Few things can compare to wild camping with a campervan and being at one with nature. If you are dreaming of going on a campervan hire road trip, I bet you have pictured yourself waking up straight next to a hidden beach or the perfect hike. However, before you consider going wild camping in the UK, there are a few regulations and things to keep in mind.
Wild camping regulations vary in different parts of the UK. In Scotland, wild camping is allowed in most natural places due to the Scottish outdoor access code. Wild camping is generally prohibited in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, there are some exceptions to the rule allowing for some extent of wild camping in specific areas or national parks.
Wild camping Scotland
In Scotland, you are allowed to camp in the wild almost anywhere, due to Scottish The Land Reform Act. The land act, which came into action in 2005, provides everyone with the “rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland”. This thereby allows travellers to enjoy the most of the Scottish outdoors as wild camping is permitted within general guidelines. The guidelines allow you to borrow someone else’s land as long as you show consideration and respect, in other words, leave no trace behind while limiting noise and disturbance.
You can thereby enjoy most of the Scottish outdoors as long as you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Read up on the guidelines before you go into the wild, so you know how you can behave within the code. In essence, it enables public access to forests, woods, beaches, the coast, rivers, moors and lochs, in addition to some farmland. The code is based on some simple principles:
In other words, as long as you treat water and land with respect and leave it better than you found it, while following local signage, you are set to enjoy the Scottish outdoors. Keep in mind that this, for obvious reasons, does not mean you can camp anywhere as camping is prohibited in e.g. someone’s farm, garden, city parks, etc.
Wild camping Wales and England
In Wales and England, almost all land is owned by someone and there is no law providing people access to someone else’s land, which makes wild camping generally illegal. The best option is therefore camp at one of the thousands of campsites that exist across England and Wales. However, if you are looking for camp spots in the wild in Wales and England, you can if you get the landowners’ permission to camp on their land.
In Dartmoor National Park in southern Devon, wild camping is usually allowed to some extent in some areas of the park. The sort of wild camping that is legal is what they call backpack camping in Dartmoor, meaning that if you can carry everything they need in a backpack (including tent) you are allowed to wild camp for one to two nights in some areas of the moors. Investigate where you are allowed to go camping in Dartmoor before you go. Please note that overnight stays in a campervan is only allowed at a campsite in Dartmoor.
You are however allowed to camp on someone else’s land if you ask for the landowner’s permission. One way to ensure you can wild camp legally in England and Wales is thereby to follow the A, B, C, D, rule of wild camping. The rule goes as follows:
- Ask for the landowner’s permission.
- Be discrete (camp away from roads and houses).
- Clean up and leave no trace.
- Don’t stay more than one night at the same spot.
To simplify this process, an organisation called nearly-wild camping provides a new network of pre-approved landowners and locations that are willing to host wild campers. In addition, the network states that about 40% of their locations accept smaller campervans, usually regulated to camping the van in a car parking area. You can get access to camp at the network’s locations in return for an annual fee.
Wild camping 101 – Things to consider for your first wild camping trip
Now that you know the regulations, you might be inspired to test wild camping for the first time. Preparation and planning are essential in order to have a successful wild camping trip. A good place to start is to understand what gear you need and what to consider before going. Below is our essential wild camping 101 guide to get you started.
What to bring when going wild camping?
Pack light but smart, for a wild camping trip ensuring you bring the gear you might need, should be the main focus. To ensure you do not end up leaving without a torch, a good tip is to make a checklist before packing. Our go-to checklist for wild camping includes:
- Map and compass, and the ability to use it in the case you run off of battery on your phone).
- Torch: It’s definitely worth investing in a high-quality torch, as it can hard to navigate in the wilderness without long-distance lighting.
- Safety: First aid kit, spare batteries, power bank (that lasts a minimum of 2-3 changes), several firelighters (lighter + matches).
- Cooking and cutting items including a knife and shield, small axe, spork (google it). Lighter, camping cookware, camping cup/dining bowl, washing up liquid or wipes.
- Water: even if you often can dring the water in the wild, you never know how long it might be until you find an appropriate water source. A couple of litres is a good backup.
- Hygiene: wet wipes & toilet paper (remember to bring home the waste), quick-dry towel, insect repellent, toothbrush and toothpaste, multipurpose soap, sealable trash bags.
- Sleeping kit, including a warm sleeping bag (check which temperatures it’s suitable for before going), a high-quality tent (unpack the tent to ensure you have all components), a sleeping mat or hammock, and a pump for a sleeping mat if needed.
- Smart clothing for all weather: including clothes to keep both warm and dry such as a wind + waterproof shell (upper and lower layers), a warming mid-layer (fleece or thin down jacket/west), wool base layer (upper and lower layers), wool socks and hat, mittens hiking boots or gore-tex walking shoes. A good tip is to keep all spare clothing in a separate dry bag within your backpack.
- Food: This is more based on preference, depending on if you want gourmet food for your trip or simple water-based camping food. A good tip either way is to stick to a few core ingredients that you can reuse in several recipes throughout the day (think canned tomatoes, pasta, canned tuna, crackers). Some dry food and canned food are always a good idea.
- Entertainment: a deck of cards, book or e-book, small speaker or headphones.
Parking in the wild
This is where you need to be careful so you don’t end your wonderful adventure with a huge fine because you did not pay attention to some campervan parking laws.
As mentioned before, wild camping is not legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These laws extend, of course, to wild camping with a motorhome or campervan.
For the places where you do not have the right to park or stay overnight, we recommend either asking for permission from the landowner, if it’s private property, or… simply find a better place!
As for Scotland, it has been said that wild camping is legal. However, the code does not apply to motorised activities, meaning, it does not cover sleeping in campervans. So, in case you are planning to use your campervan just to access the outdoors, when you park make sure to follow some key principles:
- Don’t block an entrance to a field or a building.
- Don’t make it difficult for other people to use a road.
- Ensure your parking is not putting other people in danger, caring for the safety of everyone.
- Try not to damage the verge and be considerate about the fragile ground or sensitive environmental habitat.
- Don’t overnight park within sight of people’s houses.
- Use a car park if one is nearby.
- Follow local signage (e.g. no overnight parking signage).
- Avoid parking close to other campervans, rather find a secluded spot of your own.
- Avoid making a huge camp, stay discrete within your van as much as possible.
Finding the right spot
Picking the right spot where you’re going to stay for your adventure is a key step. You don’t want to change places in the middle of the night when the environment around you is not the best for a good night of sleep.
Before you head out to the place you’ll call “home”, even if by a few hours, we advise you to make sure you follow these steps:
- You know the place or you investigated it before, just so you know the surrounding area.
- Ensure you arrive early so you have time to explore and enjoy the location before the sunsets.
- Check for wildlife road signs to avoid any unexpected visitors.
- Make sure you set a “living perimeter” around you, especially if you’re camping with kids.
- Check the weather for the night in that area, just to make sure you don’t end up in the centre of a hurricane.
Lastly, one of the main joys of camping in the wild is to be so close to nature. It’s hence important to make sure you also take good care of the environment and leave no trace behind. Always leave the site in a better condition than you found it, both in terms of rubbish and damage to the natural habitat.
Go indie, go wild!
With these tips and guidelines, you should be prepared to know what to do and where to go if you are looking to go wild camping in the UK.
Keep in mind the different restrictions for wild camping in Scotland vs England and Wales, as well as the various regulations for wild camping with a campervan compared to backpack camping.
Proper preparation and planning come a long way, and remember, if in doubt – be polite and ask the locals.
What’s your experience with wild camping?
About the Author
Curious metropolitan who loves travelling and activities in the wild, from snowboarding, to hiking and surfing. Since renovating her first van in 2016 she's been hooked to the vanlife and outdoor adventures.