How to get even with Mrs. Midge and the black magic art of 'Midgery'
After reading the first instalment of our midge shenanigans, I'm sure by now there will be a number of readers foregoing Kielder, thumbing through the Travelodge brochure looking at locations along the M1 [Southbound] as a fitting alternative to any encounters with our very own: 'wee beasties'.
Fear not brave traveller to the wild northern climes of Kielder....and beyond. There are a number of things you can do to overcome any assault by said Midge.
But first, never one to pass up on a story, here's a little something I forgot to mention, quite a big thing really as so many people come to Kielder, with their dogs.
Bringing your dog on any camping trip should be a fantastic experience for all. However, be warned, it can be challanging during midge season. At some point during your stay, whilst the air is full of midge, your four legged friend will want to pop out for the obligatory call of nature. There tends to be very little discussion with regards dogs and toilets. When it's time, it's time.
A family can [Most of the time....] be reasoned with to ensure that the trip to the loo, whilst in a tent, is best done 'pre-midge.' A dog however, is not so understanding. When he's not ready, he's not ready...and if there's a pretty Labrador in the next tent distracting him, you're onto a hiding to nothing.
Picture the scene, it's late evening, you are in a hermetically sealed tent. Midges are outside, all is well. In the background gentle music is playing, hubby is reading a book, a very good book in fact. When a commotion near the tent door draws attention.. Hubby reluctantly raises an eye from his literary adventure; only to find dog frantically carrying out his: “I want to go out for a doo-doo” dance. The conversation goes something like this:
Wife: [Without even raising her head] "I took him out this morning. It's your turn.."
Hubby: [Can't believe what he's just heard] "Hang on, I always take him out, this is the first time you've taken him out for weeks; and now it's my turn? Think again!"
Wife: [Indignant sigh] "It's your dog, you do it."
Hubby: [Disbelief the size of a whale, his voice raises then remembers that he's in a tent.., he hisses] "What? My dog? You fell in love with the puppy, it's you who wanted him."
Wife: [Perplexed at why hubby is even asking her, she finishes with a coup de grâce] "And you my dear are the nearest, I'm going to bed, if you aren't going to take him out, you can clean up the dog mess he'll leave all over the floor in the morning. Unless, like last time you didn't bother....do you remember? it was all around the house, wasn't it?."
And with that, wifey slips into her stripey onesie putting an abrupt end to any further discussion.
Hubby remembers the last time the “I want a do do” dance was ignored at home, when the in-laws visited. And of course it had to be the Mother in Law who came down first to spread the unmentionable mess around the kitchen floor with her new slippers.
Crudely reminded of this sore event and with a lot of under breath harrumphing, hubby slips on his shoes and prepares himself. Dog is now getting desperate: pushing against the tent and pawing at the groundsheet. This is in no way helpful. Hubby eventually gets the dog lead on, unzips, hops out, re-zips and wanders to a secluded area near the trees.
All was quiet, no midges.....what a result.
It's a pleasant experience...expecting to be 'midged' but finding a calming serenity near the trees....lovely.
In Kielder, this experience lasts no longer than about 30 seconds. This false joy is a 'double miffer' when the midges do arrive. Of course they arrive....it's KIelder.
It starts as a gentle caress, a hundred light fingers stroking your face, hair and ears, neck, hands, forearms, ankles. In fact all uncovered skin. It doesn't take long before you are really really annoyed! It's a short road to a barrage of foul language and extreme rants of anger as you experience this midge blood transfusion.
To top it all dog starts whimpering mid poop, unused to all of this attention whilst carrying out the call of nature. This is not the private event he's used to. He's not keen on the unnatural attention to his exposed undercarriage from nibbling midges . After an extremely short call of nature, doggy is off, like the clappers, back to the tent. This occurs as hubby is bending down, head surrounded by midge, attempting to pick up doggy doings. Doggy's bolt for shelter pulls him two paces left, ruining the well practised doggy doo bag swipe. And so starts the tug of war forcing hubby to switch on the torch searching for fresh doo doo in the grass. It doesn't take long before he wishes he hadn't switched it on. There are millions of the things swarming.........eveywhere!
Eventually, in a blur of midge both reach the tent, doggy has stopped whimpering....replacing this with a VERY LOUD bark as he attempts to plough through the tent not get in it.
Angry retorts from nearby tents adds a new slant to the issue. Doggy is chastised with a series of hard yanks on the lead and a deft wrist action.
Hubby finally gets barky dog out of the way and the zip whipped up. Both fall in and the tent is rapidly re-sealed.
As hubby takes of his shoes, with more under the breath mumbles, doggy gives a series of shakes then does an impressive writhing routine around the tent floor. It's not long before the tent has far too many midges inside. Oh yes, the dog has been a lovely midge magnet. Tonight's relaxation has been postponed until further notice.
To make matters even worse, wifey, content in her onesie, reading by torchlight has now become an irresistible target. Her berating knows no limits as she flaps and swipes using her book as a weapon. Fortune was with the hubby n dog team... they were just out of range.
There is calm for a while as wifey retreats into the depths of her sleeping bag, seething.
Hubby and doggy hold their breaths; an ominous silence oozes from the end of the tent. Yes even family dog has realised the severity of this situation.
Hubby looks at dog, dog looks at hubby, The comfy family bed is not to be. They sigh, snuggling up together on the dogs blanket. A far safer option than either of them trying to approach that sleeping bag tonight. Perhaps even for the whole weekend; who knows?
Begone foul Midge.....begone!
It's extremely important that we, the campers, are in control, so lets get onto the bit where we can thwart these little devils. We are now on the offensive. First and foremost, if you really can't get on with them just plan your visit before June or after the summer hols, mid to end of September. [Many do!] Let's pretend they don't exist, if we don't go there during these dates, then there is no such thing as a midge.. A good old fashioned case of Podsnappery. [What a fantastic word, not only the word itself but what it means.....go on, look it up]
An inexperienced camper will often expose a total lack of 'midgery' understanding when I'm asked where to pitch so they don't get troubled by the midges....I'm brutally honest, it's either Devon or Cornwall. The thought that by moving a few metres from the water or to another location will thwart said midge is a dangerous under estimation of mother nature and her seemingly sadistic pleasure in the midge hunting routine.
There is also an arrogant reluctance to respect the midge, I find it's often a male thing. Too many times as a [male] visitor arrives, I mention that we are pretty midgey and that it's advisable to take some precautions, whilst indicating with a gentle tilt of the head to my midge arsenal clearly displayed and taking up a rather large percentage of a small shop.
It's almost like a challenge, the man, we'll call him Jim, puffs the chest a bit and an age old misnomer gets mentioned for all to hear.
“Ah midges, never found they bother me to be honest.” I nod sagely explaining that I close and lock the shop in a few minutes; finding my words dismissed as the gent leaves reception, keen to find the tent instructions at the bottom of his can of lager, stoke the BBQ coals and eat meat.
A few minutes later I lock the door, close the blinds and start to cash up. It's usually not long after that when I experience, what can only be described as an assault. The building rattles as Jim attempts to barge his way through the locked front door.
I unlock to find a sweating, agitated Jim rushing past me. His eyes scan the now very interesting Midge Arsenal; grabbing a variety of random items in desperation.
“The tent building not going to plan?” I ask nonchalantly.
Distracted, Jim, catches half of my sentence and looks at me. Pain evident in his eyes.
“The f****ing bastads won't leave us alone. John's in the car refusing to budge and I can't stop them attacking me.”
I point to the head nets. Jim looks as if I've asked him to strip off and wear a ballet tutu for the weekend.
“What, them? A piggin' onion sack? No, I'll take two of the candles and what's this spray stuff. Does it kill them?” His eyes gleam staring at me intently, desperate for retaliation.
I explain that it is a very safe and effective product that keeps midges off you, but doesn't kill them. He rethinks, looking at the fly spray.
I'm pretty sure if I had an aerosol labelled “Agent Orange” he would have purchased a case.
Midges have a drive, not the one outside your house that the gypsy put in last year, no, this is an insatiable want to take your blood. To make you aware it's only the female midge that bites. She needs to feed her eggs. The male midge is a vegetarian. Tucking into plants, Quorn titbits and holding lettuce parties. Whilst the fairer sex are the troublemakers. I liken them to an out of control hen party: forever looking for fresh warm flesh, but, like all good ladies '….what do lunch.' Once they find a particularly favourite victim, they send out a pheromone that lets all the other gals know that they've found a lovely restaurant and the kitchen is open! [A term for that lucky/unlucky person who fits this bill is that they have 'sweet blood'.]
If left to their own devices a female midge will lay up to three batches of eggs in her lifetime.
Don't go feeling sorry for yourselves yet. Have you thought about the sheep, horses or cows that have no option but to stand around and be nibbled. I would imagine these unfortunate beasts get lots of time, just to think about it! They soon suss that every time the sun starts to set......try it for a few hours....just sit outside, no smidge, candles or shelter; you might have a feeling of respect or empathy for those poor beasts behind dry stone walls and wired fences.
Lets look at how Mrs. Midge finds us, remember, knowledge is power.
Movement. They detect movement and are attracted to it. Zig and zagging their way to you. Homing in.
CO2: our breath, this is one of our Achilles heels I'm afraid, we just give off loads and loads of CO2. Clouds of it and for Mrs. Midge this gets her mouth watering.
Heat: they detect heat from any warm blooded being.
Body Odour/smells: they can smell our body odours.
Put all four together and it's a party that a million of her mates find difficult to resist.
Mrs. Midge has got it sussed hasn't she? I don't think anyone can resist a bit of breathing or sweating when on holiday.
The movement thing is a bit difficult to curtail, whilst I can remain still for a while, I'm afraid that it does get a bit boring laying down remaining motionless all of the time. Someone has to put the tent up and cook the nosh.
Midges tend to play in the morning and early evening. They are also very dependent upon the weather. Again, to cancel any assumptions, they love the rain, it's damp see. A damp, warm day with no breeze could have longer midge times. They do not like overly hot days, they dehydrate. A warm cloudy day, without a breeze is heaven for Mrs. Midge. Whilst Mr. Midge stays at home planning his next plant party.
Shift the body clock.
If a midge enjoys this early morning lark, try having a lay in. At about 9.30am maybe after 10.00am take a peek outside. Most midges tend to have got bored by this time, any breeze ensures a midge free period if you do have to get up. Popping out for breakfast before this time or trying to pack anything away is just asking for trouble. 'The late risers' as I like to call them, find it very confusing when they crawl contently out of tents nearer to the afternoon than the morning, only to find their previously friendly 'early riser' neighbours to be grouchy surly and usually outta here.
The 'midge meeting early riser' experience tends to leave a damaging effect on a person. Late risers, who don't know what their bedside clock looks like before 11 o'clock in the morning will be our natural born survivors within a post-apocalyptic midge hell.
Subtle time shifts.
If you are like me it's nice to start a BBQ or any outdoor eating late afternoon or early evening. To have some chance of eating on your own without a million friends fluttering around you it's suggested that you stoke the barbie, or prep your outdoor eating environment at about 3.30 – 4-00pm 'ish' and have an earlier meal. Once finished by about 4.30pm, you can sit down to after dinner drinkies and a bit of well earned down time. Then, as the expected squadrons of midges appear you retire to your accommodation content with full bellies or hit the Anglers Arms for pint. On your way to the Anglers you may pass a few karate chopping chefs. Swiping at midges whilst trying to flip a burger. It's a lonesome time during such an operation, the rest of the family tend to hide in the tent.
The chef is invariably decked out with their hood up or a tea towels wrapped around heads. Oh and just so you don't think I'm picking on visitors, here's a picture of my first uncomfortable introduction to cooking “a la midge style.” That's me as a teenager camping. Yes it's a woolly hat wrapped around my head with debris all around, somewhat distracted by midges. Photo taken by Alan from the safety of his tent.
Oh yeah man....that's cool.
I mentioned that Mr and Mrs Midge cannot fly in a breeze. So if you are camping and have access to electricity, bring a fan. [Top tip: tower fans don't take up much packing space.] Get the fan to oscillate around you as you sit outside, to make it more effective use two that gives a midge free area to cook or sit in. Be sure to wrap up warm mind, it can get cold, however it's well worth it.
The smoke from a fire also works, however, it's difficult to sit in smoke for too long and not to choke. Mosquito coils and citronella candles do work, but they need an enclosed or covered area for the 'fug' to accumulate. Don't waste your time trying to citronella the whole of Kielder with a lone candle in the open. These two lucky reporters back in the 1800's found that smoking profusely and pulling a bag over heads reduces the pain.
Just keep on truckin'
You are onto a winner against midges whilst moving, whether it's walking or on a bike. God help you if, whilst clad in skimpy cycling shorts, you have to stop for any period of time, by this I mean anything over 30 seconds. Make sure you have a tube of Smidge repellent or a fashionable midge net. This pink net is being modelled by one of our lovely visitors, who with a bit of prior planning has made this midge deterrent something the catwalk could get into. [You heard it here first ladies and gents]
If, when in the confines of your accommodation, you or your lovely dog bring some of the midges in, a waft of fly spray soon clears them out. Cover food, plates and utensils, not forgetting to cover the goldfish you won at the fair too. [Fly spray kills fish]
To assist all of our most welcome campers we too have taken a stance. We've put some money where our mouths are and have invested in three midge machines. They mimic a warm blooded animal and can cull quite a large number of females over quite a large area.
Here's how it works: powered by propane gas the device has gentle LED lights flickering to emulate movement, a pad is heated and a chemical pheromone emits a niffy sweaty aroma. The midge thinks this odd smelly warm thing is 'alive'. As it approaches to investigate it is sucked into a vat of water via a fan and the midge drowns.
My job is to empty and refresh on a regular basis. The dead midge count gives an excellent overview of the nights midgieness. Midge soup anyone? It's laced with protein.
It's never an exact science with Mrs. Midge. One thing that can reduce itching or swelling should you get nibbled is anti-histamines. Make sure you have a pack of these in the rucksack. Another more primitive short term method of relief is a large bottle of your favourite strong spirit. Small sips taken frequently until the bottle has been consumed usually does the trick. As mentioned, this is a short term measure and tends to have a pay back later in the day.
If you think back to part one of this blog, we can see how much devastation is caused for our campers unaware of our humble midges effect. This unfamiliarity with regards our midge and it's lasting memory has given Kielder a reputation unfairly far above it's standing. The first subtlety is that we are not in Scotland, most Brits know about the Scottish midge and are lulled into the false sense of security as Kielder is in England. Note: we are only 2.5 miles from the border, I think we can safely say that most midges couldn't give a hoot about an imaginary line drawn on a map a few hundred years ago.
[On a personal note, I must admit that the level of border control in this part of the country has been particularly lax in recent years. The number of illegal midges crossing into England during the small hours is troubling.]
Regrettably, if what we read is correct, then climate change is removing this England-Scotland divide. The midge is going further down south as warm wet summers allow it to thrive. Time will tell on that one.
I was informed recently by a visitor, that this was his families first tentative venture back to Kielder after 15 years. Their first trip was cut short after one night after being infested with midge. He hadn't been aware that we housed such vermin here.
Whenever Kielder was mentioned husband and wife would both shudder, crossing themselves whilst repeating the chant: never again, never again.
It was one day at home, whilst reading up on the variety of things you could do at Kielder that they realised it was now just a stigma. During the 15 years that Kielder had remained a 'no-go' zone, his family had regularly travelled to the West coast of Scotland and whilst fully aware of the midge, had expected and dealt with them.
There was a lot of trepidation on his return, so he planned for one night. The next morning I was speaking to a different man. It was as if he had re-awakened. The curfew on Kielder had been lifted; he paid for another night and rode off around the reservoir with his Smidge, head net and packed lunch. Determined, he said, to not let the buggers catch him unawares this time.
A reminiscing gent arrived on his motorbike recently and after a little chat about his previous visit he went back to the sacrad ground he remembered so well all those years ago despite it being the mid 80's. On his return he apologised profusely about the state he'd left the site. Yep, he'd got midged, a young inexperienced lad with his mates. They left everything in disarray at about midnight and walked around all night. Fortunately for the lads, back then, they were able to catch a bus back to Newcastle. No wonder he remembered.
Not everyone it seems hates them:
And on that happy note I shall leave you with a song. A buddy of mine has had me singing it every time I go into full 'Anti-midge kit' whilst emptying the midge machines. [An extremely fulfilling task may I add.]