Scotland is the only part of the UK where you can legally go wild camping - tent camping away from designated campsites - on open access land. ( See Off-Piste Recreation on Open Access Land) Of course, if you do choose this way to enjoy the outdoors, you'll have to do without a few of the amenities like hot showers and toilets.
Not quite ready for that much nature? Tent camping at a site specifically planned for tents is a good compromise. Most have basic facilities and some even have electricity hook-ups. Yet the best tent campsites are arranged to take advantage of Scotland's majestic scenery away from campervans, trailers and caravans.
Why the Cairngorms?
If you dream of waking up to amazing views, the sound of birdsong, sunlight (or mist - it's Scotland afterall) filtering through the tall evergreen forests, you could hardly choose a better place to set up your tent that at a campsite in the Cairngorms National Park.
At 1,467 square miles, it's the UK's largest national park and the northernmost in Great Britain. It has five of Scotland's six highest mountains, the cleanest rivers, lochs and marshes in the country and ancient, towering Calendonian pine forests. Wildlife that may check you out includes golden eagles, capercaillie and Scottish crossbill as well as wildcats, watervole and otters. And if fishing and shooting are your pastimes, there's plenty of opportunity to bag salmon and trout, to go deer stalking or to shoot game birds or clay pidgeons on estates, like the Atholl Estate and Rothiemurchus, scattered throughout the park.
Castles too. When you've communed with nature long enough, several of Scotland's most interesting castles and stately homes, including Blair Castle, Braemar Castle, the Queen's summer holiday home, Balmoral, and the atmospheric, 13th century ruins of Castle Roy are all in the Cairngorms.
Tent Camping Season
Most of the tent camping sites in this part of Scotland are open from late spring through the end of October, though some have tent camping year round for heartier souls - so it's worth checking their websites. Several of the campsites mentioned here also have rustic cabins, wigwams, pods and caravan sites not too far away for those who'd like to come up and camp during the ski season at Aviemore.
Whatever you do, be prepared for Scotland's midges. They are tiny biting insects about 1mm or 2mm long - so tiny you can hardly see individuals in their swarms. They suck blood from the skin leaving victims with an itchy rash. As soon as the weather warms up, the midges appear in the billions, driving both visitors and locals barmy. Bring plenty of midge specific insect repellent and cover up when they are around. Try Avon Skin So Soft insect repellents (Compare Prices) or stop into a branch of Boots when you arrive in Scotland and ask for their own-brand midge repellent. Bugsaway clothing is a range of insect repellent clothing for travelers - trousers, shirts, scarves and socks - that can also help.
Best Tent Campsites in the Cairngorms
There are probably dozens of tent campsites in the Cairngorms National Park but many of them only set aside a small area for tents among the caravans, camping cars and cabins. This selection of sites are highly rated by other campers for their views, facilities and nearby attractions. Booking in advance is essential.
- Rothiemurchus David Attenborough has called Rothiemurchas "one of the glories of Wild Scotland". This unusual place is a privately owned estate that includes one of the largest areas of natural forest in Britain - in fact, one of the largest ancient woodlands in Europe. It has been looked after by the same family, the Grants of Rothiemurchus, for 18 generations and welcomes visitors, including campers, year round. All sorts of outdoor activities can be organized through the Rothiemurchus Centre, a few minutes from the camping areas and the Aviemore resort area, with its skiing and winter sports, is just two miles away. Tent camping is located in three areas on the edges of truly primeval Caledonian forests, amid towering Scots pines, some 300 years old. The entire park teems with wildlife. Sheltered camping areas include a high level area amid indigenous pines, another near a fast flowing stream, Am Beanaidh, that runs trhough the park and a campsite on an idland where the stream, or burn, splits. A heated amenity building has toilets, showers, dishwashing and launderette areas. The camp has several midge eaters. Regularly named to lists of the best campsites in Europe, Rothiemurchus must be booked well in advanced. Unfortunately, Fido isn't welcome in this arboreal paradise.
- Blair Castle near Pitlochry, is a large, well equipped camping park on another of Scotland's historic domains, the Atholl estate. Campers have access to miles of trails and woodland, as well as reduced price admission to the castle and its gardens, the first private castle to be opened to the public in Scotland. While camping here, visitors can arrange to take part in pony trekking (from April), Land Rover Safaris, and ranger-led activities. Country sports, including Salmon fishing, deer stalking and shooting can be arranged with prices from about £20 per day, per rod for springtime fishing, to £400 per head for deer stalking. Tent camping facilities include 100 4 to 7m square, grass pitches and larger pitches along the River Tilt. Up to two dogs are welcome. Water and electrical connections are available for some pitches and the camp promises that their washing up, toilet and shower facilities are never more than 50 yards away from your tent. The campsite is open from mid February to early November.
- Lazy Duck Lightweight Camping is for visitors who really want to get away from it all. Located on a site that also includes a hostel and two lovel woodland cottages, the secluded tent camping area can accommodate only four pitches for small, 2 or 3 person tents. The clearing in the woods has been a campsite for travelers and traders for at least 100 years. Facilities include a flush toilet and washbasin, a hot and hold washing up space, a hot water Aussie-style "bush" shower (basically a bucket), a wet weather cooking shelter and a chimenea fire. There's also a hammock and a two person sauna. The campsite is open from May 1 to the end of October.