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Wild Camping in the UK: Your Essential Guide

Wild Camping in the UK: Your Essential Guide

A man carrying a backpack observes the sunrise

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.” – Yasunari Kawabata

The call of the wild. Endless summer days spent exploring the great outdoors. Nothing quite beats the lure of the vast and rugged landscape of the countryside. Hiking and trekking through valleys and dales, uphill, downhill and being at one with nature. Simple, unadulterated pleasure. And it wouldn’t be such a joy if you could just lay your aching tired limbs wherever you so, please.

Unlike many of our larger neighbours, the UK actually has quite a strict policy when it comes to bedding down for a spot of wild camping in the great British countryside, however, don’t let that put you off. There are plenty of opportunities to get away from the barrage of urban life and enjoy the rugged delights of our green and pleasant land. Here’s our essential guide to wild camping in the UK.

England and Wales

Wild camping by its sheer nature does, of course, revolve around heading off the beaten track, throwing caution to the wind and enjoying the freedom and splendour of the countryside. However, in England and Wales, a little careful pre-trip planning is required.

The law states quite simply that wild camping in the UK is illegal. That accounts for people trespassing on farmland etc, however, the general consensus is that by asking permission in advance, many landowners will be more than open to the idea of solo travellers, or small parties spending the odd night on their land.

The key is to be respectful, tidy and it goes without saying, not to make loads of noise. Arrive late and leave early is the general rule of thumb and leave very little to no trace of your presence, other than maybe a bit of flattened ground.

Scotland

Scotland is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave for the wild camper, not least, down to the fact that you can camp pretty much anywhere and notwithstanding of course the stunning landscapes and natural beauty that’s on offer north of the border.

Scottish law dictates that you’re allowed the right-to-roam, although we wouldn’t recommend mooching around someone’s back garden. Permits are required in some areas now, certain parts of Loch Lomond, for example, are off limits, so it’s worth doing some proper research before heading out.

The best port of call is to check out the Scottish Act and Access Code for the most up to date information. But, on the whole, Scotland is a haven for wild campers.

A tent sits in a secluded location overlooking the sea

Where to go

The Cairngorms

At the heart of the Scottish Highlands, The Cairngorms National Park, the UK’s largest, is an area of outstanding natural beauty and one of the planets must visit places. Increasingly popular for that very reason with tourists, it’s still vast enough to get some solitude and find a peaceful and secluded spot for spending the night. From the mountain range to the forests, crashing waterfalls, rivers and streams, The Cairngorms is also home to a vast array of wildlife.

Glencoe

The dramatic and bloody history of Glencoe is matched in weight by the natural beauty of this vast and sweeping landscape. If it’s wild you want then look no further than this mountainous region forged from volcanic eruptions and the scene of the infamous massacre of the clan McDonald. Find a sensible spot to bed down and await the awe-inspiring views that’ll greet your morning cuppa.

Snowdonia

There’s no shortage of spots in Snowdonia for the wild at heart. The mountainous range of Carneddau would be a worthwhile starting point. An area awash with high cliffs, deep valleys, rivers and lakes as well as large areas of grass and heather. Remote and peaceful you’ll be spoilt for choice as you take in the views, the sheep and maybe the odd wild pony.

Lake District

The Lake District has a long and storied history when it comes to wild camping, despite the legendary wet weather. Traipsing around the Lakes is time well spent and with no shortage of well-positioned public houses, you’ll always find a nice drinking spot and some tales of derring-do. Great Langdale remains one of the UK’s most beautiful locations, despite the increasing number of tourists, and in quieter periods you’ll find a number of decent spots.

Dartmoor

Rejoice, Dartmoor is open season when it comes to wild camping. Indeed it remains the one area in England and Wales where it is perfectly legal to camp wild style. A few areas require some permission, so best to check first. This handy interactive map should help. However, most importantly feel free to roam and explore the incredible moorlands, rivers and valleys along with an host of wildlife.

A man watches the sunset in the mountains

Wild Campsites

For those that want a piece of the action but are less than enticed by the rudimentary back to basics approach, there are a number of campsites offering a simple, rugged experience that’s what you might call the best of both worlds.

Sussex is something of a hotbed for wild camping sites and experiences. Pop-up Campsites should have you have covered, whether it’s by river, meadow or forest. Further South, Cornwall has plenty of wild places to spend the night such as The Little Wild Campsite in Porthleven.

Alternatively, Nearly Wild Camping has a membership scheme that’s well worth checking out, that gives access to sites the length and breadth of the UK.

Essential Reading

Once you’ve found a spot and got settled, enjoy the delights of a good book perfectly suited to your newfound freedom.

Waterlog

The late Roger Deakin’s enchanting tale of his journey through the British Isles exercising his right to roam freely, while swimming in the often icy lakes, lochs, aqueducts, pools, streams and rivers that pop up with regularity throughout this small island is a unique and eccentric piece of travel writing that’ll put a smile on your face and inspire your wild side.

The Best of Wainwright

If you want to make the most of your rambling break then you’ll benefit enormously from acquainting yourself with the observations of Britain’s most preeminent authority on all things countryside. This collection of walks is a great introduction to Wainwright’s work and enthusiasm, suitably accompanied by commentary and insight from Hunter Davies.

A Walk in the Woods

Pretty much any Bill Bryson book would be a suitable companion to an exploratory jaunt into the great unknown. But, A Walk in the Woods is a particularly apt spot of reading material, as Bryson accompanies his longtime friend Stephen Katz on a challenging and hilarious journey along the perilous (for these two at least) Appalachian Trail.

Have you been wild camping in the UK? Tell us your tales in the comments below.

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