June 13, 2014
Liberating in the extreme, Scotland is one of the few places in the UK where it’s legal to wild camp – with no fee or permit required. Essentially, the law allows you to fly solo and pitch a tent in some of Scotland’s most remarkable and remote terrain – from white sandy beaches, national parks and lush forests to loch-side nooks and mountainous crannies. Sure, you forgo the creature comforts of a more traditional campsite (warm shower, clean(ish) toilet anyone?), but the payoff can be immense, with the country’s natural canvas laid bare for you to pop in and pitch up.
Naturally, it’s not without its practicalities. It’s Scotland – check the weather forecast. Know what you want to do and pitch up accordingly. If you fancy kayaking, canoeing or wild swimming as part of your stay, set up camp within accessible distance to some of the country’s most striking lochs and rivers. If it’s beautiful walks and idyllic nature you’re after, head into the forest, or make base camp around the foot of some of Scotland’s most epic Munros.
For wild camping in Scotland to work, and the natural environment to remain protected, aim for a two or three-night stopover max, and then move on. Depending on where you are, check whether vehicular access is allowed. Also, keep an eye out for any seasonal camping byelaws that might crop up. And remember, the beauty of the process is that you leave each spot as you found it. Get familiar with the Scottish Outdoors Access Code: it’ll give you the full rundown on safely lighting fires, human waste disposal, protecting the environment and loads more, and enjoy the experience as responsibly and happily as possible.
Don’t forget a decent map. The Internet is a modern day wonder, yes, but reception up a mountain isn’t always a given, so be prepared. Similarly, if you don’t want to carry a rucksack full of supplies, pitch up near a village or town with decent amenities. As with most things in life, be safe and let common sense prevail.
And so to the good stuff: where exactly to go? The joy of Scotland’s sprawl is that from main city hubs, like Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, you can be out communing with nature, in some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery in a matter of minutes, or hours, depending on how far you want to venture.
Scotland’s two National Parks, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, and the Cairngorms, are rife with possibility. And while we can offer some of our top spots, it’s by no means a comprehensive guide. Many Scots will rightly rave about two of the country’s most famous mountains, Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis (more on the former below), but the smaller mountain of Ben A’an has some amazing wild camping spots around it and offers up beautiful views of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray.
Equally, just a short drive or train ride from Glasgow or Edinburgh, the banks of Loch Lomond are popular with exceptionally good reason. The Ben Lomond walkway takes you to the foot of Ben Lomond, should you fancy a spot of Munro-bagging. And regular cruises and waterbuses take you from one side of the loch to the other. Everything from wakeboarding to safari canoeing gets a look-in here, as well as the more serene opportunity to simply pitch up and take in the view.
Spots near Firkin Point and Balmaha, around Loch Lomond, offer amazing scenes of one of the world’s most famous waters, while further north, near the fjord-like Loch Long, pitch up around the Arrochar Alps for some truly grand vistas.
The North West Highlands, in and around Gairloch, continue to impress, with Redpoint in Wester Ross coming up trumps for fans keen to look up at the stars from a sandy dune. Staying nearer to Edinburgh, East Lothian is teaming with places – our favourite being around the beach in Ravensheugh at Tyninghame, with its forest and clifftop persuasions. Those travelling from Aberdeen, can double up some castle bagging, by camping along the coast from the ruins of the evocatively medieval Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire.
For the ultimate experience though, head to the islands, which are easily accessible by boat or plane from the mainland. Just a short 50-minute ferry ride from Glasgow, the isle of Arran is amazing. At just 20 miles long and 10 miles wide in its entirety, the isle can be explored with relative ease, from the mountainous north to the verdant south. Pick up supplies in Brodick (where the ferry docks) and head for Glen Rosa. The trek up the glen is fairly inoffensive (just shy off 700ft), and the space is vast, giving you ample opportunity to pitch yourself away from the campsite proper that sits at the foot of the glen. There are some stunning walking trails to be found, and you’d be mad to miss a chance to climb Goat Fell (Arran’s highest and wildest mountain).
Those willing to venture further still, should opt for the Isle of Harris and pitch up just above the bright white – and surprisingly secluded – sands of Horgabost Beach.
Similarly, Mull and Skye, respectively are easily accessible with an excellent ferry service running from the mainland. In Mull, Calgary Bay helpfully has some decent amenities nearby. And located just 12 miles from the capital of Tobermory, the birdlife, white sands and beautiful ruins make it worth the trip alone. Finally, for the ultimate in remote, the beautifully rugged Scottish peninsula of Knoydart in the north Highlands, can be reached from Mallaig, and is beautiful for fans of hiking.
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Have you been wild camping in Scotland? Where did you pitch your tent? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Anna Millar