined by Bothwell-based clinical aromatherapist and perfumer Julie Anderson-McKee.
As someone who loves the outdoors – Anderson-McKee can often be found camping in a tent or a caravan by a loch – she knows only too well the blight of midges.
The result is a triple action cream that combines insect repellent, SPF 15 protection and a moisturiser that can be used as an after sun. It comes with excellent credentials, including being vegan, hypo-allergenic and as Anderson-McKee puts it “free from all nasties”.
Tried and tested by 92 Scottish wild campers and walkers, among the ingredients are organic shea butter, coconut and almond oils, lavender, lemon eucalyptus, citronella and myrrh.
Application/consistency: A sumptuous cream in a sleek metal container.
Smell: Pleasant hints of lemon and lavender.
Verdict: An impressive new kid on the block that does what it says on the tin.
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