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Insect Endurance on the Sutherland Trail

We pitched our tents in the lonely Pass of the Thieves, the Bealach nam Meirleach.

It’s a bit off piste of the “official” trail because erudite Donald-who-drives-the-Durness-minibus told us when we jumped aboard it was the better route in to Gobernuisgach, the remote shooting lodge we were headed for, five miles away in the hills. And the old lady sitting beside him in the front nodded knowledgeably in agreement as the bus sped up the single track road. We took their advice and somewhere in the wilderness of Sutherland’s lochs and hills he pulled up in a layby, unloaded our packs and pointed out the track through the heather.

“Good luck with the clegs,” were his last words as he revved the engine and quickly rolled up his window.

The first of the legions of insects had silently settled on my forearm even before his van had turned the bend, but I didn’t notice until I felt the needle prick my skin. It was a foretaste of the carnage that was to follow.

I’d forgotten about clegs (or horse flies). I certainly didn’t know they’d be able to penetrate my thin clothing, or that they’d be impervious to the thick later of insecticide I’d plastered over every exposed inch of skin. They’re lazy, sneaky insects with a heavy-duty impact – as my red and swelling wrist was demonstrating.

P1040220We ducked, swatted and swiped our way along the old drove route that had been used by generations of farmers to walk their cattle to market hundreds of miles away in the south. Their long journey to Falkirk or Perth from Sutherland took weeks, and on one occasion when the men returned with their annual earnings, they were ambushed and robbed in this isolated place. The gaelic name, Bealach nam Meirleach guarantees the crime will never be forgotten.

The walking was flat, easy and (once the clegs retreated) lazily slow in the burning sunshine. We dawdled, stopped to rest, fill bottles and drink from sparkling waterfalls then by early evening, when the lochs spread out along the strath before us, we set up camp, ate and settled down in our sleeping bags.

A stiff breeze flapped my tent and I lay gazing out at faraway Ben Loyal, listening to the persistent gurgle of water through the rocks below. There were no ruins here, no signs of previous habitation, no stone walls or broken down fences.

As my eyes closed I relished the thought that I was likely to be the first person ever to lay my head down and sleep on this few square feet of remote earth.


14 Comments Post a comment
  1. twoscamps #

    Clegs…. Ugh! We are heading out with backpacks and hoping that the “no-see-ums” aren’t out. They leave quite the carnage as well!

    October 4, 2014
    • Good luck with that. For their size, insects have more impact than they deserve to have!

      October 7, 2014
  2. That feeling of being the sole inhabitant is splendid and rare. But the clegs…argh. I’m nursing a bee sting from 4 days ago. It’s still a huge, hard, red knot on the back of my leg. But fortunately it wasn’t on my hand or foot…then I’m totally incapacitated. I love the Pass of Thieves, by the way!

    July 16, 2014
    • Yes, I liked the name too. There’s also a theory that it was where cattle rustling took place which is also quite feasible. Could be a good book title….

      July 16, 2014
  3. I’ve never heard this name “cleg” before 🙂 Are there many ticks in your area of the world?

    July 16, 2014
    • Oh yes, Jayme. And some of them carry Lyme’s Disease.

      I’ve been researching clegs and discovered they’re members of the Tabanidae family and are also known as clags, deer flies, gadflies, or zimbs. In Canada they’re known as bull dog flies or stouts and in Australia some species are known as March flies. They’re quite unnecessary, whatever they’re called!

      July 16, 2014
  4. We don’t usually think about the little pests when we look at these beautiful nature scenes, but it can be misery to be eaten by them.

    July 16, 2014
    • It’s strange how you forget about them too …. until next time, and then it all comes crashing back.

      July 16, 2014
  5. My gosh! When we think or see nature on photos we get so inspired & long to be there without realizing that it is sometimes as much an ordeal to be there as in the city!
    I don’t think I’d enjoy those clegs, in fact I’m sure I wouldn’t 😉

    July 16, 2014
    • Yes, you’re right. I have had to remind myself a few times that I’m out here by choice and for pleasure!

      July 16, 2014
  6. What a great adventure. I could do without the clegs! 🙂

    July 16, 2014
    • It’s accessible wilderness and we haven’t met another soul. Hmmmm…. there’s probably a reason for that!

      July 16, 2014

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