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How to go wild camping in Scotland (and see the Northern Lights)

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

4 December 2017

If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, wild camping in Scotland can provide you with the perfect opportunity to tick it off in 2018. Wild camping is an experience in itself, but catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis can make it all the more special - and you don't have to travel abroad to do it.

If you're wild camping you want to have the best (and warmest) time possible so here are our top tips for camping in Scotland and catching the Northern Lights.

Time your trip right

To give yourself the best chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis in Scotland, you need to get the timing just right. Your best chance of catching a glimpse of them will be late at night or in the early hours of the morning. Autumn and winter are the best seasons to see the Northern Lights.

You can sign up to receive alerts from AuroraWatch UK, and these will let you know when it's likely that the aurora can be seen from the UK. The local conditions have to be perfect — for example, you might struggle if it's a cloudy night - so if you can try and camp for more than one night to maximise your chances.

Wild Camping Scotland Northern Lights

Head to Scotland between November and March for your best chance to see the Northern Lights

Thought Clothing

Choose your destination wisely

If the main aim of your wild camping adventure is to see the Northern Lights, you should put plenty of thought and research into choosing your destination. When the conditions are right, you might see the spectacle from anywhere in Scotland but certain spots will give you a better chance of catching a glimpse. 

Our favourites are:

  • Aberdeen, Orkney and Caithness
  • Aberdeenshire and the Moray Coast
  • The Cairngorms
  • Galloway Forest Park
  • Angus and the coast of Fife

For more on the best spots to see the Aurora Borealis, check out Visit Scotland's guide, which will give you more detailed info.

Make sure you know the rules and regulations

Before setting off on your Scottish wild camping adventure, it's vital that you familiarise yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The overarching theme of these guidelines is that you should follow a 'leave-no-trace' policy while you're camping. 

Here are some of the most important points to remember:

  • Always take your rubbish with you and consider picking up any other litter you see.
  • Try to avoid overcrowding by moving on to another spot if you arrive at a busy site.
  • Leave no trace of a campfire or use a camping stove instead.
  • Ask the landowner if you're in doubt about anything. They might be able to point you in the direction of a more suitable camping spot.

It's also worth noting that, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, you will be allowed to camp on almost any unenclosed land. (Although, because it is a particularly popular site, East Loch Lomond is subject to wild camping bylaws.)

Wild Camping Scotland Northern Lights2

You don't have to travel abroad and spend lots of money to tick the Northern Lights off your bucket list

People Tree

Make sure you have all the camping essentials

If you haven't been wild camping before, you're going to need to invest in some supplies before you head off. You'll need a rucksack with a 40–70 litre capacity, depending on how long you'll be camping for. And, of course, a tent and a heavy-duty sleeping bag that will get you through the Scottish winter nights are essential. 

It's best to pick up all of your camping essentials at a specialist shop like Go Outdoors, as the sales assistants will be able to help you choose the right equipment for your trip.

You'll also need to think carefully about the food you're going to be taking. Wilderness Scotland recommends that you pack energy dense foods as well as things that you can have as a treat. They say that your shopping list should include dried fruit and meat, porridge, nuts, cheese, cup-a-soups and a tube of condensed milk.

Also don't forget to take your camera, binoculars and plenty of warm clothing. A solar charger for mobile phones is also pretty useful.

You'll have to think about how you're going to get all of your supplies to Scotland at the beginning of your trip as well. If you're going with your family, a group of friends, or your dog, you might not have the luxury of being able to pile everything up on the back seat of your car. If this is going to be a one-off trip, you might be able to make do by stuffing everything into the boot of your vehicle. But, if you're planning on taking regular camping trips, you might find that it's worth investing in a trailer. If you think this would be helpful, ERDE offers a wide selection, and also stocks all of the accessories you'll need to get the most out of your camping trailer.

Plan plenty of walks and activities

Seeing the Northern Lights might be the main event of your camping trip, but it's important that you plan what you're going to do with the rest of your time. Once you've chosen what area of Scotland you want to camp in, find out whether there are any popular walking trails or attractions nearby.

Depending on where you're staying, you might get the chance to go rock climbing or caving. And, if you're camping near a body of water, you could even go canoeing or wild swimming.

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