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Wild Camping in Scotland

on Friday, 16 March 2012.

A change in the law now allows campers to camp on private land across the Scottish Highlands. For devotees, this is wild camping. Find out about wild camping on Skye...

For years, climbers and walkers have pitched their tents in some of Britain's most remote and beautiful locations: in forests, woodlands and highlands.

But in Scotland the legal rights of these adventurers has, until recently, been unclear. Wild camping, essentially the act of pitching a tent wherever you feel like it, has often been deemed to contravene Scotland's Trespass Act of 1865, which makes it an offence to camp without the landowner's consent.

In 2003, however, following years of confusing legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act came into force, guaranteeing the public's right to camp in any wilderness area and enshrining the concept of wild camping in Scottish law.

To clarify the new act, the government also published the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, a set of practical guidelines to advise wild campers on appropriate conduct. All of which effectively now makes Scotland a huge public campsite. (see also their page on wild camping)

With the act celebrating its first birthday, some of those with interests in the debate, including landowners, climbers and walkers, have yet to be made fully aware of the new legislation.

"More education regarding rights to camp and the code needs to take place," says Kevin Howett, National Officer for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, "but the Land Reform Act has certainly cleared up a lot of grey areas. We now know where we can camp lawfully and thanks to the code, what's expected of us when we do."

The rules contained within the code's pages are common sense. No camping on fields containing livestock, for example, or always ensuring your toilet is at least 30 metres from running water. If all this sounds like an invitation to hordes of ramblers to descend on pristine wilderness, it's worth pointing out that traipsing for miles in the wet across a muddy bog is not everyone's idea of fun. Neither is setting up camp alone in secluded woodland, unless you're a special forces soldier or a fugitive.

For those of us who live in overpopulated towns or cities, the idea that Britain still has vast tracts of genuine wilderness seems unlikely. Our island nation is, surely, a smog-filled concrete bowl; if you really want to get away from it all you need to jump on a plane.

Yet travel just a few hours and it's relatively easy to find your own slice of Scotland. While locations such as Glencoe and Ben Nevis have, inevitably, become popular with wild campers, there remain tens of thousands of square miles out there still to be explored.

The Isle of Skye, for instance, has, in the Cuillins, arguably the most spectacular mountain range in Britain, as well as fine meadowland and an imposing coastline.

Wherever you choose, the basic tools for survival are roughly the same: an Ordnance Survey map; all-weather clothing; rucksack; and strong boots. You'll also need a good tent, preferably one that's lightweight and easy to assemble, and a well-chosen sleeping bag. Down-filled bags can be tricky to dry once wet but are otherwise warmer and lighter than synthetic ones.

Nearby berry bushes excepted, your menu boils down to what you're strong enough to carry. I've opted mainly for dried produce as well as a big supply of sausages; it's impossible to beat the sound and smell of them frying when camping. Unless you're happy with cold food, you might want to think about a gas cooker, a few basic utensils and a torch - a hands-free headlamp is particularly useful. A good water filter will also give you the option of drinking from dirty puddles.

There are plenty of small, sandy beaches on Skye and if my map reading proves correct, there should be one just three miles from my camp, so I throw a few supplies in my rucksack and head off.

For more information on wild camping contact the Mountaineering Council of Scotland: mountaineering-scotland.org.uk.

For the full Scottish Outdoor Access Code: outdooraccess-scotland.com.