Many people dream about having their own motorhome and driving off into the sunset, ready to visit remote places and live a life full of exciting adventures in the wild. We agree – it does sound like a dream! If you managed to purchase a campervan or a motorhome, consider yourself lucky! The best is yet to come, and you’ll now be able to visit many places otherwise inaccessible to regular tourists.
Still, getting a van or a motorhome is one thing. Using it is a whole different story, and it can get tricky. You can’t just pack up and go wherever you want, and camp at a random location, no matter how scenic it would be. There are some rules you have to follow, things about motorhome wild camping you need to know, safety tips and tricks, and a long list of necessary items and accessories that always come in handy during a motorhome trip. They all apply to campervan and motorhome travels in Europe, but you need to remember that each country has a different set of rules.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about travelling in a motorhome in the UK. So, if you want to have a great wild camping experience in England, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, or Northern Ireland, keep on reading!
What Is Motorhome Wild Camping?
Motorhome wild camping means that you’re driving in your van to an out-of-town location of your choice and stay there without access to facilities such as waste disposal, running water, or electricity. You may be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, and you’ve found a free overnight parking spot, no strings attached. Sounds exciting? It sure does, that’s why so many people do it. Some call it motorhome wild camping, but there are also instances when this activity is referred to as motorhome free camping (or parking) or campervan off-grid parking.
Still, people who have wild camped before admit that it’s not that easy. First and foremost, you need to find a free camping spot for your motorhome. Then, you need to know the etiquette of wild motorhome camping and behave accordingly. You should also be aware of some of the best (and worst) practices while travelling and free camping in your vehicle, as well as know which items are absolute must-haves during such an adventure. We’ll explain it all in just a moment, so keep on reading!
Legal Status of Wild Motorhome Camping in the UK
Those who have wild camped in Europe will quickly notice that the UK has strict motorhome and campervan parking laws. So, is wild camping for motorhomes even legal in the UK? Well, it depends. The official law states that wild camping in a motorhome or a touring caravan is not permitted in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That is, of course, unless you get permission from the landowner.
Some people park in remote areas without asking for permission. Sometimes, they get away with it, but we advise against it. You risk getting called out for trespassing, giving other motorhome enthusiasts (and fans of wild camping in general) a bad reputation.
The situation is slightly different when it comes to Scotland. Thanks to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is legal there. Still, only “lightweight camping” is permitted.
Once You Get the Permission – Rules to Follow
If you managed to find a motorhome parking spot, be it overnight or for a longer period of time, there are some unwritten motorhome camping rules you need to follow. Here’s everything you should know:
- Since you’re motorhome wild camping and you’re not staying at a caravan park, you’re most likely parked on someone else’s property. As such, treat it with respect and don’t cause damage to field crops or nearby trees.
- Avoid building a campfire unless you find a designated spot. It’s tempting, but safety risks outweigh the benefits.
- You’ll need to get rid of the waste water at some point. You can drop grey waste down a public drain or onto open land with the owners permission.
- The toilet cassette containing your septic / black waste water needs to be disposed of carefully. Pouring into a public toilet is probably the best disposal option for wild campers.
- Don’t overstay your welcome – usually, three days in one spot is enough.
- Follow the rules of the Leave No Trace ethic and don’t litter – dispose of the waste responsibly and don’t leave the mess behind you.
- Be discreet and respectful to the general public.
- Try to avoid confrontation with the locals. Unfortunately some wild campers are anti-social and careless. You may encounter people who simply do not like wild campers.
This list is, by no means, conclusive, but it should give you an overview of what’s permitted and what’s frowned upon during a wild camping adventure. Also, remember that obtaining permission from the landowner is crucial. Still, you may be asked to move somewhere else with your motorhome. In this case, don’t fuss – chances are you won’t have to search long for a new motorhome parking spot.
Motorhome Wild Camping – How to Find the Best Spots
First and foremost, you need to use your common sense when looking for overnight parking and camping spots for your motorhome. Chances are you’ll be far away from civilisation, and the location for your stay won’t be a popular tourist destination. These are, of course, the elements that make the entire wild camping experience so fun and exciting. Still, you need to remember that when you go camping in the wild, your safety is absolutely crucial – even more so, when you’re travelling with children.
So, how to find the best spots during a wild camping trip in your trusty motorhome? When it comes to the UK, you have several options. You can look for caravan parks in the area you want to visit, they often have unserviced wild camping fields. However, if you want to have a true free camping experience in the wild, you’ll have to stay away from campsites and car parks. You can discover many great places with the help of various apps dedicated to travelling and wild camping in motorhomes. These apps will help you locate overnight parking spots and great places for stopping by.
Motorhome Wild Camping Essentials
If you think about going on a road trip in your motorhome or campervan, you must take some essential items to get the most of your trip. You may be tempted to just get up and hit the road but trust us – your trip will be much more pleasant if you go prepared! Below, you’ll find a list of items necessary for motorhome wild camping:
- Motorhome safety kit. You’ll need one for every road trip in your motorhome or campervan. What should be inside? A fire blanket and extinguisher, a smoke alarm, and a carbon monoxide detector. After all, you’re travelling with gas onboard, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Tyre repair kit. Every driver’s worst nightmare! Many motorhomes don’t have a spare tyre but they do have a tyre repair kit. Learn how to use it in case of emergency.
- Roadside emergency kit. You can find some that contain a number of items, such as a first aid kit, warning triangle, a basic toolkit with automobile tools, and a bulb kit with fuses.
- Sat nav. Since you plan to go wild camping, it simply is a must!
- Hosepipe. You’ll need it to fill your water tanks. We recommend using a proper, food-grade hose, but you can also opt for a flat hose that is easier to store.
- Mud mats. You think they’re unnecessary until you get stuck on a muddy field. If only you had taken those mud mats with you!
- A lightweight head torch – you’ll need it during the night in case you want to go outside.
Motorhome Living Essentials
Once you get your dream motorhome and you’re ready for some wild camping, you’ll need a number of accessories that will make your life so much easier, and your stay will be more pleasant, even if you’re only staying out for one night.
- Toilet paper and toilet chemicals. These are self-explanatory. Be careful with toilet chemicals, though, and remember not to litter.
- Bedding and mattress topper. If you want to go motorhome wild camping in the UK, sleeping bags should be enough. However, a proper duvet and pillows will ensure you have a good night’s sleep. A mattress topper will improve your comfort as well. These items are not expensive, and yet they can make a huge difference in your overall motorhome camping experience.
- Plates and cutlery. This one’s another no-brainer, but you can definitely go smart here. It’s better not to use plastic cups, plates, and forks to avoid excessive littering. Going for real plates and cutlery is more environmentally friendly, and it can give your camping trip a more homey feel. Also, remember you don’t have to buy too many items – one plate, bowl, and cutlery set per person is enough. If you’re having some guests while motorhome wild camping in the UK, ask them to bring their own dishes – we bet they’ll be prepared. (Read more on motorhome kitchen appliances)
- Fresh water. All properly built motorhomes come with a built in water tank which can be filled with a hose pipe so this should service most of your needs. Some people still prefer to take bottled water for drinking, cooking and teeth cleaning. You may not always be able to get your motorhome to the water source, carrying an aquaroll barrel, clean jerry can or even watering can is a good idea.
- Food. Motorhomes tend to have quite good cooking facilities along with plenty of storage so taking food and cooking it shouldn’t be a problem.
- Wi-Fi dongle. Just because you’re going far away from civilisation, it doesn’t mean you must go completely off the grid. Obviously, if you want to, you can go offline for a true into-the-wild experience. However, a stable internet connection may come in handy at any point of your trip, be it while you’re looking for free camping spots, scenic landscapes, or to just entertain yourself (although we encourage you to give yourself a little internet detox). (Read more on getting wifi in a motorhome)
- Pro tip: if you’re going motorhome wild camping in the UK, you want to save your battery power and use as little resources as possible. Changing your interior lights to LED lights will help you with that! LED bulbs are more energy-efficient, so consider installing them instead of regular lights wherever possible.
Heavy Equipment for Your Motorhome Wild Camping Trip
Now you know what should be in your motorhome camping toolbox. However, you also need some heavy-weight stuff to ensure you can safely go off the grid and be truly self-sufficient. Here’s what you should take with you for your motorhome wild camping trip in the UK:
- Solar panels. They will be necessary to provide power while you are off-grid. Your leisure battery will re-charge during daylight hours giving you unlimited power. If you need more power you can add multiple panels.
- Full gas bottles. A must-have for people who love cooking during wild camping. If you are relying gas for cooking and heating, you should carry a spare bottle.
- Cleaning supplies and spare bin liners. You don’t want to leave a mess! Just remember that you need to dispose of the waste responsibly.
- Fridge. It will come in handy if you plan on going for a more than a day or two. For optimal convenience, you should opt for a motorhome with a 3-way fridge – you’ll be able to run it on gas, 240v power, or the engine’s alternator whilst travelling.
Without a doubt, wild camping in a motorhome is a wonderful experience. Still, you need to remember that you’re on your own, far away from civilisation. You may encounter fellow wild campers, but you also need to be careful wherever you go. Here are some general safety tips and rules you should keep in mind:
- Inspect the general area of your free motorhome camping spot. Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, move on and look for a different parking space.
- Be careful if you’re going motorhome camping next to bigger cities. Some places in Europe, including the UK, are infamous for gangs of motorhome thieves operating in these areas. Be wary of places where overnight motorhome parking is popular and frequently visited by other motorhome camping enthusiasts. You should always do some research beforehand and look for information regarding safety in your chosen area on online forums. You can also visit a local tourist office or a police station.
- Avoid flaunting off your stuff. You may have a nice camera or more luxurious items and accessories you always take with you on your motorhome wild camping trips. Still, what feels like an everyday item to you, thieves may perceive as an opportunity to make easy money in a remote location.
- Never ignore the “no camping” signs. You may often see them next to a national park or a private property. They are there for a reason, so move on and look for a different camping place to stay.
Before You Go – Safety Check-Up
Even if you’re not going on a long trip, you shouldn’t skip this step. You need to make sure that you and your passengers are safe – after all, many accidents happen due to the poor technical condition of a vehicle – and they could be easily prevented, if only someone put some time and effort into doing a quick safety check-up before leaving. It’s important if you’re travelling through Europe because you certainly wouldn’t like your van, motorhome, or camper to break down in the middle of a foreign country, far away from civilisation. Still, this rule also applies if you’re going on a road trip in the UK and you’re familiar with the area.
Here’s what you should do during a safety check-up of your motorhome, van, or campervan:
- Go around your vehicle and look for visual damage. Make sure each item and piece of gear is locked, strapped and fastened properly.
- Check the pressure on your tyres. Also, if your tyres don’t have a good tread, stay on paved roads and avoid muddy areas.
- Check fluid levels (oil, coolant, transmission, washing fluid, and so on).
- Check the latches and locks on your doors and windows.
- Check your brake lights, headlights, and signals.
- Take a look at safety cables and a tow bar.
- Secure the stairs, jacks, and awnings.
- Check whether propane or fuel is disconnected, and turn off the appliances.
- Double-check the brakes, tyre pressure, and tyre tread.
Safety Rules and Tips on the Road
You’re now familiar with the best practices of wild camping in your motorhome. You also know what goes into a safety check-up you should perform on your vehicle every time before you leave. But what about the behaviour on the road? Here are some general tips:
- Limited clearance. Remember that your motorhome is not a 4×4 vehicle. As such, you should be cautious while driving and avoid roads with deep ruts, mud, and boulders. Whenever you see any dips, rocks, and potholes, or other safety risks on the road, drive slowly.
- Travelling downhill. If you’re going motorhome wild camping in the UK, you need to be prepared for uneven terrain and unimproved roads. Whenever you’re travelling downhill, you risk losing traction while rolling on top of loose gravel or sand. That’s why you should always consider the incline, no matter how picturesque the hill you’re driving up. Your motorhome is heavy, so you need to ensure you can drive up and down safely. Remember that slow and steady wins the race – before you manage to slow down in a heavy vehicle, like a motorhome, a van, or a campervan, you’d sooner go rambling down the road and risk damaging it.
- Bumps and speed humps. You’re bound to encounter them at some point during your motorhome camping adventures. To avoid rocking your motorhome from side to side and dislodging your belongings, approach them slowly and straight-on. Make sure both wheels go over the bump or speed hump at the same time.
- Losing traction. Imagine getting stuck in mud or in a ditch. The wheels are spinning, but you’re not getting anywhere. There are no cars or people who could tow your motorhome or help you push it. If you feel you’re losing traction, stop pushing the accelerator pedal. Here’s why those rubber mud mats would come in handy! However, if you don’t have them, you can also dig trenches behind the wheels and add some sand, gravel, or rocks.
- Scouting. Next to driving and admiring the view from a window, it’s probably one of the best parts of motorhome wild camping in the UK. However, you can also turn this entertaining activity into something useful. If you’re driving in an unfamiliar area and you’re looking for an overnight parking spot, consider getting out of your motorhome and stretching out your legs. Go on a little scouting mission to get to know the terrain, look for turnouts, or see if you can find a place to park your vehicle. This way, you may find great parking spots, amazing viewpoints, or quite the opposite – you’ll learn that you must turn away because the terrain gets too difficult. If you’re travelling with kids, take them with you – they’ll always enjoy a little scouting adventure.
A road trip in a motorhome in the UK is a true one-of-a-kind experience. The landscapes, wilderness, and going off the grid, even for a little while, can give you that unforgettable feeling of freedom and make you want to hit the road again. There are so many places you can visit, be it in England, Wales, Cornwall, or Scotland. Even if you only want to stay somewhere overnight, a wild camping motorhome trip can turn into a great adventure for the whole family.
Still, before you go anywhere, you need to remember several aspects of motorhome wild camping. Don’t leave without performing a quick check-up of your vehicle, and make sure you know how to behave on the road, especially when you’re driving to unfamiliar locations where the terrain can be challenging, to say the least. Pack up all of your motorhome essentials and accessories to ensure you’ll camp in comfortable conditions. Remember about some of the best practices of wild camping in your motorhome, van, or campervan. And, more importantly, make sure that wherever you decide to stay, you can actually do it legally – otherwise, you’ll be asked to move and you may end up wasting several hours looking for another suitable spot.
Hopefully, this guide gave you an overview of some of the most important aspects of motorhome wild camping in the UK. Keep them in mind when you are planning your next motorhome road trip. Stay safe and happy trails!