Camping In The Scottish Highlands
Wandering the woodland tracks in search of the perfect pitching site for the night. The silence and noise of nature guided our curiosity, we stumbled off the track and into the trees. Following the sound of the river before stumbling into a clearing. Immediately we paused, held our breath and stared. In front of us, was a beautiful young grazing deer. We had found our pitching site, a small square hidden by trees with a perfect view of the grazing spot we had seen the deer earlier. Sitting in the tent, watching the sun go down, my eyes were wide, searching for Bambi’s return. Camping in the Scottish Highlands never disappoints, always promising adventure and beauty. It is an experience everyone who comes to Scotland should try.
Where Can You Camp In Scotland?
Find a spot, drop your bag and pitch your tent. Thanks to the land laws in Scotland, you can Wild camp throughout most of Scotland. The exception to the rule being the Trossachs National Park and areas around Loch Lomond. Check out the Visit Scotland website for the most up to date information, respect the areas where you are not allowed. Download this cheeky pocket camping guide – which I love – to help you out! This is often to protect the wildlife and nature in that area which is so important!
Wild Camping often has a lot of different meanings, some people see ‘Wild Camping’ as setting up a tent in a campsite which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But you’ll still have a half decent toilet and maybe even a cold water source – not a river, a tap.
This is not what Wild Camping is – to me anyway – especially when you decide to go camping in the Scottish Highlands. I wanted to pitch my tent off a trail, in the middle of the woods. With no ‘toilet facilities’ other than the ground and bushes around me and the only ‘water source’ being the crystal clear river running close by. – which also doubled as an extremely cold shower. This is what ‘Wild Camping’ is my friends. And it is freakin’ incredible!
Camping in The Scottish Highlands…
Checking the weather, our original plans of heading to the Isle of Skye were drowned out. Rain. Rain forecasted for the whole of Scotland except the East of Scotland. Winner, the Cairngorms or ‘the gateway to the Scottish Highlands’ was our destination. Believe it or not this was an area of Scotland I had never really explored before. So together with our rented car, tents and hiking gear we were ready to road trip!
Driving into the highlands is one of the most beautiful drives Scotland has to offer. Getting up into the mountains, rounding a corner and suddenly getting slammed with sensational views, rolling hills, colourful fields and never-ending forests. This is the Scotland from the photos and I couldn’t wait to explore.
Arriving into the small town of Aviemore we hoped to camp on the edge of beautiful Loch Morlich, it seemed someone wanted us to be more adventurous, the beach was off-limits. Or so the signs said. We didn’t want to risk parking, unpacking, getting cosy and then being asked to move on. So the hunt was on. Driving further down the country road we tried our luck pulling into one of the mountain car parks. Surrounded by woods, we were pretty secluded. In the car park were a few camper-vans, we couldn’t see signs saying ‘no camping’, were we onto a winner?
Wandering into the woods along a narrow hiking trail. Following pure curiosity and enjoying being outdoors after driving all day. Exploring the forest the noise of the river pulled us off the trail, through the trees and navigating our way along the bank to try to find a shallow place to cross. The land on the other side of the river looked nice and flat to camp on… but we just had to get there. Finally after attempting to cross a fallen – and very slippy – tree, the idea of trying to get back over this with camping equipment did not seem likely. Heading back into the woods, we stumbled into the perfect clearing, Bambi grazing on a tree and the perfect campsite hidden under the trees. Bingo!
Lying in the tent watching an electric orange and pink sunset, I had never been so happy to be camping in the Scottish Highlands. Falling asleep early, stoked for the next day of mountain climbing.
Just Remember: Wild Camping in Scotland is a gift, so please, please. If you are planning to come into some of the most incredible scenery in the world, in a country that allows you to pitch up for free. Take your rubbish home and respect the landscape, nature and area around you. The freedom of getting lost in the wild and switching off from society is too precious to lose.
Meeting the Mountains..
The Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is a mountain climbers paradise. From beginners to advanced hikes, epic climbing pitches and some awesome alpine scrambling. There is something for everyone. There are around 18 Munros in the Cairngorms national park just waiting to be explored. One of these is Britain’s second highest mountain, Ben Macdui.
Drive to Aviemore Ski Centre car park and from here you can begin many different hiking trails. From day hikes to taking on multiple Munro’s over a few days – but carrying your camping equipment up a mountain is no fun! – the trails here will blow you away! We set off to summit Ben Macdui. It takes around 7 hours return to hike Ben Macdui, but allow for more time in case of bad weather and if you get lost.
The trail up Ben Macdui leads you through some incredible mountain ranges, throwing you into the Scottish wilderness.
Be prepared for changing weather, Scotland is certainly reliable for that. The predicted 30 mile an hour winds were more like 40 miles maybe even 50 miles an hour in places. Thank god the summit of Ben Macdui has multi wind break shelters. Giving us the chance to heat some water for hot chocolate, make some well deserved lunch and warm up.
Walking back down the mountain the skies began to clean and the sensational views were peeking out from behind the clouds. Suddenly sheer cliff faces appeared where there had only been grey cloud before. Lakes appeared tucked into layers of mountain views that we didn’t notice on the way up when the wind burned our eyes. It was like we had taken a wrong turn and walked into a totally new place. Surely this can’t have been the same path we followed? It was incredible!
Playing in the 40 mile winds on the way down. – Cal finding it hilarious teaching and then watching me try to ‘sail the wind’. While I’m convinced that when I jump I do catch it and fly for a second. – Acting like children in weather that could put people off mountain climbing, is a sure way to turn a bad (weather) day into a good day.
Ben Macdui is a relatively easy climb for it being the UK’s second highest mountain. Considering you start pretty high the climb is steep for the first hour or so. After the initial climb you have a mixture of gravel, rocky flats, slight climbs and even some downhill. You’ll get to hop over rivers and follow some short, but beautiful stone trails and hop scotch your way across rocks.
The climb itself takes a whole day, so plan to be away for a day, even if you start early. Although the hike is – what I would consider – relatively straight forward it’s the weather, ground conditions and your own fitness, curiosity and how much you stop and stare will determine your time. Plan to be away for 6 – 8 hours. If the weather is not in your favour or you know you’re a little slower add an hour onto this. Tell someone where you are going and the route you are taking. You might think this is silly as I often had once, but trust me. When you’re lost in the wilderness with no WiFi and phone signal to save you you’re going to wish you had.
Camping in the Scottish Highlands offers you pretty much unlimited access to the mountains. We even saw people carrying packs with tents up this trail. Some had already set up camp and although I didn’t envy watching them carry – what seemed like – incredibly heavy loads, I was envious of the views they would be having the next morning.
Imagine the climb, pitching the tent, eating camping food under the stars and waking up to the most incredible sunrise over the Scottish highlands. What could be better than this?
10 Reasons Why Camping (in general) is awesome!
- Regardless of the weather, I can guarantee that camping, whether it’s a weekend or weeks, you’ll come away with an incredible story.
- You will ALWAYS have an adventure. This could be a hiking, mountain, climbing adventure. Or it could simply be camping IS your adventure.
- Rain or shine, you will be smiling the majority of the time.
- You will come home exhausted, but at the same time, so freakin’ refreshed!
- Camping in the Scottish Highlands – or anywhere really – gives you the excuse to build fires, roast marshmallows, eat cookies and basically gorge yourself in food because ‘you need the energy’.
- You’ll find out you have hidden strengths you didn’t know about. Or learn new ones. Like putting up a tent, lighting a fire or opening wine with a shoe.
- If you’re Wild Camping – which you should be! – you will reconnect with nature. Whether you want to or not really.
- Camping Is Quality Time With Friends and Family. Leave the gadgets at home, loose the wi-fi, find somewhere with no signal and get back to basics.
- Camping will make you make you fit! Well, maybe not. But it’s likely when you’re camping you’re close to the outdoors. In the wilderness or at least in a nice part of the countryside that is going to make you want to get out and explore. Whether it is the sea, mountains, new little village you’re probably going to move more than a weekend spent at home.
- Camping in the Scottish Highlands you’ll find yourself slowing down and being incredibly present. You’ll loose the need for ‘time’, there will be no clock watching. You’ll stay out till the sun begins to set, sit on river banks and mountain tops to watch it sink down. Gather around the bonfire at night and (likely) go to bed early. The wild, wide open spaces allows your soul to wander.
If these ten reasons to go camping don’t convince you to get out there I don’t know what will. The Scottish Highlands are incredibly beautiful, for those looking for a wild experience without getting too far off the track. It’s pretty much perfect.
While camping in the Scottish Highlands doesn’t quite compare to some of the adventures I’ve had in New Zealand. It was a pretty epic experience to convince me that coming home to Scotland was a good idea.
Have you ever been camping in Scotland?
Let me know of more awesome places to explore! I’m making it my mission to get off the track and find some wicked, new, adventurous places to write about!