With camping ever-more cool and popular, the UK’s best campsites book up fast. If you've been unable to think ahead, we have the answer in the form of the following sites that don’t take advance reservations. Relatively out-of-the-way despite being in popular family destinations, these sites will help you avoid the summer scrum as well let you be spontaneous. They’re cheap as chips, to boot.
Note that many of the National Trust’s campsites around the country reserve some 'first-come first-served' pitches for those who turn up on spec.
2020 Update: Call ahead or see websites for any temporary changes due to Covid-19. Some sites are bookings only, and some are closed until 2021.
For a really remote feel, this dramatically set site is part of the family-run Sligachan Hotel, which is backed by the awesome Black Cuillin mountain and overlooks shimmering Loch Sligach. It’s a great spot for glen walking or cycling, and for tasting ales from its own micro-brewery, which uses waters that run down from the mountain, while your kids enjoy the outdoor play area and, within Seumas’ Bar, either the toddler’s space or the pool tables, dartboards, and electronic and board games. As well as the hotel and campsite, there’s a bunkhouse sleeping up to 20, a five-bedroom lodge, including a family room, and two cottages sleeping up to eight each. See our feature on a family wild camping holiday in Scotland.
This site right at the southern tip of Ullswater welcomes families and is great for lovers of water sports (especially canoeing), mountain-biking and fishing as well as walking, so is great with active older children. There are several pubs and cafés within a five-kilometre radius, but you can set up BBQs on the site too.
Syke Farm Camping Site
An extraordinarily scenic site, Syke Farm is just outside the village of Buttermere, with a lake and mountains on its doorstep but only a three minutes’ walk from good pubs, one with a beer garden beside a stream, and a tea-room. There are also yurts.
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Only large groups need to book ahead for this tranquil grassy site in the gorgeous, unspoilt Duddon Valley, at the heart of a network of footpaths leading over Cumbrian fells and villages, past rivers, crags and gorges, but also only 10 minutes’ walk from a pub. There's now also a camping barn for up to 10 people. Free-range eggs, local beef and lamb, and English Lakes ice cream is usually available for guests.
Five kilometres shy of Land’s End, this gentle site is a towel’s throw from some of England’s finest beaches – especially Pedn Vounder, a tiny isolated cove of golden sand accessed by a 10-minute clifftop walk and a rocky scramble from the campsite. At low tide you can walk along the sand from here to Green Bay and larger Porthcurno beach – a justly famous family favourite. The outdoor Minack Theatre is at hand too. The shop sells organic produce from the farm itself, while foraging walks are held regularly. In peak season, you're advised to turn up at 8am at the reception in the village. There are also pre-bookable tents.