Mary Jean – Highland Midge Lotion. A real test.

What I wrote before coming out here:

“Well, if it’s good enough for the ravenous wee Scottish buggers, then it should be more than a match for anything that I encounter in rural France!

And as Mary Jean products are “natural”, I will be even happier (I just hope that there is no sunscreen property included – as my milky-white legs could do with a good tan!).

This should be a good test of the product. After a long winter, the French biting insects will be extra-hungry. And as the Canal du Midi passes through some extremely rural regions (part of the attraction), and as the water in the canal will be a magnet for every insect in southwest France, I shouldn’t have to wait long for my first encounter.

So Mary Jane “Highland Midge Lotion” – do your best!”

So how is it going now?

Well, I’m now using it daily – so it must be working.

I’ll be straight up here. I had my doubts. You see, I tried a “natural” mosquito-repellent in South East Asia years ago (it also contained citronella). But it failed miserably – and my mosquito-bitten body was in a Thai shop the very next day, buying something packed full of nasty chemicals that killed mossies on contact.

So, even although I am trying to be openminded about this test, I’m starting from a point of scepticism.

So the Highland Midge Lotion test:

The packaging:

As the bottle measures exactly 100ml, it can be carried through airport in your wee see-through plastic bag (which can contain a maximum of 1 litre of liquids). So I could bring it to France in my carry-on luggage. Tick.

The bottle has a tight-fitting clear plastic cap, which then covers a self-propelled “pump action” dispenser. So the bottle remains firmly closed at all times in my rather tightly-packed bag. So it is clean to carry. Tick.

A self-propelled pump? There are no CFCs in this baby. Big tick.

Applying the product:

Using the product is straightforward. And as the pump keeps the bottle clean, and you can replace the cap of the bottle while you have a dollop of the lotion on the palm of your hand, there’s no mess. Tick.

Now the actual product. Does it work?

Mary Jean’s Highland Midge Lotion claims to have two properties. First, its efficacy as an insect repellent. And also as a soothing “after bite” lotion.

And as is usual in my topsy-turvy world, I used these two properties in the reverse order! I hadn’t started using the lotion as an insect repellent yet, but there was a huge rainstorm on the first day of my walk, and I sheltered for part of the storm under a bridge – with half the insect population of southwest France it seemed. And as I was wearing a kilt, the insects got a taste for my bare legs – especially the back of my knees for some reason.

I didn’t really notice though, until I started walking the FOLLOWING day. The hem of my kilt was continually brushing against the sores that had formed where I had been bitten on the previous day – and it was, putting this politely, rather annoying. So I decided to try out the soothing properties of the lotion there and then. The relief was immediate! So:

After-bite soothing properties:

Immediate relief. And knowing that the other ingredients were actually good for my skin in general, and being a non-metrosexual guy who doesn’t normally use beauty creams, it gave me a good excuse to smear on some cream. So huge tick.

Insect repellent properties:

Again, I was pretty impressed (surprised actually).

I had walked all day, so as it started to get darker I was rather tired and sweaty. And as I was staying with another stranger that night, I decided to sit and cool down a bit first.

And that’s when the mossies attacked!

So out came the lotion. And the order in which I applied the lotion demonstrated the fact that French mosquitoes hate it as much as those wee voracious beasties we get in Scotland.

First, I applied the lotion to my legs (I still remembered how annoying it was to walk the following day if I had fresh bites on the back of my legs).

That’s when I noticed that all of the wee biting feckers had moved up to my arms.

So I covered my arms in lotion next.

And all of a sudden they were in my eyes, and buzzing around my ears. They clearly no longer fancied nibbling at my arms and legs, and had decided that my face would have to do instead!

So my face was last. After I had finished covering my face with the lotion, I actually used the remnants of the lotion on my hands as “hair gel” – wiping my hands clean on my hair – probably not what it was designed for, but at least I wouldn’t look as unkempt when I turned up at my new friend’s door).

As I sat there cooling down, I could still hear the buzz of approaching insects. But once they got within a few inches of my ears, they decided to look elsewhere for dinner!

So a big tick here too.

Overall, I actually really love this product, and it gets a huge recommendation.

I’ll be walking along the Canal du Midi for another week or so, followed by a walk along the “Camino del Norte” in Spain (ending at Santiago de Compostela), and from there I will follow the “Camino Portugues” to Lisbon in Portugal.

So, I’m guessing that the bottle will run out somewhere near Santiago. At which point I’ll be straight online to order another bottle from Mary Jean 🙂

Available to buy online at: http://www.maryjean.co.uk/products/highland-midge-lotion/

highland-midge-lotion

__red-button-donate

Days 7-10. “Rest Days”. Marseillette.

Merci Nurse Najet!

I had only planned to spend a couple of nights here, but a wee tumble on the way (nothing serious) meant that it was impossible to walk at all for a while (and as I’ll be walking a bit gingerly for the next few days/weeks, I expect that one or two local bus journeys are on the cards for a while).

messing-about

On the way to Marseillette (before “the stumble”)

And this is why I have been waxing so lyrical about Couchsurfing for the last few days. “Nurse” Najet was a complete stranger when I turned up at her door, after arranging to stay for a couple of nights. But as soon as she saw that I had even more walking difficulties than either of us had expected, beds were changed around (to make it easier for me), and her neighbour was called (he’s a doctor).

So “Couchsurfing” is so much more than just a hospitality exchange – it’s a network of “local helpers” who are only a message away – for those times when you need a bit of local assistance. No matter how far from home you might be.

And when my intended 2-night stay turned into a 4-night stay, Najet was only too happy (in fact she insisted that I lie with my foot up for a few days – all the time ensuring that the hot-water-bottle, that was giving my knee *so* much relief, was always hot).

The highlight of my stay in Marseillette though was an event which still seems so surreal, even now:

Najet has an adorable young son. And the previous evening I had given him and his wee friends some of my Ataxia UK balloons to play with (kids, and even us adults if the truth be told, just love balloons). So the next morning, to thank me for giving them the balloons, and as I lay with my foot up pondering the day ahead, there was a knock on the bedroom door and all four of them trooped in. Najet’s son placed a wee table next to me, and his friends, in turn, placed coffee, sugar & a pain-au-chocolat on the table, before wishing me, in unison, “Bon Appetit!”. At which point they all trooped out again – in single file! It was like something out of a film about some king or other.

Totally surreal.

But something that I will never-ever forget.

Najet is now a really good friend. We chatted for hours, about nothing much at all, and about everything. And when I visit again, for I most certainly will, it won’t be as an invalid. I’ll have to wear my kilt again though – as her son and his wee friends absolutely love it, and they will be the talk of the playground for months, once the Scottish guy in the kilt walks them all to school 🙂

__red-button-donate

Couchsurfing. And there’s more….

I was just reminded of this when I was chatting to my current Couchsurfing host this morning.

The Couchsurfing community is a worldwide network of friends (just friends that you have yet to meet). So, if you find yourself in a far-off land, and you need help, a friend is not far away.

An example of this in action:

Last summer, while I was walking along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, I put a huge hole in one of my walking socks – and needed a replacement pair.

Believe it or not, kilt socks are impossible to find in Spanish markets 😉

So I contacted, Highlander, my kilt makers in Scotland and asked them to send out a replacement pair.

highlander-logo

And that was the moment that I realised that there was a problem with even this idea!

I didn’t have a postal address in Spain. And as I was constantly on the move (and couldn’t wait around for the week or so that it would take for the Spanish postal service to deliver them to me), there was no immediate solution.

And that’s when I thought of Couchsurfing. Of a network of unknown friends who I might be able to turn to.

I estimated how far I might travel in 2 weeks, then added another 100km on just to be sure. And I came up with the town of Adra.

It was then a simple case of contacting Couchsurfing members in Adra, until I found somebody whose address I could use.

And that’s how I met Olivia.

So, wherever I am in the world, I am reassured to know that a friend (an as yet unknown friend) is never too far away (it is just a bonus that they are usually local experts too 😉 ).

https://www.couchsurfing.com/

__red-button-donate

Day 6. Ventenac-en-Minervois to Marseillette.

Yet another absolutely beautiful day by the Canal du Midi.

tight-fit

And today is a day of Thanks.

First, I would like to Thank the two North American guys who I met at Argens-Minervois (just by La Guinguette). They bake bread, which they then sell to passing boaters. But it is so much more than just that:

They were waiting for me. Waiting to meet “the Man in the Kilt” (it seems that news of my impending arrival had already been passed on – by boaters I assume). Waiting with a loaf of their delicious bread. And it’s not just your average, yet absolutely delicious, French bread either. No. They bake their bread with completely natural, and *very* tasty, chestnut flour. They also add honey & cinnamon into the mix. The result is beautiful bread – a loaf of which was stuffed into my bag as I stopped for a chat, and which I later devoured for a perfect lunch (it’s so tasty that it can be eaten on its own (the honey adds a terrific sweetness – but I would imagine it would be even better when smeared with cold butter!).

And this is their day.

Bake delicious bread every day. Which they then sell to passing boaters. And while they are waiting for another boat to pass, they just sit and shoot the breeze – in the most stunning of natural surroundings.

I want their life!

So if you are lucky enough to be sailing through Argens-Minervois, buy some of their bread. When you taste it, you will be so glad that you did.

My second Thanks go to the couple from Carlisle who I met in “Homps” (yet another of the highlights of the Canal du Midi), and who also have an apartment in La Redorte, for their very generous donation towards the fighting fund.

And finally (and it is very rare that I can say this), Thank You to *every* driver who passed me on the road today. Sometimes I am overpowered by the natural beauty of the canal and my inquisitiveness takes me down quiet French country lanes instead.

The local drivers are obviously used to passing walkers in this area (although possibly not walkers wearing a kilt).

Without exception, I got a smile, a wave – and was given as wide a berth as possible.

Yet another perfect day. Thank you all 🙂

__red-button-donate

Couchsurfing. What is it really? And why do I care that you get involved? [UPDATED]

pool-best

Yes, this is Couchsurfing!

I’m just like you. When I first heard of “Couchsurfing”, I instantly dismissed it. I came across the concept years ago, but then it was just what it sounds like: poor backpackers saying “you can sleep on my floor/couch, if I can sleep on yours”.

And as age ensured that wifi, air-con and a bloody big bath were my new minimum expectations when looking for somewhere to sleep, I thought that I would leave the sharing of couches to the kids.

All this changed in 2013 though, when I was planning a “round-the-world-by-train” trip.

Near the top of my list of countries to include was Switzerland. And more specifically, the Albula Line (at the time, it was the only UNESCO listed railway line on the planet – it might still be). And, as part of my research, I got talking to “Alex” who was the foreman/chief engineer on the line. During one of our conversations, the subject of hotels came up (and how expensive it was in Switzerland, especially near St.Moritz, where I would have to spend at least one night if I wanted to travel along the Albula Line).

“Why don’t you try Couchsurfing?” suggested Alex.

He’d being doing it for a while, and invited me to stay in his house in Samedan (near St.Moritz).

So not knowing what to expect, but being an adventurous soul, curiosity got the better of me, and I accepted his offer.

And I am so glad that I did!

His beautiful house, built in 1608, stands in the middle of the stunning Engadine Valley in Switzerland. And the “couch” that I was expecting, turned out to be a proper bed, in my own private room. This was like living in a classy hotel, except that I had my own personal, and local, expert tour-guide on hand as well.

And he also cooked for me. A local “racclette” recipe – served with lashings of locally-produced beer (this was back in the days when beer was still on my radar).

We also had a shared fascination for 70s music, and in his case, specifically for Mott The Hoople (or Mott the Hupple as he called them).

But, because of his job, Alex has no time to visit all of the places that he would like to. So, instead,  they come to him!

And he is a very meticulous man, and has kept a spreadsheet detailing all of his “Couchsurfing” guests. So I was to be guest number 37.

I spoke to him recently, and his spreadsheet has now recorded the stays of over 200 visitors!

Which I found amazing, as Alex only hosts guests on the weekend (when he’s not working).

“You must have had people most weekends then” said I.

“Not *most* weekends, *every* weekend”

“What about Christmas?”

“If guests arrive at Christmas, then they get more of a treat!”.

So this is it? This is “Couchsurfing”? I was hooked.

Since then, I have been a guest in over 30 family homes.

But it’s just a bunch of sponging backpackers. Former Space Cadets.

Not at all. And I really prefer not to share my life with such people.

No. The people who use Couchsurfing are just “normal” people like you and me. But people who recognise the value in sharing just a little bit of their lives with others. And who recognise the value, the spiritual value, of doing so. Everybody is richer as a result.

So how does it actually work?

Every person who uses the Couchsurfing website, has to first create a basic profile. And, importantly, also the type of accommodation that will be made available. This allows prospective guests to assess their prospective hosts, to see if they will actually get on, and to see exactly what kind of accommodation will be offered. Yes, sometimes this *is* a couch, but 90% of the time it is a proper bed (and then some – but more about that later).

At the heart of the system are the “references” though. Both hosts and guests, after the fact, can leave honest and truthful accounts of each other. So a fuller profile begins to form (and so too does a “network” of “friends of friends”).

So as a host, you can instantly see how prospective guests describe themselves – and then read the views of their former hosts. So nothing comes as a surprise. And if, for any reason, you don’t want to host a specific request, you just say No/Sorry.

And after a while, as I now do, you can pick and choose exactly the people that you want to stay with (they all invariably say “yes” now – now that a body of references has been built up).

Families and Couchsurfing.

I found this strange at first. People with young children inviting complete strangers into their houses.

But now, I actually look for families first!

Until recently, I have stayed with 4 families through CS (although after this week, that number rises to 7). And the parents who take part all have the same story to tell:

In a world where the media constantly tells us of the dangers that strangers can pose, these parents would prefer that their children grow up without an irrational fear of unknown people. And to realise that strangers can actually bring something positive into a household too. Yes, they still teach their children the importance of being wary of strangers. But not to fear them out of hand.

And there is nowhere that a child feels safer than in their own home. With their parents within cuddling distance.

And (own-trumpet-blowing time), every single parent has thanked me for being a positive part of their child’s education.

So Couchsurfing is a “hospitality exchange”?

Yes, on the face of it, that is exactly what it is.

On the face of it.

But at it’s heart, Couchsurfing is more of a personal exchange.

A spiritual exchange perhaps.

And I don’t mean spiritual in a “sitting in a circle, singing ‘Kumbaya'” kind of way.

If anything, I am probably the most irreligious person that I know. Not that I have anything against religion itself. I don’t. But I have absolutely no time for “preachers”. People who would like to impose their beliefs on others.

I mean spiritual in an essential way.

For me, and most of the CSers that I have I have met and talked with, it is a sharing of our selves, of our experiences, of our lives.

And with every exchange, both parties learn a little more. More about others. More about ourselves.

A global network of Friends.

The Couchsurfing community is a worldwide network of friends (friends that you have yet to meet though). So, if you find yourself in a far-off land, and you need help, a friend is not far away.

An example of this in action:

Last summer, while I was walking along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, I put a huge hole in one of my walking socks – and needed a replacement pair.

Believe it or not, kilt socks are impossible to find in Spanish markets 😉

So I contacted, Highlander, my kilt makers in Scotland and asked them to send out a replacement pair.

And that was the moment that I realised that there was a problem with even this idea!

I didn’t have a postal address in Spain. And as I was constantly on the move (and couldn’t wait around for the week or so that it would take for the Spanish postal service to deliver them to me), there was no immediate solution.

And that’s when I thought of Couchsurfing. Of a network of unknown friends who I might be able to turn to.

I estimated how far I might travel in 2 weeks, then added another 100km on just to be sure. And I came up with the town of Adra.

It was then a simple case of contacting Couchsurfing members in Adra, until I found somebody whose address I could use.

And that’s how I met Olivia.

So, wherever I am in the world, I am reassured to know that a friend (an as yet unknown friend) is never too far away (it is just a bonus that they are usually local experts too 😉 ).

So Alex, thank you for introducing me to the wonder that is Couchsurfing!

And I hope, that by writing this, I have convinced just one person to dip their toe into the world of possibilities that Couchsurfing promises.

The Couchsurfing website: https://www.couchsurfing.com/

My Couchsurfing profile: https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/kiltedwalker

My Couchsurfing references: https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/kiltedwalker/references?type=host

__red-button-donate

Day 5. Rest Day. Névian.

I want to say more about Couchsurfing, so will do so in a separate Couchsurfing post, but I really must refer to it here too.

pool-best

Yes, this is Couchsurfing!

Without exception, everyone who I have met through Couchsurfing has been pretty special.

Every so often though, I am fortunate enough to meet someone whose warmth, whose friendliness – and whose Humanity in general – makes them stand head and shoulders above us mere mortals (if I was at all religious, and believed in Angels, then these would be them).

And in Névian, that person was Bernie!

Bernie, I am in awe of what you do. And you do so in the full knowledge that the loving bond that exists between you and a child may be broken in the near future. This doesn’t stop you from giving a child, an innocent child, a second chance at Life (in a safe, secure & loving home).

I just hope that even a miniscule amount of your Humanity has rubbed off on me.

bernie*

__red-button-donate

Day 4. Capestang to Ventenac-en-Minervois.

It goes without saying that the Canal du Midi is absolutely beautiful. And oh so tranquil.

The French countryside, as viewed from the shade of the tree-lined canal is rather special too:

sunny-french-country-from-shady-canal

But it is the people who I meet & chat with who are the real attraction for me (hence the kilt, it makes me seem very approachable, and starts a million conversations – which all end up with me talking about Ataxia UK).

The first guy I spoke to was Mladen from Croatia. He has just cycled for 1,780 km from his home town in eastern Croatia. And will easily have passed 2,000 km by the time he reaches his destination in Lourdes! Now that is some effort:

mladen

You can follow his journey on Facebook at: Mladen Švađumović Bike tour Lourdes

A later conversation was with a couple who had spotted my kilt earlier in the day too. They were cycling around the area, checking it out, in readiness for a fundraising cycle that they are organising later. This is one of their own photographs – stupidly, I didn’t get my own camera out in time (too busy yapping I expect):

me-one-of-activityforlife-their-pic

You can follow them on Facebook at: CSF Activity For Life

 

__red-button-donate

Pisa. One year ago today. And I still laugh!

My walk along the Canal du Midi will be interspersed with photographs from exactly a year ago.
When I first started these walks my intention then was to mirror my 2013 “round the world by train” trip, but to walk in the main cities that I passed through.
So exactly one year ago I found myself in Pisa. And after a stroll around the River Arno – I made my way to the Leaning Tower. Yes, the tower is beautiful, but after taking a few pics, I found myself being more entertained by the antics of the other visitors (it is *very* busy there):
These photographs still make me laugh 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

__red-button-donate

Day 3. Rest day. Le Viala (near Capestang).

As the weather forecast was for a storm to hit at some point today, I made the decision to have a “rest day” sooner than planned.

And it’s just as well that I did!

After basking under a blue sky all day, the storm finally appeared at around 4pm. And had I been out in it, I would have been soaked to the skin within seconds. There wouldn’t even have been time to get my waterproof poncho on.

So instead, I wandered around the beautiful (and rather large!) garden attached to this house (which is rather large itself).

nadia's garden-opt

And when the garden stroll became too much of an effort, I came indoors and was spoiled by Nadia (chef) and her two wonderful kids (the sous-chefs):

nadia-alix-dorian-opt

__red-button-donate