Sometimes you remember why camping is so lovely. It’s usually on a hot summer’s day by the sea. Sometimes, though, it’s in the middle of nowhere, in a blizzard. At New Year, two of the Campfire team went campervanning in Scotland and fell in love with winter camping. Here’s what they learned…
Campsites are either shut or full
We don’t really like most campsites. It’s great to have hook-up, toilets and showers, of course, but it’s very difficult to find a site that doesn’t feel like a car park. That’s where having a tent or a bivvy hammock gives you more choice about getting properly into nature.
If you have a campervan or small motorhome, though, then wild camping is the answer. And in Scotland, not only is that allowed, it’s also easy.
We never meant to wild camp at New Year, but every site we contacted was either full, shut or bristling with statics and caravans in regimented rows. Further south in England, there seemed to be more choice, but we drew a blank for Scotland. There are some recommendations in the article on autumn and winter camping, but remember to book well ahead (over the festive season at least).
Happily, it doesn’t matter….read on.
Wild camping is VERY do-able
No sites? No bother You can wild camp almost anywhere. In England, you’ll have to do that by being a bit canny – have a look at our article on wild camping spot apps. The best app/online search we’ve found is Park4night, by the way. You can also use Britstops pubs, farmshops and the like.
In Scotland, you can take your pick! We chose the Trossachs National Park, steering well clear of Loch Lomond because of the disgusting amount of litter at every stop. Many others, though, turn a blind eye to the mess and find themselves a great stopover in a pub or marina car park near the loch.
We wanted properly wild, though. Head off on forest roads and you can soon find a remote spot with a stunning view. We found ourselves not far from beautiful Loch Katrine and Loch Drunkie with mountains, forest, streams and utter quiet (apart from the handsome ravens who came to call each morning).
The big questions? Everyone wants to know what to do about washing and going to the loo. We take a Platypus bag and a Source Liquitainer to store our water for washing, toothbrushing and cooking. We also have all-natural and biodegradable Aqua Wipes for quick bodywashes. For toilet options, have a look at these loo recommendations. When you’re somewhere private, though, it’s easy to nip for a wee in the woods. Ah, the joy of a cold breeze on your bum!
Don’t stint on things to keep you warm
We had no heating in our campervan. We usually use an oil-free radiator or a fan heater on hook-up (have a look at our heater choices in our guide to campervan heating). This time, though, no electricity for us! So we needed to plan ahead. We took hot water bottles, lots of layers of clothes, and our Vaude Finsuit and Thermarest Vela HD sleeping bags that double as blankets and wraparounds. The Thermarest is down-filled so we won’t be replacing that when it wears out – no more duck-plucking for us! The Vaude is just as cosy anyway. You could also try one of the 12V heated seat pads. Don’t stint on blankets. The silky faux fur ones are great for cosiness.
Keep your hat on if it gets really cold, and warm socks plus a good pair of insulated slippers make all the difference. Cooking inside (with ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning!) adds extra warmth. We also fill up thermos flasks with hot water whenever we can to reduce the time needed to boil a kettle for tea or a hot water bottle.
If you do get hook-up, either a small fan-heater or the fantastic Eco Chico baby oil-FREE radiator by Dimplex keep you very warm indeed. The oil-free is light, fast to heat and you can safely leave it on the thermostat if you’re out or overnight.
On this trip, because we were totally on our own and noise wasn’t an issue, we started the engine to warm the inside and recharge our batteries every couple of hours.
We now know why the original buyers of our campervan changed their mind for one with a parking heater, but – even so – we were never cold and even threw off the duvet at one point. If you’d like to know a bit more about our campervan, have a look at the article on why we chose a California Beach.
When you can nip in and out of the van and barbecue or cook outside, preparing a meal is fun. In the middle of winter, though, it needs to be easy. We made a huge pot of tagine before we left home (vegetables, saffron, ginger, prunes, preserved lemon and olives), and ate it with fresh bread one day and with rice the next.
We also took along some decent readymeals that only needed hot water (have a look at our recommendations for tasty cheats). We made up boxes of nuts and fruit, took plenty of snacks, crackers, dips and tins of soup.
Make your own entertainment
Ideally, you’ll have bright blue skies overhead while you walk or cycle during the day. Chances are, though, you’ll have sleet, drizzle or gales! Be adaptable – grab those sunny hours and get outside to stretch your legs, but prepare for a lot of time inside.
We managed one long sunny walk and one evening of full moon watching before the sleet and snow kept us cooped up. Rather than feeling trapped, we gave in to the relaxation of reading, playing games, having a snooze and, when there was signal, catching up on all those Facebook groups.
And never underestimate how many hours you can while away watching the changing weather, the play of light on a snowy mountain-top or your travelling companion trying to start a new year’s exercise resolution in zero space.
What have we forgotten? Do share your own tips for winter camping. There’s a comment box below.