Autumn camping

Not much beats stealth camping.  Variously called wild camping or even ‘gramping’ (guerilla camping), stealth camping involves a quick and surruptitious overnight stay with quick exit the next morning – with the minimum of disturbance.

At this time of year the weather can be mixed and on top of busy lives, full weekends away don’t always work out.  What better then that an impromptu overnighter ?  Just chuck some bedding and other essentials into the camper van and take off when the weather looks good or the mood takes you.

My son and I did just this last night.  The chances of seeing the northern lights looked promising, it was a gloriously starry night and we left the girls polishing their nails and watching ‘X Factor’.  Off to do “boy stuff”.

As it turned out we didn’t go far, just 3 miles as the crow flies.  We checked out the stars at a couple of locations up in the Perthshire hills and then eventually parked up beside a single track road far away from streetlights, houses and other vehicles.  Apart from some distant fireworks ‘below’ us the night was crisp, dark and still.

We didn’t really have a plan.  I’d some possible parking spots in mind within a 10-mile radius but we just went with the flow, looking for somewhere with a good clear view of the northern horizon.  (As it turned out, the solar terrestrial activity, which had been bordering ‘minor storm’ level all day subsided about 6pm.  We we went out anyway hoping for an upturn which unfortunately never came).  We took (poor) photos, played cards and board games, snacked and drank hot chocolate – and had a great evening.

Morning brought bright sunshine, the sun just rising above the hills by 9am.  It had been a distinctly cold night – just below freezing – and everything was white by the time the sun woke up.  We found ourselves with a view of no less than six snow-capped munros.  Sometimes with stealth camping the view the next morning can be a real surprise.

IMG_3307_1

I like having the freedom to go away for some stealth camping.  Staying on formal campsites has a very different appeal and definitely doesn’t have the same sense of freedom.  However, there are some important ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ worth bearing in mind:

Do:

  • Make sure you leave no trace
  • Find a location to camp where you can be as unobtrusive as possible – avoiding drawing attention to yourself and not spoiling others’ enjoyment of the outdoors
  • Respect and be considerate to others living or temporarily staying nearby
  • Try to stake out your proposed camping place in advance, ideally in daylight – plan ahead (I use Google Earth if I haven’t had a chance to see the location myself).

Don’t:

  • Leave litter, make a noise, slam doors all night …
  • Obstruct entrance ways, fields and so on
  • Overstay your welcome.

I’ve found some great places for stealth camping in Scotland.  Fortunately, given the low population density north and south of the Central Belt (and with some research in advance) you can fairly easily find a spot on a quiet country lane that’s not going to annoy others.  However, I have to say I’ve also seen where it most definitely doesn’t work – for example, seeing a monstrous white motorhome sticking out like a sore thumb on the treeless Destitution Road on the way to Poolewe in the Highlands.

Last night a grand total of three vehicles passed us on the single track road: a very quiet and unobtrusive spot.  So I’ll definitely be stopping here and other places again …. but considering my impact on the environment and others very carefully.

Wild camp at Glen Etive

Wild camp at Glen Etive

Camping in Strath Vagastie with Ben Klibreck behind

Camping in Strath Vagastie with Ben Klibreck behind

 

18 Comments on “Time for some Stealth Camping

  1. I off to order my first VW cali today !!!!!!!!!!!!, can’t wait to start enjoying getting away, it’s getting a bit cool for camping.

  2. hi
    great blog, love it! thank you for so much advice!
    we have our vw california for 2 weeks now and it feels great!
    what is your experience with the roof top ‘tent’ when there’s a strong wind?
    Do you leave the heater on the whole night when stealth camping? i suppose the ticking of the heater (heard inside while blowing warm air) is a normal noise?
    i’m planning to go with my 4 year old son to the seaside of the north of france this weekend, but weather conditions aren’t that good 🙂
    jan (from Belgium)
    p.s. don’t mind my English 😉

    • Hi Jan,

      Thank you for your kind comments – and your good English ! I’m glad you’re enjoying your new Cali. It is a case of being flexible at this time of year so you can go away with the van in between the rainy weather.

      My advice would be to get a roof cover for your Cali. We have the Vanorak (http://www.thevwcalifornia.com/products-page/) but the Comfortz Cali Topper is perhaps slightly less bulky and better designed (http://www.comfortzleisure.co.uk/#/cali-topper/4575134284). The main advantage is that they keep you warmer ‘upstairs’. At this time of year a roof cover will allow you to raise the room and sleep upstairs – otherwise it may be a little cold !

      They’re also waterproof of course but the roof canvas, while not completely waterproof, should also keep you dry in all but the wettest conditions. In our experience, unless there are strong winds driving the rain against the side of the canvas, the canvas alone is enough to keep you dry. However, I do remember being woken up in the middle of the night wondering what was spraying me on my face … the wind was driving the rain against the small mesh window at the top of the canvas and then spraying inside ! Fortunately this has only happened once (in 30mph+ gusts).

      I haven’t left the heater on all night although I know that people do leave it on low when ski-camping in winter. And yes, the ticking is perfectly normal.

      Let me know how you get on with your first trip away this weekend !

  3. I will second that, the scenery is really superb. My wife and I will be driving to Salzburg / Austria in a couple of weeks time and we are considering doing just what you did. However, if the authorties catch you….. Austria can be very expensive

    • Hi Adrian,

      That’s interesting to hear. I’m aware that the legality or tolerance towards stealth camping is very different in different countries – I can only speak about what happens here in the UK.

      What I didn’t mention in my post is that many local authorities in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK ?)have tried to restrict overnight camping in laybys by erecting “No ovenight parking” signs. However, following a successful campaign by Andy Strangeway (http://andystrangeway.wordpress.com/no-overnight-parking-signs/) these signs are now being taken down since they were installed without legal basis. The same ‘dos and don’ts’ apply here as elsewhere of course.

  4. Very lucky indeed 🙂 Although – I do have my reservations about stealth camping and so-called wild camping in vans. I always find if there’s one then there’s bound to be more and before you know it everybody’s encroaching on nature in the never ending quest for that perfect spot. I’d rather pay a fiver to some of our finest farmers for letting me stay on their glorious land. But that’s just me. I would have still loved your spot for the night :)))

    • While I’d personally prefer to be out in the wilds than on a campsite you do have a good point, which is why I stressed the ‘leave no trace’ principles and so on.

      It seems to work when campers are considerate towards others and the local environment/landscape. However, I’ve also seen ‘known’ wild camping spots cluttered with motorhomes which somewhat detracts from the environment and the overall experience – so I do agree there needs to be balance.

  5. I love the idea of wild camping but haven’t had much of a chance yet in my sprinter. I much prefer the idea of being away from everyone on your own and not on a campsite, but there’s always the risk of picking the wrong spot and annoying someone. Thanks for the post though, it was great to see those lovely photos of Scotland, hope to make it up there next year 🙂

  6. Looking back through your archives, I found this posting. We really are very lucky here in Scotland, safe Wild Camping spots are bountiful. Your picture of Glen Etive reminds me of my own masthead, which is an image of a previous van wild camping at Loch Etive. Sadly the last time I was there, the approach road seemed to have been taken over by a lumber company and is now gated and locked leaving me to camp in a nearby car park 😦

  7. Pingback: Wild camping in Scotland – Camper vans and motorhomes | Wild about Scotland

  8. We have just bought ourselves a ‘monstrous while campervan’. We are a family of 5 with 2 dogs, so a large van seemed inevitable. Im sad to read that these may be frowned apon or seen as an eyesore as we would very much like to park up wherever legal for a night and would never leave any mess or disruption.

    • I didn’t mean to offend but the point I was trying to make was that we all need to be sensitive to the local environment when stealth camping. Unfortunately, size and colour of vehicles do make a difference and the extremely large white motorhome I saw parked up in the NW Highlands against a heather moorland stood out like a sore thumb ! Whatever vehicle you use, common sense principles (eg arrive late/leave early, not overstaying your welcome, leaving the site in a better condition than when you found it etc) need to be adopted.

  9. Im just back from Stealth camping the NW Highland for the first time with my Land Rover 110 having done camping with motorbike all my life. It was a learning curve for me as to the very different way of doing things. And as you pointed out the rules are not that straight-forward! So far as a single 59 yr old chap in a clean and tidy truck Ive encountered no negativity

    • Great. It’s good to hear you got on fine. There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy informal camping as long as you take a responsible approach, respecting local communities and the environment alike.

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