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Camping in the UK: the best sites and wild spots to pitch your tent

Make the most of summer by spending the night under canvas, whether you're camping out on the moors or bedding down in a luxury yurt

You can wild camp in much of Scotland, including on Islay's Laggan Bay
You can wild camp in much of Scotland, including on Islay's Laggan Bay

As summer approaches, there’s never been a better time to dust off your tent and pitch up for a night under canvas. And with an ever-increasing number of options across the UK, suiting all tastes and budgets, it’s easier and more appealing than ever to get involved.

“Camping seems to be an increasingly popular choice with young families now, offering more freedom and space than hotels or self-catering options and a relaxing environment for the kids to mix and play together while the parents relax,” says Jonathan Knight, camping specialist and founder of Cool Camping (coolcamping.co.uk).

In particular, luxury camping - also known as glamping - is expanding, with more options cropping up all the time. For example, the National Trust has introduced two new luxury safari tents at Low Wray in the Lake District (nationaltrust.org.uk), which sleep up to six people and cost from £250 for three nights.

With no tent to pitch or fire to build, luxury camping is a way to experience the great outdoors without sacrificing comfort. Arriving to a pre-pitched yurt, pod, hut or treehouse opens up new options for those without tents, and makes it more attractive in damp weather. Throw in top-notch facilities like proper beds, private showers, fitted kitchens and wood burners and the indulgence is complete.

With thousands of campsites across the UK, we are also spoilt for choice when it comes to a more traditional night under canvas. Pricing varies, but many pitches cost under £20 or even under £10 a night (though prices are often hiked during peak season) and facilities range from simple showers and portaloos to solar electricity, on-site shops and fire pits.

Campsites are convenient and generally friendly - but for the more adventurous, nothing beats the magic of wild camping. The premise is simple - choose your area, pack your tent and head into the great outdoors for a night (or several) under the stars. It’s a way to enjoy the best of camping with none of the people.

Unless you’re in Dartmoor or most parts of Scotland, wild camping is only legal if you have permission of the landowner. However, many landowners are amenable to the idea, provided you remain discreet and leave no trace.

Lucy Grewcock, co-author of The Wild Guide to Southern and Eastern England, offers some tips: “For the best experience, pitch a small tent after dark and pack up early,” she says. “A simple bivvy bag is even better. It’s best to find a spot that’s a 20-minute walk or more from the nearest road, carpark or building, and set back from marked hiking routes. And always remember to be mindful of farm animals.”

Wild camping

There are some fantastic hidden coves in Cornwall, isolated valleys in the Lake District and Wales and spectacular spots in the Southeast. Try the hidden folds in the South Downs, Walland Marsh in Kent or the lonely Dengie Peninsula in Essex. In Dartmoor, just south of Yes Tor, one of the area’s highest points, lie more isolated and quieter camping areas such as Dinger Tor, Lints Tor and Great Kneeset. For more information on wild camping in Dartmoor, check the online camping map (dartmoor.gov.uk/visiting)

Before heading out, it’s a good idea to scope out your potential pitch on an OS map (ordnancesurvey.co.uk/osmaps) - ensure you keep away from markings such as green slashes (bogs) and broken lines (paths and tracks).

Or how about immersing yourself in wildlife on the Isle of Wight’s only National Nature Reserve, Newtown (visitisleofwight.co.uk), which is opening up to campers for one night on July 16? You’ll be able to enjoy a night walk with the rangers, look for shooting stars with the Island’s Vectis Astronomers and tuck into a barbecue supper. Adult camping costs £25, Child camping costs £10. Booking essential.

Newtown National Nature Reserve

Luxury sites

As one of the biggest trends to come out of camping in recent years, you’ll find luxury camping options in most parts of the UK. In Hampshire, Adhurst Yurts (adhurst.co.uk) has a new, hand-built, canvas-covered cabin called Coppicers Lodge with a kitchen on its veranda and a double bed that is accessed by climbing tree. From £135 a night; sleeps six.

In Dorset, Quality Unearthed (qualityunearthed.co.uk) has a beautiful two-bedroom family Deerland Safari tent, surrounded by meadows and woods teeming with wildlife. The open-plan living space has a kitchen and there’s a separate bunk room for children; there’s even a stable if you want to bring your horse. From £242 for a minimum stay of two nights; sleeps four.

On the coast

Wake to the sound of gently-lapping waves and the smell of sea air at one of the UK’s many beach campsites. In Cornwall, Gwithian Farm Seaside Campsite (gwithianfarm.co.uk) is a 10-minute stroll to a top surfing beach, Gwithian, and has miles of lovely coastal walks nearby. There’s electricity, free wi-fi and hot showers, as well as an on-site shop and nearby pub. Grass pitches from £16 a night.

On the other side of the country in Scotland, Silver Sands holiday park (silver-sands.co.uk) has direct access to West Beach on the edge of the Moray Firth, home to dolphins, seals and whales. Facilities including shower and wash blocks, a heated indoor pool and bar. Grass pitch prices start from £19.50 a night for up to five people.

Silver Sands holiday park

City breaks under canvas

Half an hour from central London, Debden House (debdenhouse.com) sits in Epping Forest and offers camping in spring and summer (to 31 August) from £10 per adult and £5 per child, or family tickets (two adults and up to four children) from £32 excluding camping equipment; additional £3 for each car.

In Brighton, the Caravan Club (caravanclub.co.uk) site is two miles from the city and features electric hook-ups and laundry facilities. It offers caravan and tent pitches, as well as wooden pods that sleep up to two adults and two children, and cost from £45 per pod per night.

Nine miles east of Edinburgh, the Drummohn Caravan Park (pitchup.com) offers a choice of pitch, camping pod or luxury lodge with hot tub and is connected to the city with a bus every 10 minutes. Pitches from £10 per person per night.

Quirky camping

How about spending the night on a vertical rock face, high above the sea? Gaia Adventures (gaiaadventures.co.uk) offers cliff camping in Anglesey and Snowdonia, which sees adventurous souls abseil down to a small ledge suspended on a cliff. Always safely attached, you’ll watch the sunset from your nook before settling down for a thrilling night. From £190 per person based on a group of three. Cliff camping is also available in Dorset (cliff-camping.com) from £400, based on two sharing.

Or spend an evening hanging in the trees of rural Powys, where you’ll find the Red Kite Tree Tent (sheepskinlife.com), a spherical cacoon decked out with a log burning stove, solar electric power and dimmable lighting. From £250 for a two-night, mid-week stay.

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