A Beginners Guide to Wild Camping in your Motorhome

Wild Camping for Motorhomes
Photo by Dave Newell

Why Wildcamp at all

Some of my most memorable evenings have been when we are tucked away in a quiet wild camping place enjoying the sights and sounds of nature without another family parked a regulation 5m away from us. There are thousands of beautiful locations all around the UK and mainland Europe that we can wildcamp. Just a little exploration will turn up some lovely spots that you’ll want to keep all to yourself.

When I use the term Wild Camping I do not mean ‘Wild Parking’ which is the practice of parking up in service stations or a Tesco’s car park. For Motorhome Wild Camping  Think “Wilderness Camping” and you’ll see where I’m coming from.   Of course in the UK and in Europe you’ll find it hard to find many true wildernesses but that shouldn’t stop you looking and you will often be surprised at what nice places you can find to stay for an evening just by following your nose.

Scenic vistas that include lakesides, deserted beach roads, dam bridge-heads, riversides and hill tops; I’ve camped on them all.  No matter how remote the location the motorhome gives us all the comforts of home.   All of the great explorers of yesteryear could of only dreamt of the machines we now take for granted that allow us to camp miles away from civilisation but in such comfort.

Wildcamping is not about saving money, it is about parking up in quiet locations that for a night or two you can enjoy and call your own. In my opinion some confuse wild camping with the free camping.  There are legions of people who proudly boast they never, ever pay to camp, they will park anywhere, if they have a nice location its a bonus, but if its tucked around the  back of the cement works, as long as they are not paying, that’s good. The difference between me and them is that I would pay to camp on nice isolated bit of of headland.  I don’t wildcamp to save money, I wildcamp because I like camping in nice places on my own.

Keeping a low profile

Some countries forbid any type of wild camping in motorhomes and insist that tradition campsites are used. However in most countries in Europe it is not against the law for you to sleep in a public place in your motorhome. That said, while there might be no blanket camping ban; most countries, including the UK,  have local laws that might prohibit camping in particular areas. Signs will be placed informing you, so look out for them. There are plenty of irresponsible people among the motorhoming community and they break simple rules, like staying for far too long and producing noise and mess. This is why we are seeing increasing numbers of those infernal “camping prohibited” signs appearing.

Wild camping in a motorhome
Photo by Dougie

The key to successful wild camping is to keep as low a profile as possible. If the Police swing by and see your “camp” is complete with deck-chairs, washing line, awning and a large black sack off rubbish, they are probably going to bang on your door and ask you to move on.

No Overnight Camping

I admit I have camped in plenty of places where it was prohibited. But more often than not, this has been ‘out of season’ when I guessed rules were not as strictly as enforced as in high (tourist) season; also, I usually stay only one night. However if I find somewhere really good and I want to stay longer, I might move somewhere else during the day and then return later in the day or early evening.  This keeps the profile low and the chance of being moved on is remote.

Never be too worried about being moved on.  If it happens, it’s not the end of the world just smile, say sorry, and move.

Unwritten Rules to adhere to

  • Think Security- Don’t park in an area that might be frequented by low-life, conversely a remote location brings it’s own problems.  See Top Tips for Security when Wild Camping
  • Do not damage anything. Most land belongs to someone, do not remove branches or damage crops.  Don’t use BBQs with a risk of fire etc.
  • Don’t make a camp of it. Deck-chairs, awnings and windbreaks should not be used unless you are extremely remote and not overlooked.
  • No Litter – Not even in bags.  Store your litter inside.  The practice of putting it under the motorhome in a black sack looks awful, chances are a animal opens the sack and spreads litter everywhere.
  • Always try to avoid camp in-sight of a houses, its not always possible but where it is, it’s best done.  These home owners are normally the first to call the police.
  • Never let waste drip onto the ground.  We all know that a little grey water won’t harm the environment, but if the public see liquid coming out of your motorhome they often assume the worst.
  • Dispose of sewer waste responsibly.  Never assume that a manhole is for black waste it might not be. An extra cassette to double your black waste is always a good idea.  You can buy storage solutions for these so they fit under the motorhome.

Resources when wild

Wild camping in a motorhome by a lake
Photo by David Baker

While you might get a free pitch, peace and quiet with a view to die for, when wild camping that is about it. The other basics for life we need to have with us.  We need to cope without an electric hookup, fresh water or sewer. Americans call this “dry camping” when camped on a site you are just yards away from copious amounts of fresh water and somewhere to dump waste and as access to as much electricity as you need. when camping in the wild we are pretty self-sufficient but have to think things through a little,  or we can quickly run short of an essential and have to cut short our camping.

If you are wild camping more than a couple of days, then you’ll need to use your resources sparingly.

You will know from experience how long you can be away from a hookup; if you use a generator and. or solar panels this might be indefinite. but black and grey tanks fill and need to be emptied. I know a couple in a large American RV who can almost go over a month before the 75gallon black tank is full, if you have a two gallon  toilet cassette, then you’ll need to give more frequent, responsible, disposal some thought. the trick is to arrive somewhere completely full with fresh water with all your waste empty.  Wild campers need to manage fresh and waste water responsibly.

Fresh water

Wild campers should fit a water filter, that way if they are ever not sure about the quality of the water they fill up with.  the less water you use, the slower your grey tank will fill so use fresh water sparingly. if you really want to eek out the last of your water, there are lots of water saving tips.

  • Don’t waste that 4 pints of water while your waiting for your shower water to get to temperature, catch it in a bucket, and you can put it back in your tank, or use it to rinse dishes etc.
  • Before washing up, clean plates and cutlery thoroughly with tissues, this will ensure you use much less water.
  • Learn how to shower using the minimum of water, wet yourself, turn off the tap, soap up, then a quick rinse and repeat.
  • Wet wipes add to your dry waste but can save a lot of water, when washing face and hands etc.

Depending where you are it can be difficult getting your water tanks refilled.  Many wild campers just book onto a campsite 1 day in five and replenish, some fulltime wild campers refuse to pay for sites and they track down there water at grave yards, garages and service stations etc. As water meters become more widespread then finding free water will become harder.

Grey Waste Disposal (dish water, shower water)

When wild camping grey water (washing and washing up water) is the easiest waste to get rid of, you’ll know your full when the shower won’t drain or has dishwater in it. You are probably aware that at times grey water can smell worse than black!  So its best to dump it well away from where you are camping.   Ideally this will be at a designated area at an aire or campsite, but sometimes it’s necessary to lose some in the wilderness. If this is your plan then ensure that you use environmentally friendly soaps and detergents.

Wild campingin a motorhome by the sea
Photo Dave “Snowbird”

If you must lose some grey water; getting rid of into a hedge line or in some scrub or field is not going to do any harm, especially if it’s a one off.  However too much grey in one place will harm vegetation and get very smelly, so do spread it around. Don’t just let it drain through a dump hose, it looks terrible and the public will complain.

Black waste. (pee and poo)

Black waste must be disposed of responsibly, it MUST end up in a sewer.  Some wildcampers play hunt the manhole and are quite happy to dump waste there.  This is irresponsible, only use manholes that you know for certain lead to a sewer.  Many manholes are not for sewers and contaminating them is unacceptable.

Some bury waste, and this may be the only option in a true wilderness, waste that has no added chemicals buried at least 18/24 inches deep will compost and harm no one.  Years ago, in another life, I recall we could dig a latrine in a wooded training area, a large communal toilet, this was then used by many men for days on end, once filled back in you would never know it was there, and on subsequent visits a year or so later a latrine could be dug in the same area and there would be no evidence of last years evacuations, just a lush compost. However if you bury waste you must be absolutely sure that you are not readily contaminating a water course.

When some are away from a main sewer for a while there are those who resort to peeing outside and pooing into plastic bags,  stretching the bag over the rim of the loo, this bag will also hold the paper wipes then securely sealed it’s stored in an outside locker for later disposal.  Personally I am never that far away from a sewer and would rather not carry around man size equivalents of a Doggy Doo bag!

Emptying in Public loos. This is easy enough to do, but if you are emptying while someone is in the next cubicle then expect them to be horrified as they hear 3 gallons plop into the bowl.  When wildcamping a lot we used to carry a old rucksack that would take a full cassette, this we could carry into public loos and empty.  Splashes were sometimes inevitable so in one of the side pockets was small spray bottle of disinfectant and some loo roll to clean up.

Saving on Electricity

In the summer for occasional wild camping you can get by for a few days on just a single battery and no hook up. Most regular wild campers will be well geared up to go for long periods without a hook up.They may have a combination of extra batteries, solar panels, and generators.   They will have procedures in place to keep their use of electricity to the bare minimum.  Aware that a motorhome without power is no better than a good quality tent!  If you wild camp a lot you can spend a lot of money on portable power, today’s technology is such that as long as you have money, you can stay off grid indefinitely

Alcohol and the Wild-camper

when wild camping you should consider that you might be asked at any time to “move on” by the landowner or even the police. for this reason, you should always be fit to drive when camping in a public place.

Motorhome Wildcamping
Photo Norman Waddington

In the UK and some European countries there is a “drunk in Charge” law which means that you commit an offence just by being in charge of a vehicle when over the driving limit. If you were charged with this offence, then you would have to prove that your intentions were to sleep and not drive. One would hope that a Police Officer would use common-sense when seeing you in your pyjamas and realise you have no intention of driving. However common-sense seems to be less common these days, so the advice has to be, do not drink too much and wild camp.

Motorhome wildcamping – the backlash

While there are those individuals that campaign tirelessly on our behalf; who write letter after letter to local authorities informing them of the benefits that a visitor in a motorhome can bring.  However there is no doubt that a few selfish motorhomers are shouting louder and ruining some locations for the majority.

These selfish few can often be seen parking in the same spot for days on end with rubbish bags stuffed under the motorhome, generators running and deck chairs out. This behaviour angers locals who wonder among other things where these long termers are dumping their more toxic waste!  Campers get reported for more spurious reasons that might include noise or ruining views.  The end result is almost always the same; a sign is erected stipulating “No Sleeping” or “No Overnight Camping”  It’s only a matter of time till almost every beauty spot has one of these signs

Wildcamping – Give it a go

Wild camping is fantastic. It can mean that yours are the only footsteps on a beach. Imagine how nice that cup of tea tastes when you are the only person seeing the early morning mist on a lake and the only sound is birdsong. It is not dangerous and with the application of the common sense tips above, wild camping is no more dangerous than living in the country.  Wildcamping it’s what motorhomes are for. Please do give it a go, there is nothing quite like it.

 

Motorhome Wild camping by the sea
All Ray took was photos; all he left behind were motorhome tyre tracks