Free camping in Britain
Free camping in Britain is a mixed bag.
- England & Wales – England & Wales has 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.
Tips for wild/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 lay-bys. 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 allow 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 law is defined so effectively you cannot camp on any public land as the police always have the power to move you on. People in the UK are often nervous about seeing wild campers as there were a number of issues with travellers and parts of the rave and part scene in previous years.