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Wild Camping UK: Can you camp anywhere?

No facilities, no other people, no plan. Sounds like a package holiday gone horribly wrong, right? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but for some the extreme back-to-basics approach holds an appeal a cheap overseas getaway cannot match.

Wild camping offers the perfect escape. Leave the crowds and the noise behind, reconnect with nature and discover your very own private spot. The choice of view is unlimited!

Conventional camping, for some, has something of a flaw. The desire to escape into rural tranquillity and be at one with nature is often counteracted by revving car engines, smelly toilet blocks and a sprawling group of fellow campers. Wild camping, illegal in England and Wales except for parts of Dartmoor, but broadly legal in Scotland, perhaps offers the solution.

There are of course sacrifices to be made. Expect to leave the creature comforts behind. The intrepid wild camper will need to carry all their food, fuel and water with them (or the means to purify their own ‘wild’ water). They’ll need to forego their customary hygiene routines, put power-hungry gadgets away and brave inclement weather without the reassuring presence of a back-up bothy.

Camping laws in the UK

For the most part, wild camping is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is not permitted in any of our woods. You can, however, camp anywhere in Scotland in accordance with the access rights established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. There are of course exceptions to this ‘anywhere’ rule – we wouldn’t for example want to pitch up on someone’s front garden or generally make a nuisance of ourselves.

Some general rules to follow

  • Wild camping is allowed on most unenclosed land in Scotland. This excludes private residential or public property (such as school grounds or playing fields), golf courses or other visitor attractions, airfields, working sites (such as quarries), military bases or land with crops growing.
  • Check for ‘no camping’ signs. If a landowner asks you not to camp on their land, respect their wishes.
  • Leave no trace of your visit. Use a stove rather than a campfire, take your rubbish home and take a hand shovel for when it’s necessary to take care of business.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Arrive late and leave early, avoid crowding an area (which defeats the point anyway) and be mindful of causing damage to sensitive habitats.
  • Do your research. Some parts of Scotland are subject to byelaws that prohibit wild camping, such as the island of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides and East Loch Lomond. VisitScotland.com is a good place to start and will link you to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – essential reading for any would-be wild camper.
  • Be considerate. You probably wouldn’t want someone pitching up next to your bedroom window or on your village green, so try to keep inconspicuous where possible.
  • Put safety first. Tell someone where you’re going and for how long, especially if travelling alone, and make sensible preparations for all weathers. Think about supplies like a first aid kit, torch and whistle, and consider if that crumbling cliff top is really a suitable place to spend the night.

Wild camping UK

Wild camping: Scotland

Whether it’s a wooded glen or a rugged coastline that floats your camping boat, you’re spoilt for choice in Scotland. On the Western Isles you’re never far from water, and the closely grazed land at the fringes of loch and sea can make for the perfect pitching spots.

Inland, the rolling moorland offers almost unlimited, if rather boggy, choice for those with a more adventurous spirit, as well as miles of woodland and forest to explore. Many remote and small island communities also offer basic camping facilities – sometimes little more than a handily mown plot – in return for a small donation for those struggling to find a dry or rock-free spot.

Wild camping: England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Generally speaking, permission must be gained from the landowner before camping anywhere in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wild camping is however permitted on Dartmoor for up to two consecutive nights in the same spot provided it’s more than 100 metres from any public roads and is not within an enclosed or otherwise restricted area.

There are also some great campsites around the country that offer a ‘wild’ camping feel with remote and spacious sites, limited pitches and unique settings. Pitchup.com lists just a few to try.

Preparation is key

If you plan well and prepare, wild camping doesn’t have to be scary. There will always be an element of playing it by ear, but then that’s part of the charm!

They key is to have enough knowledge of the area you’re visiting beforehand and to have a contingency plan if you struggle to find a suitable wild camping spot. It could be as simple as a list of nearby campsites or B&Bs to try in a pinch. And with the right gear, plenty of provisions and a pragmatic outlook, there’s nothing to stand in your way of finding your own bit of hidden beauty.