While we were buying the gear we would need to go camping on the Isle of Skye (home to famous views such as the Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr, the salesman in the sporting goods store warned us about the midges. He said they were as bad as the mosquitoes in the Everglades of Florida. It was my first moment of doubt about our decision to spend almost three months tent camping in Scotland. Midges are similar to the gnats we have in the United States, whose bites leave itchy welts on me that stay for weeks and months.
But doubts aside, I knew that we were going. One of the fondest memories Jake and I have from our earlier years together is our time camping in Acadia National Park in Maine. The solitude and quiet that we’d felt then were irresistible now, after six months of big cities and tourist hot spots. And besides, as Woody Allen said, eighty percent of life is showing up. We knew that three months of roughing it with Lisa would be an incredible experience, one that would push the boundaries of what we thought we could do as a family. Like many of our adventures, I dreamt a dream, and Jake dragged me kicking and screaming over the finish line (it’s called teamwork)!
After what feels like the blink of an eye, we’ve been camping in Scotland for well over a month. And though we’ve seen a few gnats (they call them midges here – pronounced midgies), they were barely even an inconvenience – tiny little biters that disappear with the slightest breeze or the wave of a hand. I literally hadn’t been bitten even once. By this week, I was starting to get a little smug about the exaggerated warnings.
Then this past Sunday we decided to visit the Fairy Pools, an easy Sunday morning hike, and one of Skye’s most popular attractions. When we were almost there, Jake decided to pull over and take a photo of the mountains rising up over the trees and the road. Lisa and I waited in the car while he hopped around in the grass.
When he got back in the car, he asked me “did we pack the bug spray?”
“Are they bad?” I asked. I didn’t really like the idea of putting bug spray on Lisa. We bought Avon Skin-So-Soft from the camp ground store when we arrived on Skye, which we’d heard was an effective insect repellant. We hadn’t even had a chance to test it yet.
The fairy pools are a series of deep clear pools carved out by waterfalls that tumble down the slopes of the Cuillins. Pulling into the parking lot across the road, we could see the trail going down through a wide field and then up hill next to a small but rapid stream. In the background, the Cuillins rose up, black and jagged, it’s tallest peaks disappearing into the clouds.
I opened the door and took a deep breath of fresh mountain air. Just kidding. I opened the door and took a deep breath of midge soup. On a cool morning they had been attracted to the heat of the car and were waiting for us just outside. Suddenly we were in a frenzy. We clumsily smeared the Skin-So-Soft all over Lisa’s face and body, then our own. Jake threw our equipment over his shoulder and we picked up Lisa and made a dash for the trail.
There was a long period of relief as we were walking. The bugs were ferocious, but apparently very slow. We hoped that once we reached a slightly higher elevation, away from the trees, the conditions would ease up a little. Instead, it wound up being one of our most hurried photo shoots ever. If we stood still even for a few seconds, we were enveloped in a cloud of midges. The Skin-So-Soft, was partially effective. We were probably only bitten by one out of a thousand of the insects that landed on us (still, many bites!), but there was something disconcerting about looking down and seeing a dozen or more midges crawling all over Lisa’s face with dozens more in her hair.
The Fairy Pools were gorgeous – a natural treasure, to be sure – but unless the forecast called for strong winds, I probably wouldn’t go back. We got our photos, but I’ve honestly never seen Jake in such a rush to get out of hiking. This was the guy who used to drive two hours into the mountains of New Hampshire every week!
When we were almost back to the car, we passed a German couple with a baby girl strapped to her father’s back.
“Did you pack the bug spray?” Jake asked them.
“No, we forgot it,” the father replied.
I dug out our bottle, now half empty, and handed it over.
“Here, you’ll need it.”
We picked up Lisa and ran back to the car as the other parents urgently sprayed their little one’s face and hands.
Even though, our experience at the fairy pool wasn’t as magical as the name promised (and we’ll probably never go back), I’m still really glad we did it. As we travel, I’m slowly learning to not just enjoy the highs but also accept – and even embrace – the lows. The highs are great, but the lows force us to be more patient, more compassionate, and stronger as a family. Though the bites haven’t stopped itching yet, the stress of the moment has faded into a humorous memory, and the midges don’t even show up in the photos.