Wild Camping in the UK – An Introduction
What will I need for wild camping in the UK? Is it even legal to wild camp in the UK? What are the rules? You really have to do your homework when you think you might actually be breaking the law but don’t worry, all the answers will be revealed.
Wild Camping – a Guide To Pitching Remote
If you’re a resident in, or are visiting, the UK and you have considered wild camping this guide to will tell you everything you need to know to get started.
On Dartmoor and most parts of Scotland it’s perfectly legal to just pop your tent up and have a sleep over but in the rest of England, Wales and Northern Ireland you’re supposed to ask the landowner’s permission to wild camp. So, why do you see so many photos of tents on Facebook and Instagram and their owners don’t seem to have a care in the World?
Well, we’ll get to that a bit later, but first…
Where can I wild camp?
Is wild camping illegal? Well, actually it’s not a criminal offence, that is you can’t be prosecuted for simply sleeping in a bivvy bag or even a tent wild camping in the UK. The problem is when people refuse to leave after being asked, this is then classed as trespassing. So, where can you wild camp legally?
It’s not just about finding a flat remote spot. There are actually many places you can legally wild camp, it’s just not advertised very well.
In Scotland, the land of the free, it is legal to camp in the wild just about anywhere (although not so long ago they changed the rules around Loch Lomond and the Isle of Tiree), this excludes enclosed, residential and public areas. I can’t imagine that you’d think it right to just camp on a golf course, on school grounds or in someone’s garden for example.
So it’s legal in Scotland (ish) but where else?
On Dartmoor, you are free to camp for up to two nights in the same spot as long as you’re 100m from a road.
In the Lake District and Peak District National Parks, wild camping is ‘tolerated’. I don’t like this word but that’s the one they use. Basically, they allow it because they can’t police it. If you’re far enough away from dwellings and roads then who’s going to come looking for you in the middle of the night?
It might be a good idea to mention here, as nobody else does, that actually asking permission can pay dividends. I asked a landowner once if I could camp in a field and after saying he’d rather I didn’t, he directed me to woodland by the river where he was happy for me to camp. I did, and a few weeks later I hammock camped there with a roaring fire to cook my supper on, nearly wild camping! Getting to know the land owner really pays off, I’ve camped there a few times since and pick up some litter on my way out to show my appreciation.
There’s another woodland where I can have a fire and I pay £5 to the land owner’s Paypal account the night before.
Note: open fires are really frowned upon in the National Parks. They scorch the grass and it takes years to disappear.
Seems fair that if the landowners are going to allow it then we should leave the place looking like we’ve never been there right? That’s where wild camping etiquette comes in, the countryside code.
The ‘rules of wild camping’
- Pitch late and strike early
- Keep groups small
- Stay only one night
- Leave no trace of your visit
- Don’t light fires, even if there is evidence of one previously
- Take what you brought
- Leave early
- Toilet 30m from water and paths
- Basically, be respectful, be nice.
“Take only memories, leave only footprints.”Chief Seattle
What to do if you’re asked to move on whilst wild camping
Although wild camping in the UK may be illegal, remember, it is only a civil offence. You can’t be tried in a court for wild camping! You’ll never have the police at the door wielding photographic evidence.
If you pitch and someone comes along asking you to leave, and you know you’re trespassing, just pack up and move on. When you’re a good distance away and feel they won’t come back, start again. Wild camping along the Hadrian’s Wall route can be tricky because you’re low down, not too far from houses and usually on farmland. Don’t fight it, just move on.
Wild camping = Freedom
So, why do people on social media look like they’re having the time of their life wild camping? Why do they appear not to have a care in the World?
Wild camping is wonderful.
Maybe it’s simply because wild camping makes you feel as free as you can be! A long day’s hiking ends and you’re still thousands of feet above sea level. You find a good camping spot, lie on the ground, protect yourself from the elements and set about cooking supper, you doze off and when you wake there are a billion stars right above you or the sun is shining again, your troubles can feel like they’re a million miles away.
If you’re interested in learning more, I urge you to get Stephen Neale’s book – Wild Camping (below) or come out Wild Camping with me.
Come out wild camping with me in the Lakes, the Forest of Bowland, Snowdonia or even Scotland?
You’ll love how chilled out you can get spending the night in the wild, away from it all.
Happy wild camping.
Best wild camping book
This book explains everything you need to know to give you the confidence to get out and sleep in the wild. It’s also the best book I’ve ever read on wild camping.
You’ll be happy to hear that Stephen, after decades of wild camping around the world, put a section in the book which gives loads of examples of places that are great to wild camp (so you know where to go).
Join the Super Ultralight Wild Camping Facebook page, get involved in discussions, make friends and come to our next meetup.
One sentence, that’s all I ask…
After spending 5 minutes of your life discovering how easy it can be to go wild camping, please leave a comment below and let me know what you’ve got from this blog, one sentence, that’s all I ask.
Why Not Read…
Want to go wild camping UK style? Scared of pitching in the middle of nowhere on your own?
Why not start by putting your tent up, cooking dinner on the stove and sleeping out in your garden?