There’s nothing better than heading out alone or with your friends for a peaceful tour down a tranquil river over several days. There’s something about travelling on your own steam, camping, cooking, and continuing on the next day that’s extremely grounding. With no rush and one aim: to get from A to B, kayak camping is a fantastic way to relax, de-stress, and enjoy nature to the fullest.
However, in some places pulling your kayak up the bank and setting up camp isn’t exactly legal. There’s nothing worse than being moved on in the middle of the night by an angry local. Therefore, it’s super important that you educate yourself on the laws of the matter. As well as this, it’s important to respect the locals, the land, and nature by following the “leave no trace” rule.
Even in locations where wild camping isn’t technically legal, the rules can be bent if you speak to the right people, inform the landowners, and most importantly respect the land.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the legalities surrounding kayak camping in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. We’ll also provide you with some inside information on how you can achieve the touring route you’ve been dreaming of without causing any trouble or breaking any laws. Enjoy!
What is Kayak Camping?
Put simply, kayak camping is the act of camping with your kayak, obvious right? When you’re kayak camping you load up your yak with camping gear and paddle off to stay on the bank in a tent. The next day you can paddle back to your start point or continue on a journey for another night of camping.
Kayak camping is usually part of a touring exhibition, whereby you set a route down a river, along the coast, or across a lake. The idea is to paddle a set amount of miles per day and camp along the way. This form of touring can be self-sufficient, where you bring everything you need to survive the duration of the trip. It can also be more relaxed, where you stop off at specific campsites with showers, shops, and electricity hookups.
How you kayak camp is entirely up to you, but the idea is basically the same for all forms.
Is Wild Camping When You’re Kayaking Legal?
When you think of kayak camping you often imagine paddling through an untouched piece of wilderness camping along the way on the bank. Wild camping is the act of setting up camp in nature rather than at a pay-to-stay campground or established campsite. Personally, kayak camping for me is all about camping in the wilderness with the bare necessities. I do love the convenience of a shower block and toilet, but there’s something special about camping wild.
Unfortunately, wild camping isn’t legal everywhere and there are some laws in place that restrict you from setting up camp for the night. This isn’t true for all countries and locations, but it’s technically illegal in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, as long as you aren’t damaging the land, disrupting local wildlife, and have the land owner’s blessing, it’s usually tolerated.
In countries where wild camping is illegal, it’s important to have respect for the land, its owner, and the wildlife that resides there. Well, actually, this is also true for countries that wild camping is legal. However, in order not to aggravate locals, landowners, and avoid penalties, you should be extra respectful and cautious in illicit countries.
So, what are the laws in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland? And, can you still wild camp in countries where it’s technically illegal? Read on to find out...
What are the Laws?
Not all countries have the same laws around wild camping. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland wild camping is technically illegal. However, in Scotland and most of Ireland wild camping is a legal practice thanks to the Land Reform. This reform makes nature accessible to people that desire to wild camp as long as a set of rules are closely followed.
In Ireland, wild camping is legal in most places. The national parks and coastal regions are usually accessible for wild camping however it’s important to check before pitching up. Some areas are restricted due to land usage, land owner’s rights, and nature preservation.
If you plan on kayak camping in Ireland chances are you will have no issues. You are free to camp as long as you leave the land how you found it. You should refrain from scorching the ground with fires, leaving litter, creating excessive noise, or disturbing wildlife. Have some commonsense when kayak camping in Ireland and respect the locals, the land, and nature.
Always plan your route well and make sure that there are no restricted camping areas along your route before heading out on the water with your camping gear.
2. Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, wild camping is currently illegal. However, it is tolerated when practiced responsibly. We can’t tell you that it is okay to kayak camp in Ireland without using designated campsites, but we can give you a few pointers that may help you achieve your route.
Plan your route well. Find potential bankside camping locations along your route and attempt to contact the landowner or local authority to ask if it’s okay to camp on the land. Most of the time, when you do this, you will get permission to camp. Just be polite and make sure to get across that you respect the laws, nature, and won’t disturb the land. Stating that you won’t light any fires or leave litter may just sway the decision in your favour.
If you’re speaking with a landowner or farmer, sometimes slipping them something to ease their mind will allow you to camp there. This could be a few euros or a gift of some kind. If the landowner or authority refuses, don’t kick up a fuss and definitely don’t camp there any way as this will cause you heaps of trouble.
If you find yourself on a route and have no option but to camp on the bankside without permission for safety reasons, make sure to leave no trace behind the next morning. Arrive late and leave early. If someone comes to speak to you be polite and explain the situation. 9 times out of 10, people will be okay with you staying the night as long as you compose yourself well.
In England, wild camping is technically illegal. Similar to Northern Ireland, you can get around this by speaking with local authorities and landowners. However, in my experience, it’s much harder to sway the decision in your favour.
If you want to kayak camp in England, you’re best bet is to find routes that have registered campsites or bed and breakfasts along the way. Many rivers and lakes that are desirable kayaking locations have facilities that can be accessed from the bank. Some of which have kayak and canoe ramps.
There shouldn’t be any issues finding routes with established accommodation solutions along the way in England. However, if you’re heading into some out the way national parks you may struggle. In these situations, you can attempt to contact landowners beforehand. If you have to pull up on the bank to camp for safety reasons, make sure to keep the noise down, make no fires, and arrive late and leave early.
In Scotland, wild camping is completely legal. Scotland is an excellent kayaking destination and the laws state that wild camping is legal on unenclosed land. This means that as long as the land you wish to camp on is not fenced off and isn’t clearly stated as private, you have the right to stay the night.
There are some simple rules to follow though.
- You should always use a stove and keep open fires to a minimum.
- Never light fires during dry periods
- Avoid overcrowding. If there are other campers at your spot, try and find somewhere else to pitch
- Always take your litter with you and leave no trace
In Wales, wild camping is technically illegal. However, it’s more tolerated than in England. If you plan your route and speak to people that own the land you should have no problem finding places to set up camp. Some landowners even set up small wild camping locations along the rivers that can be used for a small fee of usually four or five pounds per person.
Locations such as the River Wye are also full of registered campsites with great accessibility for kayakers and canoers. I’ve used a few of these sites on the Wye before and accessibility is great. There are ramps to get your kayak up to the site, toilets, showers, and spaced-out pitches. If you must use these sites but would prefer to camp wild and out of the way, a quick call to book may get you a nice out-the-way pitch that’s just as good if not better than a wild spot.