Highlands & Islands

Hillwalker's Cairngorm midge film goes viral

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Media captionMan surrounded by swarm of midges in Cairngorms

A video of a hillwalker's encounter with a huge swarm of biting midges has been viewed thousands of times on the internet.

Craig McLaren, assistant outdoors education officer with Falkirk Outdoors and a keen photographer, was on a trek in the Cairngorms last week.

He was leading a group of seven that had tackled Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach.

The video has been viewed more than 250,000 times on Facebook.

The group of hillwalkers were returning to a spot where they had left mountain bikes, which they had used to get into the remote area of the Cairngorms from Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore.

Mr McLaren, from Edinburgh, said the midges swarmed around them soon after they arrived at the bikes.

He said: "I told the others to carry on ahead on their bikes to where our bus was parked while I stayed to fix a puncture. I gave them the keys to the bus so they could get inside to escape the midges."

Despite being filmed with insects all over his hands, he said his midge repellent cream prevented him being bitten.

"However, the zips were down on the pockets on my trousers and lots of them went into my pockets. My clothes were full of them," he added.

"I also had to keep the midgie net on over my face once I did get on the bike."


Life as a moveable feast for midges

By Steven McKenzie

Image copyright Science Photo Library

It was in Torridon on Scotland's west coast in the early 1990s where I first experienced swarms of midges.

The tiny, biting beasts thrive in the west where there are vast areas of moist peat for them to lay eggs and a warm, wet climate to nurture the hatching larvae.

On my Torridon hillwalking trip, they made a beeline for me in their thousands every morning and evening, buzzing and biting and leaving my hands, arms and legs covered in a dot-to-dot picture of itchy, red lumps.

Not everyone is bothered by midges. They seem to have a type. My wife doesn't get bitten and one of our two children can also wander through a swarm and emerge unscathed.

Cycling in underwear

Three years ago, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland compiled a tongue in cheek list of the benefits of the biting pest.

They suggested these included midges being food for pipistrelle bats, birds such as warblers and swifts and insect-eating plants like sundew and butterwort.

Midgies also protect wild landscapes by putting people off from visiting the areas, added the council.

But it is hard to see the benefits of the bugs when they are eating you alive.

In 2009, I interviewed two men who were cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats in just their underwear for charity.

The duo were about to enter the Highlands in their boxers. I asked if they were prepared for midgies. Not having encountered the insects before they gave a "yeah-okay-whatever-that's-a-weird-question" sort of response.

Speaking to them later, a good few days into the Highlands leg of their journey, they sounded to be acutely aware of the dreaded Highland midge.


Mr McLaren said the group had enjoyed a trek high in the Cairngorms in weather far better than forecast.

They had expected fog, but had fine weather and clear views from the summits.

Mr McLaren said: "What is ironic is that I took photographs of the hills and spent a lot of time tagging those images before uploading them to the internet, but it is the video of the midgies that has had all the views."

He added: "I was recently over at Assynt in the west and locals there said the midges have been the worst there in 40 years.

"There are usually two hatchings of midges in a year, but this year, because of the good weather and a lack of a hard frost over winter, they are expecting a third."

Autumn's warm weather last year also produced a rare third hatching of biting midges.

Scientist Dr Alison Blackwell, who runs the Scottish Midge Forecast, said the consequences could be more of the insects next year.

The scientists said that overall this year there were fewer midges than previous years because the cold and wet summer affected the two main hatches.

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