Britain consists of three countries: England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is also part of the UK. The Republic of Ireland is a separate country and has its own section. The Isle of Man is also not part of Britain.
Free camping in Britain
Free camping in Britain is a mixed bag.
- England & Wales - Because of problems with 'new age travellers' during the 1980's England & Wales have laws preventing one from just pulling over and stopping for the night. However, it is still possible to free camp, if you choose your location well. But you should always be prepared for a knock on the door from the police who might ask you to move along.
- Scotland - Whilst Scottish law allows people the right to roam and camp, the right to roam act specifically excludes all forms of motorised camping (including caravans). So free camping is not legal, but generally accepted if people are respectful. Read more about the act.
Tips for Free camping in England & Wales
To efficiently wild camp in Britain you need to blend in, and not draw attention to yourself.
- If you are spending lots of time wild camping in Britain get a National Trust membership. This membership will allow you to park your vehicle at almost all of the NT sites for free, and allows one adult to enter the attractions also. They have thousands of great locations to visit. In many coastal areas, such as Cornwall, the NT membership also allows you to park at the beach for free. However, you cannot camp overnight at a NT site.
- If you find secluded beach car parks, and hill areas you can probably stay for one night without a problem. Be prepared to be moved on if the police or an official come along.
- You can camp in residential areas using the simple plan: During the day park at safe areas like supermarket car parks, beaches, etc. Do all of your chores, including eating your evening meal at these car parks. Then, once everything is done for the day, drive to a residential area when there are lots of cars or preferably vans. Park considerately on the road. Choose a quiet road. As soon as you arrive turn off the engine and all of the lights. Go straight to bed. No one will know you are in the vehicle. In the morning, when you wake, immediately drive to a car park, such as a supermarket, then have your breakfast. Using this technique you can camp almost anywhere. When combined with National Trust membership you can visit nice places all day, and park in quiet places at night, visiting supermarkets to stock up on supplies and eat. The secret is to not park at the same places regularly. Alternate your spots so people don't recognise you.
- In popular holiday areas, there may be restrictions on overnight parking in car parks or a road laybys. In quieter areas however, it may be acceptable to find some quiet area to park.
- Upon entering a town look for the sign directing you to the “Long Stay Car Park”, where you might be allowed to stay the night. Check the signs carefully. It’s always surprising where you’ll end up, sometimes an ugly industrial area, sometimes a truly wonderful parking spot in the centre of town.
- It’s often possible to stay the odd night in the car park of a rural pub. If you ask the owner/manager, many are welcome to aloow you to overnight in the car park. Always pick a place in the car park away from the main traffic in and out so as not to cause any inconvenience to the visitors. There are many rural pubs with fantastic locations. It would be polite to have a meal or drinks in the pub for the pleasure of staying in the car park.
The general ruling for Tesco is that they have no problem with motor homes "parked up" for the night IF the following is observed:
- Park in a discreet corner of the car park - i.e., not right outside the front door, blocking others.
- Do not set up BBQ and picnic tables! This also applies to chairs etc.
- If there is more than 2 at any one time they start to worry.
- Never leave anything behind; including water on the tarmac because non-campers think it is from the loo.
- Only stay one night.
If you follow the above rules you should be ok at most branches of Tesco. If you do some shopping before you leave, it would be a nice gesture to mention to the manager, who you are, and thank him for the use of the car park. Although he may not be aware that you were even there. If he sees you are a customer in his store it could encourage him to keep letting people stay overnight.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is now used with regard to wild camping. It was introduced on the back of raves and N.A.T.s and all the hassle that went on at Stonehenge a few years ago. Have a look at the government’s own website containing the act.
Scroll down to the sections on trespass and especially the section headed "Powers to remove unauthorised campers"(77). Hope that gives a clearer definition of what’s legal and what’s not....
Basically there's no "right" to stay anywhere, other than on someone’s land with their permission. Thanks to all those 'new age travellers' in the 1980's you can be asked to move on at any time and failure to comply can land you in a whole heap of trouble.
If you stay in a layby or any part of a Highway, like a grass verge, then the local authority can ask you to move on. They first have to know you're there of course, but once you've been spotted and they ask you to move, then you have to move.
The Police have powers to move you from landowners land if there are two people camping and (a) you've damaged property or land or (b) you've been abusive to the landowner when asked to leave. In this instance, damage to the land could include ruts formed in the field by the tyres, so they can force you to leave under most circumstances. This also includes common land if asked to leave by a commoner. Of course, once asked, most people will comply and move on, so no problem, but it's as well to be aware that you've really no rights. Service stations started putting up the time limits for parking at the same time this legislation went through
- www.wildcamping.co.uk - Great website with information and discussions about wild camping locations in the UK and abroad.
- www.nomadgb.co.uk/map.html - Great map resource with useful places to stop in the UK for wild campers.