Midges in Scotland are infamous beasts. They are essentially the Scottish mosquito but your ordinary mosquito repellent won’t conquer these guys. Instead, as locals who have had many a camping trip ruined and itchy night’s sleep thanks to these guys we decided to put together this guide of our best advice for visitors to deal with midge season in Scotland.
WHAT ARE MIDGES?
Prounced, “mij-ee” they are small flying insects that bite. When it comes to midges in Scotland, there are over 35 varieties – yeahp, that many. However, it is one particular variety known as the Highland Midge which this guide is aimed at. These guys are the most irritating and likely to nibble as you enjoy the Scottish outdoors.
WHEN IS MIDGE SEASON IN SCOTLAND?
If you want to avoid midge season in Scotland, don’t book your holiday between May to September (unless you read our tips!)
Despite their infamous reputation, the midge life cycle is quite impressive. During the Winter months, the larvae bury themselves underground and re-emerge in May – this is when midge season in Scotland begins.
However if we have a particular hot and dry May, midges numbers will be low as like real Scots they hate hot sunshine.
Bare in mind, hot sunshine and Scotland is not a weather forecast we hear often, which means you’ll be needing our tips on how to keep midges away during those Summer months. Midges thrive in damp, mild weather which is basically a Scottish Summer. If the weather is windy and warm, midges will be hiding!
WHAT TIME OF DAY DO YOU FIND MIDGES IN SCOTLAND?
Midges have a tiny wing span (around 2mm) so if the wind picks up even a little, they’ll struggle. If you want to avoid midge bites, then the sunniest or windiest time of day is best.
Also, on cloudy days, or during dawn and dusk is when midges in Scotland thrive. During these times of day, light intensity is lowest so midge numbers are at their highest.
The Midge Forecast
You check the weather before you plan your day, right? Well, here in Scotland you can check the midge forecast before planning your day too!
During midge season in Scotland, the guys at Smidge (our recommended repellent) have a live midge forecast with updates and an easy to understand colour coded system.
WHAT IS THE WORST PLACE FOR MIDGES IN SCOTLAND?
Many people want to know the worst place for midges in Scotland in order to avoid them. Well, unfortunately the worst places for midges happen to be some of the most stunning places in our wee country – the West Coast.
Due to the West Coast facing more damp weather, their midge population thrives in the Summer months. Popular tourist destinations such as Skye can be overrun with midges in the Summer months due to the area’s overcast weather.
To avoid midges in Scotland, there are a few areas that do not get bothered by them as much but hey, it’s Scotland these critters get around. These areas include the stunning Cairngorms National Park as it is slightly drier.
We grew up in Moray and find this area of Scotland a hidden gem as it’s outwith the popular tourist route but due to being on the East coast we aren’t bothered by midges as much to thanks to salty air and windy weather.
In the highlands and the East Coast, it is also common for us to have an early frost in September. Midges (thankfully!) cannot survive frost so this kills them off early.
HOW TO KEEP MIDGES AWAY
Don’t panic if you’ve booked your dream getaway to Skye in mid July – yes this is peak midge season in Scotland but with our tips, you can conquer these critters with ease, regardless of where you’re headed.
Firstly, the obvious question is are you staying outdoors? We adore wild camping in Scotland, but any kind of camping, motorhoming or caravan life will mean more exposure to these hungry beasts. If you are sticking to hotels, hostels etc they’ll only bother you if out in nature and tend to avoid cities/civilized areas.
Thankfully, after nearly 30 years battling the beasts, we have plenty wee hacks if you’re wondering how to keep midges away and enjoy your Scottish getaway.
Whether enjoying a glass of wine outdoors or camping under the stars, citronella will prevent you from becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The strong scent of citronella actually masks the tasty smell of human which midges crave. Midges are actually attracted to the CO2 in our breath, which is why filling the air with a lemony-fresh smell confuses the wee critters and keeps them away. As another tip, you can also add a few drops of citronella essential oil to your skin or clothing to keep midges away.
Please only use outdoors (not inside your tent!) and do not put ontop of dry grass/leaves etc – ensure they are kept above ground to be safe.
Another way to avoid midges in Scotland is to light a campfire. Again, the smoke masks the CO2 from humans and repels midges from coming near. The issue with campfires however, is firstly they are horrendous for the environment so please, if you are wild camping in Scotland only build a campfire if it is safe and you do not disturb natural habitats by collecting firewood, leaves etc. Please make sure to remove all trace of your fire before leaving.
As a tip, a portable BBQ will have the same effect. Again, making sure your BBQ is not on dry grass and is propped up to avoid damaging the natural environment and leaving burn marks. Not forgetting to be a responsible traveller and dispose of it properly.
If you are trying to avoid midges in Scotland, never buy a tent unless it has a fly net over the door. This is essential to keep midges away in the evenings. When you have your door open to keep the tent cool, the wee invaders love a nose of your damp, stinky camping clothes so will head inside unless you have this net.
It is also essential for campervan windows/caravan doors etc as again, having these open to keep cool will invite the midges in. If you’re wondering how to keep midges away, another tip is to spray the fly net of your tent and any clothing with one of the repellents below. Don’t just spray your skin – the more you can mask the human smell the better!
HOW TO PREVENT MIDGE BITES
Whether keeping them away didn’t go to plan or you don’t have candles and campfires at hand don’t panic! There are still several ways to prevent midge bites and enjoy your Summer in Scotland.
Wear Long Clothing
During the midge season in Scotland, we advise you wear long sleeves and trousers during dawn and dusk. This will limit skin exposure and (hopefully) prevent midge bites.
Use The Correct Repellent
Forget the usual deet mosquito repellent you pack for your holidays, midges in Scotland are hardy beasts and there are only 2 kinds of repellent we’d recommend because we know from experience they actually work.
AVON Skin So Soft
This is actually a dry oil spray which is used to moisturise the skin, but for decades the army in Scotland have used it to repel midges. As a girl guide growing up camping in Scotland this was always the number one item on our kit list – fast forward 20 years, we still ensure some is on our camping checklist.
The brains behind Smidge repellent are just as impressive as the spray itself. Invented by the world’s leading midge experts they bottled their knowledge to create the ultimate prevention against midge bites. We used this for the first time last Summer on the West Coast during a particularly wet weekend in August and can vouch that it does exactly what it says on the tin!
On the topic of a wet weekend camping on the West Coast last Summer, we seriously struggled with midge bites and thankfully picked up these nets in a nearby camping shop. Now they are a staple to our camping kit and despite looking a little daft are so handy for keeping away midges in Scotland.
Pop over a baseball cap or simply over your face at dusk and dawn to prevent midges getting in your ears/mouth/eyes.
MIDGE BITES TREATMENT
So you’ve learned how to keep midges away yet somehow you’ve ended up with a few sneaky bites. Don’t panic, we have a list of effective treatments that can help stop midge bites itching.
Midge bites do not hurt and its unlikely you’ll even feel it happen however, the aftermath is when irritation occurs. As soon as you are bitten, a red bump will appear that looks like an ordinary mosquito bite.
Then the itching starts and your restful night sleep ends. Midge bites itch so much because our bodies surround the bite with histamine. A side effect of histamine is the most irritating itch! When you scratch the itch this inflames the bite further = more histamine = more itching.
How To Stop Midge Bites Itching
As described in the vicious cycle above, the more you itch, the worse midge bites get so our first tip would be not to itch in the first place! We know it can be impossible at times so here are our top midge bite treatments to soothe the itching:
- Antihistamine Tablets or Cream
- Apply a cold compress or wet flannel
- A dip in the sea if you’re feeling brave – salt water will soothe the itch
- Tea Tree Oil
- Dab on Calamine Lotion
- Apply Tiger Balm (make sure its the white one)
- Sudocreme – we’ve used this for years on bites and it works for us!
- For further advice check out the NHS website for bite & sting relief
Midges in Scotland are massively irritating but we hope you now feel prepared to tackle these biting beasts head on. We hope you’ll have no midge bites keeping you awake at night and in the event you do feel a nibble, our treatment tips above will help soothe you back to sleep.
There’s no need to rearrange your holiday or fear the stunning Scottish outdoors now that you’ve packed a few essentials and know how to keep midges away! Let us know in the comments if you’ve had any annoying encounters or know any top tips we’ve missed!