Using your campervan should be enjoyable, not a risk that could leave you being fined.
Knowing campervan parking laws will ensure that you’re not rudely awoken by police, or left with a parking ticket on your vehicle, next time you park somewhere overnight. Brush up on these guidelines and you can look forward to a stress-free sleep in your campervan bed!
In most parts of the UK, it’s illegal to go ‘wild camping’. You can’t camp on anyone’s land unless you have their permission. Simply parking overnight at the side of the road could mean that you’re breaking the law.
Wild camping laws apply throughout most of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They don’t, however, apply to most locations in Scotland. Only in some limited areas, around Loch Lomond in particular, is wild camping something of an issue. That said, wild camping allowances do not apply to motor vehicles. Whilst pitching a tent is allowed in Scotland, you might have to work harder to justify the presence of a motorhome that you’re sleeping in.
In the UK, some National Parks are suitable for wild camping. However, your options are limited and you will need to be very careful. Dartmoor National Park is your safest bet, but some areas are still off-limits.
If you want to park up overnight in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, it’s always best to get the landowner’s permission so that you’re not taking any risks.
Campervan parking laws apply to car parks just the same as other private land. You can’t keep your campervan in a public car park overnight without the owner’s permission.
Many car parks that you would pay for by the hour also offer an overnight rate, so campervans and motorhomes can make use of the space once visitors have left in the evening. Pub owners might allow you to make use of their car parks, perhaps charging or asking that you simply buy a meal in their establishment. If a pub owner doesn’t advertise this option, there’s no harm in calling and asking if they would consider it.
Service stations usually offer ample space for overnight parking, so you can make use of your campervan by taking a slight motorway detour. Service stations might not be the most beautiful places to stay, but you’ll benefit from on-site places to eat, as well as toilets and other amenities.
Roads are owned spaces. The Local Authority owns the highway, so parking to sleep at the side of the road could mean you’re breaking wild camping laws. These laws don’t only apply to open land and fields.
Each European county will have their own rules and laws about parking a campervan. In most cases, the laws being followed are roughly in line with the UK. Ideally you’ll park in a campsite or approved space, but the authorities might turn a blind eye if you’re careful, quiet and discreet.
Before you take your campervan away from the UK, take time to research the laws in the country you’re visiting. Some are a lot stricter than others, so it helps to be prepared before you travel.
What happens if you’re caught?
If you’re caught wild camping at the side of the road, you’re unlikely to receive a fine instantly. In a vast majority of cases, you’ll simply be asked to move on. Of course, the law might be used against you if you’ve caused damage or made mess.
If you absolutely must risk wild camping overnight, make sure that you don’t leave any trace or leave mess for someone else to clean up.
Being asked to move on might mean that you’re woken by police in the middle of the night. They’re unlikely to allow you to go back to sleep, so you’ll need to be prepared to move straight away and find somewhere more suitable to park. You risk facing quite a long drive in the dark after being suddenly woken, so make sure you’re aware of this possibility if you feel like you have no other option.
In most cases, landowners and law enforcers will choose to turn a blind eye. As long as you’ve parked in a sensible place and you’re not causing any problems, most will choose to leave you alone. However, as you’re breaking the law you must be prepared for objections.
Staying somewhere for a single night is unlikely to become a big issue. Staying for longer will increase your risk of attracting negative attention. When people do try wild camping, they plan a trip that allows them to move on every day. They park after dark, when it’s already quiet, and leave very early the next morning. This behaviour still isn’t legal, but is generally accepted if you’re using a layby or roadside for overnight rest. In fact, many truck drivers sleep overnight at the roadside in their truck cabs.
There are some fantastic websites and smartphone apps that will help you find somewhere to park. They’ll highlight car parks with overnight options, and pubs where campervans are accepted. One of the most popular is the park4night app, available on both iOS and Android.
Your safest option is always to park at an official campsite, where motorhomes and campervans are accepted and you will need to pay for a pitch. You can easily search for campsites online, or visit a website like Pitchup to find inspiration.
Owning a campervan provides a freedom that many people find appealing, but it doesn’t give you the right to stop overnight wherever you want. As long as you’re polite and courteous, you shouldn’t have any trouble, but UK laws dictate that you can’t just stop overnight wherever you choose to.