Guide to motorhome wild camping in the UK

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Have you just bought a motorhome or camper and wish to get out in it a little more? Or are you a motohoming veteran who’s only wish is to get off the beaten track and the tide of ever increasing pitch prices at one of the many over rated campsites.

What ever your reasons, why not give motorhome wild camping a go!?

What hell is motorhome wild camping?

For a start, the word “wild” may be just a little strong…. What’s wild about spending a night in a 30k home on wheels? Its not exactly trekking through the Himalayas, with little more than a trusty backpack, Swedish fire starter and as many tins of baked beans as you can carry….   

What people really mean when they say motorhome wild camping is filling your mobile house with everything you could possibly need to survive for a few days and driving around until you find yourself a nice secluded spot to relax in.

Everybody calls it “wild camping” but I guess free camping would be more accurate.

Is it safe to free camp?

This is one of the few reasons that stops a lot of people from breaking free of the commercial campsite and striking out on their own.

Are you going to park up for the night, enjoy a couple of beers, hit the hay, only to wake up dead the next morning!?

So far in my experience, wild camping is completely safe. Having wild camped extensively across Australia with out any problems what so ever.

Saying that, there was one night where I was parked up on the outskirts of a place called Richmond NSW, watching the walking dead on my laptop. The episode ended.

I closed my laptop to see someone’s face partially lit by the fading light of the nearest lamp post. Literally looking in from 2 feet away. 2 seconds later it was gone!

Safe to say, my heart fell out of my ass! 

The next day, I got speaking to another person who was working the same farm as me and wild camping about 2km up the road from where I was.

He was approached by the police and warned that there was a mentally unstable person lurking around in the shadows. This mentally unstable person had just attacked someone with a sledge hammer…..

Back to the UK

Having “wild camped” a fair bit across England and Wales so far. There has not been a single incident.

To be fair, the use of your better judgement will help.

For example: Settling in for the night outside the shops on a Friday night in some parts Yeading may not be the best move.

On the other hand, Find a nice secluded beach car park in North Wales and the odds are you won’t see another soul.

motorhome parked in seculuded carpark

The actual rules of wild camping in the UK

This a complete grey area, the lack of laws and legislation make it impossible to say where you can and can’t camp in your motorhome.

There is no definitive legislation regarding wild camping in a motorhome/campervan. All legislation regarding wild camping in the UK is aimed at hikers/explorers in tents. I found a really good article on the original outdoors website that explains this perfectly.

As far as the laws regarding free camping in your motorhome goes, the best I could find is this PDF from the Office of the Deputy Prime minister. This legislation is more aimed at Gypsies and travellers that can be 50 motorhome/caravans strong and stay in one place for years.

Although its not really aimed at your standard motorhome adventurer, I guess this is the legislation that the police will enforce if needs be.

So in gist:

For the most part, you can’t just find a bit of free land and camp up there for a few nights without permission.

The odds are someone owns that piece of land, and you just pitching up without permission it is going cause some friction. In England, Ireland and Wales you have absolutely no right of access.

Meaning that to park up on someone’s land is committing trespass. While trespass is considered a civil matter, if the land owner/authority has told you to leave and you refuse then you are committing aggravated trespass which is a criminal offence.  

If you commit aggravated trespass and the police turn up, first they will establish if there is a “suitable pitch on a caravan site is available within the same local authority area”. If there is then they will ask you to leave the land as soon as “reasonably practical”.

If you fail to comply or are caught twice within the same local authority in a 3 month period then you are liable to imprisonment for up to 3 months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500) or both.

What about Dartmoor? 

A very common misconception is that motorhome wild camping on Dartmoor is completely OK…

Firstly, not everywhere on Dartmoor is legal for camping. Only around 35-40% of Dartmoor National park is designated for wild camping. (You can see from the map below)

Secondly, the legislation regarding the 35-40% of Dartmoor that is open to wild camping states that:

“No person shall knowingly use any vehicle, including a caravan or any structure other than a tent for the purpose of camping on the access land or land set out for the use or parking of vehicles except on any area which may be set apart and indicated by notice as a place where such camping is permitted.”

So yeah, motorhome camping on Dartmoor isn’t as simple as you might think….

Can you have a camp fire?

In England, Ireland and Wales you explicitly need the land owners/authority permission to have a camp fire.

Having a camp fire for wood scavenged from the local area could be classed as criminal damage. Get permission first!!!

So what about Scotland?

The rules regarding “wild camping” in Scotland are a little different to England, Ireland and Wales. In the way that they are more relaxed.

It is The Scottish Outdoor Access Code that provides guidance on the rights and limitations of wild campers on the Scottish waterways and land. Once again the SOAC only refers to walkers, ramblers, cyclists and basically people camping in tents.

Motorised vehicles, such as campervans and motorhomes are not covered by this legislation and have no right of access under it.

Just like the rest of the UK, if you want to “wild camp” in your motorhome then legally you should get permission first.

So the only real difference is that in Scotland having a “responsible campfire” is tolerated as where in the rest of the UK it is not. 

How does anyone ever “motorhome wild camp” then!?

There are two ways in which people manage to wild camp in their campervans and motorhomes:

  • Stealth: Having a stealth camper or finding somewhere you can’t be seen and being quiet.
  • The road traffic act: The road traffic act allows anyone in any type of vehicle to park up in a layby or street to get some sleep if they feel too tired to drive on.

Mix them to reasons together, be respectful and you shouldn’t have too many problems wild camping in the UK.

How to find a place to wild camp in the UK

Now that we have established that wild camping in the UK is illegal but kinda not illegal, how do you find a good spot to wild camp in the UK?

Well as I just said, under the road traffic act you can park up in any layby to get some shut eye. I think it goes without saying that just because you can pull up for the night in layby adjacent to the hermes distribution centre in Liverpool. It doesn’t mean that you should.

Whenever I’m wild camping my first port of call is the mobile apps:

  • Park4night
  • Search for sites
  • Britstops
  • Motorhome stopover

My favourite for the UK being Park4night. I find it has the biggest variety, the easiest to navigate and also it’s free!!

Soon enough I will write a post comparing the different free camping apps so you can see for yourself.

Until then, one other little trick I use is to check out one of the above apps to find a free camp I think may be suitable. Then I go on google earth and check it out in the flesh.

I started doing this after finding a lovely little camping spot in North Wales. The spot was amazing but the heart attack inducing sound of tree branches scraping along your solar panel and windows says it wasn’t worth it. 

Apart from that, its nice to see how good is the access, if its flat, (gotta think of the 3 way fridge) as well as if the spaces are big enough to fit your motorhome.

From what it looks like on Park4night:

screenshot of park4night

Looks good from above on google earth:

screen shot of google earth

Looks suitable at street level:

wild camping near eype
not a bad place to spend a night near Eype

Wild camping etiquette

Now for the being a “responsible free camper”.

Maybe the most important part of wild camping, doing it responsibly. It’s already hard enough to camp outside of a mainstream campsite and if we all “take the piss” it will only get harder.

For example look at Scotland, camping around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is now a lot more restricted due to wild campers not being responsible.

So how do you help keep our good name be a responsible wild camper!?

Simple, follow these bullet points and you’ll not go far wrong:  

  • Take rubbish with you – Take everything that you brought with you away with you.
  • Ask for permission – Where possible ask the land owner if you are OK to stay for a night or two.
  • Don’t outstay your welcome – One, maybe 2 nights max. Any longer and locals may start to get annoyed.
  • Be quiet – Just because you have an amazing sound system on board, doesn’t mean the locals want to know about it.
  • Stay out of sight – Don’t go parking at the end of someone’s driveway for 3 weeks.
  • Stay away from crops and animals – Farmers in the UK have enough on their plate without worrying about a motorhome that has just driven through his crops or over his lambs….
  • Don’t overcrowd – If you pull up to the wild camping spot and there is already 6 motorhomes maybe it is best to move on…
  • Don’t get the awning out – Don’t go setting up like you’ve just pitched up at your favourite campsite for a 2 week stint.
  • Don’t bring an entourage – Gathering all your camping club friends for a spot of wild camping is not the way to do it. Being discreet with 12, 23ft motorhomes, impossible! 
  • Dispose of waste properly – Grey and black water must be disposed of properly at designated disposal points.
  • Read the signs – If it says no overnight parking then move on
no overnight parking

Problems to overcome when you’re wild camping

As much as I love wild camping, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, it still takes planning. Here’s a few of the most important things to think about to have a successful wild camp:

Toilet:

Make sure the crapper is empty before you set off. Or on an extended wild camp empty when ever you get chance. No point turning up at the best spot imaginable for a few days only to realise the toilet is full and the nearest place to empty it is a 40 minute drive.

That distance in diesel would cost you the same as a night at a decent campsite.

Water:

Obviously, we are nothing without a good supply of fresh drinking water. Drinking, cooking, showering, flushing the toilet and brushing the teeth all requires water.

I have a 70 litre tank on board, that with extra 20 litres I carry in those blue water bags can last two of us 3 at an absolute push 4 days. That includes VERY quick showers.

Water is always the hardest thing to come by if you’re staying away from campsites. I have searched for apps that tell you where you can get fresh drinking water for free.

The only one I found is called Givemetap. It’s terrible! Only 2 taps in the whole of the UK apparently…

Searching around the forums it seems a lot of wild campers get their water from graveyards. Apparently they all have a tap outside.

I don’t know how I feel about hitting up a graveyard in my recreational vehicle to acquire water when there’s a funeral procession going on…..  

Other people ask at petrol stations before filling up with diesel. “I’ll fill the diesel tank if you fill my water tank!?”

I guess the profit from 50 litres of diesel far outweighs the cost of 100 litres of water.

 Fill the tank when ever you get the chance.

 Electricity:

Another very precious commodity when wild camping is electricity. You’ll have to learn how to survive on your leisure batteries without completely killing them within a week.

Leisure batteries absolutely hate being discharged beyond 50% and the one thing that they hate more than being discharged beyond 50% is being left discharged beyond 50%.

 Its the fastest way to destroy them and with leisure batteries costing upwards of £100 each it should be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just as simple as buying massive 3000w inverter and wiring your standard house kettle to it.

As a rule of thumb anything that uses more than say 50w should not be used when wild camping. Not unless you’ve got a big solar system 400AH in leisure batteries and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. 

As well as not being able to use your kettle, I’m afraid your standard 3 way fridge will use roughly 120w of power constantly. To put it into context your bog standard 3-way fridge will discharge your bog standard 100AH leisure battery down to 50% within 5 hours.

I’m sure you can see it’s just not going to work.

How do you get around the electricity problem?

Straight away there is only really two feasible ways to top up your leisure batteries while wild camped.

  1. Take it for a drive – Not the best way fix the electricity problem as a flat leisure battery can take hours to recharge from the alternator. Just burning through diesel for not much electricity.
  2. Get a solar panel – We have a 275w panel and while its good for running the fridge while the sun is out in summer most of the time it has to be on gas. For lights, water pump, TV, laptop etc it has always kept the batteries charged. Well worth the £350 it cost.

Gas

Soon as you leave the campsite your gas consumption will go up. Mainly, heating and the fridge is what will empty a 6kg bottle of propane in a couple of days.

Make sure you have a spare bottle. Better still fit a gas it refillable system if you plan on doing lots of wild camping or touring Europe.

It will pay for itself within a couple of months.

Top tip for mitigating the water, wastewater and electricity problems.

One tip I have is to join the caravan and camping club. It costs £40 but tell your insurance and your premium should drop by roughly £40.

In a way you get free membership. One of the perks of this membership is that for £7 you can turn up to some of their campsites and use their facilities for a few hours.

So you can empty you grey and black water, fill your fresh water tank, take a shower and charge your leisure batteries off EHU.

Do this every two to three days for no stress wild camping. 

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