Anyone have experience with the midges in Scotland? We are freaked out by some stories about them. How bad are they? What is the best time of year to avoid them? When are they the worst?
Midges are usually out and about from anywhere between mid-May to mid-September. They are mostly in damp places, and mostly in the Highlands. We've encountered them as far south as Ballater in June. (Yes, I know, Ballater is north of the Highland Fault Line!)
Rum is the worst place in Scotland for midges, but you'll find them in low lying areas, near water. They don't like direct sun, so you most likely won't find them on sunny, cloudless days. They also don't like wind, so if you're out in windy weather, you may not be bothered with them.
They are nasty little effers, and weren't called the scourge of the Highlands for nothing.
If you're going to be hiking about in the Highlands and Islands, best thing to do is get yourselves midge hats. They run about 12 pounds in most outdoor shops, like Black's, Nevisport, Graham Tiso, etc. They're one size fits all, and they look silly, but you'd be thankful if you have one. They have a fine mesh netting, which covers your head and neck. Also, you should wear a long sleeved shirt if you're in a midge prone area, and definitely no shorts. Midge hats weigh only a few ounces, and pack small. Ours were manufactured by Lifesystems. The carrying case even has a belt loop.
However, if you do venture out with exposed skin, repellents like Avon's Skin So Soft Bug Repellent or Repel, both of which are available here in the U.S., have done the trick for us. Smidge is the best selling repellent in Scotland, and I've read varying reports about its efficacy.
Last summer was a good one for lack of midges, at least in July, as most of the summer was hot and sunny. However, while we were on Rum, those midge hats came in really handy!
Don't let the threat of midges spoil your holiday plans. A little advance preparation goes a long way!
Why would you be "freaked out" by midge stories? Are there no mosquitoes where you live? Get some bug repellent and enjoy your time in Scotland.
I'm with Norma on this. Midges are unpleasant, they are a smaller version of mosquitos. So, maybe you are lucky enough to be from California or someplace in the west where mosquitos are less of an issue and so don't know what to expect. I've done many days of walking in Scotland and I would estimate that I had to don my midgiewear 10% of the time or less. So, if you are planning on hiking then get yourself a midgie hat, plan on wearing long pants, and have a long-sleeved shirt. And bring your favorite bug spray. I have a bottle that includes deet from REI. The odds are you won't need them. :)
I'm always somewhat amused by midge horrors - sorry! Some of us actually manage to live in the Highlands all year round and believe me midges are not a particular problem if you have some repellent spray or cream, and have a midge net/hat. :-) Everything Mike says is, as always, very good advice. I keep both Avon Skin so Soft and Smidge in the house and find Smidge to be more effective for me. The midges love damp, still conditions, so if we get anything above a stiff breeze the little blighters can't fly and if it's sunny they don't appear either.
Best time to avoid them is spring and autumn.
I know others have had very different experiences, but we barely noticed them in the Highlands in July 2017. We traveled and hiked all along the coast from Inverness to Wick / John O'Groats and never had a problem.
Skin so Soft and a midge net.
They seem to dislike sunshine, wind and dry ground.
Don't expect to be able to sit down on the grass in the shade in the evening and have a midge free picnic.
We picked up little fold away midge masks at Raasay House for a few quid and got the Skin so Soft at the bar at the Sligachan Pub.