What is ‘wild camping’ and is it legal in the UK?

wild camping

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, shares his advice on getting off the beaten path – but staying on the right side of the law – in the UK.

‘Wild camping’ is defined as pitching your tent or parking up your caravan or motorhome somewhere that isn’t a designated campsite. This could be in a woodland, by a peaceful lake or in a remote field.

The term is frequently synonymous with going off-grid and ‘back to basics’ in terms of kit and facilities – just a hammock, some water, a tarpaulin and a few matches. Usually only a few people would wild camp together, and only for two or three nights in any one place.

With camping set to be one of the holiday of choices of the summer, Dan Yates, founder of outdoor accommodation online booking platform Pitchup.com offers valuable tips for anyone looking for somewhere a little more off the beaten path.

Where to set up camp
It is important to be aware that wild camping is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Island, so it’s not quite as simple as packing your rucksack and heading straight for the hills. However, there is the exception of some places on Dartmoor and even then only if byelaws are followed and campers follow ‘leave no trace’ principles. The Northern Ireland Forestry Service issues camping permits for some of its sites. Elsewhere, you can only wild camp with the permission of the landowner if the spot you’ve got your eye upon is privately owned.

An alternative, legal option is to opt for ‘semi-wild’ escape, by making friends with the landowner of your chosen spot and asking their permission, or by booking a designated site that fulfills all of your wishes within England.

If you’re planning to head north of the border, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows for camping on unenclosed land so long as campers abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The Code includes taking all litter home, removing any traces of tent pitch or open fires and not causing any pollution. There is one exception to the Land Reform Act which applies to some parts of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: wild camping is still permitted in the park, but campers must abide by the stated byelaws. A number of sites in Scotland offer the full wild camping experience on private land so you can be confident that you’re acting sensibly within the rules whilst enjoying all of the freedoms of wild camping. 

When deciding where to set up camp, there are a few simple rules to follow: do not camp in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals, keep away from buildings, roads or historic structures and take care not to disturb activities like deer stalking or grouse-shooting. It’s also important to note that water attracts many midges so you might not want to camp right at the edge of a loch. 

More: sign up to our newsletter here
More: our guide to Windermere

Back to nature
You’ll need fresh water and remember that running water is far safer than still water, which may be stagnant so it is best to pitch close to water source. Be sure to check for waste or animal carcasses upstream as these could contaminate water. Ideally boil any water before drinking to be on the safe side and buy filters or purification tablets to treat the water you’ve collected.

The ‘leave no trace’ rule includes provision for toilet waste. You must ensure that you are least 30 metres away from open water, rivers or streams and as far away from any buildings as possible. Make sure to pack a small trowel to bury the biodegradable evidence in a shallow hole and take any used toilet roll away with you.

The rules ask you to check wind conditions, nearby vegetation and campfire rules before you spark up, and be thorough to ensure your campfire is contained, won’t spread and is put out/covered thoroughly before you move on. If the weather’s been very dry, make sure you use a camping stove instead. 

Kit essentials
Basic wild camping kit includes a tent or bivvy bag, a sleeping bag and mat, portable stove (including matches), water bottle, swiss army knife, map, compass and food. For waste management it is useful to pack a small trowel and a carrier bag. Make sure to check the weather forecast before departing for the wilds, ensure you pack clothing to suit the unpredictable weather conditions and don’t forget your toothbrush. 

For wild camping is it important to arrive late and leave early so factor that into your plans. And don’t expect to have phone signal if you are pitching up remotely! As there is no guarantee that you will, it is always a good idea to let someone back at base know your plans and when you expect to return. Use it as the ideal opportunity to go properly off-grid and really enjoy the beautiful unspoilt British countryside. 

What is Clouded Hills?

Launched in summer 2020, Clouded Hills is a new platform dedicated to holidays in the UK, featuring news, expert advice, area guides and insider picks.

Clouded Hills is for anyone looking to take a break in the UK – whether that’s stargazing in Exmoor, wandering the beaches of Ceredigion Bay, exploring the historic docks of Belfast or browsing the record shops of Glasgow. Sign up to our newsletter here.