By Fiona Russell, an outdoors journalist and blogger.
Wild-style camping is on the up with more campers seeking a back-to-nature experience but with the benefit of basic facilities like toilets and fresh water.
Among these campsites in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park are Loch Chon, near Kinlochard, and the Forestry Commission Scotland campsite at Sallochy, on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.
To get a better idea of what “wild-style”camping is for myself, I headed over to Loch Chon, Sallochy and The Cabin at Loch Lubnaig.
What was immediately obvious about the campsites is that they are family destinations. Almost every occupied pitch had at least one child running about or playing with others. There were quite a few happy dogs, too.
I visited Sallochy in the evening and it was busy. But it was a “happy busy”. Families were gathered together cooking over barbecues and stoves, chatting and laughing while children and dogs roamed all over the place.
It felt like a safe and jolly place to be and appeared to be a very popular spot. The facilities are basic, toilets and running water, but this is the “informal” aspect. You can take the kids to the toilets to brush their teeth and there are taps to fill up water containers for making your morning teas and coffees.
While many parents like the idea of proper wild camping with their kids, it’s easy to see why they also like the convenience of having toilets and running water on hand. And while the more formal campsites are also a good option, they can be more expensive and have a less natural look and feel.
Loch Chon felt even wilder than Sallochy. Pitches are much more spaced out across larger woodland areas and seemed really private, too.
Although you could hear and see other campers, the trees and long grass, as well as the size of the campsites, made each pitch feel wild-style.
There are pitches close to the loch shore, near the campsite facilities and hidden in out-of-the-way wooded glades. There are accessible pitches, too, for those who are less mobile.
The pitches have been made to be long-lasting and useable in poor weather with hard standing rectangles covered by rubber matting for tents to be erected on top. This helps avoid the discomfort of lumpy grass and soggy mud when camping at these sites.
Natural-look paths through grass and wildflowers link the pitches together and lead to the simple but very clean toilets. Fire pits and wood can be hired and the all-important midge nets and repellent can be bought from the site wardens.
The site was filling up nicely on a Saturday morning at the start of the school holidays.
A dad and son were enjoying the sunshine and deciding whether to walk or cycle locally that afternoon. The dad told me he liked the idea of a simple camping style but with access to toilets “for the kids”. “It’s also cheaper than booking in at one of those big posh campsites,” he added. “I like the relaxed atmosphere, too.”
A couple of families, clearly all friends, with children ranging from five to 15, were pitching tents at two neighbouring pitches.
Two other smaller tents had been pitched in quiet spots beneath tall trees and then left empty. The chances are these occupants, most likely couples or a pair of friends, had headed off to explore the Park’s vast outdoor playground before returning for a night under canvas.
More happy campers were playing at the loch shore. Their half-pitched tents were only metres away but the fun of the water had obviously distracted them for a while.
I can now see the appeal of these wild-style campsites. It’s possible to drive to them, which means you do not need to walk or mountain bike anywhere with a heavy pack or drag along reluctant partners or kids.
You can take a car load of equipment and simply transfer it from your parking spot to your pitch. This means there is no requirement to “rough it” unless you want to.
The campsites are staffed during the day by wardens so they feel safe and non-intimidating.
In addition, there are the basics for £7 per adult (under 16s go free) per night such as clean toilets and running water. The fire pits and wood, as well as midge nets, are a nice touch.
This type of camping might not be for everyone but for families, groups of friends and couples who want an easy option yet still surrounded by nature I can understand the appeal.
Where to camp wild-style in the National Park:
View a full list of campsites in the National Park.
(Camping Management Byelaws are in place in certain areas of the National Park between March and September. During this time in these areas you need to camp in a campsite or designated permit areas.)