With the UK likely set for another year of ‘staycations’ and lots of folk swapping holidays abroad for exploring our beautiful country, many camping, glamping and campervanning sites are already booking up fast.
The UK currently lacks the infrastructure for the many thousands of campervanners that hit the beauty spots, so where does that leave you if you’re desperate for a break? Wild camping in a rural spot without the luxuries of a campsite could just be the thing for you.
If you’re in the process of planning or converting your campervan conversion then you really need to think about how you will use your van...if you prefer the luxuries of a campsite then you don’t really need to worry about toilets and showers. But...if visiting off-grid, remote places is your thing, then making your van self sufficient could be the way to go. This means you can go on many adventures and enjoy your travels when facilities are lacking or in many cases non-existent.
So, with this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at the pros and cons of wild camping and whet your appetite for adventure with some really useful info…
Is it legal to go wild camping in the UK?
Generally, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland you will need the landowner’s permission to stay there. However, wild camping in Scotland isn’t prohibited, including the incredible National Parks. Of course, there are some restrictions in areas around Loch Lomond. You can find out more on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park website and Outdoor Access Guide to Scotland. There are also a few simple but important rules to follow which we have included a little later in this guide.
If you’re particularly interested in traveling the length and breadth of bonny wee Scotland then Cameron McNeish is your man...you can subscribe to his YouTube channel and there’s lots of really interesting information on there for you to explore.
Campervan overnight parking is notoriously difficult, but luckily there are loads of websites and apps to help make it easier. Many local communities (particularly in Scotland) are working together and in some cases crowdfunding to provide better facilities and parking - these are all welcomed and a change for good, and gives hope that campervanners will be welcomed in many more locations across the country!
What are the rules of overnight camping?
The first thing to remember is that it is not allowed everywhere, so please never assume you can stay. Secondly, just because you can park somewhere doesn’t mean that you can stay the whole night.
There’s no guarantees, but….if you’re discreet, then it’s difficult to get into trouble. It’s always advisable to stay away from public paths and tourist spots, and if in doubt, always ask the landowner… usually landowners are very gracious and won’t mind, but you must always ask.
The rules on parking overnight are pretty unclear. There are no ‘official’ rules forbidding it necessarily and mainly it seems to be up to the jurisdiction of each local government and law enforcement, who tend to follow the unofficial rule of allowing it unless it is on private property. Therefore, stopping at a lay-by or in a public car park probably might not get you into any trouble, but setting up camp on private property or staying in the car park of a specific business could lead to you being asked to move unless you’ve agreed to it with the business owner.
The other thing to consider is using a campsite whenever available is the best way to minimise your impact on the environment and you’ll probably have a more restful night’s sleep :). But as we mentioned above, where this isn’t possible, just stay low profile by avoiding residential areas, honeypot overnight spots and other vans unless it’s a designated location. Some pubs and supermarkets allow overnight parking for customers, but check first.
The wild camping etiquette
- Look out for signs....if you see a sign that says ‘no overnight parking/camping’ then respect it and move on.
- Always ask the landowner if possible.
- A general rule of thumb is to arrive late and leave early. The overnight stop over is just that, a single night...to sleep and move on nice and early.
- Park considerately. Spaces are usually limited so don’t take up multiple spaces.
- Respect the space and leave it as you found it. Always take your rubbish home, don’t cause any damage or obstructions and definitely no noise pollution.
- It is not acceptable to leave your toilet waste when van camping. Have toilet facilities on board or use public toilets. Always dispose of toilet and grey water waste properly, which means you cannot just dump it in the countryside as it can damage the environment, it’s unsanitary, really smelly and a real eyesore!
- Overnight stops are not for camping. Please don’t pitch a tent, wind out your awning, hang out laundry, put out a camping table, light a fire or BBQ...it’s not a campsite.
- Security is key. Keep your doors locked, don’t mistake overnight stops as having the safety of a campsite and a campervan safe is always a good idea for keeping money and documents safe.
How can I find free places to stay in my campervan?
Check out Brit Stops...we think this is a brilliant book that lists a load of free UK ‘pit-stops’ around the British Isles including country pubs, farm shops, vineyards, breweries, cafes/restaurants and even museums. These locations allow you to relax overnight and travel on the next morning having enjoyed some of the local produce.
There’s also a great app called Park4Night where you can find recommended parking spots so you can spend the night relaxing.
Now watch this quick video that the British Mountaineering Council recently made about van life and wild camping. Featuring pro climber Robbie Phillips who gives you a quick recap of wild van camping responsibly.
It’s fair to say that a van can give you the freedom to take to the road and enjoy the comforts of home anywhere you want. But please make sure your dream isn’t someone else’s nightmare! Please don’t forget that wherever you stay, just remember you are an ambassador for campervanning. We urge you to follow the wild camping etiquette...be considerate, and leave the place exactly as you found it, or perhaps even better :). Spend some money locally, even if you are camping for free, and please consider the local economy - shop locally, go to the bar, eat in a local restaurant. All these things really make a difference to local communities and as fellow campervanners we want to be welcomed with open arms wherever we choose to travel.