Saturday 27 June 2020

Thoughts on Wild Camping

So-called 'wild camping' is in the news and not in a good way. Pictures of dumped tents and camping gear surrounded by trash are all over social media. This, we are told, is wild camping. It isn't. Mostly it's roadside camping, never far from a car. Sometimes camping gear is lugged a bit further before being dumped - there is the strange find of a wheeled suitcase, abandoned tent, and other stuff high up at Angle Tarn in the Lake District - but generally it's people wanting a party rather than an outdoor experience who leave this stuff.

Whilst it's always been a problem, people leaving rubbish seems to have got much worse in recent weeks. The vast amounts of rubbish collected from places like Bournemouth beach and The Meadows in Edinburgh show the problem is general and not just to do with roadside campers. Why this is has engendered much speculation. The gradual ending of the Covid 19 lockdown seems to be the general trigger. Unable yet to return to clubs and bars or visit resorts abroad closed and with little to do in cities and towns people who don't normally do so are heading for the countryside, many, probably, to act as they would in clubs and on foreign beaches or at music festivals.  It seems too many people have become used to assuming others will clear up after them. Dirt cheap disposable 'festival' camping gear contributes too. And in the countryside campsites are closed and there's no accommodation available. Day trips or roadside camping are the only options.

I doubt much can be done about this in the short term. Hopefully as more facilities open the problem will decline. But I suspect there will be an increase in visitor numbers to the countryside over the summer as people choose not to go abroad even if they can. To deal with this I think education and facilities are needed and that means clear signage at access points, more rangers, more litter bins (emptied frequently), and more toilets. Unfortunately there looks like being less of the last three in many areas (for example due to cash problems the National Trust for Scotland is proposing to drastically cut its ranger service - there's a petition against this here). Whilst some people are probably beyond educating there may be many who simply don't know how to act in the countryside. Information and advice is needed.

Back to wild camping - real wild camping, which means taking a small tent into the wilds, staying for a night or two, and leaving no trace. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that wild camping "is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply, but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures."  That's how it should be.

A pleasant surprise a few days ago was the announcement that the travel limit of around five miles is being dropped on July 3, twelve days earlier than previously announced, and that staying away from home in accommodation with self-contained facilities will be allowed. I can't think of anything that fits this better than a tent out in the wilds!

During lockdown I have avoided planning hill days let alone overnights. I've found it easier to deal with the situation by  accepting it might go on a very long time and enjoying local walks and a tent in the garden. My last wild camp was on March 4, my last hillwalk March 13. I can't remember ever having anything like that big a gap between trips. I also think it must be over forty years since I stayed in one place so long, just going on short walks around home and driving the five miles into town for groceries once a week. Being able to travel will be wonderful!

Summer isn't my favourite time for the hills due to midges, heat, and hazy weather. However camping high or in breezy spots and being out early and late can make for good days. All the photos illustrating this piece were taken in July and August in the Scottish Highlands. I'm really hoping for some days like these the next two months. I'm not waiting!


  1. Well said Chris. Similar thoughts myself.

  2. Spot on Chris. Sadly I fear the general media who care more about the headline than the story, will continue to use the wrong term. If the Peak District can tweet a comment about wild camping with a picture of a family tent what chance is there. I'm hoping for Sep to get out, when hopefully the midges and the Covidiots have gone.

  3. We need to get 'Roadside' camping into the common usage for the general off-site camping.
    'Dirty' camping for the dossers who just want somewhere to crash after getting plastered, relieve themselves and abandon all their detritus next morning.

  4. I like how you got the message across. Well Done!

  5. Agree with you totally,had a day in the Peaks last Sunday and came across rubbish where I would not usually expect to find it.Some of it had been bagged but then pushed under a hedge bottom. Now that flights are starting up again maybe the idiots will fly away to litter the rest of Europe and leave my beloved Peak District to those of us that care.

  6. It's such a frustrating problem Chris. Not sure how we change the "not my problem" mindset.

    In some ways I wish a council would not clear a beach after a sunny Saturday and leave it in a mess. The Sunday visitors could then see the reality and might just consider the need to take on some responsibility.

    I often come across litter even in remote parts of the Peak District. It saddens me.

  7. It is the fundamental lack of respect for the land that gets me, I am lucky enough to live near a beautiful beach in the north of Scotland and it is depressing to see the number of disposable bbqs, beer cans etc left after a hot weekend. Not to mention the faeces and bog roll in the woods behind. Not really sure what the solution is, other than cleaning it up myself.

  8. Unlike you Chris, I have spent some time planning routes for my return to the mountains. It has kept me from getting depressed about the situation. They are mainly routes that I have always wanted to do. None of them goes anywhere near the 'honeypots' and I will be self-sufficient for two or three days at a time.
    With regards to littering, I have found, even on my local walks, drinks cans and plastic bottles discarded on or adjacent to the path. I hope you are right about the reason for it and I hope the problem will recede but in the meantime I will continue to pick it up and 'Tak It Hame' with gloved hand and a good dose of hand gel.
    Enjoy your return to our mountains Chris, as I will mine. It will be emotional.

  9. Unfortunately, I assume for the very reasons highlighted by Chris regarding confusion between wild camping and roadside camping, the Scottish Government specifically said that wild camping was still not allowed when they lifted the travel restrictions on 3rd July.
    This means it is now considered safe to go sit in a beer garden or go shopping on the High Street, but not safe to go on a solo backpacking trip into Knoydart, go figure.

  10. Thanks Brian. That is the case. The government is concerned about group camping by roads where there's no control over social distancing or any facilities. Unfortunately a solo backpacking trip into Knoydart comes under the same definition, though I doubt the government even thought about that. It does look like wild camping will be allowed from July 15.