Midges up my kilt

The second day’s weather was more promising than the first. It was still raining, but more of a typical Scottish rain – drizzle with brief moments of fine mist. Then the winds picked up, which miraculously cleared the dampness out. Breakfast was a Scottish fry-up of bacon and eggs with a side dish of extra thick porridge for Kyla. And by the time we had the sodden gear packed away and loaded into the canoe, the sun began to break through.  Our outfitter, Russell, Kushi Adventures had warned us of high winds on the lochs and had even equipped our canoe – a Nova Craft Prospector made ironically in London, Ontario – with front and rear air-bags. A few minutes into the paddle across Loch Sionascaig and we were glad for the extra loft in the bow and stern. Luckily, the prevailing winds were at our back and we surfed all the way down to the southeast inlet to check out a magnificent beach along a separate loch – reached by lining up a short section of creek. It was here we discovered one of the remnants of the old Highland settlements; the broken walls of a stone house with a clump of silver birch trees growing in the center. Places like this were left behind during the Highland Clearances during the 18th and 19th centuries where the inhabitants were forced off the land so the Scottish landowners could raise more sheep. The evictions were harsh, brutal and abrupt – it also was the main reasoning behind massive immigration to Canada by the Scottish.

Our afternoon was spent hill walking. We had originally planned on hiking up either Stac Pollaidh (Stac Polly) at 510 meters or Cul Mor at 849 meters. The access trails for both hills were on the opposite slopes, however. So we opted for scrambling up neighboring hills which Kyla labelled Burnt Hill and Scorch Mountain due to a recent wild fire that charred all the heather off the granite tops. They claim the fresh burn is good for the grouse, which we were glad for – but it added a good collection of charcoal smudges on our boots and pants.

By the time we made camp on the center island of Loch Sionascaig the wind had completely died and we discovered why wind is a good thing to have while paddling the Northern Highlands – the horrific midges came out during the calm for a feeding frenzy.

Midges are nasty! While canoeing northern Ontario I’ve routinely dealt with black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, stable flies and no-see-ums. So I figured dealing with another species of biting insect couldn’t be that much of an issue. How naive. Midges are miniature vampires that group together by the thousands – so thick you literally breath in swarms of them while tramping through the heather. The blood thirsty buggers crawl into your eyes and nostrils and when they bite they leave a small red dot. It’s like being constantly being burnt by sparks from the campfire, except worse. Highlander walkers make the claim that you swat and kill one midge and a hundred come to the funeral. I believe that.

To repel them we sprayed generous amounts of Skin-So-Soft on us and lit a smudge fire with green heather and punky birch in the base of our Kelly Kettle. It seemed futile, however, and we eventually escaped into the tent to eat dinner. Later in the evening the wind returned in full force. It blasted in from the east and brought in cool temperatures and more rain. I was once again tested with my ability to put up a tarp in a landscape of limited trees, but it chased the midges away – at last!