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  • Writer's pictureKate

How to Find a Wild Camping Spot in The UK: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: 3 hours ago


wild camping view


Wild camping in the UK is more than just setting up a tent; it's a profound way to immerse yourself in the serenity of nature and escape the relentless pace of urban existence. This unique experience allows you to explore new areas, enjoy breathtaking vistas, and find tranquillity in both vast open spaces and secluded spots, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether you dream of sleeping under a canopy of stars in stunning rural locations or seeking a peaceful retreat in UK woodlands, understanding how to find a wild camping spot in the UK is your first step towards an unforgettable adventure.


In this ultimate guide, we'll navigate the essentials: from the legalities of wild camping in the UK, identifying the perfect spots that promise memorable sunrises, to the must-have gear that will ensure your wild escapade is nothing short of spectacular. We'll also share practical tips on managing necessities like food, water, and waste, as well as adhering to the Leave No Trace principles to preserve the natural beauty we're privileged to enjoy. So gear up for an enriching journey that brings you closer to nature and, perhaps, to a better understanding of yourself.



Legal Overview of Wild Camping in the UK

Embarking on a wild camping adventure in the UK is a thrilling way to connect with nature. Still, it's crucial to understand the legal landscape to ensure your escapade is both enjoyable and safe. Here's a concise overview of the legalities surrounding wild camping across the UK's nations:


England and Wales

General Rule: Wild camping without the landowner's permission is considered trespassing, a civil offence that could lead to being asked to leave the premises.

Exception: Dartmoor National Park stands out as an exception, permitting wild camping in certain areas provided campers adhere to the Backpack Wild Camping Code Of Conduct; however, as you may have heard, this keeps changing, so please consult the Camping Map | Dartmoor

Landowner Permission: Gaining permission from the landowner can transform an illegal camping spot into a legal one. Many farmers and estate owners might allow camping for a night or two if asked politely.

Scotland

Open Access: Thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, Scotland boasts more lenient laws, allowing wild camping on most unenclosed land.

Guidelines: Campers must follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which emphasises respect for the environment and other people's property.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park: This area requires a permit for wild camping from March 1st to October 31st, highlighting the need to check specific regulations for certain locations.


Northern Ireland

Landowner's Permission Required: Similar to England and Wales, wild camping in Northern Ireland is not explicitly allowed without the consent of the landowner.

Civil Offense: Refusing to leave after being asked can lead to legal consequences, underscoring the importance of securing permission or opting for traditional campsites.


Please see my blog on wild camping rules, as whilst it is a civil offence, if you follow the rules, then it is tolerated.


By understanding and respecting these legal nuances, we can ensure our wild camping adventures contribute positively to our cherished landscapes and maintain the spirit of exploration and freedom that wild camping embodies.


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Finding the Perfect Wild Camping Spot

Embarking on the journey to find the perfect, wild camping spot in the UK is an adventure in itself. Here's a helping hand on how you can ensure your chosen location meets all the criteria for a memorable and responsible wild camping experience:


1 - Preliminary Considerations:

Research and Respect: Begin by understanding the importance of leaving no trace, avoiding open fires, and the etiquette of moving on if the spot already hosts more than two tents. Always respect nature, ensuring your presence is as unobtrusive as possible.

Legal and Ethical Guidelines: Confirm that your chosen spot adheres to local regulations and the Countryside Code. Avoid camping too close to suburbs and fields with crops or livestock, and ensure you're not obstructing gates or thoroughfares. It is suggested that you camp higher than the highest fell wall.

Safety and Accessibility: Prioritise spots that are safe and accessible and offer shelter from the elements. Consider the proximity to water sources while ensuring you protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.


2 - Spot Selection Process:

Environment Preference: Decide whether you're drawn to hilltop views for sunrise and sunset or prefer the shelter offered by wooded areas.

Identify a region: Once you've identified an area that interests you, utilise the OS Maps Finder to determine the specific map required. Alternatively, you can visit OS Maps to access digital maps online/

Transportation and Access: Consider how you'll reach your camping spot. This could significantly influence your choice. Parking overnight can be costly, so research car parks/areas beforehand to ensure you don't get stuck with a hefty fee or even a fine and that parking elsewhere is allowed and doesn't block any access. Park4Night is an excellent app to get up-to-date info on overnight parking.



3 - Online and Map Research:

  • Utilise tools like Google Maps and OS Maps to scout potential spots.

  • Look for symbols indicating viewpoints, clearings, and trails.

  • Plot your route and save it for offline access.


You don't have to possess expert navigation skills to locate an ideal spot for wild camping. Familiarity with grid references or other technical aspects is not necessary. Nonetheless, maps can significantly simplify the process of finding a suitable location.


Features to look out for on an OS Map for a Wild Camping Spot:

  • Viewpoint/lookout symbols – these indicate locations with panoramic views spanning 180 or 360 degrees.

  • Wooded areas – represented by charming cartoon-like trees in green regions.

  • Clearings are identifiable as white or blank spaces on the map surrounded by green areas.

  • Flat spots are regions devoid of contour lines. If the contour lines are closely spaced, they signify a steep slope—NOT an ideal spot!

  • Trails – denoted by green markings with dots, dashes, and diamonds. Examples include The Coast to Coast, The Cotswold Way, and The West Highland Way. By following these trails, you are guaranteed to discover excellent viewpoints or suitable spots for wild camping. 



4 - Is Sunset and or Sunrise Important for your Wild Camp?

Depending on the season and the destination you select, it can be delightful to find yourself in a secluded camping spot, ready an hour before sunset. Being "in position" means having a camping meal by your side and a refreshing drink in your hand, giving you ample time to appreciate the beautiful hues of the sky as it transforms. But you need to make sure you're in the right place and that you will get to see the sun go down.


I very rarely Camp at the top of the mountain as I find it quite exposed, and it can get very windy. So, I tend to camp further down or pick a hill that isn't so high. However, this can mean that surrounding mountains can block your view if you're in the wrong place. 


I use PhotoPills, an app that I think cost me £9.99. After putting in your location, using the in-app map, and the date of when you plan to camp, you will see precisely the direction of where the sun will rise and set. If you are on the side of a mountain and the sun is setting behind you, then you're not going to be in for a good sunset. This app can also be used for many other photography features like timing star trails and other complicated stuff like following the Milky Way. Still, the sunset/sunrise planner is easy to use and guarantees that you can be in an excellent position to get that perfect sunset and sunrise.


photo pills app
Photo Pills App - The coloured lines show where the sun will rise and set and it also gives you the exact times for golden hour

5 - Scouting

Once you have identified a potential camping area, it's often an excellent plan to scout the location, especially if you are feeling nervous and want to check whether there is a water supply, etc. Take a day hike to explore the surroundings to help find the best spot that meets your requirements. Look for flat and dry ground, away from water sources, to avoid flooding and water contamination. Don't forget to consider the accessibility of the place and ensure it is within a reasonable distance from your starting point while carrying a heavy backpack. Please take into account the weight of your camping gear and carrying it up a hill. 


6 - Final Checks and Preparations:

Weather and Timing: Always check the weather forecast before setting out, and plan your schedule according to the sunset time to ensure you have enough daylight. Do not venture out in strong winds, and make sure you have the proper clothing for the predicted temperatures.


I always check multiple forecasts to get a good idea of what it will be like. I use the Met Office and The Mountain Weather Information Service. I will also check a local weather service like The Lake District Weather Line. 

Remember: that the higher you get, the colder it gets (air cools one °C every 100 vertical meters, and wind chill can knock off ten °C), so ensure you have enough clothing. I will never go up a mountain if the wind speed is more than 40mph and if the gusts are more than 50mph. This kind of wind speed can be dangerous and knock you off your feet, potentially causing an injury


On-site Assessment: Upon arrival, look for a level spot that's out of sight from main paths and not too close to water sources.


Leave No Trace: Remember, the goal is to enjoy the wilderness without leaving any trace of your stay. Take away only memories and leave only footprints. 


By following these steps and considerations, you're well on your way to finding a wild camping spot in the UK that offers a serene getaway, respects the natural environment, and adheres to legal and ethical standards.




Essential Gear for Wild Camping

Embarking on a wild camping adventure requires not only a spirit of adventure but also the right gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here's a comprehensive list of essential equipment every wild camper should consider:


Shelter and Comfort:

Tent: Opt for a lightweight and durable tent that offers protection from the elements

Sleeping Bag: A quality sleeping bag is crucial for maintaining body temperature during the chilly nights

Sleeping Mat: Don't underestimate the value of a good sleeping mat for insulation and cushioning

Camping Pillow: Enhance your sleep quality with a lightweight pillow for comfort and support.


Cooking and Hydration:

Camping Stove and Fuel: A portable stove and fuel, such as isobutane and propane canisters, are necessary for cooking meals 

Camp Kitchen: Enamel mug and a long-handled spork

Food and Water: Carry enough food and water for the duration of the trip. Camping meals like Real Turmat are really easy, lightweight, and taste great.


See the blog post on Camping Foods here.


Water Purification: Bring portable water filters or purifiers capable of removing bacteria and other contaminants from natural water sources.



Safety and Navigation:

First Aid Kit: A personal first aid kit is vital for addressing minor injuries and emergencies.

Lighting: A reliable headtorch, torch, or camp lighting is essential for navigating in the dark.

Navigation Tools: Remember a mapcompass, and waterproof map case for navigation; online apps such as OS Maps can also be helpful. However, suppose you do not have download facilities on them or your phone runs out of battery or breaks. In that case, you always need to carry a backup paper map and compass.

Safety Kit: Always carry essential safety equipment, such as a GPS device, mobile phone, and power bank.


Additional Essentials:

Weather Appropriate Clothing: Dressing for the weather is crucial. Include a down jacket, spare t-shirt, underwear, socks, a hat, and long johns for varying temperatures.

Toiletries Bag: Pack essentials like toilet roll (plus plastic bags to be able to carry your waste out), toothbrush, toothpaste and maybe some hand wipes.

Leave No Trace Tools: Pocket trowels are essential for burying or removing toilet waste responsibly.

Personal Items: Consider bringing a journal, pen, book or audiobook for entertainment (get a free audiobook here)



Remember, the key to a successful wild camping trip lies in preparation and self-reliance. By packing the correct equipment, you're setting the stage for an unforgettable adventure in the UK's wild spaces. Whether you choose a tent for shelter or opt for a bivvy bag for a more inconspicuous presence, ensure your gear list is comprehensive yet tailored to your specific needs and the duration of your trip.


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Food and Water Tips

In the realm of wild camping, managing food and water is not just about sustenance; it's about respecting nature while ensuring your adventure remains as delightful as intended. Here's a guide to navigate your culinary journey in the Wild:


Food Preparation and Choices:

Breakfast Ideas: Start your day with energy-boosting meals like granola/muesli, porridge, and fresh berries. These options are not only nutritious but also easy to prepare in the wilderness.

Lunch Delights: For a midday meal, consider soups, sandwiches or noodles,

Dinner Feasts: End your day with hearty meals, such as dehydrated backpacking meals, which are a convenient solution for wild camping, if not slightly expensive. These pre-packaged meals require minimal preparation and can be rehydrated with hot water. Look for options that are high in protein, fibre, and vitamins to ensure a well-rounded meal. This is my go-to option for wild camping as they are light, easy to make, and well-balanced. These dishes promise a delicious end to a day of adventure.


Water Management and Hygiene:

Purifying Water: Boil water for at least a minute to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and parasites, ensuring it's safe for drinking and cooking. Alternatively, use a portable water filter or purification tablets for clean water access.

Hygiene Practices: When washing yourself or dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes. Use biodegradable soap sparingly, and scatter strained dishwater to minimise environmental impact.

Waste Management: Always pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. This practice is crucial for maintaining the pristine condition of natural sites.


Safety and Sustainability:

Repackaging Food: To minimise waste, repackage food items into reusable containers before your trip. This step not only reduces litter but also lightens your load.

Food Safety: Ensure food safety by keeping foods either hot or cold and transport chilled foods in insulated containers to prevent spoilage.

Water Sources: Bring bottled or tap water for consumption and cleaning purposes. If relying on natural sources, ensure water is adequately treated before use.


By personalising your food choices based on specific energy requirements and adhering to these tips, you can enjoy delicious meals that fuel your adventure while respecting the environment. Remember, the key to a successful wild camping experience lies in preparation, self-reliance, and a commitment to leaving no trace.



Managing Waste and Leave No Trace Principles

In the spirit of wild camping, embracing the Leave No Trace principles is paramount to ensure that the natural beauty of the UK remains untouched for future adventurers. Here's how you can apply these principles during your wild camping journey:


Leave No Trace: The 7 Principles

  1. Plan & Prepare: Research and prepare for your trip to minimise impact.

  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established paths and campsites.

  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Use catholes for human waste, situated at least 200 feet from water sources, camps, and trails.

  4. Leave What You Find: Preserve the natural environment. Do not touch cultural structures, artefacts, or natural objects.

  5. Minimise Campfire Impacts: Ideally, fires should not be lit; however, if it's a suitable place, then keep fires small, use sticks found on the ground, and ensure fires are completely extinguished.

  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe from a distance, do not feed animals, and secure food and trash.

  7. Be Considerate of Others: Respect fellow visitors and those who live in the countryside. Let nature's sounds prevail.


Managing Waste Effectively

Solid Waste: Always bury solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, ensuring they are over 200 feet away from water, Camp, and trails. In certain areas, such as narrow river canyons, solid waste must be packed out.

Litter and Food Waste: Adopt a 'pack it in, pack it out' mindset. Inspect your campsite and surrounding areas for trash or spilt food, ensuring nothing is left behind.

Toilet Paper and Hygiene Products: These items should be packed out. If necessary, consider carrying a sealed zip-lock bag for used toilet paper.


Campsite Restoration and Fire Management

Restoring Your Campsite: Before leaving, scatter leaf debris, sticks, and stones over your camping pitch to restore its natural appearance. If you've lit a fire, ensure it is fully extinguished and leaves no trace.

Avoiding Damage: Be mindful of the surrounding vegetation and avoid causing any damage. Ensure that the gates are left as they are found and avoid disturbing livestock.


By adhering to these guidelines, we not only ensure our wild camping experiences are enriching and enjoyable but also contribute to the preservation of these precious landscapes for generations to come. The Leave No Trace principles serve as a compass for responsible camping, guiding us to act with mindfulness and respect towards nature, wildlife, and fellow adventurers.


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Safety Tips for Wild Camping

Embarking on a wild camping adventure is thrilling, yet ensuring safety is paramount. Here are essential safety tips tailored for an unforgettable and secure wild camping experience:


Before You Leave:

Inform Someone: Always tell a trusted person about your camping plans. Include details like your destination, route, and expected return time.

Weather and Terrain Awareness: Familiarise yourself with the weather forecast, daylight hours, and, if applicable, tide times. This knowledge is crucial for planning your activities and ensuring safety.

Social Media Caution: Resist the urge to broadcast your plans or location on social media in real time. Sharing specifics can wait until you're safely home.

Route Plan: Leave a detailed route plan with someone you trust. Agree on a time by which you'll check in to confirm your safety.



During Your Adventure:

Stealth Camping:

  • Pitch your tent late and pack up early to minimise your impact and visibility.

  • Use small tents in natural colours and avoid loud noises or making fires to remain unnoticed.

  • Keep your group small to reduce disturbance to wildlife and the environment.

Personal Safety:

  • Carry a personal alarm and keep a mobile phone handy for emergencies.

  • If you're feeling anxious, focus on the present and consider all possible scenarios to manage your anxiety effectively.

  • Consider camping with a friend for added security and companionship.


Interacting with Others:

Vague Details: When encountering others, keep details about your camping spot and plans vague.

Location Tagging: If you must share on social media, keep location tagging general and avoid real-time updates.

Respecting Wildlife and Locals: Remember, most people are likely focused on their activities. As long as you behave responsibly, don't leave a mess, and are willing to move if asked, you're unlikely to encounter any issues.


By adhering to these safety tips, we not only ensure our well-being but also uphold the spirit of wild camping — enjoying the beauty of nature while leaving minimal traces of our presence.





Conclusion

Throughout this comprehensive exploration into the enchanting world of wild camping in the UK, we've journeyed through the legal frameworks that safeguard our natural environments, the strategies for selecting idyllic camping spots, and the vital importance of adhering to Leave No Trace principles. Each segment of the guide brought into focus the essential considerations, from understanding the legal nuances in different parts of the UK to the meticulous planning required for food, water, and safety, aiming to equip the reader with the knowledge necessary for a respectful and fulfilling wild camping adventure.

By embracing the ethos of preparation, responsibility, and minimal impact encapsulated within this guide, enthusiasts are well-prepared to embark on their wild camping ventures. Remember, the essence of wild camping lies not just in the serene solitude or the breathtaking vistas but in the harmonious interaction with the natural world, leaving it as pristine as we found it. Whether you're a seasoned camper or new to the wonders of the great outdoors, the invitation to explore, respect, and cherish the UK's wild landscapes awaits. So, go wild camping in the UK, immersing yourself in the unparalleled beauty and tranquillity that nature generously offers.



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FAQs

How can one start wild camping in the UK?

To engage in wild camping in the UK, it's crucial to avoid trespassing on private property without consent, as it could lead to a fine. Since wild camping is not legally allowed in most parts of the UK, the recommended approach is to obtain permission from the landowner before setting up camp.

What are the best practices for choosing a wild camping spot?

When selecting a wild camping spot, look for level and well-drained terrain, avoiding overly sloped, saturated, or rocky areas. For woodland camping, search for little tree symbols in green areas on a map, and for clearings, find blank spaces surrounded by trees on the map, as these can be ideal locations for setting up Camp.

Where is wild camping legally permitted in England?

In England, most land is owned privately, and wild camping is not outright banned but requires the landowner's permission to be legal. The exception to this rule was Dartmoor National Park, which was the only place in England where wild camping was legally allowed without needing permission.



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See The Beginners Guide to Wild Camping here.


If you have any questions or comments on anything you have read, please get in touch with me here.


If you don't already use the Ordnance Survey App, you can download it here, enabling you to download GPX routes. I use this App to plan all my hikes, and as its OS, it mirrors the paper map you should always use in conjunction.




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