Last updated: May 11, 2018 at 13:50 pm
You will likely have heard about wild camping if you enjoy spending time outdoors. So what does it entail? Wild camping is about getting away from the busy campsites and caravan parks and taking yourself out into the silent, empty and vast wilderness to spend time truly alone with the world. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
There are specific rules that govern access for camping in the UK. The rules are generally split between Scotland and the rest of the UK, with Scotland benefiting from open right-to-roam rules. Scotland is indeed the only country in the UK which effectively allows wild camping everywhere, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which permits the public to camp on most unenclosed land. This includes many of Scotland’s national parks, making them the perfect destination for wild campers. If you’re located in England or Wales, there are still places that you can go wild camping – such as the Lake District and parts of Dartmoor.
The general rule for wild camping is that you have to have express permission from the landowner before you pitch up for the night. We always recommend that if you aren’t sure you’re in a permissible zone, you should check first, as you could be disturbing farming land or private property.
Wild Camping in England and Wales
While wild camping in the rest of the UK is illegal, with permission from the landowner you can still generally camp on English land. Many landowners will be open to this idea as long as you respect the land and behave yourself.
Don’t camp too close to people’s homes or to roads. Many spaces of land are generally accepted as fine to camp on due to unspoken understandings, but you should go ahead and verify to be absolutely certain and avoid complications arising.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so request express permission before camping in the rest of the UK. Take advice from local outdoors enthusiasts as they will be more knowledgeable about where you can and cannot set up camp.
Wild Camping in Scotland
In Scotland you’re allowed to wild camp almost anywhere under the right-to-roam laws. Obviously, this has its limits and you can’t simply camp in someone’s garden, on farmed land, schools, golf courses, airfields etc.
While it’s expressly allowed for people to wild camp in Scotland, there are several guidelines you should follow. All land is owned by someone and while you can still use it, you should be courteous and treat it with respect. Remember to keep your groups small, keep any fires small, pack out waste and all the standard acts of camping courtesy.
These laws remain lenient thanks to the respect shown between campers and landowners. Recent trouble in certain areas has led to some calls for changes, so it’s important not to spoil the fun for everyone else.
Rules for Wild Camping
If you have decided that wild camping is for you, it follows that you obey some basic rules to ensure that you leave as little trace of you behind as possible. After all, nature is just that – natural. Your wild camping trip should leave no impact on the landscape and shouldn’t disturb the environment or wildlife around you. Here are a few rules to remember:
- Follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code if you are wild camping in Scotland. This code covers three basic principles for sharing the countryside with others: respecting the interests of other people, caring for the environment and taking responsibility for your own actions.
- Leave no trace of your stay. This is especially important if you are wild camping in national parks and on protected landscapes, as the area should be kept pristine for everyone to enjoy. Don’t leave any rubbish behind, always clear up any mess you have made and ensure that you don’t disturb wildlife.
- Don’t light any fires, even if there are signs that fires have previously been lit in the same area. Lighting fires can not only be dangerous, but will also spoil the landscape and leave a trace of your visit. Use camp stoves and BBQs carefully, ensuring that you don’t scorch any grass.
- Be respectful with your ‘personal’ waste. If you are camping out in the wilderness, you will inevitably need to go to the toilet. But that doesn’t mean that you can just go anywhere! Make sure that you go to the toilet well away from any natural streams or rivers and bury anything you might leave behind with a shovel. Feminine hygiene products should be treated like rubbish and taken away with you – animals can dig them up if buried, which won’t be pleasant for people to come across later.
- Don’t be an eyesore. When other people are out walking and hiking, they want to enjoy the landscape as much as you do. You should therefore make sure that you don’t take over the view with a large campsite, which crowds the land. Spread out and blend in with your surroundings as much as possible.
What to Pack for Wild Camping
If you’re wild camping in the UK, you will probably be branching out far from the roads and walking trails, so you’ll need to be smart about your packing and make sure that your load is as light as possible. Apart from the obligatory tent and sleeping bag, here is a handy rundown of your extra wild camping essentials:
- A sleeping bag which will have you covered for the night. Invest in a good one which will see you through many seasons.
- A ground mat or blow-up mattress. Most people forget that the cold ground will seep into your blow-up mattress and lower the temperature during the night. Make sure there’s an insulating layer between your sleeping bag and the ground. You can try placing newspaper between the ground and your camping mat, which will stop the cold from penetrating your sleeping bag.
- Cooking equipment, including a pot, cutlery, thermal flask and a stove if you want to have hot food. You will also need to bring along nutritious foods which will keep you going throughout the day.
- A small, lightweight shovel or trowel for dealing with the aforementioned ‘personal’ waste. Don’t forget the toilet paper!
- Warm, waterproof clothing and sturdy walking boots.
- A small folding stool if you want to enjoy a seat when you have your morning cup of tea.
- GPS tracker and a paper map of the area (as batteries do run out).
- A quick-drying towel for freshening up in the morning.
- Spare socks.