is wild camping legal? UK Motorhome & Campervan parking laws

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Thinking of going wild camping in Scotland (or England / Wales) with your motorhome or campervan? Worried about the rules and if it's legal? What are the campervan parking laws in the UK? What can you do and what can't you?


One of the things which drives me CRAZY is the assumption some people have that you can just turn up with a motorhome or campervan and park anywhere. At any time. And do whatever you like.

Especially in Scotland.

Some of these people are just rude, some don't care, but many have been mis-informed, and are confused. If that's you, it's ok. It's not your fault- there is a LOT of bad information about wild/ free motorhome parking going around.


Motorhome & Campervan Parking laws in the UK

Today, we're going to share what the motorhome and campervan parking laws in the UK are, with particular emphasis on Scotland.

Our aim is to help reduce the bad information, and inform people so you can act accordingly. We LOVE wild camping in the UK with our motorhome. It's one of our favourite ways to explore. But we try to be discreet, arriving late and leaving early and we NEVER EVER leave rubbish or waste.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. In order to explain everything properly, I created a video. It's 14 minutes, but it explains all the points I mention below in great detail, so you can truly understand the motorhome and campervan parking laws in the UK as they stand today.

If you have time, I highly recommend you watch it. (Oh, and if you found it useful, subscribe to our channel here so you can get more motorhome and campervan tips for the UK and Europe.)


Watch the video about the UK motorhome and campervan parking laws

This video shares what we know about wild camping in Scotland with a vehicle (specifically motorhomes and camper vans) We share tips, tricks and also the rules as we understand them.


Is wild camping legal in England, Scotland or Wales?

Ok, let's answer some of the important questions in the video

Nope. In short, wild camping with a motorhome or campervan is NOT legal in any of those countries. However, it is… tolerated if you're considerate and use common sense. But it's not a legal right.

Scotland is the only country where wild camping is legal… but that doesn't apply to motorised vehicles (ie, motorhomes and camper vans.) THIS is where a lot of the confusion comes in.


Want our FREE Wild Camping UK checklist? Grab it here



Motorhome & Campervan Parking laws in Scotland

There are 3 different campervan parking laws we need to pay attention to in Scotland. (I'm abbreviating parts for the sake of clarity and conciseness, but feel free to look them up if you wish)

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

The Scottish outdoor access code says that wild camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place but it non-motorised recreation and does not extend to activities that are based on the use of a vehicle such as sleeping in cars, campers, vans or caravans.

There is no legal right to park beside the road overnight but there may be no objection in some instances so extra care is needed.

Land Reform Act of 2003

The Land Reform Act of 2003 is a Scottish Parliament Act that secures public access rights for unenclosed land in Scotland. The part of that Act that applies to motorised vehicles says that where you park your vehicle is important.

You should not cause any damage or create an obstruction by blocking an entrance to a field or a building, making it difficult for anyone else to use a road or a track. You must be aware for the safety of others, you should not damage the verge and you must use a car park if there is one nearby.

Road Traffic Act of 1988

The Road Traffic Act of 1988 says it is an offence to drive a motor vehicle without lawful authority on land of any description which is not part of a road, a footpath or a bridleway.

It also states that you can drive a vehicle off-road away from a public road for the purposes of parking as long as you stay within 15 yards of a public road but (and here's the but!!) you do still need the landowners permission to park.

Most roads, unfenced land and beaches are private property and you don't have the right to just park up whatever you like unless you have agreements from the landowner. The parking of camper vans or cars on roads and laybys is subject to the road traffic legislation and regulations. Off-road parking of a motor vehicle on verges or adjacent land without permission is unlawful.


Practical advice for wild/ free camping with a motorhome or camper van

So, I've just thrown a lot of laws and legal jargon at you. Most of it sounds terrible for those of us who want to go wild camping. Let's break it down into some practical advice.

The fact of the matter is that most land in the UK is owned by somebody. It's nearly all private land and we do not just have the right in a motorised vehicle to turn up and park.

In reality, wild camping is generally tolerated as an overnight stop only- exactly like truck drivers are tolerated to stop in a lay-by so that they can get some rest. That's why we need to plan our Scotland road trip itineraries carefully.

It is intended to be a sleeping place, not somewhere where you get out an awning and a load of chairs and make camp for a few days- and that is where I think some of the issues have arisen.

Traditionally, Scotland was a lot more tolerant of wild camping in motorhomes and campers. Now that they've created these incredible scenic drives all over Scotland, like the NC500 and the SW300, those areas are feeling the pressure of a LOT of extra vehicles.

The infrastructure is just not there at the moment to deal with the sheer numbers of people who visit. And there are a lot of people who want to enjoy the stunning nature of the place and wild camp.

I believe some of the locals have become a lot less tolerant of people abusing their home. Some of the stories we've heard of the litter and waste left behind is disgusting and heartbreaking.

RELATED: 5 essential items you NEED for wild camping (and 2 you don't!)


How to find wild camping places

For information on WHAT to do when you're wild camping, and how to find incredible places, check out our step-by-step guide for wild camping in the UK and Europe with a camper.

Also, grab your free wild camping checklist here


So what should you do?

To stay 100% within the letter of the law, use a campsite if there is one nearby.

The problem comes in the height of summer when campsites are too full and cannot cope with demand, or out of season when campsites are closed and facilities become almost non-existent.

We always advise staying well away from buildings and don't block people's view. Also, arrive later and leave earlier.

Scotland has created some overnight approved parking areas (a bit like motorhome aires in France) – use those where you can.

Also, don't EVER park up in a passing place. Many of the roads on the NC500 are single track- the places to pass are NOT parking spaces. Make sure you are not blocking the road or inhibiting traffic.


Wild camping or free parking?

If the term ‘wild camping' offends you with regards to motorhomes or campers, feel free to use the terms ‘free camping', ‘free parking', ‘informal parking' or whatever makes you happy. It's all the same thing.


How else can I help you today?

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10 thoughts on “is wild camping legal? UK Motorhome & Campervan parking laws”

  1. I so agree with your opening rant. I have just been reading some reviews on parl-4-night and was appalled to read, “there is a no overnight parking sign but we had no problem”, and “parked is a passing place, but it is very quiet”. This sort of self, stupid approach is bound to antagonise local people.
    My rant over.

    Reply
    • After many years of touring all of Western Europe Eastern Europe and Turkey our motorhome We have found the following works.
      If you have heard of a place … do not go there. It will probably be too popular and locals will be fed up with visitors and campervans.
      Consider the residents. Would you like a campervan parked outside your house.
      Use paper maps not sat-navs and go off route. There are so many great places to find.
      Buy a discrete campervan or get it resprayed. There is no worse eyesore than a group of white shiny campervans parked in a wild place.
      Away from tourist areas I have always found people helpful curious and friendly. Try it.

      Reply
  2. Some interesting facts there. The issue of Wild Camping is becoming more polarised this year with many honeypot areas suffering from ad hoc inexperienced stay-cationers.

    You say that wild camping is illegal – actually it’s strictly not. It is a Common Law tort of trespass for which the remedy is damages to the land owner. It is not a Police matter. Certainly there is no “right” to camp but neither is it usually explicitly prohibited. Where it is prohibited it is usually under a bylaw. The enforcement of bylaws is specific and notice /signage etc needs to be in place to inform the public that a bylaw is applicable. Then there is the Road Traffic Act which “allows” parking within 13.75m of a public highway. “Parking” under this context is not limited to daytime. As you say, parking for rest is “tolerated” but I would argue more than that – that it was the intention of Parliament to allow rest under the act. Where the line is drawn between “rest” and “camping” is unclear.

    Whilst these may seem like “loopholes” they really are not. One of my peeves is Landowners expectation to exclusivity to land access just because they “own” the land. Ownership does not include mineral rights or treasure trove etc and neither should it include access to what, in many cases, were openly roamed for millennia before enclosing by elites.

    Reply
  3. I so agree with your initial two points ,
    1. “the assumption that you can JUST TURN UP with a motorhome or campervan (or tent for that matter), AND PARK anywhere, anytime and do as you want. No matter Where. ( A lot of people doing this in Ireland this year, – Staycationers / newbies, and giving Motorhomer’s a bad name/reputation).
    2. Some are so rude and dont care. Others mis-informed as to what is acceptable behaviour.

    I like your further breakdown of the ‘Scottish Laws’, But would go further by saying these SHOULD be the standards we adopt, NO MATTER WHERE we ‘Wild Camp’- Ireland , UK or Europe.

    Reply
  4. I am new to all this and currently planning a trip from Bristol to Faro in Portugal (when it gets safe to do so) What I am a bit surprised about is that anyone can think it’s ok to stay on other peoples land for free, I was looking at planning a route across France then Spain and Portugal with the different laws that we all need to follow, France has strange rules that you are not allowed to wild camp on the coast or in national parks, but that you can free camp in other places except that there are no laws and you could still face fines.

    Reply
  5. Kat, what you say it’s exactly right but I really do think we need to get away from using the term ‘wild camping’ when we are talking about motorised vehicles. Wild camping only applies in Scotland if you are in a tent! What we are talking about is ‘overnight parking’ Even terms like ‘free parking’ sounds like we are just free loaders, I don’t mind spending a small sum of money to park up in a stunning spot or have some facilities like water, waste disposal. We need to avoid using the word ‘camping’ because we are not – that’s what you do on a campsite. Overnight parking means you don’t put out chairs, awnings, barbecues etc. In Europe the rules are pretty well defined what you can/ can’t do, we need to spell it out more in the UK to minimise conflicts with the locals. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • In many ways I totally agree Ian. I’ve started calling it off-grid parking, but it’s not caught on yet! 🙂 And it’s rarely about staying anywhere for ‘free’- especially for motorhome owners. It’s about having the flexibility and wanting to enjoy some of the incredible places the UK has to offer without needing to book 3 months in advance into a noisy campsite. I think most of us are more than happy to pay for facilities- there just needs to be more of them in the UK.

      Reply
  6. most landlords will let you sleep in pub car parks for 1 night just buy an evening meal in the pub and slip the landlord a few quid dont do anything silly like put an awning up or tables and chairs outside just stay in the van and leave in the morning and do not leave any litter

    Reply

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