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Throwback Thursday - Walking in Scotland (how not to do it!)

Last year, I wrote about my experience walking in Scotland. I still have nightmares about it. Read on to find out why! :)

Walking in Scotland (how NOT to do it!)

I just read that the new walking path, John Muir Way, celebrated its first birthday this week. The path goes from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. That's 134 miles of stunning Scottish countryside. It takes roughly a week to do the walk. And I have NO plans to do it. Ever!

Loch Lomond

The reason I'm anti-walking in Scotland is experience. Years ago, my husband and I decided to walk the West Highland Way. The route goes from Glasgow to Fort William and is ninety-six miles long. It normally takes about 5-7 days to walk the route, although my over achieving sister ran the damn thing in about 20 minutes. (I can't remember exactly how fast she did it, it gets shorter every time I think about it.)

Anyway we attempted the walk during that rare time on the Scottish calendar - a week in summer where the sun actually shone! It started out great, we umed and awed about everything we saw. I told my Dutch husband all about my childhood experiences in the north of Glasgow as we headed out of it. The sun was bright. The birds were singing. All was well with the world. I should have known then that it couldn't last.

We stopped for food in a cute wee pub in Drymen, spending far too long enjoying the atmosphere and the Scotch pies. We should have stayed there for the night, but we were young, fit and optimistic (read stupid, ignorant and totally unused to walking of any sort) so we decided to walk to Balmaha that evening.

It was a foolish mistake made by unfit amateurs. Looking back, I'm pretty sure it was five solid hours uphill. I thought I was going to die and that was before the sun started to go down and Scotland's flying piranha - the midge - came out! We were sore. Disheartened. And seriously not enjoying the walk. It got to the stage where we literally couldn't take another step, so we climbed a fence into field and pitched our tent - on an almost 90 degree slope.

I zipped myself into the tent and refused to come out. I didn't want to get eaten alive by midges. My husband thought I was overreacting. He's Dutch. He didn't have a clue. Hubby decided he wanted coffee. Said he'd die without it. So he zipped himself up in his rain gear, pulled up the hood on his anorak and tied the string tight, so that you could only see his eyes. He tucked his trousers into his socks, grabbed the tiny gas stove and went outside to brave the thick fog of midges - all for the sake of coffee. 

I've never heard cursing like it before or since. "One of them bit my eyeball!" he shouted. There was a scream. "They flew up my nose! I can't breathe! They're in my hood. They're everywhere!" I shouted for him to come back into the tent, which I'd now sprayed full of insect repellent, having decided I'd rather die from chemical inhalation than midge bites. "I want some bleep, bleep, bleep, bleeping, coffee!" he shouted back. Then there was a mini-explosion, followed closely by more cursing - this time in Dutch. A minute later the tent zip went down and he threw himself inside. "The gas canister exploded," he told me looking dazed and bewildered. "I think the midges liked the smell. The attack was worse after the gas escaped." He then spent the next hour doctoring his many, many bites with antihistamine cream.
All the black dots are midges. All the red dots are bites. Scottish midges are like tiny mosquitoes that swarm and get everywhere. They are a plague. So much so that there's even a Midge forecast to let you know when they'll be at their worst and where...  
Dealing with midges - you no longer care what you look like
so long as they can't get at you!
Then the rain started. Good Scottish summer rain. The kind that comes on slowly, penetrates everything and builds steadily until nothing is safe from it. It's okay, I told myself, we're in the tent. We're fine. The temperature plummeted to normal Scottish summer levels and we shivered as we tried to get to sleep.

That's when the tent was attacked. I screamed. My husband did that scared man reaction thing - where they tell you off for freaking out just to cover they fact they're peeing their pants too. We huddled together and watched as the tent was jostled from all sides. "I need to see what it is," he said in a way that made me think he was hoping I'd volunteer. I kept my mouth shut. He shut his eyes, sprayed his face with insect repellent and unzipped the tent a fraction. "Rabbits," he told me. "I think we're sitting on their burrow." Obviously they didn't want to do find another way into it, instead they spent the rest of the night trying to dig through the nylon to get to their house.

With the rain, and the fear, my bladder was overwhelmed. I needed to visit the facilities, which meant braving the killer rabbits, the rain and every bloody midge in Scotland to go outside and pee behind a bush. "Come with me," I pleaded of my big, brave husband. He grinned and pointed to an empty plastic bottle. "I don't need to, I have indoor plumbing." It was at that point I wondered why I'd married the man.

Armed with a flashlight, a roll of toilet paper and an umbrella, I went out into the dark. I inched my way past the rabid rabbits, batted off the midges who were trying to fly in the rain and headed for the nearest bush. I got my jeans down round my ankles and was doing that thing only women understand, where you try to aim and not hit anything you're wearing while balancing on the balls of your feet with your backside exposed to the elements. I'd just like to point out that women and NOT designed for camping. Anyway, I eventually started to do the business when something huge nudged my backside. I screamed, lost my precarious balance, lost the toilet paper and the flashlight but somehow managed to keep hold of the useless umbrella. I landed on my back and slid in the mud part way down the slope.

I heard my husband battling with the tent to come to my rescue - a bit too late if you ask me. Gingerly I opened my eyes to find myself looking up at half a dozen sheep. That's when the rain stopped and the midges appeared to feast on my exposed flesh, as my jeans were still around my knees.

The following morning we packed up, walked down the hill to Balmaha, where we discovered a guest house about three minutes from where we were camped. We got on a bus back to Glasgow, looking like a couple of war refugees. My husband had red dots over most of his face and one eye was swollen shut from bites. I could barely sit on the bus as my backside was red raw from sliding down a hill. Everything we owned was wet and covered in mud and we both stank of sheep poo.

This is why I don't go hill walking.

Can you blame me?


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