Motorhome Wild Camping: The Legalities, Practicalities and Sensibilities

parked up in Yorkshire

Campervan Parking UK

Motorhome Wild Camping can be a great way to explore the UK. Both budget friendly and allowing you to stay in some breathtaking places, this really is one of the great perks of owning a motorhome or campervan.

However, there can be confusion over exactly how much freedom they can provide, and Wild Camping in your motorhome for the first time can be very intimidating. 

This guide aims to provide you with all the knowledge you require for Wild Camping in your motorhome in the UK.

When writing this article at times we felt like the article was almost trying to put people off. That’s absolutely not what this about. 

Wild camping is fun and done right can be a very liberating experience. So please don’t feel like this is a negative article, we’re just trying to stand you in good stead and ensure you have a wonderful experience. 

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    Wild Camping and Free Camping in the UK

    There is no technical definition for motorhome wild camping. Some people call it free camping, some people insist that you can only wild camp with a tent and a poo spade.

    For our purposes, we’re going to refer to it as Motorhome Wild Camping or simply Wild Camping. Because, really, does it matter what it’s called?

    The Legalities of Motorhome Wild Camping in the UK

    Legally in the UK you need explicit permission to stay overnight on owned land. And in the UK all land is owned by someone. 

    Therefore, you need permission. And for that privilege, you’ll normally be charged a fee. 

    We’ll do our best to outline what the deal is but it is subjective and there are no hard and fast cases to study to get to the bottom of it. 

    That said, if you believe you are legally parked and legally allowed to stay somewhere in your campervan, and you are asked to move on by a police officer. You are wrong. 

    Do not argue your point. Apologise, say thanks, and move on. Arguing will just inflame the situation, lead to further restrictions and give campervanners and motorhomers a bad name. It doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong. The same applies to a park ranger, a landowner or any figure of authority.

    If you are sensible and considerate choosing your parkup, then the chances of being asked to move on are remote, but we’ll cover that in more detail later on.

    Drinking and Wild Camping

    This comes up a lot. 

    Is it legal to drink whilst wild camping in a motorhome in the UK?

    Unfortunately the answer is we don’t know. No one does. There haven’t been any cases in court to set a precedent for case law (take from that what you will…) and the wording around being drunk in charge of a vehicle is fairly vague when it comes to being parked in a motorhome with no intention of driving.

    No you don’t need to hide your keys to prove that you have no intent of driving. 

    If the landowner asks you to move on and you’ve had a drink, calmly explain that fact, apologise and offer them a token fee of apology and ask if it would be ok if you were to move on at first light once you’re no longer over the limit. 

    If a police officer or authority asks you to move on, explain that you thought you were ok to park here and you’ve had a drink. Ask them for advice on what you should do. They’ll probably be ok with it and you won’t get in any trouble so long as you are calm, polite and apologetic. 

    Wild Camping Practicalities

    parked up in Bristol

    Now all the legal stuff is out the way, and you still want to go Wild Camping in your Motorhome we need to cover the practicalities of motorhome wild camping. 

    Finding Motorhome Parkups

    There’s a whole number of ways to find parkups for wild camping in your motorhome.

    Have a search on Park4Night or searchforsites. Both have free versions and very cheap subscriptions to unlock all features. 

    Use Google Maps Satellite view to zoom in on an area and have a look around for suitable looking areas. If you find somewhere that looks good double check it on street view. 

    Ask or search on various Facebook Groups. Wild Camp for Vans UK is a good place to start. 

    Go on a hunt! If time is on your side, then just get out and explore.

    The key elements of a perfect wild parkup are quiet, safe and inconspicuous. If you can tick all of these boxes then you are onto a winner. Regardless of whether you have an epic view or are parked up looking at the side of a sewerage plant.

    Remember, not all parkups are in #vanlife beauty spots, in fact, in reality, a lot of motorhome wild camping is done on industrial estates. But more on this later. 

    Motorhomes aren’t 4×4 (usually) and they don’t typically have great ground clearance. Make sure that you don’t inadvertently get stuck off road somewhere trying to reach that elusive perfect spot!

    Finally be prepared, have back up options should the first, second or even third spot not be appropriate for whatever reason. In time you will get better at finding spots and not needing to have so many back up options ready. 

    Arriving at a Wild Camping Spot

    You’ve arrived at your spot for the night. There’s a few things to check before you settle in, here’s our quick fire checklist:

    1. Are you blocking access to anything? 
    2. Am I in a layby on a single track road that might be required as a passing place?
    3. Is it already fairly busy with other vans leaving no room for day trippers?
    4. Is there any signage indicating you shouldn’t be staying or parking here overnight
    5. Does it feel dangerous or make you feel unsafe or uneasy in any way?

    If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you should move on and find somewhere else. 

    If not, get yourself level, comfortable and settle in for the night. Enjoy your stay and make the most of freedom on the road. 

    Surviving the Night

    That feels a little ominous. 

    It’s not supposed to be, you just need to be prepared. 

    In the UK the chances are most of the time it will be cold, damp and overcast.

    • Make sure you have heating  that works, or lots of layers.
    • Make sure you have entertainment that doesn’t rely on electricity.
    • Make sure you have backup sources of lighting (candles etc.)
    • Make sure you have plenty of food and drink.
    • Be prepared to laugh. A lot. You need a great sense of humour sometimes and the ability to laugh at yourself comes in very handy. 

    Safety and Security when Wild Camping

    This is extremely important, particularly for solo travellers. 

    We cover motorhome security here in more depth but essentially being safe when wild camping boils down to trusting your gut. 

    If you don’t feel safe, move on. 

    Wild Camping Sensibilities

    Where possible, always ask the landowners permission before parking. 

    Now obviously in a lot of cases this isn’t possible. Speaking to the council about public land is going to get you nowhere, oftentimes finding a farmhouse that owns a remote corner of land or a parking authority that owns a remote parkup is going to be nigh on impossible. 

    But this doesn’t always mean actually asking permission. Check the signage. If a sign says no overnight parking or no overnight camping you should move on. It doesn’t matter if that sign is ‘legal’ or not. Just move on. Otherwise further restrictions and pushback against the vanlife community will occur.

    We’ve seen many arguments on facebook and questions over whether a sign is technically legal or not. If there’s a sign, just move on. Please. There’s other spots. Don’t endanger the limited freedoms we have by trying to be a maverick. Join official channels for free and cheap overnight spots, lobby councils, speak to local residents and business owners. But don’t go it alone and just ignore signage. 

    Moving On

    We mentioned earlier about being moved on. It’s very simple, if asked, doesn’t really matter by who, please just move on. With a friendly smile, a wave and a ‘no problem mate’ and everyone will have a good day. 

    Don’t pull the old ‘I was tired and I’m supposed to pull over when I’m tired’ trick – that got boring a long time ago for anyone tasked with moving on motorhomes. 

    Finally, you shouldn’t stay in one spot for more than a night or two, three at a push if it’s very quiet. Move on and let others enjoy the place. Don’t give people time to start thinking that you’re planning on staying long term.

    Leave No Trace

    Be a responsible adult. 

    Leave. No. Trace.

    This feels very much like a list of ‘do not’ things, and for most people they know all of this. And given that you’re here you’re probably one of the good guys and we’re preaching to the converted. But we feel we need to write it anyway. 

    Leave no trace means no one should ever know you were there. Take your rubbish with you if there are no bins. If the bins are full, take your rubbish with you. Find a large supermarket as they usually have bins outside that you can use. 

    If you have a lot of rubbish and you’re in a popular beauty spot, don’t fill up a bin as they aren’t designed for this and aren’t emptied often enough.

    Try not to have a campfire on the ground either as this is a trace you will leave behind. We have an article dedicated to portable camping fire pits so get yourself one of these if you want a fire.

    You also need to make sure that you’re fire is safe, and conditions are appropriate to avoid any chance of starting a wild fire. Check out fire safety information here

    If the area is already littered, grab a litterpick they’re very cheap and clean up. Even if no one sees you, you’ve done a good thing, and you can feel like part of the solution and not the problem. For inspiration check out the Wild Campers against Waste Facebook group. The guys over there do a cracking job of looking after the planet. 

    Motorhome Wild Camping Housekeeping

    campervan cooking

    How do I dispose of my toilet waste?

    In a campsite or an aire. Some people will tell you that you can carefully dispose of it down a public loo. Personally, we don’t feel this is right. It gives off a bad impression even if you leave the toilet cleaner than when you arrived. People don’t know that you’re leaving it cleaner than when you arrived and can be quick to judge. 

    Campsites will often let you use their facilities for a small fee. So every few days do that or stay on a campsite. 

    There are also a small number of Aires across the UK that might have facilities – find out more here

    How do I dispose of my rubbish?

    If it’s just a little bit of rubbish just find a public bin that’s not full. If it’s a few days or weeks worth then most supermarkets have bins outside that you can use. 

    Where can I fill up with water?

    Again, ask at a campsite. Ask at a leisure centre, petrol station or a garden centre as they sometimes have outside taps. The trick is to always ask.

    Failing that, do it at the same time as you do your other chores at a campsite. 

    I don’t have a shower – how can I wash?

    Find a safe river or lake and wash in there using natural shampoo if you’re feeling brave. Always be safe in open water – find out more here

    washing in the river
    This was a cold wash!

    Failing that leisure centres, gyms and motorway services are often a cheap way to grab a shower. Or, once again, shower whilst at a campsite doing other chores.

    Finally, baby wipes are a good option to stay fresh for a couple of days. 

    I don’t have a toilet – how can I go to the loo?

    Wild wees are pretty normal for men so go discretely and you’ll be fine. Ladies – grab yourself a shewee and join in the fun. 

    Get used to using motorway services, leisure centres, garden centres, supermarkets and shopping centres for your number twos – never let an opportunity pass.

    As a last resort – keep a collapsible shovel in the van and head out into the wild and find somewhere sheltered. Dig that hole deep and fill it in properly once you’re done. 

    How can I do my laundry?

    There are laundry facilities spread out across the country which you can find here. Alternatively do it yourself using a portable washing machine and some elbow grease. 

    Common Campervan Wild Camping Misunderstandings

    There’s plenty of misunderstandings and misrepresnetation of motorhome wild camping. Here’s a few of the biggest. 

    Wild Camping in Scotland

    You’re allowed to parkup anywhere in Scotland – Wild Camping is allowed.

    Wrong.

    The Wild Camping laws that pertain to this apply to tent or bivvy camping only. They do not include motor vehicles. You can read more about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code here

     

    Wild Camping Dartmoor

    Dartmoor is the only place in England where Wild Camping is allowed.

    Wrong.

    Once again, this only applies to tents and bivvy camping. 

    Wild camping on Dartmoor is expressly permitted for lightweight camping only. That is on foot, carrying everything you need for a maximum of 2 nights. And this is only in select areas.

    In reality you could probably spend longer than this as who is going to know, but carrying more than a few nights equipment and supplies might get tricky.

    Fires of any kind are prohibited due to the inherent risk of wild fires on large, windy areas of grassland.

    Unfortunately, wild camping in a campervan, motorhome or large groups in a tent is prohibited. And whilst plenty do overnight on Dartmoor in their vehicles there is a chance that you will be moved on by park rangers, particularly during tourist season.

    Whatever you choose to do, respect the land, respect the nature and ensure you leave nothing behind and as such will allow future generations to enjoy the land as we do.

    You can find out the full set of rules and regulations here.

    #vanlife

    Wild Camping is not #vanlife beautiful views and scantily clad young people. 24/7.

    It is not a picture perfect utopia of sunsets, clear blue lagoons and large sunhats. 

    It is not stood outside in a dazzling waterfall showering yourself in perfect isolation.

    You need to be prepared that not every stop will be wonderful. Some will be. Some won’t be. Just don’t set your expectations too high in the beginning. 

    Alternatives to Wild Camping in your Motorhome

    brit stops book

    If you’re new to motorhoming or are still a little apprehensive about wild camping for the first time then there are some other ways to overnight in the UK that aren’t campsites. 

    Motorhome Aires

    The UK does have a fledgling system of Aires beginning to take shape (unsure of what an Aire is – check this out) across the country. Read more about UK Aires and CAMpRA here.

    Pub Stopovers for Motorhomes

    Pub stopovers are an excellent way to tour the UK in your motorhome or campervan. You’ll often get a free night in return for a few drinks or a meal. 

    There’s no harm in asking at any pub if you would be allowed to stay in return for some business. Or check out the Brit Stops scheme to find out more about an organised network of free UK pub stopovers.

    Motorhome Wild Camping in the UK: Summary

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    Hopefully we haven’t put you off!

    Wild Camping in a Motorhome can be a lot of fun, very cheap and a really good way to see more of the country. Why not check out one of our 5 Epic UK Road Trips to try your first nights Wild Camping in your motorhome?

    Go Explore! In the Wild!

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