Informal Camping is the term used to describe the activity of staying overnight in a motorhome or campervan out-with a formal campsite. In some countries you may also hear it called freedom camping, wild camping, overnight parking or free motorhome camping. In Scotland, it was agreed in 2019 with representatives from the Scottish Government, local authorities, membership organisations and industry representatives, that we would all use the term ‘Informal Camping’ to describe this activity. It may be that an informal camping spot has the landowners permission but no fees are charged, or there may be a request for a donation to improve the land and facilities, but the informal camping spot is not regulated. Where possible, we would always encourage motorhomes and campervans to stay on official campsites or designated motorhome parking areas, but sometimes informal camping spots need to be used as a place to rest.
If you are staying on a proper campsite pitch it is unlikely you will be asked to move your vehicle and therefore the drinking of alcohol, if allowed by the site, is normally fine. However, as you are in a motor-vehicle, it should be clear that the vehicle is parked and there is no intention to drive the vehicle. Keys should be tucked away and kept out of sight. Bear in mind that the drink-drive legislation in Scotland is very strict, with low alcohol tolerance levels. Be aware of how long it takes for alcohol to leave your system and be cautious if you need to drive the next morning, as you could still be over the legal limit.
If you are informal camping, then the consumption of alcohol is not recommended. Landowners have every right to ask you to leave at any time and therefore the driver must be fit to drive.
Fires in motorhomes can spread quickly with devastating effects. The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations in Europe (CFPAE) have issued guidance for fire safety in camping sites. The guidance was updated in 2012 and recommends that there is a 4m space between units, to help prevent the spread of fire. In the UK, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, refers to a 6m gap between residential park homes and some camping sites use this distance as best practice. We would recommend that an absolute minimum distance of 4m between units is observed by all motorhome and campervan users when informal camping, to observe the most recent European guidelines and to help keep everyone safe. To read the CFPAE guidelines in full click here. That may mean that you have to drive past a potential informal camping spot if there is not enough space to be off the road, with the recommended spacing between units.
Just because another vehicle has chosen to park overnight somewhere, it does not mean that it is ok. Informal camping is about ensuring you are in a discrete location and ideally out of sight of residential houses. Parking overnight in village car parks or in coastal harbours is not appropriate unless you have the landowners permission. In most villages along the NC500 there is no permission for people to stay overnight in the village. Look for and use nearby campsites, or local signs may direct you to approved motorhome parking locations at a specific location. Please use these sites if requested.
Out of respect to those who the war memorials and graveyards honour, we ask that motorhomes and campervans do not park overnight in these locations, even if they are in remote locations. If you are visiting the site during the day, clearly it is fine to park in a motorhome, put please move on before dusk.
One of the great joys of the internet is that it’s easy to find information out with just a few clicks, however some sites that share informal camping spots have thousands of followers and this is causing overcrowding in some locations. Many local villages also have concerns that informal camping sites recommended by some of these sites are not legal and are causing a problem with the local populations. We ask that you do not share an informal camping spot if you happen to need one, but instead support the camping sector and recommend approved camping locations. Many crofts and landowners have created safe parking areas that a limited number of motorhomes are welcome to stay at and still offer the remote ‘off-grid’ experience that many people seek. Please promote these sites instead.