For some first-time wild campers, finding a pitch for a night under the stars can feel like a difficult task. Recently on twitter I was asked if I knew any wild camping sites in the Leeds area. I always try to answer with something helpful, though it’s hard to do it justice with 140 characters.

So, I decided with this post to try and answer the question in some detail, just to give a sense of how I approach finding wild camp pitches in the UK

Firstly…I’d ask myself:

“What do I know about the countryside around Leeds?”

Off the top of my head (I’m a southerner who has been to Leeds once or twice, but mainly stayed in the cosy confines of pubs and curry houses), what do I know about Leeds and the surrounding countryside?

  1. It’s a city in Yorkshire
  2. Yorkshire has an abundance of hills, woodland, moors, dales, rivers and coastline
  3. It should be really easy to find a great spot for a cheeky wild camp near to Leeds

Next step…get mapping!

Bing maps is my friend

Google maps might be better known but Microsoft’s Bing maps ( is always my first port of call as it has an Ordnance Survey (OS) layer, which is exactly what I need for the job..

My places widget

Top Tip: Get yourself a Microsoft account (you can use any email account to do this) so you can use the handy ‘My places’ widget that comes with Bing maps.

I use it for all my initial wild camping, microadventure and hiking planning. You can mark-up maps, pin locations, measure distances and generally keep track of things.

To find my wild camp spot near Leeds I go to Bing Maps and type ‘leeds’ into the search box and click the ‘Zoom’ link…

Zoom link

Then I click the ‘Road’ tab, followed by clicking ‘Ordnance Survey Map’ to activate the OS layer:

bing maps
Use this to switch between views

And here’s Leeds city centre on the OS map, pretty, eh? Don’t worry, lush countryside is not far away!

Leeds OS map
Leeds city centre on the OS map

Start hunting

My next step is to choose a direction, click on the map, and start dragging the map out of the city centre.  In this case I’ll move in a north-easterly direction (though it could be any old direction).  I might zoom out a little to make the dragging quicker.

I’m a sucker for wild camping in woods and alongside rivers, so that is what I look out for.

After a little bit of hunting to the north-east of Leeds I find…

carthick wood map
We have a wood, and a river!

Wow, a wood by a river, one of my favourite things.  The green dotted line is a public footpath, this is generally a positive sighting as it means easy access with (probably) no fences or other barriers.

This is a good moment to mark the wood on the map via ‘My places’ so I can find it again.

I click the ‘My places’ link on the top left of the page…

My places widget
My places widget

…and then click the blue marker icon next to the arrow icon.  Finally, I click on the map to place the marker (no.1) and give it an title when prompted.

Carthick Wood map marker
Making my mark on the My places widget

Next I want to see how it looks ‘in real life’.  I do this by switching the map view from ‘Ordnance Survey Map‘ to ‘Bird’s Eye‘ and then ‘Aerial‘.

This is Carthick Wood as seen by a bird:

Carthick Wood as seen by a bird
Carthick Wood as seen by a bird

My next step is to find the nearest village or town.

This is so I can:

  • have a more detailed look at the surrounding area
  • assess how isolated the pitch is
  • work out how to approach the pitch via public transport

Zooming out a bit gives me the nearest village, in this case it’s East Keswick. I’ll add this to the ‘My Places’ widget (no.2)

East Keswick OS map
East Keswick on the OS map

What can I see?

  • The village is a walkable distance from the pitch
  • It’s a shame about the red A road, though maybe it’s not that busy and I won’t hear it from the wood
  • There’s a pub (‘PH’) on the A road. I’ll check that out in Google to get an idea of the kind of place it is.  Maybe they have late-night night discos? Perhaps it’s a good place for a pre-wild camp drink and meal?

All and more this can be discovered in the research stage.

I’ll use the ‘My Places’ widget to draw a route (using the icon to the right of the blue pin icon) so I can get an idea of distance, in this case it’s less than two miles.

Distance to wood from East Keswick
Distance to wood from East Keswick

Great, so far so good but how will I get there?

Getting from A to B

How do I get to East Keswick from Leeds and how long does it take?

To answer these questions I go to Google, and type: “east keswick” bus to leeds  into the search box.

Here’s what I get back, the first result looks just right:

bus timetable to Carthick wood
X99 Metro timetable

I click through to the site and there is the timetable. The X99 Metro bus runs from Leeds city centre to East Keswick seven days a week, the travel time is just over 30 minutes, good stuff!

Research, research, research

The next step is to research the pitch.

Why bother with research?

Well, make yourself comfortable and I’ll tell you a little story…

A short while ago I was searching on Bing maps for a pitch and found a nice looking wood (we’ll call it ‘wood X’) in the heart of Norfolk. It looked absolutely perfect.

I turned to Google, the first signs were promising.  I clicked through the result pages and then… buried away on the fourth page…I came across a reference to certain nefarious night-time activities between consenting adults, taking place on a regular basis in that there wood.

I sighed, closed down the browser window and waved a sad farewell to the pitch.

There are other good reasons to conduct some research:

  • a blog post might mention how quiet and unspoilt it is
  • a news article might have a story about illegal raves
  • a local walker’s group might report the river has recently broken its banks…and so on.

I pop ‘carthick wood’ into Google and see what comes back:

Google results for carthick wood
Google results for Carthick wood

The first two results returned are blog posts, they’ll be useful, I’ll bookmark these to read later on.

The other pages don’t look so promising but there may be some better ones further down. I usually to go through the first four pages of results to see if something catches my eye.

Now time for a visual check.  I click the ‘images’ link on Google and this is what I get back:

Image search for carthick wood
Google image search for Carthick wood

It’s looking good!

As tempting as it is to pack my rucksack and hop on the X99, there are a couple more steps I might take to make sure this is a good pitch…

Scouting the pitch

Always keep in mind: ‘the map is not the territory’.

What looks great on the map might be completely unsuitable on the ground, this has happened to me a few times.

If I lived in Leeds I’d probably go on a scouting mission just to check that it actually is a good site.  It’s only a half hour by bus and that’s time well spent if it means I’m confident the pitch is good.

At worst (i.e. the site is a swamp) I still would have had a good walk out in the countryside, it’s a win-win thing.

Plan B

If I don’t scout the pitch then I always have a Plan B (though I’d have a Plan B even if I had scouted the pitch earlier, things can, and do, change!).

For my Plan B I would have marked one or two other alternative pitches (‘4’ below) on the ‘My places’ widget.

Plan B

And that’s about it…

Hey ho! Let’s go!

All done. Now I’m taking the train up to Leeds for a spot of wild camping in lovely Yorkshire!

Remember the golden rule: LEAVE NO TRACE!

(Note: I’m not advocating or suggesting camping in Carthick wood, I’m using it as an example)

What about you?

  • How do you go about finding pitches?
  • Have I missed anything? 
  • Any questions or comments?

Fire away in the comments below.

31 thoughts on “How I find wild camping sites

  1. Nice post! This was a joy to read, not just for the subject itself, but because you write so clearly for the reader, and explain why you do things, which I think is often missing (so much focus tends to be on gear).
    I hope this post is well used and that more people take the chance to explore!

    1. Hi Helen, I’m really pleased you enjoyed the post. My intention is to encourage people to get out and explore the countryside, so I hope the post helps in a small way : )

    1. Hi Tim, glad you enjoyed the post. I like the idea of the sunrise look-up, I’ll have to book mark that one. Cheers!

  2. The only thing I’d add to this is using Geograph to research images of the proposed spot (this is actually link 4 on the google search example you gave). I find the images on Geograph tend to be easier to sift through than google images and the site also shows where on the map they are.

    I get a bit irritated by the “any good pitches near….” posts. I feel that by answering I’m preventing someone having the enjoyment of finding a place themselves, and also potentially sending people off to leave fire scars and rubbish in those places. I much prefer your approach of guiding people as to how to find places themselves.

    1. Yes, Geograph is a good resource, one I’ve used before. I really enjoy the find and research stage, it’s almost as fun as the actual camp out : )

  3. Great post and really useful approach to finding sites. I’d echo the well written/clearly explained post above too. Thanks 🙂

  4. Great tips, Martin. You are more thorough in your research than I usually am, but then again I’ve often been before to the places I’m planning to camp. On my last microadventure (, I used a combination of OS data (via and Google Maps satellite view to find a few potential bivvying sites. There are some good suggestions here, too:

    1. Hi Jonathan, thanks for commenting and pleased you enjoyed the post, I’m always on the lookout for new tips so will check yr blog post out, cheers!

  5. Hi Martin

    I would also check on google that there weren’t any teddy bear picnics organised for that day otherwise I’d make sure I’d go in disguise.

  6. Great post!

    I have to admit, your research is a lot more thorough than mine. I’ve never really googled places I’ve spotted to check stories about it, but now that you mention it, I’ll probably start doing it.

  7. Not sure what the problem is with the wood in Norfolk. Seems to offer late night entertainment lol.

    Great post Martin. .. I go about things in a similar way but using ViewRanger 🙂

  8. A very informative post, Martin. I live fairly near East Keswick so it would be interesting to see whether your formula has worked. This has given me some good tips for my first proper wild camp next weekend! Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Ben, very glad you found the post useful. I’d love to know if the East Keswick wild camp spot is any good : ) Good luck on your first wild camp, make sure you blog it 🙂

      1. Hi there

        I went to investigate Carthick Wood yesterday. It’s not ideal. The wood itself is mostly nettles, actually finding somewhere to pitch a tent would be a challenge. As a fan of woods by rivers myself, I have to say, it’s not a great example. The riverbank on the south side is steep and overgrown, there’s only one place to get down along the entire stretch I walked.

        I approached from Harewood, and the public pathway approaching Carthick Wood is also hugely overgrown, which would suggest it’s not considered a great beauty spot by the locals either 🙂

        (I swear I’m not just saying this to keep it to myself)

        That aside, thanks for the tips. This was super interesting; especially the Bing Maps OS layer.

        1. Hi and thanks for commenting. Really pleased to hear back about Carthick Wood, nettles are always an issue in the summer and a good reason to remember that the map is not the territory, also a good reason to scout the location first. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the feedback 🙂

  9. This is really good advice, thank you!

    I went on my first microadventure alone with my 12yr old son in Bucknell, Shropshire on Friday.. I downloaded a map from a the travel Shropshire website.. As I love walking, I wanted to do the hilly 9 mile walk with stunning views along hilltops to then find a place to sleep overlooking the Malvern Hills, Black Mountains and Shropshire Hills. About half way into the walk, the narrative on the map said that there was a way marker to the right hidden in the hedge.. We couldn’t find the way marker anywhere! Sun was going down but we decided to keep going, determined to find our perfect spot to sleep. We climbed over gates crossing fields, some of the fields were inaccessible but still we carried on over the fields.. Through cow dung, herds of sheep, over makeshift field borders, through brambles! Then- lost!! Lost in the middle of the countryside, sun going down, and no perfect place to sleep under the stars 🙁 we were a bit afraid! We figured we had about an hour of daylight left and could possibly make it back to the car (failing on our mission) if we ran for it!! We ran back tracing our steps, and stopped at a place we felt safe on a hill with the village in view, next to some trees. We were starving so decided to have our pot noodles and rest a little knowing that the walk back to the car was just 30 mins. We then decided that this was a safe good place to sleep, on a public right of way, still isolated, but near enough to a familiar place and the car!!

    I had an amazing night, sleeping under the full moon, gentle wind on my face, sheep and cows nearby! Will defo do it again but this time will follow Martin’s advice 🙂 as a geographer and lover of maps and nature and adventure this sounds like the perfect way to have fun, explore and find the best spots to sleep out in the wild 🙂

    Cheers, Natasha

    1. Hi Natasha, thanks so much for your comment and report on your microadventure. Sounds like you and your son had a great time and sleeping out under a full moon is always very special. I’m glad you found the post useful. Cheers!

  10. This was exactly what I have been looking for, I’m planning to do my first wild camp sometime this year and your post has really boosted my confidence.
    If it goes well I’ll take my twins the next time. Due to COVID the best we’ve managed this year is a variety of garden camps (own garden).

    1. Hi Nicola, I’m so glad you found the post useful, I’ve camped a few times in the garden with my son and dog, great fun. Let me know how you get on with the wild camp.


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