Ever wanted to go wild camping in your campervan or motorhome in Scotland, England or Wales, but weren't sure on the rules or how to find places to stay? This post shares everything you need to know about how to legally wild camp in the UK with a motorhome or campervan!
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What is wild camping for motorhomes?
Ah, wild camping. Parking up away from the rest of the world and enjoying some blissful solitude, far removed from busy campsites, screaming children, barking dogs or drunken revellers. Wild camping with a campervan sounds (and is) idyllic…. but if you've never done it before it can definitely be intimidating. How do you know where to go? How does everyone else find these beautiful spots you see on Facebook or Instagram? Is it even legal?
Don't worry- it's not as scary as it sounds and hopefully, by the end of this post you'll feel confident to go off for a little adventure. We've wild camped in our motorhome all over Scotland, England and Wales (still waiting to try Northern Ireland!) and it's our favourite way to spend the evening.
Watch the video about how we find Wild Camping for Campervans & Motorhomes
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Wild Camp in the UK with a motorhome- Our first-time!
I remember the first time we considered wild camping in our van. I was absolutely TERRIFIED. I thought we were going to be either murdered in our beds or woken up at 3am and moved on by the police (complete with a criminal record). Honestly, I'm not sure which one scared me most!
It all started when we headed off to the Scotland Highlands for a week's holiday… and we didn't have a plan. This was difficult for me because I am a PLANNER. The whole concept was totally alien and honestly not that much fun- I spent most of the day worrying about where we were going to stay for the night. When we did find somewhere to stay I worried we were doing something wrong. I barely slept (although some of that had to do with the lorries which used our quiet side street as a rat run during the night- live and learn!)
But as the new morning dawned, here is exactly what happened on our first night of wild camping….. NOTHING. Not a thing. Nobody cared, nobody commented. It was a little anti-climatic- and yet completely free-ing. And the more we did it, the easier and more fun it became.
So if this is you, please rest assured. Less than 3 months later we merrily wild camped our way around Europe without any issues whatsoever. In fact, it was one of the best holidays we've ever had! In 2018 we spent 5 weeks in Denmark, Norway and Sweden- and only stayed in a campsite for one night!
How to Wild Camp in the UK with a campervan- Practicalities
Ok, first things first. There's no point planning a wild camping trip if your van/ motorhome/ vehicle isn't set up for it. There are a couple of things to check first:
Consider what your water requirements are. In the motorhome, we carry 95 litres, which is enough water for 3/4 days if we're very frugal- but that does include a quick shower for each of us every day. There are some great solar devices which can store water on your roof so it warms up as you drive- allowing you to have a nice hot shower when you park for the night. We also carry a collapsible container like this, which is GREAT if we decide we want to stay away from civilisation for a little longer:
Consider your…errr… bathroom set up. Motorhomes are easy- but even with a bathroom/ toilet installed you need to make sure it has enough space to take …. anything you put into it. No point camping in the middle of nowhere and then realising the toilet is about to overflow & needs emptying. Alternatively, consider how you will ‘do your thing' in the woods/ countryside around you. You'll need a small trowel or equivalent and a way of disposing of soiled toilet tissue- PLEASE don't leave that in the woods. Waste (including urine) must be at least 100m and ideally 200m away from any water source. Small bags designed for dog owners are useful for this- they're scented and help to stop any smells until you can reach a bin. Or you could have a fire and burn it. Don't bury sanitary products- wild animals will dig them up.
Consider your grey waste capacity too. Many people empty grey waste (which is water from sink and shower) into the wild. If you're going to do this, please use products which will not be harmful to the environment and don't empty black waste except for in approved areas where it won't do any damage. For this reason, we tend to empty grey and black waste at the same time in an approved motorhome emptying facility (sadly, there aren't many of these in the UK so we tend to ask/ pay to campsites to use theirs.)
Fires while wild camping
Talking of fire, there is nothing more romantic than an open flame, as you sit around of an evening and enjoy your secluded spot. HOWEVER: Please ensure the fire is off the ground and doesn't leave any scorch marks and be sensible- if it's been very hot and dry the surrounding area is likely to go up with a stray ember and could potentially cause a devastating wild fire. Nobody wants that. We LOVE our BBQ/ Fire, which is set off the ground and folds flat when not in use. We leave it to cool off overnight (make sure it's definitely out!) and then it folds away very easily the next day. Such a brilliant bit of kit.
Cooking while wild camping with your campervan
We've already mentioned campfire, which is an obvious and fun method to cook on, but if you use gas check that there is enough gas in your cylinder. Especially if you use it for heating. We use our van all throughout the winter and we find one 6kg gas bottle lasts us about 3 days- which is used for cooking, fridge and the heating on constantly nearly all the time (have I mentioned it's COLD in the UK??) Obviously, it lasts us a lot longer in summer! NOTE: We've tried the ‘light' 6kg gas bottles and in our opinion and experience we get much less gas out of them than the normal bottles, so we switched back.
We try hard to keep our power useage to a minimum. When we wild camp we make sure we have topped up all phones, ipads, laptops and the wifi dongle as we are driving (using 12v chargers), so we don't use our precious battery when we're camped. We've just installed a solar panel…. but it's currently January in the UK so we haven't had a chance to use it yet. We also carry a small generator- as an EMERGENCY BACKUP! I refuse to be that couple in a motorhome who ruins a beautifully serene location with a noisy electric engine- but I agreed to it for when we tackle the wilds of Norway later in 2018. We use the bare minimum of lights of an evening, preferring instead to sit & chat by a fire until bed time. Our electric bed we get down & up with a battery powered drill, which saves our battery loads. We can get at least 2 days camping just on battery power in the summer- haven't tried two days in one place during the winter yet but I'll update this when we do!
We spent 3 weeks exploring Denmark and Norway in Summer 2018- and only stayed in a campsite once (we wanted to use the laundrette!) During that time our power systems worked great! We mainly used an inverter whilst we were driving to charge our laptops and a generator which we used twice whilst we were far away from everyone else. Both worked really well and we highly recommend them!
Make sure you have enough water, food, tools, fuel & spare parts if you are going somewhere really remote. Levelling chocks are always useful- don't be afraid to use them if you need to. We've just fitted Hydraulic legs to our motorhome– we'll see if they're worth the investment! If you are going somewhere cold & snowy, snow chains or special tyres might be a good idea. Also, make sure your vehicle is in good working order before you set off. Breaking down in a remote car park is not going to enhance your holiday!
Wild Camping UK- How to find free places to stay with a motorhome
Some people just head off into the great unknown without a plan and pull into a convenient lay-by when they find one. I prefer to be a little more organised. (Did I mention I'm a PLANNER?!!) Having said that, I designed an entire route around Norfolk and we ended up in Cornwall instead! So I tend not to look for locations until we're in the area.
To do this I use my phone or ipad and require either 3G or a wifi signal. If you're going somewhere really remote (like London) you might need to do some advance searching. If you need the internet whilst you're driving, we highly recommend the Alcatel Wifi dongle. We've used it all over the place and rarely had a problem finding a signal. We use the yellow one, but there is now a newer version which is getting great reviews.
Wild Camping Motorhome places- Search for sites
I use two sites mainly. The first is searchforsites.co.uk, which we really like due to its ease of use and wide range of various options. Most places have photos and a review- which we find really helpful when picking a location. However, this site is a PAIN to use on a mobile phone, especially if you could go anywhere within a 20 mile radius and are looking for options. Each time you come back to the main map you need to search all over again. But we still love it & use it regularly. If you want to find where we've been, we're on there as WanderingBird.
Searchforsites.co.uk is FREE to join and works really well across the UK & Western Europe for wild camping sites. We intend to keep using it this summer when we explore Norway & Scandanavia.
The other website we use, which gives some slightly different options, is park4night.com. Again, this site is FREE to join & use and works across Europe. We tend to find it has less options- maybe because it has less users- but it lists a lot of car parks and approved motorhome overnight stops, which is useful if you need something with hardstanding and not too far off the main roads.
I tend to check both sites, read the reviews, look at the photos and then head for somewhere. Most sites have a postcode so we put that into the Sat Nav and off we go!
Motorhome Wild Camping in the UK – our routine
Depending on what we're doing will depend on how we look for wild camping places. If we're heading into the countryside for a weekend, we'll look for remote car parks or lay-bys which won't have much noise or passing traffic. We will read reviews and try and avoid areas where boy racers hang out or where anyone has experienced crime.
If we're just stopping on the way to somewhere else, such as on the way down to Cornwall, we look for places not too far off our chosen route. Again, we try to pick somewhere quiet that's not by a busy main road. After that first night in Scotland, when our poor van shook violently & woke us up every time a truck went by, we've never parked up by a main road again!
UPDATE… yeah, we forgot about this rule whilst we were in Norway and spent an awful night parked up next to a road which was busy all night, with trucks rushing past and shaking the motorhome- even with the legs down! Never again… at least until the next time!! 🙂
Free Camping with a campervan or motorhome in the UK- the legalities
So, after all this advice, is it even legal to wild camp in the UK in a vehicle? The honest answer is….. kinda.
Wild camping England & Wales in a motorhome
Pretty much every piece of land in England & Wales is owned by someone, and you DON'T have right of access onto their land without their permission. (The big exception to this is Dartmoor National Park, where you DO have right of access on some areas. But not others.) Therefore if you are asked to move on, you need to do so. Wild camping is also prohibited on Open Access lands (shaded orange on Ordnance Survey Maps).
HOWEVER, there are many places in England & Wales where wild camping is tolerated. Heck, we camped next to Stonehenge for the night and spoke to the security guards from English Heritage at 6am (we were filming the sunrise). They didn't bat an eyelid at the fact we were parked there, for free, for the night. There were in fact several other vans around and they could easily have asked us all to move if it was an issue…. but they didn't. Because it wasn't. (UPDATE- apparently it is now and the Drove is now closed. Sob)
It's a lot easier to wild camp in the UK if you head for more remote areas- such as Cumbria, Devon, Cornwall (out of summer!), Southern Wales and Scotland. Here landowners are more used to wild campers and much more tolerant- although they still have the right to ask you to move. The practical answer is that most people don't mind in the slightest as long as you are not on their doorstep, not making noise and not disobeying an obvious parking sign saying ‘no overnight camping'. A bit of courtesy and consideration will go a long way to making your wild camping trips more enjoyable.
Wild Camping Scotland motorhome or camper
Scotland has long been considered much more tolerant of wild camping than the other countries in Britain. However, some confusion exists about the definition of ‘wild camping'. In Scotland (and honestly, probably elsewhere!) wild camping means a tent or even just a sleeping bag, far far away from a road and any civilisation. Camping by a roadside in a motorhome is generally called ‘free camping'.
The Scottish Outdoor Access code which is often quoted does NOT apply to motorised vehicles, so, contrary to popular belief, it is NOT ok to just park a motorhome or campervan wherever you like in Scotland.
Sadly, the pressure on the infrastructure is creating more and more tension between residents, tourist boards and motorhomers. A few irresponsible idiots who leave rubbish and human waste lying around have led to many more restrictions on where you can legally park overnight, and there is increasing pressure to shut down even more places- especially in the heavily congested areas of the Isle of Skye and NC500.
Free Motorhome Camping UK
It's a tough one. We love to wild camp (or free camp, if you prefer), but we try to do it far away from everyone else. In the UK, that is becoming more and more difficult to do. At the moment, there are still places where it is tolerated for people to camp overnight, provided they are considerate and responsible, following these simple rules:
- Only stay up to 3 nights in any one place
- Don't park in fields with crops or farm animals
- Keep well away from buildings unless you seek owner's permission
- Take away all litter
- Obey local bylaws (especially where you need a permit to park in certain places)
There are some beautiful places to stop in Scotland, and it would be a great shame if these were closed off to Motorhomers completely. Having said that, many places in England are being shut off, so I expect the same to happen in Scotland before too long. Better get up there quickly while you can!
CHECK OUT OUR PERFECT SCOTLAND ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
Another TOP TIP for Scotland- do not take your Motorhome into Edinburgh. Under ANY circumstances. You can take kids into Edinburgh, but not Motorhomes. There's nowhere near enough space!
Campervan Overnight Parking- what to do/ what not to do
- “DON'T leave anything other than tyre tracks” was how it was explained to us- and I love that definition. If we want to keep wild camping, for free, across the UK, we need to respect the land we are staying on and the fact that most of the time we are there with kind permission of the landowner. The more people who leave rubbish/ cause damage, the quicker we're ALL going to be stopped from staying anywhere.
- DON'T play loud music
- DON'T put up awnings/ permanent structures. You need to look like you are just stopping for a few hours.
- If there is a charge, pay it. It's still a heck of a lot cheaper than a campsite for a night.
- You can always move. Should other people move in who are noisy/ unsociable or who you just don't want to be parked next to, then just start the van and move.
How to Wild Camp in the UK- Safety
Finally, a short word on safety. If you are wild camping on your own, PLEASE tell someone where you are going- or tell them where you are when you find somewhere. There are many reasons this is a good idea- and I hope none of them ever apply to you.
I hope the above has been helpful and allayed some of your fears over wild camping in your motorhome. The best thing you can do is just get out there and give it a go. Good luck & if you find somewhere amazing, let me know in the comments below! 🙂
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