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Wild camping in the UK; is it legal and other things you need to consider before finding the perfect place to pitch your tent in nature.

Wild camping in the UK; is it legal and other things you need to consider before finding the perfect place to pitch your tent in nature.

Just imagine; you’re snuggled up in your cosy sleeping bag, the first light of day flooding through your tent. Birds sing around you outside, signalling the start of a new day and as you unzip the tent door, the mountains stretch far in front of you leaving an unobstructed view down to the glistening lake below. The golden glow of the sun rises tentatively from behind the peaks, turning the sky all shades of candy floss. You clutch your morning brew, breathe in that fresh mountain air and feel free. 

I mean, it’s a nice thought but chances are it’s absolutely chucking it down, the sunrise is covered with thick cloud and you’re cold and tired because you bought a cheap sleeping bag and were worried that some evil monsters were going to break into your tent at any given sound outside during the night so you didn’t sleep a wink.

Such is the joy of wild camping in the UK!

We’ve all seen those gorgeous tent photos at sunrise and sunset, the perfect view and dinner on a mountain and thought; I want some of that. At least that’s been the case for me. I’m very much a beginner wild camper. Although I’ve done a few wild camps over the years, the last one was around seven years ago and I can’t really remember much of it. It’s something I want to get back into for a few reasons; for the challenge and because I love the idea of long distance treks in the wilderness where wild camping is the only option between long walking days as well as for my upcoming Mountain Leader training later this year. 

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about being a beginner wild camper it’s that the information out there in regards to where you can camp and the equipment you need is so overwhelming. So, I’m here to take you with me on my beginner wild camping journey over a series of blogs and YouTube videos which you can find here

First up, what exactly is wild camping and can I wild camp anywhere in the UK?

What is wild camping?

In its simplest form, it’s basically sleeping outside out in the wild of nature, as the name would suggest, rather than on a campsite where facilities are provided. With wild camping, you’re truly at one with nature; no showers, no toilets, possibly no phone signal, no electricity, no heating, no other people and no nearby pub. Just you and the outdoors. How you choose to camp will be up to you; in a tent, a bivvy (like a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag), hammock camping or maybe even just under a tarp. Wild camping should be a low key affair; it’s not the time to be taking a big group of mates up a mountain to have a party and then crash out until mid-morning. Think of solitude, peace and immersion into nature and you’ll be on the right track.

Is wild camping legal in the UK?

In a nutshell, no, not really. Wild camping in most of the UK is, unfortunately, illegal. But, it is accepted in some places, sort of and there are some places in the UK where it is legal to wild camp. However, across most of England, Northern Ireland and Wales, there are generally no legal rights to wild camp anywhere and in some places in Scotland you might find yourself needing a permit to camp overnight. Rules around wild camping in the UK are strict and confusing at times and are there to protect the natural environment from unnecessary damage however there’s some guidelines and if you stick to these then you’re generally good to go. 

Wild camping in England

In England, most of the land is privately owned by somebody; an individual landowner, company, organisation, charity or even the government and although wild camping isn’t banned, the only way to wild camp legally is to get permission from the landowner. If you choose to wild camp on land without the landowners permission then you will be committing trespass which is a civil offence (this means it’s not an arrestable offence) as long as you leave the land, with all your camping equipment, as soon as you are asked to by the landowner or someone acting on their behalf.

This applies regardless of where you are; you could be on a remote part of a mountain without vision of a road or any other person but the chances are you will still be on someone’s land and will still need their permission to camp. 

The only place that wild camping is currently legally permitted is in Dartmoor National Park however, this is only in particular areas and the current landowners are currently taking the case through the Supreme Court to have wild camping banned on their land. 

Wild camping in Wales

The rules for Wales are pretty similar to that of England and permission must be gained from the landowner. 

Wild camping in Northern Ireland 

I bet you saw this coming; it’s the same story for Northern Ireland as in England and Wales. To wild camp legally, you need to get permission from the landowner. Northern Ireland Forestry Service does issue wild camping permits at some of its sites which you can book through their website. 

How do I find the landowner to get permission to wild camp in the UK?

Finding the landowner can be tricky but the best place to start is a quick Google Search for the area to see if anything comes up. For example, say you wanted to wild camp on Scafell Pike, a quick Google Search shows that the mountain is owned by The National Trust and they are easily contactable.

Asking local farmers is another good way of finding the landowner but don’t just turn up unannounced at their farm or home. Write a letter in advance and let them know who you are, where you’re planning on camping and wait for their permission.

You can also try the Land Registry service to see who the landowner is which is available online however some of the information may require a fee to be paid. 

Of course, this takes time and there is no guarantee that the landowner will get back to you or even that you’ll be able to find the landowner at all as there are no complete, publicly accessible documents that will give you all the information you need.

So, wild camping is basically impossible, right? 

Gaining permission from the landowner is first and foremost, the main priority and many landowners will be happy for you to wild camp, just be sure to get their permission first.

However, within the wild camping community, there are guidelines which, if you follow them, you should be generally able to wild camp without any issue so long as you remain respectful of their land and the other land users. These include;

  • Camping up high on hills and mountains and away from homes, buildings, tracks and farm walls and fences
  • Reduce the number of people and tents (this isn’t a chance for a party up a hill)
  • Pitch your tent late at night and leave early in the morning so you don’t disturb other land users
  • Don’t trample on plants or move rocks
  • Don’t light open fires
  • If you need to go to the toilet, human waste should either be packed away or dug into a deep hole, at least 30m away from any water source or path. Don’t leave toilet roll on the ground either. 
  • Don’t wash dishes or use soaps in rivers, lakes or any other body of water
  • Keep the site peaceful and minimise any noise
  • Carry all your litter away with you
  • There should be no trace that you’ve even camped in the spot (we’ll get into the nitty gritty of this in a later blog)
  • If a landowner, or someone on their behalf, asks you to move on, you should do so immediately

Wild Camping in Scotland

There’s a misconception that the right-to-roam laws in Scotland mean that you’re free to camp anywhere you’d like but this isn’t exactly the case. However, with that said, Scotland does generally permit wild camping (can we get a “hooraaay”) across the county on beaches, rivers, hills and mountains as long as you follow these guidelines when considering wild camping;

  • Wild camping should only be done in small numbers and for no more than two or three nights in the same place
  • Don’t cause problems for local people or land owners - avoid farms, crops and private land 
  • Stay away from buildings, roads and historic structures
  • Avoid the disturbance of deer stalking and grouse shooting
  • In some areas of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park you must obtain a permit to wild camp between March and September

For more information see the Scottish Access Code for wild camping. and I also recommend checking out this reel by Juls, who makes understand this nice and simple over on her Instagram page over_stepping.

So, wild camping, while it may seem like a great idea, actually needs a lot of care and attention if you are to do this legally depending on where you are in the UK but this doesn’t mean you should be put off; just do your research and consider your options carefully. 

Be sure to keep an eye out for future blogs on wild camping; next up will be equipment you’ll need along with a handy checklist so you never forget something important, followed by how to find places to wild camp, wild camping etiquette and the Leave No Trace principle before we delve into the actual act of going for your first wild camp and what the experience might be like. 

If you want to follow my journey into wild camping you can see more on my Instagram page or take some time to read more blogs here on the My Urban Trail website. 

Happy camping!

Izzy x