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Campsites vs. Wild Camping

In this article we are referring to wild camping with a camper van or motor home as opposed to pitching a tent which is a very different legal situation in England and Wales.


To many the idea of camping anywhere other than a fully serviced camp site is appalling, and to others such a site feels restrictive and crowded and they dream of a spot far away from it all - perhaps with a nice mountain view... It's the same for people who prefer the more challenging back to basics 'bushcraft' style camping in the woods as opposed to a roomy tent in sight of the shower block on a conventional campsite. Of course which is for you largely depends on what you are planning to do on your trip, what kind of person you are and how well equipped your vehicle is for providing your needs self-sufficiently. 


What kind of camper you are will likely change over time. What you aren't quite ready for today may well change tomorrow as you gain in knowledge and the confidence that comes with it. See our Camping Mentality article for more on the subject of personally challenging yourself for self development. I'm the kind of person that generally wants to be as far away from civilisation as possible, and clearly from our life so far wild camping is for me, however that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the comforts of a serviced campsite! If anything I feel that wild camping and going without your everyday modern utilities, especially things like running water and constant electricity makes you appreciate an awful lot that you have in life! 


The pros for campsites are quite simple; you can book a guaranteed parking space, have water nearby, constant electricity and toilets and washing facilities a few hundred yards away. You may well even have a shop on site for the things you might run out of, a pub, and a comforting security gate to keep you and your things safe. It is what it is, I don't need to dress it up for you, and we've enjoyed many a stay at campsites all over the country and will do again. The cons are as I mentioned above; campsites can be quite restrictive, often lack a good view, and can get crowded and rowdy at times. They can often still be a target for thieves, despite a nice looking security gate, and there's also the high expense - a short journey and two night's stay at the average UK campsite can easily pass £100! 


The idea of Wild camping does still seem to be viewed with rose tinted spectacles at times by those who may well be ready for it but who I feel might benefit from a dose of realistic expectations. When thinking about wild camping you imagine that you'll be deep into the quiet countryside, and sometimes we are (with all the smells that come with it too at certain times of year!) but majority of the time we end up parked close by a main road with high traffic noise. There often is a massive amount of litter that unfortunately is becoming a real problem all over the country, fly-tipped hazards, poor TV and telephone signal, a limited supply of water and electricity, and not to forget the occasional 'character' who drops by for a chat or to deliver an opinion! There are also other issues and situations when wild camping, that can plague your mind and lead to a poor nights sleep, such as the worry that someone might tell you to leave or try to steal whatever you have tied on outside. Mind you, my advice is that if you are worried about being asked to leave then you are probably parked somewhere you shouldn't be, so don't be a nuisance and find somewhere better! 


The main thing to understand when you decide to wild camp is that finding a spot is mainly down to luck. You may drive for miles to somewhere that looked perfect when you researched the area on Google Earth but when you arrive it has drastically changed or wasn't as expected! All of the suitable spaces may already be taken by lorries or other campers that night so you have no other option but to either wait for someone to move off, keep searching for another space or move on to another area entirely. But then that is the price you pay for a free night's stay somewhere, sometimes you are lucky and other times not so much!  


So there's what to realistically expect from a wild camping spot in the UK. On a lighter note we have stumbled upon some real gems around the country that we would otherwise have passed by, quaint harbours tucked away amongst breathtaking cliffs, quiet picnic sites off of small country lanes, and stunning countryside vistas from a humble layby. Even in some of the more dirty layby's we've stayed in we've had some great close encounters with wildlife and seen many beautiful sunsets and starry skies. We have also found that we can actually filter out most traffic noise from our awareness better than the sounds of individual people talking and walking by, and so do still have the best sleep whilst wild camping! 


So is wild camping for you or would you rather the security of a conventional campsite? There is an alternative option in a sense, why not do both! When we are planning a long journey somewhere we do still book into a campsite but make a note of any possible wild camping spots on route so we can take our time with the journey. It allows us to explore more of the region in a nice and relaxed manner on our way (and on the way back), and we don't have to drive for too many hours in one day just to get there. When we do get to the campsite we have the security of a guaranteed place to get more water, do our laundry, and empty our waste etc. Just to be clear, I don't mean book a site for the night and not turn up! I mean book the campsite for the second night of your journey, and wild camp one the first! :)


Which ever way you decide to do it, happy camping! To read more on the subject of Wild Camping see also Is Wild Camping Morally Right? and Our Tips on Wild Camping


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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