Camping in Scotland

What makes a great campsite for cyclists?

During my long-distance bike tour in 2023, I stayed at almost 80 different campgrounds. In France, England, Scotland, Italy and Germany. Many of them were great, few not so much. During the trip, I thought a lot about what actually makes a great campground, specifically for cyclists. Here are my main criteria:

A warm welcome

That's sort of a no-brainer, but when you travel solo I found it really important. You have many kilometers in your legs, you might have not talked to anybody the whole day and a little smile and kind words do wonders. Most of the campsites did a good job, but I had as well two which I would never ever visit again, as the staff was almost hostile. And there were some that excelled, here three examples of great hospitality:

The day that I stayed at Confolens was a tough one. For quite some weeks I didn't have any trouble with dogs, but within ten minutes I had very close encounters with a fierce terrier, a mixed dog, and a German shepherd. When I came into Confolens, I was passing the local campground. Nobody was at the desk, so I gave them a call and they immediately came and booked me in. They were super friendly, had icecream and even drove the chair that I borrowed to my pitch. Throughout the stay, I decided to actually stay for two days, the owners were super helpful and always up for a chat.

The owners at the campsite in Glastonbury went beyond and above anything that I would expect. I arrived a little late, and hadn't eaten too much throughout the day. Without even mentioning that, they immediately asked whether I would want a chair, and whether I was hungry. And I was. They brought me a great sandwich with crisps, salad, an egg of their own ducks and a large glass of wine. And they weren't accepting any money for it. The next morning I was even getting a tour of the farm and were invited to bottle feed a lamb. I mean, no words.

After the most exhausting tour, more than 100km and more than 1400m ascend, I arrived in Clachtoll. I hadn't booked and the sign outside said that the campsite was full. There was no other option closeby, so I went in. I hadn't even reached the reception, when the owner approached me and said that I should not worry, they had space for me. Super friendly guy, he gave me a tour of all the facilities, and they really had plenty! Not even talking about the absolutely idyllic spot of the campsite. And they even had great fresh cake daily!

Setting up my tent in Confolens

Preparing to set up my tent in Confolens

A beautiful dinner at the Station Farm Campsite

A beautiful dinner at the Station Farm Campsite

Homemade cake at the Clachtoll Beach Campsite

Enjoying a delicious Victoria Sponge from the on-site shop

A place away from RVs and caravans

I did not necessarily hate to be close to motorized vehicles, sometimes it even proved helpful. Oftentimes campers were really friendly and offered me a coffee or to charge my power bank. I would even go so far that I found people in RVs more friendly than other bike tourists. And when the pitches are good and ideally a bit separated by hedges, it's no problem at all. But I had as well locations where I was truly worried that a car might hit me during the night. Another thing that drove me absolutely nuts were people who used their vehicles to charge their phones. It sounds absolutely idiotic, that you would let your car run just to get some electricity, but I had it several times in the UK. And while I'm a very calm and friendly camper, I go absolutely bonkers when people are doing that.

So, if I have a choice, I would always prefer a campsite that has a separate area for tents. I believe that you can even get a good idea about how welcome unmotorized campers are, based on where this tent area is. On great campsites they're on the nicest spot. On not so great campgrounds they might dedicated the worst spot, like directly at the entrance, closeby the busiest road.

What's even better, no cars allowed at all on premises. I had this only in the UK, nowhere else. The cars needed to park outside the camping area and they provided wheelbarrows to transport luggage.

Camping on a wildflower meadow at the Pithead campsite in Marsh Green

Camping on a wildflower meadow at the Pithead campsite in Marsh Green

Great view from the tent on the campsite in Ranchot

Great view from the tent on the campsite in Ranchot

Terraced campsite Ings Kippers

Beautiful pitch on the terraced campsite Ings Kippers

They give you a chair or provide seating

That sounds mundane. But the first question I always asked when checking in at reception, was whether they would have a chair for me. Most places did not deny that, but few had them easily at hand for campers. Some campsites offered wooden benches for their guests. I always preferred to have a chair though. Why?

Usually, a bench is a shared commodity. And while I have no problem sharing a table with others, usually people travel in groups. And especially groups tend to claim it as theirs, which makes it often a bit awkward.

A chair has another huge advantage. It's not only a seat, but a means to secure your bike. I had only a very short lock with me, which made it impossible to lock my bike to a bench. But I could lock it to any chair. It's not 100% secure but still adds an obstacle. Somebody carrying away my bike with a chair would make it so much more likely that I wake up in my tent than just carrying away a bike.

Chairs on the tent space in Bourbon-Lancy

Chairs and tables are provided in Bourbon-Lancy

Keeping your bike safe on a campsite

Security by obscurity :)

Gigantic plants on the campsite in Perros Guirec

Gigantic plants on the campsite in Perros Guirec

You can charge your phone

A charged phone is a must on a long-distance bike tour. At least for me. And it needs to be charged. I had two power banks with me, and recharged them almost daily, just to be on the safe side.

On French campgrounds, that was never a problem. There were always power sockets in the restrooms, without fail. And usually, there were as well some sockets that were a bit out of sight. I never charged my phone directly, didn't want it to get lost. But I charged the power banks, losing one of them would have been a lot less dramatic. The biggest risk was that somebody would unplug it.

While that was a workable solution, it was always feeling a bit like I was stealing some power. So, I was very glad when I saw specific lockers where you could charge your phone, protected with a code. Super great, and I wish all campsites would have that.

One campsite was super friendly, they offered me to use the electricity box usually meant for RVs for free. They even provided me with a transformer cable. Fun surprise, in the box, was a bird's nest.

The UK was a very different story though. While some of the smaller campsites had dedicated plugs for your phones, almost none of the bigger ones allowed access to the power sockets. The cables went directly into the walls, no chance to plug anything in. At one time, I even had to book a hotel, just to charge my battery packs as there was no way to charge them on the campgrounds. Partially it was ridiculous. One campsite allowed me to plug in the phone while the reception was open, but they were super worried about causing a fire and therefore did not allow me to charge it overnight. Infrastructure seems to be pretty bad when that is your worry. Another asked for five pounds to charge one phone, which I politely declined. So, be warned, getting all your devices charged could prove very difficult in the UK.

Fisher boats in the harbour of Barfleur

Fisher boats in the harbour of Barfleur

Electricity at Penzance campsite

USB charging hub on the campsite in Land's End

Bird's nest in an electricity box

A bird's nest! But electricity works :)

There's a little pantry or an onsite imbiss

I went to quite some remote places, and it was not always possible to get some food along the way. I therefore was very thankful, when the campsite provided a little pantry or even had an onsite restaurant. Some of them had food trucks on their premises.

The most remarkable pantry was definitely on the Wheems campsite on the Orkney Islands. They had a fully stuffed honesty shop. With basically everything that one could want. Fresh vegetables, eggs, cookies, shampoo, etc. And they had good stuff! Even my most favourite ginger cookies from the Island Bakery.

Beautiful common room at Wheems Campsite on the Orkney Islands

Beautiful common room at Wheems Campsite

La Buvette, nearby the campsite, in Samoreau

La Buvette, nearby the campsite, in Samoreau

Pillars of Hercules has the best cookies: the chococlate gingers from the Island Bakery

Chocolate Gingers from the Island Bakery. Available at the shop

They have a little common room

I love camping, but sometimes, especially when it's raining, it's great to have a space with a proper roof. Often these common rooms came with extra utilities, like having a water boiler, some seating, and internet. The waterboiler is one of these undervalued luxuries that I really appreciated! I had a gas stove, but a waterboiler makes it so much easier to get to my morning coffee!

I found that these rooms were much more common in the UK. And some went above and beyond. Again the Wheems campsite on the Orkneys, they had everything. Even an airfryer and a pizza oven. And the common room was absolutely spectacular, I would have moved in there! Similar the East Balthangie campsite. Great common room with games and a ping pong table. Their bathroom was as well over the top, positively, they even had a beauty table with a blow dryer.

EuroVelo 1 - Pingpong table at the campsite in Cuminestown

Pingpong table at the campsite in Cuminestown

Kitchen at the Wheems Campsite on the Orkney Islands

The excellently equipped kitchen at the Wheems Campsite

Terra Nova Laser Compact in Bourbon-Lancy

My Terra Nova Laser pitched in Bourbon-Lancy

Located near a bike route

That's a no-brainer, but I was not always lucky enough to have accommodation directly on my route. Sometimes I had to do quite some extra miles to get to the accommodation.

The best example of being very close to a bike route was the campground in Glurns/Glorenza. I had not booked anything for the night and my initial plan was to get on the Via Claudia Augusta to Meran. I saw the campsite while approaching Glurns, where I took a quick break. The town looked absolutely gorgeous and I decided to go to the campsite and stay there for a night.

The cycle route Via Claudia Augusta passing the campsite in Glurns/Glorenza

The cycle route Via Claudia Augusta passing the campsite

Unpacking my camping equipment in Carentan

Unpacking my camping equipment in Carentan

North Coast 500 - I reached John o'Groats

My LEJOG journey is finished!

They're at a beautiful location

Many of the campsites in France are municipal. Therefore they are often very close to a village or town. Not always at the most beautiful locations. They have other advantages, but scenery is not always one of them. There are exceptions though, and the Camping de la Mer in Primel is certainly one of them!

A lot of the campsites in the UK are run independently and they are usually a bit more off the grid. And many of them have been absolutely gorgeous! There are too many to list them all, but the St Winnow campsite is certainly one of them. When I arrived there I was the only guest and basically had the whole area for myself. I was totally flabbergasted.

Beautiful morning on the St Winnow Campsite

Beautiful morning on the St Winnow Campsite

Primel campsite. What a view!

Primel campsite. What a view!

Sunrise on the Penndra Campsite in Cornwall

Sunrise on the Penndra Campsite

As you can see, my criteria for a campsite are quite different from a lot of other campers. I don't care if they do have a swimming pool or a fun park. I even stayed consciously away from them. They're usually a lot more expensive and I always tried to be as close to nature as possible.

I would even go so far, that the campsites I loved the most got the worst reviews. They not always had very new toilets or showers, but were a bit rustic. Usually very clean though, which was more important to me.

As a conclusion. It's very easy to find good campsites while bike touring in Europe, at least in France and the UK. (I only camped for a few days in other countries). But there will be differences, France will be a lot cheaper than the UK, but I found that the ones in the UK were generally more scenic. I could have listed a lot more campsites here, but tried to focus on the ones that really excelled for one reason or the other.

Last update: 14. February 2024
Mood: happy :)