Imagine the satisfaction of pitching your tent with views down a magnificent glen, or somewhere in the woods amidst a green canopy of trees or even in the midst of your own sweeping beach panorama. Cooking a cosy dinner over a camping stove, taking in the scenery as you eat. Spending a relaxed evening gazing out over endless stars or reading by torchlight all snug and warm in your sleeping bag. Listening to the sound of light patter of rain on the overhead canvas or the chirping of birds in the morning. Wild camping in Scotland can be utterly idyllic, the ultimate getaway from a busy life if done right.
Scotland is a fantastic destination for wild camping, however, we acknowledge that people might have questions and look for some guidance on wild camping best practices, not just for you but also for the local community and environment. Even though wild camping is in theory possible just about anywhere in Scotland, there are things you should know before getting started. Read on for more information on what’s allowed and where, as well as wild camping best practices.
In short, yes. Scotland is a wonderful destination for wild camping because of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. In principle, everyone has the right to access Scotland’s outdoor spaces like hills, beaches, rivers, moorland, forests and lochs, as long as they do so responsibly.
It’s easier to answer where you can’t go camping in Scotland than where you can as the list is short due to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003 established statutory public rights of access to land, effectively allowing access to all land (including privately owned land) to the public as long as people follow certain rules.
Legally, you can camp by the side of the road in Scotland as long as you do so responsibly and you find a suitable location. Ensure that you’re not in a passing place, parked dangerously, or blocking access. The Outdoor Access Code does stipulate you should camp away from roads, yet campervans do it all the time.
If needs must you could pitch your tent next to your car granted there’s no signage saying otherwise and you’re not restricting access. However, why would you want to? Aside from the convenience of not having to carry your equipment very far, roadside camping offers few other benefits. No privacy, road noise, lack of suitable surfaces, an absence of nature etc. We recommend finding an appropriate place to park and walking a bit to set up camp.
Wild camping on the beach is allowed in Scotland, but there are things to be mindful of. Ensure that you, your tent, and all your stuff is above the tideline when bunking down for the night. We actually recommend camping above the beach if possible, although please don’t camp on sand dunes as these are special habitats and often protected.
Sand is soft, which sounds quite nice but it’s actually quite difficult to get your tent as secure on the sand as you would on normal ground. Equally, sand inside your tent is far from ideal and difficult to avoid if you’re directly on the sand. Furthermore, sand camping increases the likelihood of getting bitten by pesky insects and sand can get really cold at night as well. Whatever you choose, be considerate of fellow beach users (especially the local wildlife), don’t do your business in the sand and consider your freshwater supply.
Yes, wild camping is allowed in the Scottish mountains and it can be an amazing experience. There is nothing more glorious than waking up with epic views unfolding as the morning mists clear down below you. Although there are always factors to consider when wild camping, up in the hills it’s even more pertinent to think about how it’s done both safely and responsibly.
Watch the weather and make sure it’s not too windy or too wet, carry in enough fresh water and ensure you’ve got plenty of layers to stay warm. Weight is a special consideration when you have to carry it in and out across rough terrain and for longer distances. If you’re planning regular mountain camping, invest in light-weight gear, but for the one-off, pack selectively. When setting up, choose a flat and stable area, preferably sheltered from the wind as the higher up you go, the more the wind is going to affect you. Also, evaluate potential hazards from what’s above you if you’re camping near or underneath cliffs.
For the most part, you can camp near any loch or river in Scotland. Notably, camping is restricted in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park during the spring and summer seasons to manage the over usage and environmental damage that occurs. There are dedicated campsites or camping permits for specific areas that you can buy online.
Otherwise camping next to a loch or a river is usually legal in Scotland (signage will indicate otherwise). Here keep in mind where you camp and where you relieve yourself. With rivers ensure you’re on sturdy enough ground that’s unlikely to flood and with toileting always do your business at least 30 metres away from open water and streams. Camping near freshwater can be lovely and has many benefits like a constant water supply, however, there are also downsides. We love freshwater, and so do insects and other beasties.
In general, no you don’t need a permit to wild camp in Scotland due to the Outdoor Access Code. However, it is required when camping in some specific areas. You do need a permit to camp between March and September at some sites in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. These spots are called Camping Management Zone and exist to protect the areas from overcrowding and damaging the natural landscape. Permits are inexpensive, available for tents and motorhomes and available to buy online. If you camp in these zones without a permit you could be fined.
Follow the principles of Leave No Trace and you’re pretty set to be a responsible camper, however, there is more you can do whilst out and about.