Wild camping in Scotland

Is it legal to wild camp in Scotland?

I had read that wild camping in Scotland was allowed by law. Surely you couldn’t just pitch up anywhere you want and camp the night…

It turns out that you can – almost.

It’s one of the great freedoms in life and you can do it in Scotland without breaking the law.

Let’s explore…

Why go wild camping in Scotland?

For my money, Scotland has to be one of the most beautiful parts of Britain – maybe the world.

Wild camping gives you the opportunity to get close to nature in a very special way. You can escape the noise and light pollution of where you live and just immerse yourself in the real world.

Instead of listening to snorers on a campsite, why not head off into the hills or camp by a loch on your own.

Unlike the rest of Britain, wild camping is seen as a right in Scotland. If you play by the rules you won’t be moved on, but encouraged to enjoy what Scotland has to offer the camper.

Wild camping and Scottish law

Thanks to the land reform act of 2003 – you can go wild camping pretty much anywhere in Scotland. Even on private land.

You do however need to read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and stick to the rules.

The core essence of the code allows for “lightweight camping”. This means in small numbers of tents and people and for a maximum of 3 days in one place.

Follow these simple rules and you will be fine:

  • Don’t camp in enclosed fields with crops or animals
  • Keep well away from buildings, roads, or historic structures
  • If you want to camp near a building ask the owner
  • Do not disturb deer stalkers or grouse shooting

The main rule when wild camping is to leave no trace – whether in Scotland or not. That means:

  • Take away all litter – including other people’s you may find
  • Remove all signs of having camped
  • Take all food scraps away
  • Bury your poo and take paper home
  • Take tampons home – animals dig them up
  • If you do have a fire, remove all traces of it

It’s common sense really but do think about the impact of your actions on the environment, animals and other people enjoying nature.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Loch Lomond is a particularly busy area and has extra rules governing wild camping between March & September. You do need to stick to them as they are enforced. They only cover 4% of the national park area so there is plenty of opportunity elsewhere. Including campsites.

In depth details can be found on the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs website.

Some areas require you to buy a permit for £3. This allows you to camp anywhere in your chosen permit area. You can buy the permit online

Phoebe Smith, of the Guardian newspaper, wrote about the introduction of these local laws. Her article discusses the politics of the situation.

Does the law allow motorhome wild camping?

Wild camping in Scotland 1

No – is the simple answer. The land reform act and outdoor access code doesn’t apply to motor vehicles.

So – can you park a motorhome anywhere in Scotland?

You can certainly park on the side of the road in any vehicle and a camper van or motorhome is no different. This applies across the UK and not just Scotland.

Can you spend the night in your motor vehicle and be legal?

There are no laws in the United Kingdom that prohibit this. So if no local bye-laws exist to prohibit it you can stay in your motorhome on the side of the road. This is valid “wild camping” in a motorhome.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 says that you can only drive a vehicle off-road – for parking – within 15 yards of the road.

You may well come across signs in lay-bys etc. that prohibit overnight parking, sleeping in vehicles, or other restrictions. Obviously you need to follow these rules. There are examples of these that have no legal grounds but best to abide by the “request”

Car parks are private land and you need to check the signage for rules. Our attitude is, that if it doesn’t prohibit overnight sleeping in a vehicle then we will stay the night.

Leave no trace is once again the way to go. No litter, no food scraps, and no draining your grey water tank in a layby. Many abuse these rules and the result is often signs popping up prohibiting overnight camping.

Please don’t spoil it for other campers.

Where to go wild camping in Scotland

As we have discussed, you can pretty much go anywhere…

But where are the best places to go?

Everyone has their favourites but some recommendations come up continuously. Don’t restrict yourself to these spots and do find your own.

Loch Arkaig

Wild camping in Scotland 3

This one of my all time favourites spots for easily accessible wild camping. A single track road travels all the way down one side of the Loch. There are numerous idyllic spots to be found.

You can park your car within a short distance of a good camping spot next to the Loch.

Fishing is excellent and a permit can be obtained locally.

Knoydart Peninsula

Knoydart Peninsula

The 7 mile walk to Barisdale from Kinloch Hourn is well worth the effort. There is also a bothy there that you can stay in if you don’t fancy a tent. Just put £3 in the honesty box before you leave.

Glencoe – Lost Valley

Glencoe Lost Valley

The drive to the Three Sisters car park on the A82 is spectacular, or you can take the bus to the visitor centre.

Isle of Skye – Camasunary Bay

Camasunary Bay Skye

About an hour and a half’s walk walk from a layby on the Broadford to Elgol road. You can stay in a bothy here or camp where you like. A remote and beautiful spot.

Equipment for wild camping

If you are going to be walking any distance to your wild camping spot then lightweight gear is going to be a real plus. Also discipline in taking only what you really need is going to make your trip more enjoyable.

If you are camping close to the car then you can get away with more and heavier gear.

My wild camping trips tent to be one-nighters so I travel light and only take what I need for shelter, warmth, food, and navigation.

If you don’t have the equipment and are just trying wild camping out, then renting is an option.

Rentatent in Edinburgh rent out tents and packages that include mats and sleeping bags.

What you will need:

Tent or Bivvy bag

The weather will have a big impact on the shelter you choose. For a one night camp in the height of summer, you can get away with a cheap tent. If you are likely to encounter significant weather, a light and strong tent of high quality is essential. When the wind gets up to 3o knots you need a much better tent than if you are camping in the garden. The distance from emergency shelter is an important factor to consider. If your car is 5 minutes away you can risk it. If you are 5 hours walk from shelter then take an excellent tent.

In dry-ish weather you can get away with a bivvy bag and this is very liberating to do. It’s basically a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag

Make sure you have a bag that is going to keep you warm. It can get much colder than you expect. Remember that you can wear all your clothes inside the bag if needed. Small and light is ideal but this comes at a price.

Down is smaller and lighter but more expensive. Synthetic sleeping bags are bigger and heavier but can cope with getting wet. A down bag can’t get wet and still work properly.

I use a 400g down bag in the summer with a liner.

Ideally take a mat to sleep on – though many people rough it and don’t bother. I always do as a good nights sleep makes any wild camping trip more enjoyable. I use an inflatable Thermarest mat but the roll up foam ones are cheaper but bulky.

Cooking kit

You can get by with non cooked food for a quick one night trip but part of the fun for me is to be able to eat decently.

A good lightweight setup is a small gas stove and 750ml metal mug. This can be used for a brew and water for dehydrated food. Add a spork and you have a very simple cooking system.

You can add on equipment for what ever you want to eat and pay the price in extra weight.

Head torch

I consider this an essential piece of kit that enables you to do anything that needs light. Including walking in the dark if you need to in an emergency. Get a good one from a company like Petzl.

Trowel

That may seem strange – but it’s not for gardening. You will need to bury your poo and not just put it under a rock.

Navigation gear

This will depend on the camping trip. If you are 5 minutes from the car then none will be needed. If you are heading off into the hills then take this seriously. A map is essential – as are the skills to read it. Take a compass too. A GPS is a nice to have – or a mapping app on your phone. Viewranger is a great one. Don’t rely just on your phone for navigation.

Keeping warm when you are wild camping

It may sound obvious – but – it gets cold at night. Don’t just take clothing for a warm summers day. By the time you are sitting around with not much to do in the evening you will feel cold. Adding extra warm clothing to your bag will make the evening much more enjoyable. Other than in summer, I take a down jacket for sitting around enjoying the views in the evening.

A fire is not allowed, or not sensible, in many situations. If you do light a fire, makes sure it is completely out before going to bed. Make sure there is no trace left of it when you leave in the morning.

Choosing a spot to pitch your tent

Wild camping in Scotland 5

The ideal spot will be sheltered and flat enough to get a good nights sleep. A stunning view from the tent door is to be aimed for.

Having somewhere sheltered for toilet duties can be handy unless you are really on your own. Mke sure this is away from water.

Having a water source nearby is useful. Though not so near that you might get flooded out.

Look for ground you can get tent pegs in to, and consider rocks to put on top of the pegs in soft ground or windy conditions.

Avoid boggy or rocky ground. Check the symbols on your map to see what type of ground to expect.

Water

You are either going to have to carry it with you or pick it up on the way. Ideally camping near water will give you an unlimited supply.

I can highly recommend portable water filters such as those made by Sawyer. These enable you to take any clear water and make it safe to drink. This saves lugging a huge amount of weight around.

Wild camping Etiquette & rules

Following these guidelines will make your wild camping trip more enjoyable. They help protect the environment, and allow others to enjoy the countryside.

  • If your chosen spot has already been taken – move on – don’t crowd.
  • Whenever possible use a stove instead of a fire
  • Pick up litter when you leave – even if it’s not yourself
  • Ask the landowner if you can
  • Don’t stay longer than 3 nights
  • Camp out of sight if you can
  • Don’t feed the wildlife
  • Be quit
  • Arrive late and leave early if possible
  • LEAVE NO TRACE

Wild camping safety

There is no reason why wild camping should be dangerous but there are a few things you can do to make your trip a safe one.

  • Tell someone where you are going
  • Make sure you can navigate well enough – don’t rely on your phone
  • Respect the weather and check forecasts often
  • Have a plan B and bail out if it seems sensible
  • Only light a fire if necessary

Tips and advice for wild camping in Scotland

  • Choose a good tent
  • make your first trip a one-nighter
  • Choose a short & easy route on your first campsite
  • Look out for emergency refuges like barns
  • Start looking for a camp site early – it can take a while
  • TAKE MIDGE REPELLENT AND A HEAD NET

And finally…

Just do it. Get out there and enjoy the wild opportunities that Scotland has to offer.

Large or small, every trip is an adventure.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or need some advice.

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