The area to the far North West of Scotland offers an amazing landscape of global importance, including the Geopark at Knockan Crag; outstanding natural beauty such as around Loch Maree and the Torridon mountains; abundant sandy beaches; and opportunities for outdoor pursuits, including walking, climbing, kayaking and cycling.
However, as I discovered during a recent holiday, staying at The Steading cottage in the village of Aultbea, the danger of the Highland Midge is not to be underestimated. The following tale should serve as a reminder to all visitors between May and October to prepare accordingly and pack that anti-Midge spray.
After a 90 mile cycle from the working village of Aultbea to the Torridon Inn and back (a lovely hotel and pub by Loch Torridon), fish and chips was in order. Bikes safely stored in the holiday cottage shed, I dashed upstairs shouting to my husband that I would shower, and as soon as we were ready we should go to make the most of the early evening sun. By the time I was dressed, hubby was lolling on the bed in his dressing gown, Kindle in hand. I therefore encouragingly said ‘I’m ready to go when you are’. Hubby said ‘Oh, I thought you would need time to dry you hair’. I insisted I was ready to go, with hair dripping, as I reached for the dryer. By the time I was finished, we would hopefully be able to head straight out in the car to pick up fish and chips from the bustling, pretty village of Gairloch, some 13 miles from Aultbea.
Within 10 minutes we were in the car, on the stunning drive along the A832, towards Gairloch. We tried the Beachcomber chippy. After a short 5 minute wait, I scooped up our order of fish and chips and we walked back to the car. At this point I remembered in my haste to get out the door, I had forgotten to bring cutlery and thought eating fish and mushy peas without a fork might be challenging. So I said ‘Did you bring cutlery?’
‘No. Did you?’
‘Eh no’ said I. ‘So how are we going to eat our fish and mushy peas?’
‘They had wooden forks in the Chippy’ hubby said ‘Shall I go get them?’
‘Yes, I think you better had; they’ll be better than nothing’, I said as I pointed with my eyes to the arms full of takeaway, which prevented my legs from making the 30 second walk back to collect said forks.
Newly acquired cutlery in hand we set off for the picnic spot. To our surprise and delight, it was empty. Not a soul. We parked up and opted for the best spot, a little way from the car, at the hill edge with stunning views over the loch and the lush Gairloch 9 hole golf course to the left.
We laid out our boxes of fish and chips, distributed drinks, gherkins, condiments, mushy peas etc around our picnic table and tucked in. The haddock was nice, but the batter too thick. We were hungry so forgave this error – but we were disappointed Gairloch couldn’t match the superb haddock and chips, from Deli-Ca-Sea Fish and Chip Bar, West Short Street, near the ferry terminal in Ullapool. We spent the next few minutes eating, gazing out over the sea loch and congratulating ourselves for our good fortune in being able to enjoy the last of the day’s warm sunshine, in this lovely, quiet spot. The fact there was no wind was the cherry on the cake.
After about 5 minutes, I noticed hubby slapping and rubbing his neck. ‘Think the midges (tiny biting insects) have found us’ he said.
I realised then that the odd nip I had been feeling was not clothes rubbing on tight dry skin after all (I had been in such a rush, I decided to skip the moisturise stage of post-shower routine). I then looked up to see a dense cloud of midges hovering above hubby’s head. ‘O my Goodness!’ I exclaimed (or words to that effect) ‘Run for the car now!’
Hubby grabbed his box of fish and chips and was sitting in the car before I had left the table (he had the car key). I spent rather longer trying to sweep up our rubbish, drinks as well as my own fish and chips. A 30 yard dash to the car was almost more than my leg muscles could stand, having cycled earlier in the day. I could not outrun the midge, so as I leapt in to the car, a small entourage followed, mostly hitching a ride in my clothes and hair. Meanwhile the car interior had heated up nicely thanks to the sun beating down on the windscreen. ‘We can’t even open the window’, hubby groaned.
We finished our fish and chips in silence apart from the noise created swatting midges in the car and removing layers of clothing. When we finished eating hubby turned to me, a gentle sweat on his brow now, looking from the rubbish bin (some distance from the car) to the smelly remnants of our dinner, and asked hopefully: ‘rock, paper, scissors?’ He had jumped in the driver side (closer to the picnic area). My look said it all. I didn’t need to maturely reply: ‘not a chance, you’re closer’.
So folks, enjoy eating out and drinking in all the stunning views the North West of Scotland has to offer. But remember, you’ll enjoy your holiday in the great outdoors even more if you remember to respect the biting power of the tiny Highland Midge.