10 of the best wilderness camping sites in Scotland | holiday in scotland
SScotland is famous for its rugged landscapes and exhilarating sense of remoteness. With the exception of recent regulations prohibiting wild camping in certain areas of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs (check before you go), it is still perfectly legal to camp on most of the unfenced land in Scotland.
The progressive Land reform law was adopted in 2003, and the Scottish exterior access code was introduced in 2005, which defines the rights and responsibilities of campers. Avoid camping in enclosed fields of crops or with farm animals, or too close to roads or buildings. Always remove your rubbish and remove all traces of tent or campfire sites.
For adventurers and those willing to tolerate unpredictable weather conditions, the rewards are plentiful.
1. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Pitch your tent among the high sand dunes of one of Britain’s most famous wild beaches. Accessible only by a four mile walk, this remarkable stretch of pink sand in northwest Sutherland is bounded by cliffs and the Am Buachaille Chimney. The beach is popular with surfers and owned by the John Muir Trust. There are some of mainland Scotland’s best-preserved machair wildflower meadows here, with over 200 species of plants growing behind the dunes.
Park at the John Muir Trust car park in Blairmore (IV27 4RT). From the door opposite, follow the well-marked path through the moor, turn left at the end of the second loch, towards the bay. Walking time from the vehicle: 1h30. Ref card: 58.5384, -5.0650.
2. Loch Beinn at Mheadhoin, Glen Affric
Bordered by rugged mountains and ancient Scots pines, Beinn a ‘Mheadhoin is a peaceful freshwater lake nestled to the east of Scotland’s most beautiful valley, the exceptionally scenic Glen Affric. Many small islands and headlands are suitable for fun adventure swimming, and the many small beaches are perfect for camping. Old tree stumps make hobbit seats to sit around the campfire. To really get away from it all, canoe to one of the islets and camp there.
From Cannich on the A381 take the road signposted Glen Affric after IV4 7NB. At about 8½ miles, about a quarter of the height of the loch, there is a large staging area. Go down the bank towards the island connected to the shore by a sandy beach. Walking time from the vehicle: 5 min. Ref card: 57.2832, -4.9280.
3. Kilmory Bay, Rum Island
This beautiful bay on the rugged north coast of Rum has a sandy beach directly overlooking the vast horizon of the Cuillins on Skye. Kilmory is the heart of the Red Deer project, one of the longest and most comprehensive studies of a population of wild animals in the world. Look for deer roaming the beach, and in late September and early October the rutting deer defying each other.
From Kinloch Castle, head north, then turn left along the River Kinloch into Kinloch Glen. Continue past the waterfalls and after another 1.5 km, take the fork to the right. Follow the trail, turning another 2 ½ miles north before descending to the beach. Walking time from the vehicle: 2h to 2h30. Ref card: 57.0499, -6.3545.
4. The Lost Valley, Glencoe
The otherworldly hanging valley of Chur Gabhail is hidden from the famous Glencoe behind a number of towering peaks. The Secret Valley has a dark past: it is here that many members of the MacDonald clan took refuge immediately after the Glencoe massacre in 1692. Guarded on all sides by mountains, it is the perfect place to camp, with a high flat meadow, winding stream and giant rocks for shelter behind.
Park in one of the National Trust car parks on the A82 in Glencoe, 3½ and 8 km east of the PH49 4HX. The Lost Valley is the left of two valleys between the Three Sisters, the tooth-shaped ridges jutting out into the valley. A decent path crosses the River Coe and ends in the Lost Valley itself. Walking time from the vehicle: 60 min. Ref card: 56.6549, -4.9940.
5. Glen Nevis, Lochaber
Combining breathtaking scenery and easy access, this picturesque valley in the heart of the Highlands is hard to beat. The steep gorge is enveloped by the highest mountains in Brittany and opens to reveal a hanging valley with alpine meadows. Here the spectacular 120m high Steall Falls spill out onto the stage, joining a beautiful river with deep pools and a famous metal bridge.
From Fort William, take the road that winds through the valley (PH33 6SY) to the Upper Falls parking lot at the end. An obvious path leads to the upper stretch of Glen Nevis, following the river. Walking time from the vehicle: 20 min. Ref card: 56.7723, -4.9814.
6. Vatersay, Outer Hebrides
The idyllic Vatersay is the ideal location for those seeking the seclusion of the island. The southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides has a series of stunning beaches, surrounded by machair grasses that blaze with colorful wildflowers in spring and summer. The peaceful bay of Vatersay to the east has brilliant white sand bathed in clear turquoise water, ideal for swimming on a calm day. The high sand dunes backing onto the bay also provide shelter for camping and picnics on this windswept island.
Cross the causeway south of Barra on the island and follow the side road south for approximately 3 miles. There is an informal parking lot on the grass to the left, opposite a passage and a marked path leading to a wreck monument. Walking time from the vehicle: 5 min. Ref card: 56.9236, -7.5353.
7. Glen Sannox, Isle of Arran
If Arran is ‘Scotland in miniature’, you can taste it all at Glen Sannox. This uniquely Scottish valley stretches from the sandy bay of the village of Sannox into the heart of the rugged region Goat Fell Mountain Range. Pretty Sannox Burn, bordered by heather and fern, runs down the valley. At its northern end, you can explore a number of pools and waterfalls tumbling through the forest.
From the Sannox parking lot (near the KA27 8JD), head west on well-marked trails, then follow the burn up the Glen. Walking time from the vehicle: 1 to 2 hours. Ref card: 55.6603, -5.1651.
8. Glenfeshie, Cairngorms
Home to one of the country’s most successful ‘rewilding’ projects, the deer management in Glenfeshie has led to a multitude of saplings and a greatly increased variety of wildlife. Walking and biking trails lead to pine forests, with tumultuous waterfalls and mountain views. If you fancy an overnight upgrade, look for Ruigh Aiteachain, a MBA both at the bottom of the valley where Sir Edwin Landseer studied the red deer for his famous painting, Monarch of the Glen. You could have it all.
From the B970 at Feshiebridge take the road signposted Auchlean until you reach a car park on the left after 6 km. Walk ½ mile along the tarmac road that ends at Achlean Farm, take the main path through a gate and over a stream, and walk into the valley. Walking time from the vehicle: 1 to 3 hours. Ref card: 57.0353, -3.8963.
9. Loch Assynt, Sutherland
Set up camp on one of the grassy headlands overlooking the enchanting ruins at the eastern end of Loch Assynt. Built by the MacLeods, Ardvreck Castle dates back to the 16th century, and local legend has it that the loch itself is home to the elusive “Siren of Assynt”, the lost daughter of the MacLeods, Eimhir. It is said that in return for help with the construction of the castle, the MacLeods promised Eimhir to the Clootie (devil), and so, hiding from him, she dove into the loch and began to live under the water.
On the A837 north of Inhnadamph (IV27 4HN), park in a car park after 1.5 km, on the east side of Loch Assynt. Walking time from the vehicle: 10 minutes. Ref card: 58.1664, -4.9944.
10. Quiraing, Isle of Skye
Watch the sunrise from your tent atop one of the many spectacular plateaus that make up this magnificent landscape. The Quiraing was formed by an ancient landslide that is still moving and features a 37m high jagged pinnacle known as The Needle, a flat expanse of short grass called The Table, and a pyramidal rocky peak that looks like a medieval keep, and is known as The Prison.
Parking at the top of the side road between Uig and Staffin at 57.6281, -6.2909. Walking time from the vehicle: 2 min. Ref card: 57.6395, -6.2705.
Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, Richard Gaston and David Cooper is published by Wild Things Publishing at £ 16.99. Readers can receive a 20% discount and free P&P with the coupon code “GuardianScotland” at wildthingspublishing.com