Captivating history and stories from the past sweep the steepest peninsulas and hillsides of the Scottish Highlands. The ruins of medieval castles from the Middle Ages, coniferous forests that have existed for centuries and archaic battle fortresses live in the vast depths of the landscapes, but they will not stand in your way if you want to pitch up your tent nearby.
After setting up camp beside one of these camping spots that are rich in heritage, peer through your binoculars and the sights you’ll see before you will include panoramic sea views, local wildlife and rugged mountains.
Well, all that and Nessie of course.
Below, we delve into the secrets of Scotland’s past and explore some of best places you can camp beside the stunning scenery and heritage sites of the promised land.
Where better to start than the capital of the Scottish Highlands and the kick-off point of the North Coast 500, Inverness.
Overlooking the 6-mile long River Ness, which flows from the northern end of Loch Ness in Scotland through to Loch Dochfour, is Inverness Castle. Taken siege of in 1562 by Clan Munro and Clan Fraser to show their support for Mary Queen of Scots, the ancient viewing tower is open to the public to enjoy panoramic views of Loch Ness.
For those who want to gallivant further onto the surrounding banks of Loch Ness, they will find a dramatic gorge and the tumbling Falls of Foyers on the Southside.
There are plenty of places to camp in Inverness and near Loch Ness Bay too, including:
2. Sandwood Bay Beach, Northwest Sutherland
Travel a bit further down the North Coast 500 and you’ll reach a remote pink sand beach that has been considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain.
Dotted right on the edge of the North-West coast of Scotland, Sandwood Bay’s shore is any free-spirit’s paradise.
Located near the secluded harbour village of Kinlochbervie, there’s no easy route to reach this off-the-beaten-track pink sand beach. Deemed a wild camping spot, Sandwood Bay Beach has no road access, and can only be reached by a four-mile trek from the hamlet of Blairmore.
Bounded by cliffs and the Am Buachaille sea stack, you’ll find some of the best-preserved machair wildflower grasslands in mainland Scotland. Over 200 species of plant grow behind the sand dunes, and you can find a clear patch to pitch up your tent and get back to your roots for a spot of wild camping.
If listening to the sound of the waves whilst you sleep isn’t your thing, official campsites in the nearby areas of Lairg and Durness include:
3. Cairngorms National Park near Craigievar Castle
If you want to visit the famous Cinderella-inspired Craigievar Castle in Alford, you will have to make sure that you are home by midnight! That’s of course unless you fancy your Fiat 500 turning into a pumpkin…
Inside this extraordinarily authentic castle, you’ll find an impressive collection of artefacts, armour and art, including walls adorned with paintings and portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn, who served as a Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland. Knighted by the king in 1822, the talented artist was always in constant demand and received many honours whilst depicting the faces of the rich, famous and important people of his era.
If quaint luxury is what you’re after, you can escape reality for a good night’s kip in one of the neighbouring holiday cottages beside the fantastical Castle - and you don’t even need to sneak past a dragon!
On the other hand, if you’d rather see the night in beside the tranquillity of a rippling river, you may want to try Cairngorms National Park. The living quarters of one of Scotland’s native pine forests, Cairngorms is only a stone’s throw away from the Castle.
Let’s recap over the camping places mentioned above:
4. Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin, Glen Affric
Also situated near Cairngorms National Park is Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin, where you can swap your camping chair for a hobbit-like tree stump.
The Beinn a’ Mheadhoin loch makes for great wild swimming whilst taking in the serendipitous three glens, including Glen Affric, Glen Cannich and Glen Strathfarrar. Plus, those wild campers who are up for a challenge can venture over to one of the small stand-alone islands to pitch up their tent.
Surrounded by the rugged Kintail mountains, including The Three Munros, the ridge of the Five Sisters, and in the distance, the Caledonian Pine forest, it feels like you are practically on a Lord of the Rings movie set!
15,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, Scotland was covered in glaciers, and the coniferous Caledonian Pine Forest was a 15,000Km2 stomping ground for grazing animals - could one of those have been the mighty woolly mammoth itself?
Top camping spots that are close by include:
Wild camping on the beaches around Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin
5. Smoo Cave and nearby campsites, Durness
Two geologists, part of the Grampian Speleological Group, recently uncovered what may be one of Scotland’s longest caves. Whilst clambering into unchartered territory in Durness, the daredevil pair stumbled across a newfound 100-metre, four-mile long cave, which may connect underground dwellers to the well-known Smoo Cave.
Open to those who like to burrow themselves in the deepest darkest voids underground, the enchanting chambers and mystifying waterfalls of Smoo Cave can be visited all year round.
However, if you are looking for a place to toast marshmallows, you will have to set up your tipi somewhere else! If you want to wake up overlooking the coastal horizon, Scourie Campsite near the Handa Ferry Nature Trail is only a short drive away.
Other campsites and wild camping spots include:
Wild camping - Ceannabeine Beach
6. Ardvreck Castle
Below the tallest room of the tallest three-storey tower of Ardvreck Castle is the picturesque Loch Assynt.
The castle was a refuge in the 17th century for James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, who hid out there after losing the Battle of Carbisdale. The basement was vaulted, and the walls are pierced by shot-holes. Clamber to the top of this castle up the windy corbelled-out staircase and you can imagine yourself as James, tucked away behind the pre-existing walled garden.
Now, the remaining ruins of the historic fortress stand on a peninsula on the remote camping ground of Loch Assynt, where you can overlook the enchanting castle from the east end.
As well as wild camping locations throughout Loch Assynt, you can choose to get some shut-eye at:
7. Isle of Skye, Fairy Pools
In search of pixie dust? Traverse over, through and around the magical Isle of Skye Fairy Pools that were left behind at the end of last ice age.
For a fully immersive at-one-with-nature experience, paddle into the pools, cross the stepping stones and perch on one of the rocks, listening to trickle of the miniature waterfalls embedded into the rock and heather. Some of the pools make for great wild swimming and the cold water will certainly provide brisk morning wake-up call!
The nearest village to the Fairy Pools is Carbost on the West of Skye and the start of the 2.4km walk is on the road to Glenbrittle campsite near Loch Brittle shore and at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountain range.
8. Isle of Skye, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
If the powerful sound of water thrashing against the rocks is what you’re after, then you might want to visit the observation point at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, which is about 17km North of Portree up Staffin road.
The gargantuan 90-metre Kilt Rock made up of basalt columns and resting on a sandstone base is famous for its pleated kilt-like shape. Almost resembling a tartan pattern, this stunning rock for-mation and Mealt waterfall on the Trotternish Peninsula dance downwards in a Cèilidh of basalt and sandstone columns to the rock-laden coast below.
There are plenty of campsites nearby, including:
Kinloch campsite - with a vegan and vegetarian restaurant