One of the great joys of owing a campervan or motorhome is being self-sufficient, able to park up and stay overnight away from the crowds.  People often talk of ‘wild camping’ – camping for free and away from a formal, managed campsite.  But what does the law in Scotland actually say about this ?  What exactly is allowed ?

There’s widespread misinformation and misunderstanding on this topic unfortunately.  This post is designed to help dispel some of the myths that still exist so visitors and locals know where they stand.

Lydia at Ben Klibreck

What’s the current situation?

As elsewhere in the UK and many other countries, informal ‘free camping’ is tolerated in many parts of Scotland.  People in campervans and motorhomes park up in a remote spot away from houses, stay overnight, tidy up after themselves and then leave.  So what’s the problem?

The difficulty is that signs of tension are now increasing in many locations.  Largely this is due to pressure of numbers; there are many more motorhomes on the roads in particular and more vehicles camped on roadsides means that informal camping is much more visible than ever before.

The phenomenal success of the North Coast 500 route means that there are many camper vans and motorhomes looking to camp informally near fragile and remote rural communities.  While there are some great campsites in North West Scotland in particular, the level of demand has exceeded the investment in camping, parking and waste disposal facilities, and increased investment is urgently needed.   I’ve personally been annoyed to see people in large white motorhomes parked up beside the road in remote, treeless Highland locations creating an eyesore.  You would think that people would have the common sense to hide these monstrous vehicles somewhere far less intrusive.

Certain Scottish islands (such as Colonsay and Tiree) now don’t allow campervans or motorhomes since they lack the infrastructure to cope.  When I wanted to take my camper van to Colonsay a few years ago I was told that the clampdown was as a direct consequence of previous instances of littering and leaving human waste.

Other visitor hotspots such as at St Andrews’ West Beach have also introduced local byelaws preventing vehicles from camping overnight.  Local residents are concerned at the number of vehicles parked overnight, creating a visual eyesore, sometimes blocking roads and entranceways, and putting pressure on public toilet facilities.

Finally, we’ve seen issues with irresponsible informal camping in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which have escalated in recent years.  This led (in March 2017) to the National Park Authority introducing temporary byelaws and a permit system (costing £3 per night) in order to camp in the new camping management zones between March and October each year.  These camping management zones cover the most popular lochside locations (around 4% of the total Park area), and restrictions don’t apply outwith these zones.  In Glen Etive too, the landowner has provided a designated campsite at the foot of the Glen beside Loch Etive to attempt to reduce littering from informal camping down the 12 mile length of the Glen.

While I’m not aware of any particular issues relating to camper van and motorhome owners acting irresponsibly or antisocially the measures introduced unfortunately don’t distinguish between the irresponsible few and the responsible majority.  The police have always had the power to give fixed penalty notices to people camping irresponsibly (littering, adopting anti-social behaviour) and so there’s strong pressure on the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority to simply enforce these existing powers so that the anti-social minority don’t continue to restrict access for the responsible majority.  (The police clearly need to reallocate resources for this to happen of course).

 

 

I’ve deliberately summarised some of the main tensions that are currently found in Scotland, particularly during the busier summer months.  To many people this may seem strange since the popular view is that you can wild camp for free anywhere in Scotland, right?

Wrong.  Let me try to clarify matters.

Myth 1 –You can ‘wild camp’ in Scotland in a camper van or motorhome

Many people are confused by what’s meant by ‘wild camping’.  In fact, wild camping under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is only allowed when camping on foot, bike or some other non-motorised form of transport.  Scotland’s access legislation does not apply to motorised vehicles such as camper vans and motorhomes.

The Land Reform Act provides rights of access to most land and inland water, subject to responsible behaviour as defined in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.   According to the Code (my emphasis in bold):

Access rights extend to wild camping.  This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place.  You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farms animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures.  Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting.  If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner’s permission. Leave no trace by:

  • taking away all your litter
  • removing all traces of your tent pitch and any open fire (follow the guidance for lighting fires)
  • not causing any pollution.

By definition, ‘wild camping’ takes place away from roads and settlements so parking up beside the road certainly isn’t wild camping!  While the term ‘wild camping’ is popularly used by motorhomers they should really be talking about informal or free camping.

So don’t assume that Scotland’s world-leading land access legislation allows the right of responsible access for camper vans or motorhomes.  It doesn’t apply to motorised vehicles.

Myth 2 – The law is different in Scotland compared with elsewhere in the UK

Building on the above, the Road Traffic Act applies equally throughout the UK – the rules are no different in Scotland.

Across the UK, however, you’re allowed to sleep in a vehicle in a layby if you are tired and you need to rest before continuing your journey.  Whether you would want to if quite a different matter: laybys are often noisy, dangerous, dirty and not the kind of place you’d want to sleep except when all other options have been exhausted.

Myth 3 – There’s nothing wrong in camping informally for free

Broadly, I’d agree with this but with two very important caveats.

First, it’s essential that you camp responsibly.  What’s not acceptable is behaviour that includes:

  • littering
  • causing pollution, including noise pollution (I’d also include the visual impact on the surrounding landscape and communities)
  • damaging crops and/or disturbing farm animals
  • using threatening behaviour.

Now I’m sure you’re a responsible camper and wouldn’t dream of doing such things.  But have you stopped to consider the cumulative impact of informal camping?  I’m sure we’ve all pulled into a scenic beauty spot off the road and thought it would be a great place to camp overnight.  But if 100 other vehicles do that over the course of a year the cumulative effects of tyre tracks, dropped sweetie wrappers and surreptitious trips for the toilet in the middle of the night are surely going to have an impact.  If you’ve ever camped informally this is an uncomfortable thought.

Second, an integral aspect of sustainable and responsible tourism involves contributing to the local economy.  It’s all part of the experience of meeting new people and seeing new places, and a key reason why people come to Scotland.  I personally take issue with some motorhome owners who have on-board toilets and showers (most camper vans aren’t large enough to have these) and who take the view that they can be self-sufficient for several days.  While they can, should they?

Camping informally in local car parks or along scenic coastal roads may be appealing but ultimately deprives businesses in the ‘visitor economy’ of much-needed income.  Owners of campsites, shops and cafes need to work all year round to survive and rely particularly on visitors during the summer months.  Tourism is a vitally important part of Scotland’s rural economy and is essential if many rural communities are to survive and thrive.

Is it right that some people think it’s OK to camp informally for two nights before staying on a campsite on the third night to empty waste tanks and take a shower?  At worst, there are cases of motorhomes driving on to campsites they haven’t even paid to stay at simply to empty waste tanks for free.  I personally saw a motorhome camped just across the road from a campsite entrance a couple of weeks ago!

So what should I do if I’m a camper van or motorhome owner ?

By all means, camp informally but do this responsibly.  A few years ago Big Tree Campervans teamed up with a few other campervan rental companies, as well as Scottish Natural Heritage and Visit Scotland to produce some simple, common sense guidelines about camping informally with campervans in Scotland:

Access Rights

Scotland is rightly proud of its access rights; however when you’re looking for places to ‘camp wild’ in a campervan or motorhome, it is important to bear in mind the following key points:

  • Scottish access rights and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code don’t apply to motor vehicles.
  • The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that you can drive a vehicle up to 15 yards off a public road for the purposes of parking, but this does not confer any right to park the vehicle. Most un-metalled roads, unfenced land and beaches are private property, and you don’t have the right to park unless it’s authorised by the landowner by verbal agreement or signage.
  • In practice, informal off-road parking takes place in many parts of rural Scotland, often in well-established places, without causing undue concern.
  • Some communities (eg Calgary Bay on Mull, and the whole island of Tiree) have established their own guidance for campervans and the use of designated overnight parking spaces… if you’re in such a place, follow the guidance!

Common Sense Guidance – Do:

  • Use common sense and think whether the spot you have found is suitable for a vehicle.
  • Think about the cumulative effect of camping in the ‘fantastic secret place which I’m sure no-one else has ever been’… it is very likely that others will use the same spot, not just you!
  • Take great care to avoid the fragile ground/sensitive habitats, (eg wild flowers rich machair on the Western Isles) – never drive down to beaches or onto grass verges as it destroys the habitat.
  • Avoid over-crowding. If another vehicle is parked in a secluded spot, try not to park right next to them and find your own spot elsewhere.
  • Use only biodegradable detergents and drain kitchen waste water tanks in campsites at designated areas. If it has to be emptied in the wild, keep away from watercourses and be aware that animals will be attracted to the scent.
  • Carry a trowel to bury any human waste* and urinate well away from open water, rivers and burns. Toilet paper should be bagged and taken away with you – not buried (animals dig it up).
  • Do a full ‘litter-pick’ before you leave, taking all your rubbish, and any you found there already, and disposing of it properly when you’re back in ‘civilisation.’
  • Support a sustainable tourism industry – buy groceries in local shops.

Common Sense Guidance – Don’t:

  • Park in areas where signs state ‘No overnight parking’
  • Park overnight within sight of people’s houses, even in car park bays.
  • Block access tracks to estates and fields.
  • Light BBQs or fires unless it is safe to do so, and you can supervise it properly. They should be fully extinguished when finished and no evidence left behind.
  • Empty any chemical toilet waste anywhere other than at a designated chemical waste area. The majority of campsites have facilities for emptying a cassette toilet. Most public toilets are not suitable places to empty chemical toilet, as it upsets the sewage treatment process.

I think this is great advice and I’ve personally enjoyed low-impact (“stealth”) informal camping in my camper van on many occasions.  However, I will never share details of good locations since I would be acting irresponsibly in actively promoting the overuse of such sites.

The current situation is certainly not ideal and often divides opinion.  In a separate post I’ve made four constructive suggestions to improve things by:

  • developing a network of aires in Scotland
  • shutting down irresponsible motorhome ‘wild camping’ websites and forums
  • obliging motorhome and campervan hire companies sign up to a code of practice that promotes responsible tourism among their hirers
  • taking steps to raise awareness of the principles of responsible tourism.

By all means, enjoy Scotland’s outdoors.  You can camp informally in many places where it’s tolerated but please act responsibly so everyone can continue to enjoy it in the future too.

 

Note: This post was re-written in January 2018 to bring it up to date and make the key points clearer

82 Comments on “Wild camping in Scotland – Camper vans and motorhomes

  1. “I have never written a blog post to share details of good locations since I would be acting irresponsibly in actively promoting the overuse of such sites. ” 100% support that view

  2. Parking up isn’t really wild camping, is it? I don’t even think pitching a tent by the side of the road is wild camping. If you’re within sight of a road, it’s not wild. Maybe that’s where the whole discussion has gone wrong – the idea that anything you can do for free is ‘wild’.

    • Hi Steven,

      Thanks for raising this, a point which I didn’t make in my post but is absolutely valid. Being a keen backpacker who often camps wild miles from the nearest road I completely agree that parking just off a road (in either a tent or camper van) really isn’t wild camping – it’s free camping.

      More than this, parking in a layby isn’t a positive experience (particularly if it’s near a busy road) and possibly isn’t that safe either. It serves a function but nothing more.

      However, the reality is that people in camper van and motorhome circles do call this wild camping. And you’re right, this is why people confuse this with wild camping covered under the access legislation. So we probably should change the terminology and start only referring to this as ‘free camping’.

      The most important aspect for me in all of this is the quality of the experience. There are some great free camping spots which give a greater sense of enoyment of Scotland’s outdoors. However, I question why some people park in laybys beside busy roads – I’d much rather be on a campsite in those circumstances.

      • However, some camping sites are no better than a layby of a road (a number are even alongside a busy road). I’m quite happy to pay some quid on a small and quiet site with minimal facilities but not for a cramped mass- camping which is no better than a Tesco- parking place.

      • love this however national trust loch lomand have introduced parking fees on previous car parks that were totally free no improvements to the land have been made who and what gives them the wright to charge when it was totally free before

  3. A great post. I like your sense of responsibility, and think you have some great advice for others, so thank you for sharing. However, camping from a car or in a motorhome is not wild camping, by definition, as you note in the references to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Wild camping is lightweight camping, and must be done well away from habitation, including roads.

    Perhaps it would be advisable to try spread the use of the terms free camping or informal camping to more accurately describe when car and motorhome campers use locations outside designated camp sites?

    • Hi Vicky,

      Thanks for clarifying this. I aimed to address the misunderstanding around this issue, including the common use the term ‘wild camping’ by camper van and motorhome owners (in forums etc). In the light of the comments from yourself and Steven I’ve now revised the post to make a clearer distinction between true wild camping and free or informal camping in camper vans and motorhomes. I hope that helps clear things up ! Thanks again.

  4. Thanks for the clarifications – as a person who is not so physically able I do love to camp on the side of a loch in my van (definitely not on the side of a road tho), and you’re right, its free camping but for me, a bit on the wild side! There are plenty of wonderful campsites in lovely locations which only small vehicles can access. As for people leaving litter; that’s thoughtless and selfish and I’m sure those sorts would be the first to complain bitterly should anyone have the temerity to dispose of their litter on their doorsteps.

    • Hi Jane, Yes, I agree that littering is so easy to avoid yet has such a damaging impact not only on the environment but also others’ enjoyment.

  5. Being able to camp up at “wild / free” locations is one of the great advantages of having a campervan, we have had some fantastic overnight stops since we got our van this year. You need to use common sense and consider others when deciding where to park up, at some of our favourite places we arrive late (catch a sunset) and leave early as doing as otherwise may cause irritation. I totally agree that sharing grid references with motorhome “free camping” websites is not a good idea, these locations are good because they are not overused.

    I have seen us binning other peoples litter from some of our stops because it annoys us so much, what makes some people think this is acceptable is beyond me. I recall one camp, in a tent at Glen Etive, a family of 3 arrived near where we had pitched our tent, we went to the river for swim, the family got a instant BBQ out, had a picnic and what a surprise, left the whole lot when they left. Instant BBQ = Instant Arseholes it seems. We took the lot and binned it as they should have.

    No question real wild camping is with tent , in the mountains.

    Parking for an overnight stop in a layby? only of you have broken down surely!

  6. I can’t say I disagree with any of this, Stuart. Unfortunately, I see lots of people who do park up in laybys (even on busy roads) …

  7. Having worked as a Ranger in Scotland (so I could probably recite the access code!) I think this is a very responsible post. It’s such a shame some people can’t act responsibly and mar the countryside with litter!

  8. I understand the sentiments here regarding informal parking and irresponsible behaviour etc but I do think there is also a higher fundamental argument about just why can’t we park in lay-bys / car parks etc? Why should the authority responsible have the right to place “no overnight parking” signage illegally and the “responsible course of action” is to not park there? Surely the whole purpose (and legal requirement) of a sign is that it must be unambiguous and the fact that there has been a documented case proving these signs illegal means there is a reasonable assumption to doubt the validity of all such signs in the area concerned. My personal opinion is there is as much abuse going on by landowners such of the National Trust trying to herd people into overpriced campsites and nimby-ism as there are irresponsible campers.

    I think this whole “lets ban overnight parking” philosophy is skewed and what SHOULD be happening is that a positive approach is taken like on much of the continent where free parking areas are made available in areas where there is a problem. I think that if people can wild camp then we should be able to camp in our vehicles and I’m not convinced a camper van overnighting in a remote lay-by has significantly more impact than a couple of backpackers wild camping if done properly.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and putting an alternative view. I do agree with you that a camper van overnighting in a remote lay-by has very little impact on the environment. Other than what I was told about motorhome owners leaving litter on Colonsay I’m not aware that camper van owners are a particular problem. However, it is a shame that when local bylaws and/or signs are introduced they apply to everyone, irrespective of their behaviour. Clearly, the policing in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park has been ineffective (at 1,865 sq km) the Rangers or Police can’t be everywhere) and this is why blanket bans have been introduced. And seeing some of the littering from irresponsible ‘party-goers’ I for one am happy that the authorities take a hard line in such problem areas.

      Fortunately, there are many other parts of Scotland (particularly in remoter areas) where the litter louts don’t bother going to – and in practice, the authorities turn a blind eye to informal camping by the responsible majority.

  9. Can’t argue with this. As a frequent dog walker at St Andrews beach I often see MH parked up. No problem with that although the signs re not staying are getting bigger! Where di you find the bye law?

  10. I find its disappointing that we punish responsible people for the wrong doings of others. It is about time that we took a different view on wild camping and the overnight parking of camper vans and pursued the people who abuse our country side through the courts. You see the thing is the people who abuse and break the law will always do this as they go unpunished.
    In a more gentile age not so long ago where people had morals , people were encouraged to enjoy the beauty of our countryside and the vast majority would never have dreamed of leaving a trail of destruction. If only we had a time machine!

    • I agree it is a real shame that the actions of a minority do sometimes spoil things for the responsible majority. Most people understand and abide by codes of good practice (such as ‘leave no trace’) which means that we can safely enjoy the outdoors knowing that others are living by the same principles. Unfortunately, even in the hotspots the police and National Park staff are too thin on the ground (and often not working at weekends or overnight when the issues arise) to make much difference. I’m not sure what the solutions might be, other than publicising widely the worst examples of littering, fires and such like.

  11. A very interesting article, and I appreciate and take in the facts shared. Not so keen on what I perceive as “attitude”. You say that you have a camper van which I think implies “OK”, but then mention “large white motorhomes” and wish that “people would have the common sense to hide these monstrous vehicles somewhere far less intrusive.” Monstrous vehicles? Am I being over-sensitive? And yes, I travel in one of these monstrous vehicles!!
    As a general comment, I would agree with everything I have read here about NOT leaving a footprint. Litter is litter is litter and is completely unacceptable, and sadly not confined to people in motorhomes, campervans or tenting. A national disease 😦

    • I wish I’d taken a photo of the offending “monstrous vehicle” at the time. It wasn’t a normal-sized motorhome but a truck-sized one, parked up in a tree-less area (the Destitution Road in NW Scotland, if you know it). Sadly, it was a real eyesore and the people driving it clearly didn’t have the self-awareness to think that it might stick out like a sore thumb in a remote, exposed location.

      So I’m not having a go at motorhomes, I’m just making the point that informal camping should be discrete and unnoticed. I’ve previously posted about ‘stealth camping’, the idea that you arrive late and leave early so you minimise any impacts, visual or otherwise.

      I hope that clarifies things. As I say, if I’d taken a picture at the time I would have posted this up so you could form your own judgement.

    • I like Bernie was a bit miffed with your arrogance against Large white motorhomes. After spending over 15 yrs using a Large white motorhome I think I can happily say that a much bigger percentage of these motorhomes use camp sites compared to camper-vans. Camper-vans can fit it much smaller spaces & are more likely to be of the road i,e on the soft verge which is damaging the ground. I also found on a recent weekend away that owners of camper-vans dont pay attention to the overnight parking signs in St Andrews & Cupar. I personally have never witnessed any campers using motorhomes to leave litter when they leave, but I have people using tents. They worst litterers of all are idiots sitting in their cars till all hours of the morning. We should not be punished for camping over night when most of the problems stem from the local youths that are not even camping.

      • I think we need to get back to what this article is all about. The purpose was to try to explode the commonly-held belief that “wild camping” in campervans and motorhomes is freely encouraged and legal in Scotland. In fact, Scotland’s wild camping legislation only applies to non-motorised forms of transport. “Wild camping” in a vehicle is a misnomer (so let’s call it informal camping, for example). It’s tolerated in many communities but nevertheless, the increasing popularity of campervans and motorhomes is causing tensions in many places, largely since the infrastructure isn’t able to cope.

        So the point I made about the large (15/20m), white motorhome I saw parked up on the treeless Destitution Road was simply to illustrate that this insensitive parking creates a visual eyesore and contributes to growing tensions. It really did stick out like a sore thumb. I wasn’t having a go at motorhomes, just that insensitive behaviour by motorhome and campervan owners doesn’t help matters.

  12. Pingback: Stealth camping or Free Camping using motor vehicle in Scotland | Nissan nv200 camper van from dinkum

  13. Since the early 1960s I’ve been travelling in Scotland in camper vans and motorhomes, staying in laybys or out-of the way locations where it isn’t in anyone’s way. Not camping, just parking. Never dropped a single piece of litter: no need: I have my own litter bin on board.

    Why don’t I use camp sites? Why would I want to? my motorhome is entirely self-sufficient: I need to fill the water tank and empty the waste water and toilet tanks about every 8 to 10 days. In between, the facilities offered in a camp site are irrelevant. Of course groceries and fuel don’t last 8 to 10 days, so I shop en route.

    What has changed in the last 50 years or so? More people doing it, You could go for days without seeing another motorhome then, now it’s not unusual at all. To some extent this is a pressure on the environment. Perhaps dedicated motorhome parking places, as provided in France, with waste disposal facilities and water supply at a sensible price would attract business. This would benefit the local economy.

    Make no mistake, many users of motorhomes are people with significant disposable income and the time to spend it. Trying to force them into campsites won’t work at all.

    • I agree that Scotland could do with more French style ‘aires’ for campervans and m/homes, small scale, low cost, beside villages, hotels, pubs whatever, mixture of free, honesty boxes, or say vouchers that need to be spent locally… VisitScotland? On subject of littering, this is really bugging the s*** out of me, it is beyond moronic… I see it almost every road verge now never mind the usual layby and camp spot areas, what a contrast to Ireland where the Tidy Towns scheme etc seems to have helped to keep all the Wild Atlantic Way areas we saw looking amazing. We need to address this, it must be the cheapest way to make people feel good and bring in more tourism and investment.

      • Scotland has always had a problem with litter. Beaches used as rubbish dumps, laybys strewn with bottles and food wrappers. Nothing to do with motorhomes: the problem is cultural.

      • … except that when motorhomes commonly use lay-bys and car parks they tend to be (unfairly) targeted as the culprits …

      • I think that it is vital to separate the terms; ‘wild-camping’, ‘free-camping’ and ‘specific-camping’ such as fishing. The terms are irrelevant but should be held differently as legislation will surely come!

        Personally, I would class wild camping as, just that ‘wild’, no facilities and natural toilet issues are buried; busy areas around Loch Lomond, due to usage would have to be an exemption. Free camping includes campervans in lay-byes and these have their place, some legally (example area not posted here on purpose). Problem specific camping must be listed separately, so that not ALL are included in any blanket ban.

        Europe has clearly led the way with provisions for campervans/motor-homes, with their roadside facilities; so Britain needs to catch-up and some of the issues may subdue.

      • I agree that the UK could improve facilities for campervans/motorhomes in certain popular areas – as along as this doesn’t displace campsite owners of course. We live in an ageing population, where campervans and motorhomes tend to be driven by middle-aged/older population (broad generalisation, I know), and so I see these only becoming more popular in future.

        Not sure I completely agree with your terminology and definitions, though. In my book, there’s wild camping (by people travelling by non-motorised means), informal camping (that includes campervans, motorhomes and car camping) and … organised camping on campsites. I’m not a fan of the term ‘free camping’. With the right to access the outdoors people have to accept their responsibilities, and the term ‘free camping’ seems to ignore the responsibilities part.

        The key to minimising environmental damage, overcrowding and antisocial behaviour has to be education – to ensure that people act responsibly when enjoying the right to camp outdoors.

    • Thanks for spotting this. I couldn’t find the article online any more so have removed the link. Glad you enjoyed the article – now updated in the light of recent developments with the introduction of new camping byelaws in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park in March 2017.

  14. Oh dear,, I’ve just hired a medium motor home as a birthday present for hubby who has always wanted to buy one,, now I’m scared to go anywhere in case we cause a problem,

    • This post is about responsible wild (informal) camping and so as long as you follow the advice given then there shouldn’t be an issue. There are lots of campsites too, which are designed to cater for motorhomes and campervans.

  15. I know the reason the Islands don’t like campervans.it’s due to the damage done to the machairs with people thinking they can drive where they please with no care to the fragile grasses and flowers that create this threatened ecosystem. You see it on Tiree all the time, ferry loads of surfers and cyclists driving off and parking on open machair beside the beach with the attitude ” we are aloud to wild camp in Scotland ” . When you get thousands of cars a year doing this with the same thought in mind then such a small island can’t heal and gets scarred.

  16. Bill
    April 30 2017

    I like a lot of others enjoy caravaning and I am sure you will agree some of the roads in the Highland are to say the least tiresome when towing, Quite a few times I have found myself getting tired and thought I will stop in the next layby and spend the night in the van to give me a fresh start in the morning.Only to find “No overnight Parking” signs, I have wondered what would have happened if I had stopped then been told to move on and had an accident due to me being tired and “unfit” to drive.

    • That’s a good point – laybys are provided exactly for that purpose (and others). I can’t imagine you’d be moved on in that situation unless it was clear you were fully intending to stay there overnight.

      • But isn’t that the whole point of lay-bys? I now live in Northumberland – having motorhome camped in the area for the last 5 years prior to retirement. Our motorhome is 7m long, the size of a small supermarket home-delivery lorry based on a Sprinter van. Having motored in my Smart car from home to the west side of the Scottish Borderlands for a day trip, I was struck by how many lay-bys there are – and also by how many lorries there are not parked up in them. Having lived in the South of England, if you travel along the A34 on the way down to the coast, EVERY lay-by has lorries in it, regardless of the time of day. So I was looking forward to travelling round Scotland, staying in lay-bys at night – in France we used aires – and travelling during the day. Now it appears that we can catch a nap during the day in them but must travel by night, when we can’t see anything! I am very nervous about travelling in Scotland anyway; I am a responsible motorhomer who generally uses sites but am now finding that too expensive in retirement, and also too limiting; I tend to want to move on – if I’d wanted to stay in one place I’d have got a caravan – but most sites during the summer months have a minimum stay of three nights. Being newly disabled I am also limited to what I can do outside my motorhome – while the rest of the population might enjoy walks in the beautiful scenery, I can only park up and enjoy the view from my MH windows. So what do people in my position do: park up and hope for the best, or be fated to travel only by night?

      • My understanding – I’m willing to be corrected – is that the purpose of laybys is to provide places for people to stop and rest on a temporary basis. I think the reason why so many local authorities have put up ‘no overnight parking’ signs is to prevent people purposefully planning to sleep overnight in a layby. This would then reduce the opportunity for people who genuinely need to stop.

        But why would you want to sleep in a layby anyway? They’re potentially unsafe, noisy and not conducive to a good night’s sleep! As you say, we don’t have a network of aires as in France which tend to be off the main road, sheltered by trees and with public conveniences provided.

        You touch on another good, controversial topic … the question of why there’s an increasing trend towards campsites imposing a minimum number of nights stay. I think that’s a topic for another thread – I agree with you – so I’ll leave that one for now.

  17. Interesting article, and agree in the most part, however, not with your distinction between ‘campervan and motorhome’ acceptability. This distinction makes your article appear slightly pompous, in that, if you have a campervan as opposed to a motorhome, you are somehow more entitled to pitch up somewhere? Even the extremely monstrous vehicle will have been there temporarily, and ‘hopefully’ left no trace of their stay or any adverse impact to the environment, much the same as yourself in a campervan. Surely this is the most important factor, not what a van looks like or it’s size (unless it’s size is causing damage to the land in some way)??

    • The point I made in the article was that the motorhomes tend to be larger than campervans and coloured white rather a darker colour that might blend in better with the surroundings. I’m not at all saying that there’s any difference in the environmental impact but more often than not there is a difference in terms of the visual impact. I personally think that informal camping should be as inconspicuous as possible and therefore visual impact is, in my view, a relevant concern.

  18. Hi there, I’ve been wild camping in Scotland and elsewhere for nearly 50 years only once been told to leave a spot. normally if out of site and tidy one gets no trouble, but recently litter has been a problem caused by a minority, and the majority are punished by having the camping/parking spot closed off. now we have the 500 north which has encouraged complete novices along too, and the environment can’t cope with the increased number of people/vans. I see a time when there won’t be anywhere to stop at all. I’m glad I’ve experienced the best of camping in the wilds. there is nothing like it.

    • You raise an interesting point about the popularity of the NC500. Are there times when particular locations are becoming too congested? (It seems crazy to think of the North of Scotland becoming congested but I’ve read comments to this effect). In addition, I’ve heard cyclists comment on the speed that some of the sports car enthusiasts drive the NC500.

      It’s a little off-topic but I’m interested in any views.

      • No real problem with overcrowding on the NC500. Our 35-pitch caravan site is about 10 miles off the NC500 and we get a lot of business from it, but apart from the second half of July we almost always have space for a mere £10 per night, including electric hookup. Toilets, showers and laundry facilities available on site. In spite of very reasonable fees, there are usually quite a few motorhomes parked overnight in public car parks within a couple of hundred metres of our site and quite a number drive on to our site to dump their rubbish, empty their toilets and steal our water. They can afford £50,000 for a motorhome, but won’t pay £10 for an overnight pitch and prefer to steal the use of facilities for which we pay full commercial prices.

      • I agree it’s disappointing when people are using your site’s facilities for free and not paying back into the local community. And £10 a night is hardly going to break the bank!

  19. Great article; well researched including the legislation.

    Re: Loch Etive, (I lived in Bonawe [mid point on the north shore] for many years and wrote an article in ‘ForArgyll’ on the rubbish issue) I’m glad that the land owner has taken responsibility for the terrible amount of rubbish that is predominantly left by fishermen not wild campers (it should be noted that, not all fishermen, leave rubbish, I made this comment clearly in my article but even that was not sufficient to prevent onslaught from fishermen).

    In fact the ‘fisherman-problem’ has lead to more than rubbish; threats, dangerous driving and drunken parties are some of the additional issues along the shoreline.

    This I think is a clear example of a minority ruining matters for the many, similar issues have occurred in the Loch Lomond NP; but this is more likely to be down to the huge numbers of people wanting to use the area, without proper facilities, possibly a short-coming on all parties.

    Low numbers are the key to successful future free-camping, and those of us that do, keep it clean!

  20. Many thanks for an informative and well-considered post. Having decided to try wild… er, FREE camping soon in Scotland in our LDV Convoy (white, unfortunately, for now), I appreciate having some common misconceptions corrected, so that we can visit a place we love more amicably and responsibly thanks to your particular knowledge. I’d like to return the favour and advise you of the correct use of the question mark, which, just like its cousin the full stop, should not be separated from the last word in a sentence by a space. Littering is worse, admittedly. 😉

  21. Pingback: Four ideas to manage the growing demand for “free camping” – Wild about Scotland

  22. Interesting views. With reference to the signs erected in Glen Etive of which you included a picture.
    These signs contravened legislation and land managers advice to restrict parking, camping and fires.
    After discussions the wording was modified and the word “only” was deleted. Failure to do so would have resulted in land access actions to have the plethora of signs completely removed. There are indeed many problems in Glen Drive but that in itself was no excuse to attempt to restrict the publics legal access rights, which themselves come with responsibilities. Its a 2 way code.

    • Sure, it’s a two way thing, and I absolutely support progressive land access legislation. But the ‘education’ approach to tackling the irresponsible minority doesn’t seem to be working (so far). I’m saddened to see how many people trash such places with campfires and semi-permanent camps. So I’m all in favour of pilots taking a different approach, just as you see in other National Parks the world over.

  23. I don’t understand why rangers don’t go out at night to all the local haunts and take not of number plates , say hello to the campers and say hope you have a good night and take your litter away. If they place is a mess then the car own gets a fine and charged with the price to clear the site. Plus I think there should be more bins at the side of the road In Argyle. It kills me to see the amount of empty cans and fishing wrappers lying everywhere next to our lochs and beaches.

  24. An interesting, well thought out observation. However, the point needs to be made that the laws of Scotland and England are quite different. “Right to Roam”, is purely Scottish. Thank you for noting the gap in Scots Law, regarding legal signage due to the order not being signed. I shall ensure that this loophole is closed. The signs are there for good reason, but are repeatedly ignored. Also not only do huge camper vans park up in laybys they park up in passing places. Thus, making the single track road impassable. I speak from the Skye perspective, as that’s where my family are from. It is not just an issue of causing problems with farm animals. There are serious impacts on rare breeding birds. An example, that I observed was of a truly huge camper van whose driver decided to, firstly park up in a hard standing area for an ancient kirk. The van took up the majority of the space designated for a few cars. Clear signage said, ” No Overnight Parking”. Ignored. Also, a sign stating that Dogs Must be kept on leads at all times due to disturbance of sensitive rare breeding birds: Corncrakes. The driver then let a large dog out of the van and encouraged it to go into just that area. At which point, I approached the driver and asked him what was he doing, especially, as he had ignored the signs. His reply, ” I can park where I like, its Scotland!”. I had no mobile signal so could not call the Police. As stated other islands have banned these camper vans. What struck me, is there seems to a kind of arms race among camper van owners. It seems that they like to brag as to who has the biggest van. A van for Two people, for goodness sake, in most cases. The van shown in the last photo seems more than adequate. Perhaps, a size and weight restriction is a way forward. Let’s face it, Skye is Full. If a voluntary restriction isn’t working, then I assure you that the Scottish Government will be forced to legislate. Please be responsible, you are destroying what you came to see. Remember, visitor’s are one thing. Skye is folks full time homes. We will not stand by and watch it destroyed.

  25. I found this all very interesting. Having been coming up to Scotland twice a year for the last 17 years in our Motorhome, we are absolutely in love with it. We have rarely ‘wild’ camped being very nervous about doing so. Having said that, at times we have been very tempted as only I drive, and driving for long distances along often very challenging roads, can been be very tiring, with camp sites very few and far between, especially when we are up there out of season. There is it information of out of the way small sites available. Most sites close in October. However I fully sympathise with the litter problem and damage to the environment. Litter is my biggest bugbear, and I really can’t understand the mentality of those that cause it. We are up again at the end of the month, hoping to go over to Orkney.

    • You raise an interesting point about campsites closing for the winter. You would think that more people touring the NC500 would create demand for sites to stay open longer. I hope that this would start to happen – a real win/win for everyone, including the environment.

  26. One of the biggest problems with touring either in a camper van or “monstrous” motorhome is that at busy times you have to book a site which thereby detracts from the spontaneity of the experience. Our monstrous motorhome has self contained toilet facilities. In New Zealand that have some advertised places where such vehicles are allowed to park overnight we used a mix of these and paid campsites on our tour bthere which worked very well. France has a system of Aires which fulfil the same purple usually with a small fee towards water/waste. maybe such a system could work in Scotland

  27. Touring New Zealand in a monstrous motorhome is creating even more of a hazard than it does in Scotland. NZ is a wonderful country, but even a non-coachbuilt 7m camper van presents a major difficulty in parking there. However poor the roads, however few the laybys and however few the filling stations, however, NZ has an abundance of excellent campsites at extremely reasonable prices. Indeed campsites seem more numerous than filling stations in some areas. Failure to use them creates exactly the same problems in NZ as it does in Scotland.

  28. I am from Scotland and am planning to live and travel for a while in a converted motorhome. I just want to be free to explore for a while. I don’t want to be a nuisance or pollute, I am responsible. My motorhome will be largely self sufficent with toilet/ shower facilities and plenty of electric power so I want to avoid paying to stay in campsites. How is this unreasonable? I want to be able to make my budget last as long as possible..! The UK has decided to make it as difficult as possible for me so am travelling through the UK as fast as possible to get to France and Spain where they sensibly provide free or low cost aires. They will get the money I do have to spend on food etc. We have it backwards in the UK, why make it so difficult for travellers? It’s not as if our weather is doing us any favours as it is. If we went in the opposite direction and passed legislation to make sure that there were plenty free or low cost facilities in every area then it would make it easier to deal with irresponsible people, (they would use these facilities instead of wild camping), and it would boost the economy! Unbelievable stupidity on our part.

    • Hi there, Do you know about the BritStops scheme across the UK? If it’s free/cheap stayovers you’re looking for then this will fit the bill.

      As I’ve said elsewhere on my blog, I agree that a comprehensive system of aires would be fantastic here in Scotland/UK. I think people need options, including aires and campsites. Like you I love the freedom of wild camping – but with that freedom (right) comes the responsibility of being sensitive to those who live and work in the very places we’d all like to camp!

      • Speaking as a site operator, for £10 per night we offer stay on a licensed site with an electric hookup, hot showers etc. and legitimate disposal of rubbish. Yet most nights there are motorhomes parked in nearby car parks discharging grey waste on to the tarmac and pulling on to our site in the morning to dispose of their rubbish at our expense and fill up with water which we pay for by the cubic meter. That sort of behaviour is, in my book, nothing short of theft.

      • You have my every sympathy – and support.

        £10 a night is a bargain to have all facilities included and I agree that if people are using your facilities then they should also pay for the privilege (since you have to ultimately pick up the costs). £10 is hardly going to break the bank but some seem to be of the view that having already spent £xxk on their motorhome/campervan that then entitles them to be “self-sufficient” and not contribute to the local economy.

        Somehow, the notion of responsible tourism seems to be passing these people by.

        I’d like to think that we can find ways to move beyond the current antagonism to promote Scotland not only as a destination with a world class landscape and visitor experiences but also one that can only survive if it remains both economically and environmentally sustainable. Ultimately, you don’t get something for nothing. Visitor services such as campsites need to be provided by local businesses who have to survive all year round. An appealing, well managed environment can only be there for future generations if we conserve it and the current generation doesn’t trash it.

        We’ve had a boom in rural tourism in recent years thanks to a cheaper pound and the marketing success of the NC500 and other tourism campaigns. My own view is that investment (in visitor facilities, services, infrastructure) now desperately needs to catch up to cope with this growth in visitor numbers. In the NW Highlands, Skye, the Loch Lomond NP and elsewhere we see increasing tensions opening up every summer. But in addition to much-needed investment I think that Scotland’s tourism industry, DMOs and agencies now need to shift their messaging and incentives to really promote Scotland as a responsible tourism destination. We don’t want irresponsible visitors so what’s to lose?

        Thanks for raising these points. Rant over!

      • I’m familiar with BritStop — we have one such location within 100 meters of the licensed caravan site we operate. They pay no rates, have no bins for rubbish disposal and no disposal facilities for waste water or supply point for water or electricity. Result — those who park there tend to use our rubbish bins and our water supply. Either such people are crassly ignorant of the fact that licensed sites pay rates and pay through the nose for water and waste disposal or they’re simply exploiting us by using facilities for which they don’t pay.

    • The bottom line is that your “converted motorhome” is not self-sufficient: you require fresh water, you have to dispose of grey water, you have to dispose of the waste from your toilet and you have to dispose of your rubbish. All of these, including fresh water, cost money. In my experience they’re the major cost of running a small caravan site. In my experience motorhome and campervan owners who camp in car parks adjacent to caravan sites generally steal water from licensed sites and from harbours (where legitimate users have to pay for it through their harbour dues) and dump their waste in car parks. Just this morning I walked past a large motorhome proundly proclaiming something along the lines that “You can tell a Yorkshireman, but you can’t tell him much” parked in a car park 100m from a licensed site with a waste valve open and dirty water flowing from it across the car park. Quite frankly, that sort of visitor is the sort we can do without.

  29. We are traveling to Scotland in April 2018. We were hoping for free camping, but after reading the imformacion on the rules in Scotland maybe we won’t go. We are traveling from Australia and would like to save a few dollars on parks, and be able to spend in the shops.

    • To be honest I don’t think you’ll find the cost of campsites so expensive to put you off coming to Scotland. Sure, there are some sites with lots of facilities in popular locations that might cost a couple £25-30/night, but you can also find great sites at £10-15/night. Just do your research in advance.

      Informal, responsible camping is tolerated in many areas but the key word here is ‘responsible’ (leave no trace, arrive late/leave early, stay only 1 or 2 nights, make sure you spend in the local economy etc). Since campsites have appropriate facilities I imagine you’ll probably stay most nights on a site – see my Top 10 campsite recommendations elsewhere on this blog.

    • You’re going to hire an expensive vehicle. You’ll need supplies of water, you’ll need to dispose of your toilet waste and you’ll need to dispose of your rubbish. you may also find an occasional electrical hookup useful and it’s also possible that you may find an internet connection useful in areas where the mobile phone signal is zero. It’s possible, of course, that you could obtain all those facilities by theft from licensed caravan and campsites, harbours, shops etc., but considering that you can get a pitch with electrical hookup for as little as £10 per night on a licensed site and get all those facilities included, not to mention getting the benefit of the operator’s expert local knowledge, it would seem foolish not to plan the use of such sites at least once every few days. Just do your research thoroughly in advance.

  30. Pingback: Why You Should Travel Scotland in a Motorhome – RV – Campervan – 30 & Thriving

  31. All common sense stuff.i have owned a motorhome for last 20 years. Had some wonderful times in it. But have come across out of the way places.in Scotland that look like tips. Which we have cleaned up before leaving.
    These modern motor homes are self contained and don’t need anything but a place to park overnight not a long stay. Why don’t the council’s provide such places at a sensible price. Water and waste disposal that’s all. Close to villages for shopping. Have a look round and we are on our way. Everybody wins.

    • Water is our single biggest expense in running a caravan site — more than commercial rates and more than electricity.
      Waste disposal is exceedingly difficult to secure, especially in remote areas.
      Rubbish collection is the second-highest expense. Highland Council, which covers an area greater than Belgium, has a policy of removing bins accessible to the public and of not accepting any “domestic” or unsorted waste in such bins are remain or even in paid-for commercial collections.
      Such are the realities of life, like it or not.

    • Water costs a lot of money to provide — the single biggest cost for small licensed caravan sites. There are practical problems — you can’t leave ordinary taps unsupervised, someone’s bound to leave them running and the consequent cost is unthinkable. If a spring return tap is fitted, someone’s going to be standing for a very long time holding it open against a very strong spring — and these things are extremely liable to frost damage in winter. Legal disposal of the contents of chemical toilets is expensive for councils. The collection of minimal fees is impracticable. And a Council setting up in opposition to licensed sites from which it collects rates and on which it imposes stringent conditions which the sort of minimal facilities you envisage will not have imposed on them is unacceptable. The problem is not a lack of reasonably priced pitches, the problem is people who happily spend £50,000 to £100,000 on a motorhome but will not pay £10 per night for a pitch which provides all the necessities. I’ve no problem with people making overnight stops a long way from communities providing they take their rubbish with them to dispose of legally. But where there are reasonably-priced licensed sites, failure to use them simply sucks the life-blood out of the community.

      • You paid a fortune for your house, so why are you unwilling to pay £200 for a stature of Margaret Thatcher or even Jimmy Saville in the garden? Stop being a cheapskate!
        The reason is not meanness: these are not things you want.
        People are not unwilling to pay £10. The problem is that they specifically do NOT want to stay on a caravan site. Who would?
        My motorhome is autonomous for a week, then the tanks need emptying/filling, the rubbish needs disposing of. Paying a tenner for that is fine, but I’d not want to stay on a site at any price.
        The demand is for service points. If the charge to use them is reasonable, that is great.

      • Highland Council, covering an area of the North of Scotland as large as Belgium, have decided to close public toilets across their area as they can’t afford to provide them. The chances of them investing to provide water points and sewage disposal points are minimal.

        I quite understand a desire to get away from the crowds or even just other people. I don’t have a problem with that. However when I see four or five motorhomes lined up in a car park, the nearest of them being a mere 2m from the boundary fence of a caravan site, grey waste taps opened and sometimes even chemical toilets being emptied into car park drains, I really don’t see that as getting away from the crowd. At least on a licensed site they’d be at least 5m apart :-).

  32. What Scotland needs to do is invest in creating Aires like France and other European countries I now travel to France rather than Scotland where motorhomers are made welcome and you have all the facilities for a few euro’s

    • If you’re happier going to France, then that’s the place for you to go. There are plenty of small caravan sites in the UK which pay local rates, dispose of rubbish legally, pay for their water supply and provide an electric hookup all for as little as £10 per night, with laundry facilities and showers for a nominal sum. Yet we see numerous motor caravans parked immediately outside our caravan site in a puplic car park, letting grey water run out over the car park and utilising water and rubbish disposal which others have paid for, which can hardly be described as wild camping, but rather little better than theft.

  33. As a campervan owner who regularly visits the Highlands for kayaking, hiking, & fishing adventures, I can’t agree more with the comments regarding large motorhomes, Skye, & the NC500.

    I have enjoyed many nights informal camping based on the ‘arrive late, leave early` principle & often also use sites, usually when a good freshen up is required…
    I understand everyone should have a right to experience the great outdoors but some of these vans are bigger than the local crofts. If such luxury & space is a necessity, save £60k & book a holiday house. I have observed the exponential rise in highland going motorhomes & noted that the larger the vehicle, the longer it is likely to remain static & the less likely people are to leave it.

    Example one – Trying to park on a summer’s evening near Morars Silver Sands to go kayaking. The car park was clogged with five large motorhomes of varying nationalities, all occupied & three of which had satellite dishes set up outside. Not only me, but families who wanted to use the beach were struggling to find anywhere to park. For f**** sake, I realise people want a room with a view, but don’t clog up beauty spot car parks then sit inside watching television.

    Example two – A communal camping field in a NW Highlands village after a days hiking. Again, a variety of large motorhomes were present & a couple of the dreaded satellite dishes. No worries, I had some tea & walked down to the pub for a pint or three. Not one other person from the field visited the pub that night & I started to question how much benefit many van owners bring to the local economy?

    There is now the layby equivalent of the ‘towel on sun lounger` rush come early afternoon on Skye / the NC500 to get the best pitch for the night. Unless the infrastructure is put in place or some kind of restrictions, I truly believe the Golden Goose is at risk of being cooked.
    All said, I realise not everyone is as active or able as myself, but I can’t help thinking too many people are doing a lot of driving, a lot of ticking boxes, & not much else.

  34. motorhome owners ask why we can’t have “airies”, we have , they are called campsites in scotland. pay your money and enjoy. Restrictions will come, and not soon enough.motorcaravans bring very little and piss a great many off

    • That’s like saying to someone who wants to stay in a B&B ”yes, we call them hotels”. Quite a different experience.

      So I take it you don’t like to travel and visit other places?

  35. Hi all, I agree with both sides of this debate good and bad and as I am only just starting out in an old 2003 bessacarr 250 on the NC 500 shortly, my plan is to use both official and wild sites where found. I intend to provide some payback by picking up litter from the wild sites. Its not much but if we follow the code and do our bit then there is room for all. It can only be a matter of a few years until this problem is sorted so if we all can keep the area’s clean its a win win.

  36. Pingback: Wild Camping in Scotland

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