Wild camping in Scotland: a beginner’s guide

wild camping in Scotland

When you hear the words ‘wild camping in Scotland’ what do you think?

The reason I ask is because I recently went camping for the first time in over 10 years.

I was slightly apprehensive about it. Would I be cold and uncomfortable? Would I be freaked out by weird noises in the middle of the night? And would it actually be fun… or just something I did once and then decided that that was quite enough outdoorsy stuff for another ten years.

Well, I bloody loved it. We went straight after work on a Friday night and it was the perfect way to shake off the work week. Being able to sit in a camping chair by the side of a reservoir was so restorative, and I loved being able to cosy up in my sleeping bag as the light faded.

I might not be an expert in camping but I thought I would put together a quick guide for first-timers or those, like me, who were venturing into the wild after a long time out of the whole camping game.

wild camping in Scotland

Camping in Scotland vs camping in England

The thing about wild camping in Scotland is that it is actually wild.

Camping in Scotland is a who-o-o-le different adventure compared to camping in England. While England boasts its lush green landscapes and charming countryside, Scotland takes it up a notch with its rugged and untamed wilderness and beautiful deep dark lochs. The Scottish wilderness has a vastness that’s hard to find elsewhere.

However, the most striking difference is the “right to roam” law in Scotland, which allows for more freedom to camp on most unenclosed land. In England, you’re generally limited to designated campsites, which is a lot more restrictive. In Scotland, you can live on the wild side.

However, that doesn’t mean you can just do what you like. There’s a Scottish Outdoor Access Guide with lots of information about what you should and shouldn’t do when camping in Scotland. I found this really helpful as someone who hadn’t been camping in an age.

Here are some of the key points…

Wild camping in Scotland rules

Just remember, while it’s all about fun and freedom, it’s also important to be responsible and considerate stewards of the land. So, here are some nifty rules to follow while wild camping in Scotland:

Don’t be a litterbug

We all love nature, so let’s keep it clean and pristine for everyone else that wants to enjoy it. Whatever you bring with you, take it back when you leave. Leave no trace, except for some wonderful memories, of course!

Keep fires under control

A cosy campfire under the stars sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? But hold on a second. The Scottish Outdoor Access code says you should try and use a stove where possible. If you want to light an open fire then keep it small, keep it under control, and don’t leave It unsupervised. 

Stay for a maximum of three nights

Wild camping in Scotland is a temporary rendezvous with nature. Most areas have time limits for camping in one spot. In Scotland you can stay for three nights in one location. So, enjoy the view, snap some selfies, but after a three nights it’s time to move on to your next adventure.

Be respectful of nature

It’s like being at a friend’s house: you wouldn’t trample through their flower bed, right? Well, Mother Nature deserves the same respect. Pitch your tent discreetly, away from roads and homes, and be mindful of local wildlife and their habitats. You’re on their turf, of course. 

Keep group sizes small

It’s not always the more the merrier when it comes to wild camping in Scotland. Larger groups can have a more significant impact on the environment. If you’re planning a camping trip with your pals, consider splitting into smaller groups to minimise your footprint.

The Loch Lomond lowdown

If you’re venturing around Loch Lomond, pay extra attention to the byelaws. This stunning loch is wildly popular, and to keep it that way, a few rules are in place. Camping here is allowed only in designated spots and during certain months. So, before you pack your tent, double-check the rules to stay on the right side of the law.

No trace, no problem

While you’re camping, it’s essential to leave nature as you found it. Don’t pick flowers or disturb wildlife, unless you want squirrels giving you a stern look of disapproval! Seriously, though, it’s important to preserve the beautiful Scottish landscape so that everyone else can enjoy it. 

Choosing a location

Carron Valley Reservoir, near Stirling

I live in the city of Stirling which is centrally located in Scotland.

A couple of weeks ago we were looking for somewhere to go for a walk in Stirling and came across the Carron Valley reservoir. It was actually a bit of an accident. We were looking for the official walk around the reservoir but drove past the turning. We then randomly stopped at a lay-by and crossed the road to the reservoir was on the other side of the road.

There was a small, rocky beach – although I’m not even sure you could call it a beach really – fringed by bushes and shrubbery that helped keep it out of sight from the road. But it was all about the water and the views. The reservoir is enormous, stretching out in front of you in all directions, like this massive body of water. And it’s right THERE, only a few feet away.

The waves are gently lapping against the shore just steps away, bringing this sense of calm and tranquility that is quite intoxicating.

It felt really secluded and peaceful, there was no one else around. And if anything is a green flag for my partner it’s somewhere that is completely deserted with no crowds or noise. We didn’t do much that day apart from wander up the shoreline and have a poke around. But when it came to planning our camping trip, it seemed the perfect place.

What was it like?

Honestly, it was really good fun. 

It was a Friday night so, I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit of a mad rush to get out of the house at a reasonable hour with all of the stuff. Luckily it was July when we went so the daylight hours were really long.

Pitching up the tent

Well, the whole getting all the stuff from the the car to the beach wasn’t that bad. And pitching the tent wasn’t that bad either. It was a pop-up tent so once we found a decent spot that wasn’t too rocky it was up in minutes.

Easy mode, or so I thought. The hardest part was blowing up the blow-up mattress. I honestly had to stand there for about half an hour, pumping away. The worst part is that you can’t even tell if it’s working or not for ages. I’m standing there going up and down on the pump and the mattress looks like it’s still as flat as it was when I started. Eurgh.

Next time I will definitely be investing in a better mattress and pump as all I wanted to do was sit in one of the camping chairs and soak up the late evening sunshine. The only good thing was my partner put the barbecue on while I was doing the mattress so that by the time it was done the food was ready! Plus he gave me a hand (or a foot) so I could catch a breath.

In the early evening

I also don’t know what it is about being outside but it just makes you SO tired. It hits me every time we go for a walk in the wilderness on a Sunday and I’m pretty much exhausted for the rest of the day. I decided to curl up in the tent pretty early on to get out of the wind and it was so nice I ended up staying there for most of the evening reading my book. 

I never read on a Friday night so it was nice to be properly absorbed in a book and not be scrolling through my phone or glued to Netflix. It seemed to get dark fairly quickly but luckily we had a strip light so that I was still able to read. But when I wasn’t reading it was nice just to look out at the water lapping away at the shoreline – only a few metres away. 

Starting to get dark…

I was slightly worried about being creeped out by weird noises in the middle of the night. I think that came from when we stayed in a shepherd’s hut earlier this year that had no indoor toilet. I got seriously freaked out every time I had to step outside to go and pee. On reflection. I’m not sure if it was the contrast of indoors and outdoors the made it worse. 

On this occasion none of the noises bothered me at all. I didn’t hear any weird animals noises or the sound of someone whistling at 11pm at night – obviously the sound of a serial killer coming to get me, of course! 

In fact the only thing that went slightly wrong was that a car parked in the lay-by where our car was parked pretty late at night. I say late, it was probably around 10.30 or 11pm. We heard the car stop and then people get out and head down to the shore. It sounded like two or three lads and I think they were just stopping off to have a cigarette or something. 

Luckily they didn’t walk further along the shore to where we were pitched up but it did make me a little anxious. I didn’t want to come face to face with a strangers late at night. Thankfully they were only there for twenty minutes or so before driving off, loud music blaring out the windows.

wild camping in Scotland

In the morning

I was delighted to wake up feeling fresh and cosy. I expected to wake up with a crick in the neck and my muscles all stiff – which is what I had memories of from camping when I was younger – so I was pleasantly surprised when this wasn’t the case. It must have been the blow up mattress, even if it did deflate over the course of the night.

My clever partner had packed teabags in milk (even my soya milk) which we stored in the cool bag overnight. This meant that after I’d brushed my teeth I could enjoy a cup of tea with the lovely reservoir as a view. 

Chris had also brought his wetsuit so he decided to go swimming with the dog in the reservoir, something that I was happy to pass on. However, it was probably a great way to start the day feeling invigorated. All these people can’t be into wild swimming for no reason, right? I might just have to dig my Aldi wetsuit out the cupboard for next time. 

We packed up pretty much after that was we didn’t have any breakfast things with us and I was happy to eat at home. All in all, I would say it was a pretty good experience of wild camping in Scotland. 

And it’s set to be repeated shortly!

wild camping in Scotland

Wild camping tips for beginners

I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means but these are few of the things we did – and some of the things we didn’t – that helped make this first-time trip even better. No gatekeeping around here!

Here are my tips for wild camping in Scotland.

Scope it out in daytime

This might not be possible for everyone but I liked going somewhere that I had already been to in the daytime. It’s one thing looking somewhere up on a map and it’s another thing actually getting a feel for it when you’re not in a race against time to pitch up before it gets dark. 

It also might differ from your expectations – maybe you can’t find anywhere decent to park or your secluded spot is a lot busier than you first thought. Visiting your location beforehand is a good way to get a sense for whether it’s the right camping spot for you, or not

Don’t travel too far

Don’t pick a destination that is five hours of driving away for your first time camping trip. Instead, go for something closer to home. I actually joked about camping out in the back garden one night just to get a feel for it, but we thought the neighbours might think we’re massive weirdos. 

However, I would keep it short for your first trip – anything more than half and hour’s drive away is probably too much of an investment. There’s plenty of time for driving to the back of beyond later on. We ended up choosing a location that was about a 20 minute drive from home, which was perfect and didn’t feel too far on a Friday night after work. 

In short, make it less of a lift and keep it simple.

wild camping in Scotland

Go for one night only

For your first night back in the game it’s probably better to keep it short and sweet. Having an end point in sight and knowing that you’re only a few hours away from a warm house and a hot shower is pretty comforting, especially if we weather doesn’t want to play ball. 

For me, it was lovely to wake up on the shore in the morning, have a cup of tea in the camping chair while the dog splashed about in the water, and then pack up the stuff and go. It wasn’t a whole weekend, it wasn’t a big time investment, it was a little bit of try it and see. Next time, I think we can push ourselves to go somewhere for two nights. 

Park close to the car

As a first-timer camper I wanted everything to be a fuss-free as possible. I  didn’t want to have to walk for miles to get to where we needed to get to, just in case it all went wrong and we decided to pack up and go home in the middle of the night. I wasn’t taking that option off the table!

So this camping spot was ideal because it was only about two minutes walk from the car. We could make two or three trips from the car to get all the stuff – the tent, the camping chairs, the new barbecue, the dog – but we didn’t have to walk for 10 minutes to get to where we needed to. Perfect for a returning camper like me who likes the easy life. 

Have a designated driver

Well, I would love to say this was my bright idea, but it wasn’t. Chris decided that he should just drink alcohol-free beer and be the designated driver. Well, I don’t drive anyway but you know what I mean.

Again, as this was the first time back in the world of camping there was the possibility that something would have to go wrong and we’d have to make a swift exit. I’m not entirely sure what that thing that went wrong would be. Maybe too many creepy noises in the middle of the night?

However, Chris not drinking meant that if we did decide it wasn’t for us and we wanted to retreat back to our warm and cosy bed at home, then it was still a possibility. Thank you to Corona Blues.

Bring a decent tent

My more recent memories of camping mostly come from trips to festivals. The standout memory is of someone driving past our tent at Wickerman and delighting in yelling from their car as we put up the tent, “Your tent is shit”. I would be annoyed, but it was true. Undeniably true. 

It was tiny and you could barely even sit up in it without brushing the top of your head against the top of it, something that became clear when it absolutely poured with rain on the last night. 

The other memories are more vague but they generally involve waking up in the morning with sunshine beaming into the tent. Add to that a raging hangover, and it was not a lot of fun. In short, having a decent tent will make the whole experience a LOT better. 

Beware of midges

Anyone who’s been wild camping in Scotland will know about midges.

As it started to get darker we noticed the fish starting to plop out of the water ever so often – so quickly you could barely see them. At first, I wasn’t sure why… but then I clocked all the midges at the entrance to our tent buzzing around. The midges must have been dotting around the surface of the reservoir and the fish were clearly after their dinner!

Midges are tiny little flies that like to nibble on your skin, which leave you with itchy marks that you’ll end up scratching on all night. Not fun. 

What is good for the fish (dinner!) wasn’t so good for us, so we had to hastily zip up the tent so that we didn’t get bitten to death. We didn’t have any midge repellant with us either, which was an oversight. I would heavily recommend you packing some of this in your camping bag. 

wild camping in Scotland

Wild camping in Scotland: my essential packing list

Here’s a list of things to bring on your wild camping trip. 

One piece of advice from me though: dinnae go too mad. There were loads of things I wanted to buy, but I really wanted to test out the experience before committing to it. I would suggest you do the same. 

If you have anything that you own already (even if it’s a bit ropey) or that you can borrow from someone, that’s much better than buying it new and having it gathering dust in the cupboard for months on end. 

Our blow-up mattress was a bit pants. It took ages to blow up (ages!) and it gradually deflated overnight. However, I didn’t want to blow £40 on another mattress before road-testing this one. 

1. A tent

Buy a decent tent though. I’m 100% convinced that an easy pop-up tent is the way forward, there’s none of that faffing around. This one also had a blackout functionality so we didn’t get woken up by the light early doors. 

2. Blow-up mattress

I come from the days of only using a ground mat when camping, which always left me waking up with aches and stiffness. We brought a blow-up mattress and it was amazing – so much comfier!  

3. A pillow

This was a last-minute decision for me. Chris had said that he was just going to sleep on a scrunched up hoodie, which didn’t sound fun. I picked up my lovely squishy pillow and it was an amazing decision! 

4. Cosy sleeping bag

This was my one splurge. I didn’t actually have a sleeping back so I made a quick pitstop to Mountain Warehouse at lunchtime and got a cosy caterpillar sleeping back with a hood. It was the perfect fit. 

5. A light or torch

We had a piece of strip lighting that slotted into a pocket at the top of the tent and provided the perfect reading light for me. It felt like it got dark pretty quickly so help yourself out by bringing a torch. 

6. A battery pack

As much as I wanted to be off the grid for the evening, it’s always good to have a backup charge in case of emergencies. Whenever I travel I bring my trusty battery pack with me – this was no different.

7. Camping chair

Well, we happened to have these in the garden after someone left them behind after a party. But they’re great and it meant we had somewhere to sit rather than having to perch in the tent the whole time. 

8. Water

The last thing you want is to be left without any water. We both packed two bottles each to make sure there was enough for the dog, for brushing our teeth, and all that sort of stuff that you forget about.

9. A cool box

If you’re packing any food with you then a cool box is ideal for keeping it out of the sun. We also had some beers with us so it was great to be able to stow everything away and keep it nice and cool. 

10. Portable barbecue

We brought a little portable barbecue with us that was the perfect size for booking some burgers and sausages for dinner. Make sure you bring your condiments too – ketchup was a godsend. 

11. Cutlery and plates

One thing we did forget to bring was plates so we basically just had to make-up our burgers on top of the cool box and then shovel them down. Not ideal, so be better than us – bring a plate and cutlery. 

12. A book

I picked up a book that I’d barely started to bring with me and I really enjoyed lying in the tent reading it as the light faded. I never read on a Friday night but it was great to have a little bit of a digital detox. 

13. Cosy clothes

You’d think camping in July would be warm but I ended up packing a spare hoodie, padded jacket, raincoat and beanie hat. And guess what, I ended up wearing them all and I was so grateful I’d brought them! 

14. Pyjamas

Am I a weirdo for bringing pyjamas to go camping? I’m not sure, but it definitely felt much better having some snuggly pyjamas rather than going to sleep in my jeans. I also brought an extra pair of socks. 

15. Toiletries

Don’t forget the essentials like toilet paper, your toothbrush and toothpaste, make-up remover, moisturiser, and anything else you need. I always have to remember to br

wild camping in Scotland - with the portable BBQ

Where to buy camping equipment

I’m always a big fan of Mountain Warehouse when it comes to outdoors stuff. A lot of outdoorsy stuff always seems to come with a premium price tag, as if everyone who wants to go on a walk or climb a munro is in the 1% club. I don’t get it. Who has £250 to spend on a jacket? Not me. 

Anyway, rant side, I always think Mountain Warehouse is a good shout if you’re planning to go wild camping in Scotland… while keeping to a budget. You get the quality but you’re not paying for the brand name.

I got my sleeping bag from here which cost £30, which was pretty reasonable I felt and did an awesome job of keeping me cosy. 

Wild camping in Scotland: a conclusion

So, there you have it – some wild camping wisdom to make your Scottish adventure unforgettable! Embrace the beauty of the wilderness, follow the rules, and let the freedom of the great outdoors fill your heart with joy. 

And remember, even when you are wild camping in Scotland, you’re never really too far away from a shower and a warm bed. Bring little luxuries like tea bags and milk and it’ll feel like a home from home.

Happy camping, wherever you may roam.

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wild camping in Scotland - swimming the in the reservoir

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