One of the many great things about Scotland is that you are allowed to camp in the wild. That beautiful hidden beach, that spectacular cliff, that remote little patch of grass by the loch – all yours for the night. Here is a short guide on how to make the most out of your wild camping adventure.
1. Take the dirt road
Don’t be afraid to head off the main road, even if its just for a few meters. We took some rather impulsive turns onto small dirt roads and ended up with some spectacular campsites, just minutes from the main road. In each case, we didn’t really know what we were looking for or expecting to find. Once we ended up camping on a cliff facing the north sea. Another time at a little lake facing beautiful Ben Loyal, which we have never heard of but we decided to climb the next day.
2. Leave the car and walk
Car camping has its benefits of course. Yet often you’ll find even more remote places if you pack these packs and log them for just half mile or so from the car. Or go all the way and plan an overnight hike (for example from Blairmore to Cape Wrath, as we did). The sense of accomplishment once camp is set up and the feeling of really being out in the wild are so much bigger, if you can’t see your car from your sleeping bag. (By the way: Here are some thoughts on how to prepare for your first backcountry trek)
3. Leave no trace
These words of wisdom apply to all adventures outside but mostly so to camping I guess: Pack out what you pack in. This means all your litter and waste, even food waste. Bury human waste. If you camp in a popular area close to villages or towns, try to use public toilets whenever possible. Use biodegradable soap and use it sparingly. Remove all traces of your camp pitch and any camp fire. Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and adhere to it. Which means: camp in small numbers on only for a few nights in one place. Don’t camp on land which is fenced in. Don’t camp close to buildings or roads. If you must, ask for the owner’s permission. Respect those no-camping signs. It’s amazing that Scotland still allows wild camping given the masses of tourists roaming its streets and highlands and islands each year. Let’s make sure it stays that way and be clean and respectful campers.
4. Midges. They are real. Be prepared
I knew there were gonna be midges and maybe the occasional tick. I just didn’t know how bad it really was going to be. We didn’t bring any mosquito repellent and were literally covered in mosquito bites and ticks after three days of roughing it. It took two showers, a whole set of clean clothes, a time-consumig tick removal session (some of these buggers measured just a millimeter or two) and extensive airing out of any sleeping gear, to make me feel like going out there again. This time we brought along Smidge, a Scottish midges repellent and used it. It worked. Life was good again.
5. Cell connection is patchy.
Another thing that caught me a bit off guard: Cell connection is rather patchy outside of villages, and sometimes even in the villages themselves, once you reach the far north. Which means it’s probably a good idea to have some sort of offline-map on your phone. Or an actual printed map. It helps to locate hidden lakes or valleys or beaches, and – depending how far you ventured on these dirt roads – helps you get safely back onto to main road the next morning.
6. Well stocked shops are a little hard to come by in high-season
And this too we wished we would have known a bit earlier: Every village does have a little Coop or Spar or no-brand village shop, yet they are often rather sparsely stocked, as we thought. I might be a good idea to stock up your supplies when you are still in a bigger town like Glasgow or Edinburgh or also Fort Williams or Thurso. Yet there were also some nice surprises of carefully stocked tiny village stores, with delicious cheese and produce from the region, with fruit and even freshly baked bread. So it sure pays off check out the tiny stores as well!
7. And last but not least: Bring a camping stove
Even if you only plan to spend one or two nights outside, bring a camping stove. Even when we were just roadtripping for a day, we usually made our own lunch and rounded it off with a hot cup of coffee, a soup or even made pasta on a picnic table. Camping nights are just so much more fun with a steaming cup of hot chocolate, and mornings with coffee even if its just instant are a must.
This for now. But I am curious to know: what are your tipps for wild camping in Scotland? Let me know in the commets below.