Like the smell of fresh air? The seclusion of the forest? The gentle lapping of small waves on the edge of a loch? Or maybe you just enjoy being away from too many people.
Wild camping in Scotland certainly fits these criteria.
To us Kiwis, freedom camping is its most common name. Either way, wild or free, you can pitch up wherever you want. Albeit a few obvious rules.
The Outdoor access code – AKA the rules
Do not pitch on cultivated land and not in a field of animals. Pretty much, if you have to climb over a fence, go through a gate or traipse through animal shit or growing fruits or vege, don’t camp there. If you really want to, find the owner of the land and ask!
Leave no trace.
They are super popular in the UK. Us Kiwis are used to not lighting these, as campfires can turn into forest fires pretty quick. Scotland is mostly wet, so this risk is low. Although, think before you light. Make sure you are not too close to any trees.
But seriously, everyone lights them! I am not a fan of smelling like smoke, so we never lit one. This leave no trace rule seems to be forgotten by many, as there is always a trace of a campfire. In fact, that’s one of the easiest ways to find a wild camping spot. If someone has been there before, it must be ok!
Take all your rubbish with you.
Don’t pitch up close to other people.
Not only for privacy but to not damage the ground all in one spot.
Bury your poop and toilet roll.
Invest in a little trowel and take it with you. It is seriously very unpleasant to come across someones unburied poop, humans can be gross. I’m sure the local wildlife don’t like it either.
Leave! One night in one spot is enough. Time to move on. But stay no more than 2 nights.
If you’ve scored a goodun, or are in the area a while, at least, pack up your things and take them with you. Then repitch for another night. Don’t leave your tent pitched up alone. We wouldn’t ever leave our stuff unattended, we learnt that lesson!
The exception to all this free camping:
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park is exempt from wild camping. You cannot pitch up anywhere. You must purchase a camping permit online for about 3 GBP per night for a particular spot. This controls how many tents are allowed in one area.
This area is heavily used, so choose your path through the bushes to find a loo spot well, and bring your trowel! Many people do not bury…. gross.
Finding a camp spot
But how does one find such a place? Unlike most of England, there is an abundance of fence-free land available.
Some animals are free to roam, unfenced and with a cattle grid on the road to keep them where they need to be. So, this can mean you found a great spot, but in the morning a herd of cows are your neighbours. Or you are woken by a very close BAAAAA! Be kind, pack up your stuff gently, leave their home and avoid their landmines of poop.
Most good camping spots that are unfenced are around lochs. The Norwegian rule of ‘must be 100 metres from the road’ does not apply in Scotland. But we would recommend not being visible from the road for safety and to not intrude on someones scenic drive.
If you are driving along a single track road, be sure to park well off the road and not in a passing bay. The locals will not like it! This often means walking further than you intended.
We won’t tell you all the locations we camped because frankly, we happened upon most of them by chance. Theres also this thing about giving away camping spots, many people feel it is cheating and unkind to locals to put it on the web. Instead, read the hints on how to find these spots yourself.
Expect to be driving down some gravel roads in the middle of nowhere, looking for quite some time for a good spot, and often just settling for anything as it has gotten too late.
Prepare to get wet!
No matter what, whether it be from the rain, a bog, a puddle or a slippery rock, prepare yourself for getting wet. Waterproof shoes are essential. A waterproof and windproof jacket also essential. Even in summer. Thanks Scotland!
The weather forecast is never right. It can be nearly right, but you’ll be guaranteed to have some rain at any time in the 24 hours of a day. Even in so-called summer. As the saying goes, If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. We experienced rain every day, whether at night or in the day, your tent will get wet. So make sure it is the most waterproof one you can get.
Bugs, bugs and more bloody bugs!
All the flying insects want to eat you! Midges will soon become your worst enemy. Within one minute of meeting them, I hated them. A head net, as sexy as it sounds is vital. Especially if you don’t want to be driven to insanity by the little things! These are commonly available at stores in the Highlands for about £6.
Smidge, the midge repellent is also a sound investment. These are normally located with the nets as they go hand in hand. Normally retails around £6.99. Don’t bother shopping around for the cheapest, they are all the same price in nearly every store and you need it straight away.
What is a midge you ask? It is the spawn of the devil itself who likes to suck blood.
But, seriously, they are teeny tiny little flying bugs (smaller than a sandfly) and get everywhere. They are not ashamed to eat your face, your cleavage, your butt crack or that millimetre of ankle showing. They swarm in the millions around your tent and it sounds like it is lightly raining. If you dare go for a late night pee, prepare to have your ass eaten.
They also hover about when it’s especially overcast, otherwissie they are a dusk and dawn bug.
How to defeat the Highland midges
Aside from investing in a flamethrower, use these helpful tips.
Pick somewhere windy. Not, blow your tent away wind, just something about 3 mph kind of wind. Midges cannot fly in that kind of winds, so you are saved! They come out at dawn and dusk, so early dinners and late breakfasts may be required if you have not got protection or you have gone insane and no longer want to see the little white bodied flying things.
“This meal gains more protein the longer you take to eat it.” Quoting Jacob from cooking dinner one night.
Do not wear black. For some reason, they enjoy the colour and will make your black clothes white with all the midge bodies piled up on you.
What happens when they invade your tent? Our tent had a porch area that is separated from the bedroom by a double door (mesh and fabric). This gives ample time to lock yourself in the decontamination chamber, lose the shoes and remove the jacket before entering the midge free haven. Do not let them in! And if you do, spend a good amount of time squishing them! They will attack when you are at your weakest, unconscious. My legs were feasted on inside my loose fitting pyjama pants! The next night I wore tight leggings. I hope I killed that stupid thing slowly as I rolled around in my sleep.
I do not recommend a small campervan for Scotland. Or anything like our mini mini camper we had in Ireland and France. There is no containment zone for these, so the midges will waltz on in and destroy your night.
Large campervans are very, very popular in Scotland. And while I don’t like gigantor campervans (I like small spaces), I was very jealous when I saw people inside eating their midge free meal, and me outside in the rain (of both midges and water) staring at that behemoth of a vehicle with envy.
Campervans also do not have the same freedom/wild camping laws as tents. That is a seperate thing all together.
Don’t get lost
None of this “Get lost in Nature” crap. No, here nature can kill you. Just like in NZ. The weather, for one, can turn so quickly and catch you out. Suddenly your freezing and needing mountainside rescue. Don’t be this person. Think before you go out for a hike and always know the way back. Going off the path is not a wise move.
GPS tracking on your phone is recommended. Press and hold over your parked car to get the coordinates and save the area. At the very least you know where the car is. Take a power bank with you so a dead phone won’t happen. Unfortunately phone signal in most of the highlands is weak or nill, so be prepared for the worst (just in case). Pack a first aid pack, security blanket, raincoat etc.
In saying this, when driving GPS and maps time estimates are rather wrong because of single track roads. Meaning you are always pulling over or reversing to let other traffic through.
Driving on single track roads
I’m sure most people from larger countries and cities wouldn’t even know these are a thing. Well in Scotland, there are plenty. Often huge long stretches of road are single track. But they are two way. Every 100m or so there is a passing bay. It may look like a great place to park up, but as I said before, DO NOT PARK HERE. As you cannot drive the full speed limit along these roads, your time estimate from google or GPS device can be way off.
I would encourage you to drive at a speed where you can easily slam on the brakes and not crash if need be. Some people hoon along these roads, and two hooning cars will not meet pleasantly.
As well as your safety, another reason to not speed would be the local residents. Most of the time you are driving over multiple cattle grids in the road, so you know when you are on farmland. Expect to meet many a sheep or cow. Apparently, the road is the best place to hang out.
Hygiene (because we all need to wash)
Every now and again you will need a campsite to satisfy the hygiene requirements. Your best way to find one is to use google maps and simply search camping in the area you want. Click on the smaller red dots as they tend to be farmers opening up a field or just less used cheaper campsites. These are seasonal, most are only open for the summer months and close before October.
Although camping is essentially free on the Scotland land, campsites do not compete with the price of free. Averaging about 16 pounds per person per night and an extra 3 or 4 pounds for electric. Showers can be around 20p for about 4 minutes. You could easily come across campsites charging 25 pounds or more! It is best to research first, rather than drive up to one and risk paying more.
As the campsites were rather pricey for us, (especially when you can get something for free!) we discovered cunning ways to be semi hygienic and still wild camp.
In our camp supplies, we had a tub we used for washing dishes. This then doubled as my “bath”. Simply fill with fresh water from a Loch, river or stream. Don’t worry, you’re not going to drink it, so it doesn’t have to be “clean” water. Tip your head over and wash your hair in the tub, then use a flannel and sponge bathe yourself. Yes, the water is cold. But its manageable.
Jacobs idea of bathing was very unappealing to me, jumping in the Lochs. They average around 5 degrees! He never lasted long in there.
The beauty of this is, is that privacy is not really an issue, hardly anyone is ever around!
Although we saw more rain than was welcome, we loved Scotland. Around almost every corner there was something to look at. Most of the time taking so many pictures.
See our other post for some of the beautiful scenic places in Scotland to see.