Oh, those dreadful midges!

Bryce Wilson' mermaid illustration from Tom Muir's The Mermaid Bride


You might not be able to avoid midges if you go out to Orkney's countryside. But you can render them less infuriating. 

I didn't fully appreciate the level of crazy brought on by these little monsters until I experienced them.

"They can't be any worse than black flies in Western New York," I innocently assumed.

Wrong. They are worse. They are a nightmare.

Woman hiding under a coat from midgies

Like mosquitoes, midgies bite because the female needs a quick blood-snack when she'd getting ready to hatch the next generation.

It's small comfort to know that your blood is nourishing the rest of the ecosystem.

Tom once told me about an archaeological dig he was on where the diggers made fun of the man who'd brought a funny-looking netted hat with him ... until the swarm arrived. No more laughing. Lots of swearing.

You might like a bit of a laugh about now. Hear Tom tell the story of the midgies and the giant below.

The things we do ...

Tom and I tested on ourselves the two most popular brands of repellent  in midgie paradise - the beautiful and boggy Rackwick Valley.

Our conclusion? They both work ... sort of. Here's a quick breakdown of our findings. 

Skin so Soft:

We used the original dry oil spray. It worked to keep the biting at bay, but it does have a strong fragrance. I don't find the smell unpleasant, though some folks do. 

I discovered an extra benefit. In a frenzy of self-protection, I sprayed the stuff all over my head. When I combed the tiny bodies out of my hair later it was super-silky! Hair is getting a deep conditioning while sanity is being preserved? It's a win-win.

Skin so Soft is an oil, so if you're worried about burning, you can apply sunscreen first. It's safe for children and babies, and can be diluted with water to spray on dogs.

Avon also makes a product designed as a bug repellent - which Skin so Soft was not - as well as a sunblock/repellent combination. 

Skin so Soft ingredients: isopropyl palmitate, alcohol denat, aqua, parfum, BHT, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, tocopheryl acetate, hydoxycitronellal, coumarin, linalool, citronellol, Limonene.

Skin so Soft is available from Amazon here

midge swarm

Smidge

It's more expensive than Skin so Soft here in Orkney - almost four times the price per ml as of this writing. Honestly, though, when the midgies come out you'll promise your first born to anyone who can make them go away. If it works for you, it's worth the price. 

Smidge doesn't have a scent. It's marketed as lasting for 8 hours and water-resistant, which it may be. But when it rained, it ran over my lips with an unpleasant bitter taste, and stung my eyes. 

Smidge ingredients: I find the label confusing and couldn't get much clarity by searching online. Apparently, they have a patented formula. All of the ingredients don't seem to be listed. 

It is DEET-free, with 20% Saltidin, the DEET-alternative. Other listed ingredients are: hexyl cinnamal, limonene, and linalool.

Smidge is safe to use on children over two years old. I can't find anything saying whether  or not it's safe to use on pets, so I wouldn't.

Be prepared for the onslaught! You can use this link to get your  Smidge supply from Amazon.

midges swarm

Tom and I agreed that the two products seemed to work about equally. I can't say for how long, since we tended to run for shelter when they got too agressive. Both Skin so Soft and Smidge seem to keep the actual biting to a minimum - much more tolerable than when we went out unprotected. 

Neither stopped them from swarming around our heads, though. The swarming itself is really unpleasant. 

With both products, we went home with midgies stuck to our skin and in our hair. Yuck! But better than being eaten alive.

Reviews that I found in forums seemed about equally balanced. Because of the stinging eyes thing, I slightly preferred Skin-so-Soft. Tom didn't care which we used. He just wanted to get back to the cottage, shut the little horrors out and have a cup of tea.

If strong smells bother you, you might prefer Smidge. I think the best way to test it out is to have one of each on hand. It might seem like overkill, but you'll be glad if you blunder into a cloud of the little buggers.

People wearing netting to keep midgies away

Netting

I've tested this method and found that it does help. Some midgies can still creep in here and there, but yes, it definitely makes a difference.

Believe me, you won't be at all concerned about how you look in the goofy netting. You'll be laughing as the impotent blighters try unsuccessfully to get at your face.

And added benefit is that the netting protects the face and neck from the sun. Sunburn isn't usually something we worry about much in Orkney, but you never know.

This is the one I bought. It comes in a tiny drawstring bag. Just shove it back in when you're done. It's perfect for light traveling.

Some people mention that the black netting is easier to see through than the Smidge brand's green netting.

You can get very cheap netting, but the reviews for the cheapos seem less spectacular.

Final conclusion ...

Even wearing the netting might not be enough, since the little blighters will attack any exposed skin. A combination of netting and repellent is probably best.

If you're taking the time and resources to come to Orkney, it would be a shame to let a few zillion midges spoil the experience, even for a day. I think it's better to be prepared than to be sorry.


How to avoid midgies

They love: 

  • dawn and dusk
  • shady spots
  • still, humid conditions
  • warm, wet environments
  • heather and other dense foliage 
  • spring and summer, roughly May - August

Midgies hate:

  • wind
  • direct sun

Midge-thwarting tips:

  • Midges are worse in valleys, since they're sheltered from the wind there. Head for hilltops and bright, breezy places, if you can. 
  • They're allegedly attracted to dark colors. Wearing light clothing can't hurt.
  • They find you more easily if you're stationary, so keep up a brisk pace.
  • If you're camping, pitch your tent in a breezy place, facing into the wind. 

We wish you a great adventure ... and don't let the midgies bite.


Cheers!

Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages) courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE - Thanks, Bryce!

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