The current camping situation
Traditionally, camping in UK parks meant getting into the wild, away from civilization, and most of our comforts, in exchange for time in the wild, experiencing adventure and refreshing the spirit and mind.
Camping in UK wilderness has changed significantly in the UK over the last decade. Several camping restrictions were put in place due to environmental concerns and irresponsible and anti-social actions of the minority of campers.
The new generation attitude towards camping has been shifting as so-called ‘glamping’ a style of luxury camping in cabins or caravan camping in the UK is becoming more and more popular among some of the millennial generation.
There are still those who yearn for the freedom of wild camping and adventure travel, with minimal provisions, but will culture and law put an end to this liberating style of experiencing nature?
Camping Restrictions in the UK
In general, wild camping, that is, camping in an area that is not a formal camp site, is mostly permitted and legal in Scotland thanks to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code of 2005, with a few exceptions such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Wild camping in the rest of the UK is restricted with a few exceptions such as Dartmoor.
There are several laws and regulations governing camping in UK wilderness, including the Public Health Act of 1936, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and other various laws that make the legality of camping a bit….muddy.
Aside from Scotland, there exists no open access policy for wild camping, all land is owned, and you need landowner permission to camp on their land.
But the thing about the law and camping culture is that it’s complicated.
Getting landowner permission is not always practical or possible. If this is the case camping is generally tolerated in remote areas, and you may camp if you adhere to the wild camping code of conduct.
Some may consider this type of camping illegal camping, while others believe it is OK, as long as you follow the code and LNT (Leave No Trace).
Take note, if the landowner finds you and asks you to leave, you must go. Wild camping on Open access lands is never allowed.
Main restrictions on Wild Camping in different regions of UK
In Scotland, folks have a right to wild camp on most types of land, including parks, mountains, beaches etc.
There are restrictions in place to prevent camping near schools, railways, golf courses, airways and other undesirable locations. In general, Scotland is pretty open with regards to Wild camping and it also has some of the best sights to be seen in the UK.
There are a few glaring exceptions to Scotland’s otherwise liberal camping policy.
There are restrictions in place around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National park put in place in 2011 and 2017, that restrict camping to designated spots only and campers will need to secure a permit to camp.
In the UK, outside of Scotland, Dartmoor National park is one area where wild camping is allowed due to the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 and the amendment, Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985.
There are some restrictions to wild camping in Dartmoor, so be sure to check the Dartmoor National Park Page for the specifics.
Camping should be done at least 100m away from the roadside, out of view of residents, and never in any military ranges.
Cumbria and the Lake District
Wild Camping is generally accepted if you adhere to the wild camping code and camp away from paths, trails, tarns and car parks.
Plan to stay no more than one night and try to pitch camp in the evening and vacate early in the morning.
Derbyshire and the Peak District
This area is not friendly towards wild camping. Rangers will sometimes remove wild campers.
Wild campers or stealth campers who come late and leave early, or use a bivy and only stay one night are more likely to get away with their camping, but using official campsites is your best bet in these areas.
Single night or bivy camping in a remote area as part of a long distance walk is allowed. Using a tent, or vehicle, and staying more that one night, is discouraged. This may be a park to try some stealth hammock camping.
This park is busy with motor home, campervan and caravan camping.
You might get away with a one night stay, but avoid farmland, which is abundant in this area.
Yorkshire, the Dales, and the North York Moors
This area is pretty restricted. There are a few remote areas where you might get away with a one night stay, e.g. Lake Semerwater or Gordale Scar, but avoid the area during grouse shooting season.
See the end of this video below for a view of some wild camping on North York Moors.
This park is amenable to wild camping, Just camp away from trails and pitch in the evening, vacate in the morning and you should be golden.
This park has two locations where wild camping is formally permitted- Melte and Llech Llia. Both sites are restricted to groups of 10 or smaller.
Why were these restrictions put in place?
Most of the restrictions were put in place to curb anti-social and irresponsible behavior such as leaving trash, cutting trees for firewood or shelter, partying, disturbing the peace, setting campfires in areas where it is illegal or unsafe to do so and generally leaving the area worse for wear.
The issue is that the majority of stealth campers, cycling tourists, hammock camping campers, responsible caravan campers and other adventure travelers are known for traveling light and leave no trace.
It’s folks that come only to party and not for the love of wilderness or to experience adventure, who arrive with cars and RV’s that are able to carry enough items to make loads of trash after the party is over.
Yet, it is the responsible adventure seeking folks who are being restricted due to the irresponsibility and anti-social behavior of the few.
There seem to be several different camping philosophies, and not everyone is in agreement.
There are campers who are out there seeking adventure at the expense of comfort. These campers usually travel light, in small groups and do not stay in one place long.
If they leave no trace and no harm to the environment and do not disturb others, the restrictions on camping for this group seem excessive.
There are other campers who want to enjoy the outdoors while at the same time maintain the comforts of home.
These folks can have an impact on the environment by using RV’s off road, Caravan camping at sights not designed for caravan’s, improperly dumping human waste, staying on one site for an extended period and showering or washing dishes, leaving dirty water waste.
These comfort campers are better served by using established camping facilities designed for motor homes and RV’s if they do not know how to properly camp in the wild and leave no trace.
There are caravan campers that do wild camping properly. The Campervan Life website has good tips for Caravan campers who wish to wild camp undetected.
The other group of “campers” are the ‘partiers’, well sometimes they camp in motor homes, sometimes not. They may be loud, drink excessively, set illegal fires, leave trash and human waste and disturb the peace.
They are behind much of the cause of the restrictions, and indeed, their activity should be restricted because it infringes on others right to enjoy the wilderness undisturbed and harms the environment.
Since restrictions can not target a specific set of campers and must apply to all campers, the restrictions affect adventure travelers, responsible RV’ers and stealth campers even if they are generally not the cause of the problems that led to the restrictions in the first place.
How UK Camping Restrictions change the Camping Culture
These restrictions have the potential to limit freedom and curb travel for many. Consider a young man on a bicycle touring the country or the world.
He wants to explore the world and enjoy his freedom. But with the restrictions in place, he is limited in his options.
Many who tour this way live on a very tight budget and rely on wild camping as a means to get a good night’s rest. Since this is not allowed in many areas he must get a hotel, hostel, or campsite to stay the night in the restricted areas.
The cost may be prohibitive to his travels, shortening the trip or preventing it altogether. These restrictions potentially cause a loss in freedom and quality of life.
The restrictions may, in fact be restraining some from seeking adventure. Less bold, less adventuresome travel may be the result.
Response to the Restrictions. What can we do?
Get Informed and Learn more about Wild Camping
…and go on a #Microadventure
“Stealth Camping”, sometimes called illegal camping, although it is not necessarily legal nor illegal, depending on local law, is one way to manage the restrictions in place.
Alistair Humphries Website has tips on how to have a #MicroAdventure, stealth camping and the law, touring the world on bicycles and many other adventure related articles.
For more information on legal wild camping, see the campsite.co.uk website. Toms bike trip website has some tips on how to stealth camp undetected. This “right to roam” map will visually show you where in the UK a camper can access.
Learn how to Wild Camp while Caravan Camping
Caravan Campers can Wild camp too! There are a special set of challenges that come with wild camping Caravan style, but it can be done.
Check out these resources for more info.
- Map of Points of Interest for Caravan, RV and Motor Home
- Forum for Wild Camping in a Caravan, RV or Motorhome
Learn to camp ‘stealthier’
Campers can add to their adventure by implementing some of the tenants of stealth camping. Stealth camping involves finding a spot to sleep for the night that has not recently been used by someone else.
The area should have no litter, ashes, footprints, or other indications of human activity. The goal is to be inconspicuous, stay only one night during the dark hours, sundown to sun up, and not to shower, erect a tent, have a fire or use a lantern on the site.
Take all trash and waste with you when you leave.
Using a bivy bag allows you some of the benefits of using a tent while being lighter to carry and far less noticeable while being used.
Have you got a hang-up? Get a tent hammock! They are hammocks that cover you while sleeping.
You don’t always need to find a spot between two trees, they can be hung from rock outcroppings or with anchors. With a little creativity and practice, a hammock can be hung just about anywhere.
Hammock tents can be very stealth, depending on their color and where they are hung. They are also very light to carry and get you extremely close to nature.
Join a Community of like-minded individuals
Join a community of like-minded folks. The people at Warmshowers a community for cycling Tourists and hosts provide a place to stay for those on a bike tour.
Joining the community enables you to get to know new people, find a place to stay in between your stealth camps, and as a host, you can offer your home as a place to stay.
Also, what can we all do about it and what are the main possibilities (Hammocks are a solution, that allows us to get closer to nature).
Don’t let camping regulations and restrictions stop you from enjoying an adventure! Do not give in to comfort camping if it means forsaking a real adventure.