Lydia at Ben Klibreck

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 actually say about this ?  What exactly is allowed ?

Interestingly, when researching this topic I uncovered widespread misinformation and misunderstanding on this topic.  While this isn’t a straightforward issue – and informal ‘free camping’ is tolerated in many parts of Scotland – let me try to clarify matters.

What does the law say about wild camping ?

There’s currently a common perception that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows wild camping which relates to camping on foot or by bike, as well as in motorised vehicles.  This is incorrect since access legislation does not apply to motorised vehicles.

Camping in a camper van or motorhome should therefore more properly be called ‘free camping’ or ‘informal camping’.

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.   These rights extend to informal camping – which is likewise subject to responsible behaviour.  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.

An SNH guidance document for land and recreation managers on managing informal camping (both motorised and non-motorised) provides further detail.  In particular, it highlights very explicitly (again, my emphases in bold):

Scottish access rights apply to non-motorised recreation and do not therefore extend to activities that are entirely based on the use of a vehicle, such as sleeping in cars, camper vans or caravans.

Another section suggests how landowners and land managers can manage informal car parking:

  • Managing car parking – It may be appropriate to consider locating and designing parking areas so as to influence the spread and location of campers.  Access rights do not extend to motor vehicle access, so it might also be appropriate to restrict parking, perhaps including measures to make road verges difficult to park on (such as soft mounds, planting or ditching).  These approaches should be considered in conjunction with the relevant planning authority.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Sections 34 and 22) “It is an offence to drive a motor vehicle without lawful authority on:

  • land of any description (not forming part of a road), or
  • a footpath or bridleway except in an emergency.”

Section 34 makes an allowance for a motor vehicle to be driven off-road for no more than 15 yards solely in order to park the vehicle. However, it specifically notes that this exception does not confer any right to park the vehicle on the land, and clarifies that this may constitute trespass if done without lawful authority.

Section 22 makes it an offence to park or leave a vehicle or its trailer in a position likely to cause danger to other road-users.

What about camping in a layby ?

Camper vans and motorhomes are often seen parked overnight in laybys – a related but separate issue to that of wild camping covered under the Land Reform and access code described above.  You may also frequently see ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs preventing this.

Andy Strangeway led a successful campaign to have these black on yellow ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs removed across the Highlands, since he pointed out that they were installed without a relevant Traffic Regulation Order.  Non-prescribed signs such as this require special approval from the Scottish Ministers but there is no record of them having received any such authorisation.

In practice, I know that ‘No Overnight Parking’ signs are commonplace in many parts of Scotland and the UK.  The difficultly is that you won’t know whether they have a Traffic Regulation Order supporting them and so the responsible course of action is to always obey the signs.

What’s the problem we’re trying to address ?

Let’s be clear, in return for the right of access to land the Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out responsibilities that we all need to adopt.  What’s not acceptable is behaviour that includes:

  • littering
  • causing pollution, including noise pollution
  • damaging crops and/or disturbing farm animals
  • using threatening behaviour.

We’ve seen particular issues with irresponsible informal camping in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which have escalated in recent years.  This has led (in March 2017) to the National Park Authority introducing byelaws so that you now need to apply for permit (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 addition, as I reported recently, the landowner in Glen Etive has taken steps to prevent informal camping right down the 12 mile length of the Glen, politely suggesting that camping take place at a designated campsite at the foot of the Glen at the head of Loch Etive.  This is to address the growing problem of littering in Glen Etive.

These are controversial developments – and there are many vocal critics of the Park Authority for introducing such draconian measures.  By introducing a blanket ban on wild camping (in tents) and informal camping (in campervans or motorhomes) between March to October unless you buy a permit, the anti-social minority have effectively restricted access for the responsible majority.  I’m not aware that owners of campervans or motorhomes are in any way guilty of irresponsible behaviour.  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 a strong argument that the Park Authority should simply have enforced these existing powers to fine people for unacceptable behaviour.

It’s a real shame that Scotland’s world-leading land access legislation is now being rolled back: is this the beginning of creeping restrictions in popular beauty spots elsewhere ?

But I’m even more angry about those people who think it acceptable to litter and cause damage to lochside locations, to overstay their welcome by pitching a tent in a popular spot for weeks on end or to stage a weekend party with fires, beer and barbeques.  And so I’m keeping an open mind.  If the National Park Authority and landowner in Glen Etive manage to curb irresponsible camping with these steps in a way that educates people – and doesn’t shift the problem elsewhere of course – then this is a price worth paying.  National Parks in the US and elsewhere have tightly-controlled camping and this seems to work.  Let’s hope this is a temporary measure that isn’t extended.

Camping now discouraged down Glen Etive

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

I’m not aware of any particular issues relating to camper van and motorhome owners acting irresponsibly or antisocially.  However, this doesn’t mean that issues don’t sometimes arise.

I’ve noticed increasing antagonism against campervans and camper vans in certain hotspots such as St Andrews and some Scottish islands (eg Tiree, Colonsay).  In these locations, 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 (if they exist at all).  When I wanted to take my camper van to Colonsay earlier this year, for example, I was politely told that there are currently no facilities to allow vans and motorhomes on the island.  This is as a direct consequence of previous instances of littering and leaving human waste.

In spite of being a camper van owner who loves informal camping, I have much sympathy with these views.  I have 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 instrusive.

A couple of 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, commonsense 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 have personally enjoyed low-impact (“stealth”) informal camping in my camper van on many occasions.  However, 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.  I therefore don’t condone those sites (largely run by motorhome enthusiasts it has to be said) which encourage people to share GPS coordinates of free camping sites.

By all means, enjoy Scotland’s outdoors – but please act responsibly so the rest of us can continue to enjoy it in the future too.

PPS  This post has been edited to clarify that camping away from a designated campsite in a camper van or motorhome should more properly be called ‘informal camping’ or ‘free camping’ rather than ‘wild camping’.  However, the title of this post remains unchanged to highlight the current misunderstanding surrounding this issue.

64 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.

  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.

  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’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.

  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.

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