Scottish Midges and Drovers Roads

Midges are small, two-winged flying insects, they love Scotland and walkers on the West Highland Way, they can smell your sweat! Midges are a subgroup of gnats, and comprise several families of Diptera, including especially the Chironomidae, or non-biting midges, and the Ceratopogonidae or biting midges.

Biting midges fly in swarms (big huge swarms, that follow you around) and usually don’t stray too far from their breeding (biting grounds) grounds. Females feed on blood for protein to produce eggs. Males only feed on nectar. So every time you have been bitten you know it is a female that has done it, and you have just helped the female on its way to having another little midge!

The Highland midge is found in large numbers in the Scottish Highlands, and the tree lined parts of the West highland Way along Loch Lomond. They are famously vicious and have become something of a cultural icon in Scotland. They were also a favorite subject of author Vladimir Nabokov. Irish midges have a similarly fearsome reputation.

Midges are at their worst on still, damp cloudy days. They do not like direct sunlight or high winds because their flight speed is less than human walking pace. This is why midges cannot immediately follow a person when running, (however they seem to manage to keep up with my walking) although they can quickly gather again if a person stops moving.

I admit I have lost the war with Midges. They win, I surrender; now that would be fine if they now just left me alone, but no.
How to stay sane.

This is the only time in my life that I see smokers having any advantage over normal folk. They blow their clouds of noxious fumes all over themselves and it does seem to give some protection from Midges. Crap habit though.

Me, however, I cover myself with Deet, bought from any outdoor store. Probably not good for me, but I like the sanity that I currently cling to. This does help somewhat, but nothing keeps the little beggars away while walking. A good campfire at night, more smoke… and frowned on somewhat along the West Highland Way.

I leave you alone to your solitary fight, and hope you hold on to your sanity and don’t take it all too seriously.
Drovers Roads

Drovers were responsible for the long distance driving of animals on the hoof to market in England. They accompanied their livestock either on foot or on horseback, traveling substantial distances. Rural England, Wales and Scotland are crossed by numerous drove roads that were used for this trade, many of which are now no more than tracks, and some lost altogether. The word “drovers” seems to be used for those engaged in long distance trade–distances which could cover much of the length of Britain–while “drivers” was used for those taking cattle to local markets.

It is not known for certain when the trade began. “Drove” as a place name can be traced to the early 1200s, and there are records of cattle driven from Wales to London and sheep from Lincolnshire to York in the early 1300s. Drovers from Scotland were licensed in 1359 to drive stock through England. These may be simply the earliest records of a more ancient trade. There is increasing evidence for large-scale cattle rearing in Bronze Age and Iron Age Britain. Cattle and sheep were part of the Romano-British economy. By the Anglo-Saxon period there was long distance movement of cattle, including stolen stock.

The task of controlling herds of three or four hundred animals on narrow droves, keeping them healthy, and feeding them en route over several weeks required expertise and authority. There was licensing under the legislation intended to control, although it seems to have been less rigorously applied to drovers. They were also exempted from the Disarming Acts of 1716 and 1748, which were passed after Jacobite uprisings. They were not necessarily literate but were respected as experts in their trade. The regularity of the Welsh trade across Wiltshire is proved by an inscription in Welsh on a cottage at Stockbridge, still visible in the twentieth century; “Satisfactory hay, sweet pasture, good ale and a comfortable bed”.

Droving declined during the nineteenth century, through a combination of agricultural change, rail transport, cattle disease and more intensive use of the countryside through which the stock had passed for hundreds of years.

So that is how the drovers roads came to be, good for us in Scotland and along the West Highland Way.

It could never has crossed the mind of a drover that some day people would set out to walk these same paths for pleasure. The concept of free time and holidays was still far in the future.