Camping in Britain is cheap, good for the soul and gives travelers easy access to some spectacular coast and countryside.
Here are eight of the very best campsites in Britain, taking in Scottish islands, Yorkshire fells and ancient Hampshire woodland.
Best for beautiful beaches: Treen Farm, Cornwall
Treen, St Levan, Penzance, Cornwall; open April to late October; treenfarmcampsite.com
Way down in West Cornwall, where England tapers to a point and plunges into the Channel, is the wonderful campsite of Treen Farm. Family-run for five generations, it’s long been a favorite for hardy backpackers and rock climbers, as well as surfers and relaxed sand-and-sunseekers.
Nearby is the South West Coast Path, which offers 630 miles of plunging headlands and wildflower meadows, or it’s a much shorter walk to the pristine beaches at Porthcurno. Other nearby attractions include the balancing boulder of Logan Rock and the Minack open-air auditorium, where the sea makes a suitably dramatic backdrop.
Best for rambling and cycling: Kettlewell, Yorkshire Dales
Conistone Road, Kettlewell, North Yorkshire; mid-March to late October; kettlewellcamping.co.uk
In the heart of the Yorkshire Dales sits the tiny village of Kettlewell, with a range of facilities that belies its size: three pubs, a restaurant, a shop and charming tea room, plus the excellent Kettlewell Camping. On the edge of the village, surrounded by traditional dry-stone walls, this site offers great views of the surrounding fells (hillsides) and has low-carbon underfloor heating in the luxurious shower block.
For ramblers, there are lovely paths through fields along Wharfedale or Littondale, while road cyclists can retrace the route of the Tour de France, which passed through Kettlewell when it visited Yorkshire in 2014.
Best for isolation: Port a Bhaigh, northwest Scotland
Altandhu, near Achiltibuie, Ullapool; all year; portabhaigh.co.uk
In Scotland’s wild northwest, the lochs cut deep inland and the mountains come down to the coast, then continue out to sea as islands. Set in this otherworldly landscape is Port a Bhaigh Campsite, slap bang on the shore and surrounded by grand peaks.
From the site, walkers can stroll along the beach, or tackle a mountain such as nearby Stac Pollaidh ("Stack Polly"), while sailors, sea anglers and kayakers can launch from the tiny harbor. Finish the day with a drink on the deck of the nearby Am Fuaran Bar, overlooking the frequently sun-kissed Summer Isles.
Three Cliffs Bay, South Wales: best for clifftop views
North Hills Farm, Penmaen, Swansea; April to late October; threecliffsbay.com
A tranquil landscape of rolling hills, sand dunes and salt grass, the Gower Peninsula protrudes from the South Wales coastline just a short distance (though it feels like a million miles) from Swansea.
Three Cliffs Bay Campsite enjoys a stunning location high above the beach, with an inspiring vista across the sands to the eponymous cliffs, looking for all the world like a set of pyramids. When you get tired of the sea view, you can get in amongst the waves: the Gower’s beaches are famous for surfing, while dry-land activities include hiking and pony-trekking.
Seal Shore, Arran: best for island life
Kildonan, Isle of Arran, Ayrshire; mid-March to late October; campingarran.com
The island of Arran is often dubbed "Scotland in miniature", thanks to its northern mountains, southern hills and central dividing glen. Just a 55-minute ferry ride from Ardrossan on the mainland, it’s also a beacon for local wildlife, including basking sharks, seals and dolphins.
On the coast road between Lamlash and Lagg is the idyllic Seal Shore Camping Site, offering a private beach and views across the sea to Ireland. Palm trees thrive in the garden thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. If sleeping under canvas gets too much, you can go for a cozy wooden camping pod.
Red Shoot Camping Park, Hampshire: best for family freedom
Linwood, near Ringwood, Hampshire; early July to late November; redshoot-campingpark.com
Established as a hunting ground in 1079, the New Forest is now a national park. With the highest concentration of ancient trees in western Europe, the woodland is interspersed with vast swathes of heather, gorse and grassland, giving the area some big-sky vistas and a great feeling of openness.
This sense of space continues at Red Shoot Camping Park, a perennial family favorite with wide pitches, an outdoor children's play area, and sheep nibbling the grass at the camp edges. The forest walks and cycling trails that start from the campsite entrance are perfect for junior bike rides. Plus the family-friendly Red Shoot Inn, a pub with its own on-site brewery, is literally on the doorstep.
Great Langdale, Lake District: best for mountain activities
Great Langdale, near Ambleside, Cumbria; all year; nationaltrust.org.uk
The Lake District is England’s foremost mountain area, where long lakes and deep valleys radiate from the central peaks like spokes on a wheel. Great Langdale Campsite is at the head of one of these valleys with the soaring Langdale Pikes towering over the tents, which means instant access to the high ground for walkers and a ready supply of tracks and byways for mountain bikers.
The site is run by the National Trust, the organization that protects the local landscape, so your fees go to a good cause. If you don’t have your own tent, you can hire a wooden camping pod complete with heating (ideal after a winter hike or rainy bike ride), or check into a yurt or tepee.
Glottenham Farm, East Sussex: best for simple exclusivity
Bishops Lane, Robertsbridge, East Sussex; April to early October (glamping only in 2020); glottenham.com
It feels like a riches to rags story, but in the 16th century, a medieval castle stood on this wonderful slice of the High Weald near Battle, which is now a 60-acre working farm. Indeed, the fort’s moat and raised mound still survive, but today the wealth is in its abundance of nature: the coppiced woodland, the babbling streams, and the farm’s restored wetlands.
It’s all remarkably simple too with composting toilets, open-air showers and a forest school encouraging foraging, wild cooking and bushcraft skills. For those after a touch of luxury, there are eco-friendly yurts and Geodomes available.
More information on camping in Britain
The Camping and Caravan Club has a directory of over 2000 campsites across the UK. There are useful websites for Forestry Commission campsites and for camping in protected landscapes and other special locations through the National Trust.