“Wild” camping in the UK

I’ve lived in North Africa and the Middle East for over half my adult life, and I’ve been spoiled by access to wide open wilderness like the Sahara as a camping destination. Whenever I return home to my own crowded islands I am forced to recalibrate the way my “outdoor head” works – all land in the UK is owned, and usually access is jealously guarded. Here in the UAE I can drive for 40 minutes and find a location in wild country where I can pass a few days without contact with people, neon, concrete or landowners and their fences. I honestly can’t think of anywhere in England that I can do that – Scotland, yes, but the land still “belongs” to someone and is generally fenced and changed forever by 4000 years of human occupation (I love the Crocodile Dundee quote – two people arguing over who owns land is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog).

So it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on wild camping in the UK (by which I mean camping away from commercial organised campsites) for those who seek wild spaces in those overcrowded, over-managed islands…..

Outer Hebrides, Scotland

It’s one of the most dreamed-about parts of British offroad driving – wild camping. It’s getting to be a rare event though. Gone are the days where a traveler can pitch up unmolested in some quiet woodland clearing in a Britain where every speck of land is owned and regulated. Those seeking to hide their vehicle in a secluded part of our islands for a few days are often treated as some kind of automotive Genghis Khan by other outdoor people (often with reason – litter, environmental damage ad risks of fire, etc).

            Like anything else, the way forward is in compromise and care. Every sector of the outdoor population in the UK has within it both enthusiasts who respect the landscape and those who, to a lesser or greater extent, impose themselves on it.

            So it might be worth just mentioning a couple of topics dealing with wild camps – how to make our lives easier and how to make our impact on the landscape less – after all, there’s no point in going to a remote and pretty place and then altering it (through litter, firewood scarring or damage) in such a way that it loses its beauty so you cannot enjoy it again.

Alps – sleeping in a hammock, under a tarp or in your vehicle?

            Litter is a big point. Several times in a summer of wild camping throughout the UK I did ‘litter-picks’ at wild camping sites to remove traces left by others. These places will not stay as areas where wild camping is permitted if we users leave mess and hazards behind. The idea to ‘take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but memories’ is a good one – pack plastic bin bags for rubbish, and never leave it behind. Never be afraid to pick up other peoples’ rubbish (it’s amazing what people throw away – full gas canisters, decent penknives, torches) as well as your own. You should take everything out of the wilds with you. A can crusher in your car can help minimize your own waste to make carrying it out of wilderness areas easier, and the excellent Trasheroo (available from http://www.landylubber.co.uk), which is a rubbish bag that hangs on your spare wheel, makes life a lot easier by storing litter outside the vehicle. It doesn’t have to be used as a rubbish bag of course – it’s equally good for firewood, bottled water, recovery gear and so on.

Roof tents are always good

            Campcraft needs thought as well – there are many books available now that deal with low-impact camping. Books by Kathleen Meyer on disposal of toilet products are very much worth a look on Amazon! Make sure that detergents used in wild places are biodegradable, and if you are going to bury compostable fruit and veg waste make sure it’s beyond the reach of rats and digging creatures. Campfires are of course wonderful, but don’t cut living green wood (every tree has dry dead wood on it somewhere, even in a downpour) and try not to leave a blackened scar behind – clear away fireplaces, charred stones and bits of wood if you can. It doesn’t look John Wayne, it looks horrible, and it’s an excuse for other users to throw glass and metal waste into the fire – which is frankly awful. Off-groud firepits are the best solution.

            Wild camping is one of the great privileges available to the British, and it’s been made illegal in many countries due to environmental damage and littering. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen here.

           Interesting bits of kit news – check out wildstoves.co.uk for innovative camping stoves that can even be fitted inside vehicles. I also an across Wild Things Publishing in Bath who sell all sorts of interesting books about the wild spaces in the UK. Worth a look at wildthingspublishing.com.

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