Cycling the Atlantic coast of Europe from north to south during the summer of 2017. View the archive, the route so far, or donate to MSF.

Attack of the midges

By Stuart Lowe on

I slept late so didn't leave the campsite until 10am. It started raining as I climbed up the hill from Scourie. It wasn't heavy rain but enough to need waterproofs.

At one point along the way, I was joined by a serious cyclist on a road bike who road next to me asking about my trip. The conversation came to an end when his two support cars came by and told him to get a move on. Perhaps he was trying to set a record for the North Coast 500. If he was, I hope our conversation didn't affect it.

Down a hill took me to Unapool and the Rock Stop. I stopped and had tea and cake. I was joined by a cyclist from Coventry who had left his phone there yesterday and had had to backtrack for it. In chatting, and looking at the exhibition about the Geopark, I lost a couple of hours. I got on my way again and took the coast road. This was part of the North Coast 500 too so had lots of tourists on it. It was a single track road and was extremely hilly with some 25% gradients. My speed was cut dramatically by headwind, hills, and needing to stop constantly to let cars ahead and behind pass me. Half the vehicles were from the Netherlands. I got more and more frustrated with the tourist vehicles as time went on.

I stopped in the rain to make fried egg and brie sandwiches in the hope that would make me less annoyed. It didn't. Perhaps tourists should be given a special test before they are allowed to drive the Highlands. It is very hard to get going again when you are made to stop on a laden bike on a hill.

I visited a secret garden tearoom for tea to recover from the hills. I didn't recover. As the road and hills went on I got more exhausted. I had hardly covered much distance today but was shattered. So much for my dad telling me it wouldn't be as bad as Norway. It might be worse.

I took a detour to ? along twisty single track roads still full of annoying drivers. As I reached the campsite the rain set in again. It looked grim. I asked at the Youth Hostel but that was too much. The lady at the Youth Hostel said it would get flatter after Lochinver. I pressed on despite feeling close to collapse.

At Lochinver everything was shut because it was getting on for 7pm. I carried on. Up I went. Where was this flat. I passed a bookshop my dad had insisted I visit. It was closed and I wasn't hanging around for the morning as midges descended in the 30 seconds I stopped to read the sign. Up I went some more. Every time I found a spot for wild camping the midges descended within 30 seconds. The air was thick with them. My head net was at the bottom of a pannier and I knew I'd be horribly bitten by the time I got it out. On I rode.

As I reached a fork in the road I realised I was running out of water and wasn't going to reach a campsite tonight. There was a house so I asked there and they filled it for me. Going left along the south side of Stac Pollidah I saw a flat spot with short grass. Perhaps I'd be lucky. Nope. I putting my tent up I was mobbed by tens of thousands of midges. Somehow they seemed to get inside my head net too and I nearly started choking on them. I had to keep running away from my tent to try to get away from them for a breather. It was horrible. I was being bitten. Eventually, with the inner attached I threw everything inside and dove in after it all. I was joined by a good few thousand midges before I could zip the door closed. I spent the next half hour systematically killing every last midge - hopefully - that was inside with me. Outside was swarming. I could see parts of my tent were black with them. There were so many I could even hear them. It sounded like rain landing on my tent. I cooked dinner inside my tent. I can't leave now. I am now trapped here in my bubble of midge free tent inner. How will I leave? I don't know. That is a problem for tomorrow. I hope it will either be raining or windy or both.