Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Free camping in Scotland – PD200004

Part of the purpose of our recent trip to the Great Glen was to find out how easy it was to free camp in Scotland. We prefer the motorhome life in France where we can travel as the mood takes us without the need to book sites as is pretty much essential in England and Wales.

Many people cite the "Right to Roam" legislation as giving permission to "wild" camp but in fact it expressly excludes motorised travel. The legislation is designed to allow camping in a tent or bivvy bag while backpacking in wild country. In fact a better term would be free or informal camping as a motorhome is not going to be parked in the wild places, away from roads as envisaged by "Right to Roam".

It seems that the Scottish law is less prescriptive in excluding motorhomes stopping overnight by the roadside. However, we found many car parks with "no overnight parking" signs. Many would have made excellent aires in the French style, Fort William, Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit spring to mind. They even had most of the facilities that would be needed. It seems like a missed opportunity to generate more tourism, at least out of season when the car parks are not charging. One blessing was that we only saw a couple of height barriers all week in and around the Caledonian Canal, both on Forestry Commission Scotland picnic areas at a couple of viewpoints.

We spent a week in Scotland and managed to find somewhere to stop each night but it often involved a fair bit of time and driving on the few minor roads to find suitable places. We set our own rules, no major roads and the lay by should be wide enough for us to leave a van width between us and the road. The ideal sites were where we found a pull off behind trees, hedge or other separation from the road.

We also stayed at the Benlavee Hotel in Drumnadrochit which is part of the BritStop scheme. We had a very pleasant meal and evening there. If asked, we suspect that many out of town pubs and restaurants would allow customers to camp overnight, especially when they are quiet out of peak season as it was when we were in Scotland in mid-April.

It should be remembered when free camping that there is always the possibility of being moved so a driver has to be able to drive to any time. That means no alcohol with dinner as the drink-drive laws in Scotland are stricter than in the rest of the UK, a pint of beer or a glass of wine will take one over the limit.

The other challenge when free camping is managing resources because finding fresh water is not easy to find and, of course, there is no electric hook-up, Similarly disposing of grey and black water is not easy in many places. We managed to eke out our resources without having to access the services of a camp site. It showed us how profligate we are with water both at home and while travelling. If one adopts a similar approach to round the world yachtsmen one can manage on a few litres of fresh water a day, less than that used by the average shower. After a week we still had a day or two's water remaining in our 90litre fresh water tank and had not filled the much smaller waste tanks. To be comfortable we would work on the basis that we would need to use a campsite, or at least facilities, every five days or so for fresh water and proper waste disposal.

There is an important point to be made. We all have a responsibility to leave no trace of our stop, indeed we should try to leave our free stopover place better than we arrived by taking an obvious litter away with us. Leaving rubbish or emptying waste takes will give the authorities cause to encroach on the freedoms we enjoy, in many cases they are all too ready to do so. So, we should not abuse them even through simple thoughtlessness or lack of understanding of the implications of our actions. For example, we make a point of not even emptying the washing up bowl at our free camps; the dumping of greasy washing up water with traces of food was reported as part of the justification for stopping camping at Bamburgh in Northumberland. If you free camp take everything away with you; leave no trace of one's passing.

All in all our week of free camping in Scotland was straightforward and trouble-free if not always convenient. It was out of season so there was less pressure on facilities. I suspect in peak season it might be a challenge as one would expect there to be much more competition for the best parking spots especially in the tourist hot spots like the Highlands.

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