Wild camping can be tricky in Wales, and that includes Snowdonia, where you need to plan well in advance if you want an authentic experience. Here's how. There's camping as most of us know it – staying on a campsite with hot showers, water on tap and maybe even a shop and power points. And then there's wild camping. That's where you pitch your tent in the real great outdoors, far away from people and creature comforts, and possibly far away from roads and cars, too. Many wild campers walk or canoe to the remotest places they can see on OS maps (or even off them), set up their tent and camping stove and settle in for a quiet night under the stars.
We wrote about wild camping in Scotland last year, and it proved to be quite an eye-opener. To hear the passion with which seasoned campers talk about the activity, it's easy to see what all the fuss is about. Stevie Christie told us about the sheer sense of freedom, of satisfaction, and of course the silence with which to contemplate the stars. And David Scotland gave us some practical advice on the gear you'll need and on the safety rules you need to observe when you go. We don't think we can improve on the gems of wisdom they deliver, so we'd urge you to have a read, as they're applicable to wild camping anywhere in the world.
But now, a word of caution: it's not quite as easy to wild camp in Snowdonia as it is in most areas of Scotland. North of the border, there's quite a liberal attitude to wild camping. As long as you cause no damage, and leave the place exactly as you found it, you're good to set up camp pretty much anywhere as long as it's not private land and wild camping is specifically forbidden.
In Snowdonia, however, as in the rest of Wales, there are a few hurdles in your way before you can set up camp. Let's pitch our tent and have a look at the rules.
Where can you wild camp in Snowdonia?
The overarching rule is that you cannot wild camp anywhere in Wales or England without the express permission of the land owner. That means you cannot simply hike around, find a camping spot and set up camp on Snowdon – you'll need to plan your stay in advance, including getting permission.
What's a little known fact is that most of Wales, including Snowdonia National Park, is actually privately owned. A lot of the land is owned by farmers, but there are also private businesses (for example water, electricity, mining and quarrying companies), and other families and individuals who own the land. In fact, Snowdonia National Park is a national park in name only, and has many landowners – and that includes the most famous mountain, Snowdon itself. Occasionally, a piece of Snowdon actually does come up for sale, so keep your eyes peeled if you've got a few million in your backpack.
Most of the land in the UK has a formal owner, and you'd be able to find who owns a specific patch in the Land Registry. Small pockets that have no owner (for example where the owner dies without leaving a will), end up with the crown, to be used, open to the public or sold. This probably paints a discouraging picture if you were planning to feel free on a Welsh mountain or in a valley, but if you put yourself in the position of a landowner, especially a farmer, you can see how you might not care for strangers camping on your property, and potentially causing damage or frightening animals.
So given this information, you have two options when you want to go camping in Snowdonia, or anywhere in Wales for that matter: stay on an organised campsite, or contact a land owner before you set out. It's also worth noting that a landowner who does grant you permission might also ask for some sort of payment, or at least a deposit, and could also impose some conditions, such as not pitching your tent before dusk, staying just one night, and ensuring that any accidents or injuries are your own responsibility, for example. There could be some "bathroom" rules, too, so make sure you get that one right before you pack your knitted toilet roll cover.
We wouldn't recommend just taking a walk up to a farmhouse and knocking on the door, of course. They might not be in, for a start, and if they are, they might refuse access, which could leave you in a pickle, especially if you're hiking. Always, always get permission before you set out. Also, it's highly unlikely that you would be able to camp on one of the industrial properties we mentioned above. They are usually secure areas, and it's unlikely that you'd be able to contact the person who would be able to grant access.
If you are granted the right to camp by a landowner and you agree to their stipulations, there are some wider rules you'll need to obey too. Typical rules will be similar to those of Snowdonia National Park, especially in areas of natural beauty like the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire. Don't forget that millions of people are visiting the area to enjoy its vistas, and might not like the idea of your orange tent spoiling the view. So try and camp where you won't have a big visual impact, and perhaps limit your stay to the evening hours as far as is practicable.
Does it really have to be wild?
If your idea of a campsite is one full of families and people with TVs, hot tub parties and rowdy barbecues, you might be pleasantly surprised when you stumble upon a campsite that looks and feels just like wild camping. Some enterprising land owners have opened up their uncultivated property for no frills camping experiences, which is wild camping in all but name. You might find them listed as "nearly wild camping", which could realistically be as close to the genuine thing as you'll get if you want a few low-tech nights in Snowdonia without a month of searching the Land Registry and cold-calling farmers.
Of course you'll have to pay, and there will be rules to obey, but you'll generally be able to pitch up wherever you want on the property and hike off the next morning to another nearly wild site. It might be the perfect location if you want a pitch with views of Snowdon, Glyderau or Carneddau, or easy access to some of the picturesque places like Llanberis or Beddgelert, where you'll also be able to have a bite to eat and a drink.
It all depends on how much of a wild camping purist you are, but when you're in Snowdonia, you do have to obey the local rules. A nearly wild site might be a good compromise between a family campsite and setting up camp on the side of a mountain. If there is another visitor at the site, you can be sure they're like-minded folk who respect the ethos of roughing it, and you can pledge never to tell the outside world that this was anything other than a last-ditch pitch at the end of a gruelling mountain hike.
Getting to Snowdonia
Many wild campers take freedom to the max and that means leaving the car at home, so they have to be very picky about what they carry. If that's the case, the train is the perfect way to reach Snowdonia, from anywhere in the UK. The Chester to Holyhead line stops off at Llandudno Junction, where you can change to a local service to Betws-y-Coed, about 20km from Snowdon, nestled among the mountains. Then you can hike, cycle or get the bus to your final destination.