Camping in a tent by the roadside can be an important way of getting away from it all and enjoying Scotland’s amazing landscapes.
If you’re in a vehicle it’s always best where possible to move away from your vehicle to camp, both to have a better experience and reduce your impact on others.
If you’re not disturbing the local community, or causing any damage to the environment, you should be acting within your access rights. But what about your car? Access rights don’t cover motorised vehicles, and how can you be responsible if there are lots of other people with vehicles all trying to camp in the same space?
It’s not always easy to know what the right thing is, but here’s some basic guidelines to help.
Why camping is great – and why sometimes it’s not great
Of course, many cyclists enjoy camping by the roadside as a fun, low impact – and discreet – way of way of exploring the country while touring on their bikes.
But there’s also long been a tradition for those touring Scotland by car to pull up and camp in a tent near a quiet roadside for a night. This is a much-valued activity for many people and there are many reasons why we do it.
But in recent years some things have changed, from climate change to Covid-19, promoted routes like the NC500 and the increased use of campervans.
This means we all need to look carefully at our own impacts and make sure we’re not causing problems, or adding to existing ones, by continuing to camp near – or sleep in – our vehicles.
Scotland has seen a steep rise in visitors to more remote areas.
However, even before the pandemic we were warning that the lack of proper investment in visitor facilities like toilets, ranger services and low-cost campsites was leading to problems. Many rural communities are now under increasing pressure from the sheer number of people trying to camp by the roadside in popular areas.
While one individual camper may not cause problems, if everyone is doing it then it can be hard to be responsible without causing a negative impact.
What’s the legal position on camping near a road?
The tradition to camp away from formal campsites is legal, as long as you do so responsibly as set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. This generally means lightweight camping, in small numbers, for only two or three nights in any place.
The Code also advises keeping away from the roadside, but there is no exact guidance on how far this should be.
Instead, campers need to think about what is responsible in different locations, taking into account factors like how visible the tent is, how many people are camped there, how busy the road is and how far you are from buildings, before making a judgement on what responsible behaviour is in that place.
You can find more information on your responsibilities and how to have an enjoyable camp here.
Camping in a vehicle, such as a campervan, motorhome or caravan – or even sleeping in your car – is not covered by access rights and there are some legal restrictions relating to parking, even if you are sleeping nearby in a tent.
Where can you park legally and responsibly?
For many of us, a car is almost essential to get to Scotland’s more remote and rural areas to enjoy our outdoor activities, but we need to think about where to leave it without causing anyone else problems.
You generally have the right to park your vehicle at the side of a public road, including in laybys. This is an important safety measure, enabling drivers to pull off and avoid falling asleep at the wheel, though obviously you need to park without causing any obstruction.
You can also park on a verge within 15 yards of a public road without causing a traffic offence. But it’s important to recognise that you don’t have a right to park off road, it’s done on the basis of presumed permission from the landowner. Verge parking is illegal when the road has a solid white line or double-yellow lines or a clearway order.
That’s why you should always respect restrictions on any signs and if you’re asked to move your car by the landowner you should do this – even if you’re in a car park.
You should use a car park if there is one nearby, but if you’re parking off the road, make sure you don’t damage the ground or leave your vehicle in a way that will stop others getting by. This is especially important on narrow roads where large farm or emergency vehicles may need to get past. Find out more here.
How can you keep your impact low?
There are lots of things we can all do to reduce our impact, such as choosing where to pull off:
Make sure you leave your camping spot better than you found it:
Give something back
Focus on keeping your impact low and being responsible – and don’t forget to give something back to the local community.
You may be enjoying a free night by the roadside but make sure you’re also using their shops, cafes, equipment hire and any activities that are on offer, as well as staying in a hostel, B&B, campsite or hotel during your trip where you can.
Webpage updated 7 July 2021