It’s that time of year again when, if we have any sense, we look back and recap over the year just gone. We think about what went well for us, what we enjoyed, and what we’d like to do more of. We also think about what didn’t go so well, and what we’d like to do better in future. For the personal development gurus it’s called “re-evaluating and resetting goals,” for everyone else it’s called Setting New Year Resolutions.
As a proud family man and motorhomer (is that a word?) my personal resolution for next year is simple: To use our motorhome more often, and enjoy more good-quality family time through short breaks. I suspect I’m not alone in this desire, regardless of whether you the reader would prefer to travel as a couple, with children, or with grand-children.
Entry to attractions and staying at campsites can both be expensive though, and if you have a motorhome then campsites at least are almost entirely unnecessary (I’ll cover free attractions in a later blog post) because you really are doing nothing more than parking overnight and sleeping in your vehicle. We tend to take our main summer holiday in EU partially because the vast number of free motorhome stopovers there make it cheaper than UK!
What follows below are some of the various sources of information we use that show where you can “park overnight and sleep in your vehicle” in UK, without needing to go anywhere near a campsite:
Scotland – Pretty much anywhere you can park safely in Scotland they’re happy for you to sleep too. What a refreshing attitude it is and while parts of Wales are that way, most of England definitely isn’t (unless you’re tramping in a 44 tonne artic then it seems to be OK). The enlightened and friendly Scots are even happy for you to use a tent: http://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/activities/walking/wild-camping
Britstops – Probably now the best known book for UK it lists businesses that are happy to have motorhome owners stop in their car park for the night. The book is updated regularly during the year, with both additions and removals, so by the end of the year you’ll have a small book and a great wad of paper. Despite the publisher’s claims though BritStops are generally not free because the business owners will generally expect you to visit their outlet and buy something, it’s also not hugely convenient as a large number of places are restricted to certain days of the week and require that you arrive before a certain time (some as early as 4pm). Very few Britstops suit us, but they may suit you: http://www.britstops.com [UPDATE 01/01/2015: I attempted to share this post with the BritStops community on Facebook and it was deleted by their admin on the basis that it contains links to non-BritStop stuff. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on this action!]
Club Motorhome – Offers similar sites (i.e. businesses) to Britstops but with the addition of a forum where you can chat with other motorhome owners (something you can also do on Facebook of course) and a considerable number of useful and interesting articles. There’s no book though so you’ll either need to do all your research on their website (an option not available with Britstops) of print off a downloadable PDF list of sites. Unfortunately when I tried this it wasn’t well formatted, came with a whole bunch of extraneous information that wasted paper, and much of the printing was in light blue so poor contrast and not easy to read under a cab light. I had the some problem when trying to use the list on my phone while travelling. [UPDATE 01/01/2015: Neil McLeland who runs Club Motorhome has just emailed me the latest PDF and, while still not perfect, it is considerably better than the review version I saw before.] However, unless you really want a printed book, I’d say that Club Motorhome has the advantage over BritStops because of all the other valuable content on the website. You can browse for free: http://www.clubmotorhome.co.uk
Wild Camping Forum – As someone who does a lot of wild camping myself, I did ask to get a look in the Members’ Area of this forum so I could briefly review it here for you. However, despite my polite request, I was refused entry. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions: http://www.wildcamping.co.uk
UKMotorhomes.net – A useful resource that costs precisely nothing, as does everything listed from here on. You simply drill down into the map and look for a pin near where you want to stop; if you click the pin you’ll get more detail on the location: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=zheLI7o5GIPc.kkEkhhDZroMo&usp=sharing There’s a more conventional list available too, in a handy format for printing: http://www.ukmotorhomes.net/uk-motorhome-stopovers.shtml
Nomad GB – Similar to the above (although non-printable) but with an awful lot more pins on the map, and describing itself as “a points of interest map for motorhome owners”, with the ability to more easily refine your search (it optionally includes some campsites too but you can easily exclude those from results if you wish). Well worth a look: http://www.nomadgb.co.uk
Search For Sites – Sits somewhere between UKMotorhomes.Net and Nomad GB in terms of search capability, but goes beyond UK and covers EU too. EU is out of scope for this post, but the website is still well worth visiting as it covers UK too: http://www.searchforsites.co.uk [UPDATE 01/01/2015: Ian Curtis who runs this site has been in touch to tell me of a whole load of functionality that I haven't reported. I have invited him to leave a comment below, so please check there for further information.]
Parking Information on Local Authority (& Other) Websites – Believe it or not some local authorities actually welcome motorhomes into their borough, possibly because of the tourist income it can bring to their rate-payers. Unfortunately though most local authority (LA) websites weren’t designed with the convenience of those looking for free camping in mind, so drilling down to find it can be tedious at best. Fortunately a kind gentleman called Graham Hadfield has compiled a free directory which will take you straight to the information you need on approaching 200 LA websites. We can all benefit here: http://www.motorhomeparking.co.uk
Facebook – There are thousands of groups on Facebook (FB), and a great many of them are designed to cater for owners of campervans, motor-caravans and motorhomes. Not many of them are specifically focused on wild camping though, and quite a few appear to be populated with people who find the idea of staying on a campsite adventurous! To save you some time hunting, here are a few that may help you out a little:
- Motorhome Adventures (many useful files): https://www.facebook.com/groups/811018195582470/
- Camper Van – Wild Camping – Over Night Stays (many useful files): https://www.facebook.com/groups/campernights/
- Campingpubs (plus file for download): https://www.facebook.com/groups/372313816175910/
- Motorhome sleepyspots: https://www.facebook.com/groups/34987941089/
- WildMotorhomers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/581169048637514/
You’ll obviously need to be registered with Facebook to use any of the above. As a matter of good etiquette I would advise that, if you join a group on FB, you start by contributing a couple of locations (perhaps quiet spots you know of near home that will help others visiting your area) before asking for advice and help in finding places yourself.
What’s very clear from the above is that no one source lists everything – there is no central point of knowledge – and that you’ll probably be wise to travel with a few resources up your sleeve to increase your chances of finding somewhere that you like near where you want to be.
Andrew’s personal Top Tip – one that has never failed him yet – is nothing more complicated than pulling up outside a pub with a large but empty(ish) car park towards closing time, popping in and buying a pint, and simultaneously asking the landlord if it’s OK to sleep in the car park overnight.
That’s our personal set of UK free wild camping resources now shared with you, and you’re welcome to use Facebook, Twitter or whatever you fancy to share it all with others. If you’d like to add and share a resource we missed, so others can benefit, please leave a comment below and it will be published following a quick moderator check.
Happy New Year everybody,
Andrew and Kira