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Back-to-basics campground offers dear alternative to tents

Roughing it with wood stove and ‘bedstee’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LOCHEM, the Netherlands - Tents have become more elaborate and spacious. Campgrounds offer shopping, restaurants and theaters. Semi-permanent vacation homes take ‘sleeping under the stars’ to ever higher comfort levels. Camping has evolved into an industry where operators of sites outdo each other in attracting customers. Enter a new concept, a so-called ‘back-to-basics’ wood-and-canvas structure in which modern amenities have been replaced with (updated) versions of the pre-WWI era.

The 45-square metres tent, a brainchild of the Better Farmers Bed camping organization, is standard in the franchise group. The tents appeal to vacationers who want less luxury, are looking for a sense of nostalgia and have a desire to return to basics. The concept evokes memories of times, when interior light was provided by an oil lamp, cooking was done on a campfire and sleeping was uncomfortable.

Bedstee and ‘kachel’

The tents feature a wooden floor and interior and - besides the ‘bedroom’ for the parents - two kinds of the so-called bedstee, an elevated bed closet, the size of a double bed, and barely allowing people to sit up straight. The bed closet could be closed by a set of doors. Many rural and even urban homes for centuries had such ‘closet bedrooms’.

Electricity is taboo in these tents, as is the use of natural gas or space heaters. Instead, each unit has a wood stove (kachel) for heating and cooking. There is no fridge, but an icebox keeps perishables from spoiling. The units have running (cold) water at the sink however, and the only other ‘modern’ adjustment is that there is a proper sewer system, although the toilet itself is outhouse-style to tie it to the back-to-basics theme.

Chickens and eggs

In keeping with the theme, the franchise campsites have a communal oven, where bread is baked once a week. Standard on the sites as well are handpumps to draw water, one hot shower unit and free-range chickens. Eggs can be collected by the campers, free of charge. For those who want to make their daily meals a matter of back-to-basics as well, each camping has a small shop which sells homemade dairy products, lamp oil, basic staples and little else.

Although the camping concept could be categorized as an effort at ‘self-denial’, campers themselves are ecstatic, even though mastering intricasies such as lighting the stove takes time. The concept had its premiere earlier this year, and demands are high enough to warrant rapid expansion.

Campers should expect to pay ‘a bit more’ than regular campsite fees, which normally run at $35.00 a night. A week’s rental is about $860, with bed linen extra.

Currently, there are five small-sized working farms which have set up the BBB-franchised campsites, all in the eastern and southern part of the country. Most have ten or less of these units. The farmers need to show affinity with the land and with the surrounding nature and heritage.