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Camping in a Local’s Backyard with Campspace

At the hight of the pandemic, when we felt the walls of our apartment closing in around us, we packed a tent for a camping micro adventure close to home in the Netherlands. We booked a stay in a local’s spacious backyard via Dutch start-up Campspace and experienced how easy it can be to switch off, as we spent an evening by a campfire sharing stories with a stranger.

A green outdoor Airbnb

Dutch start-up Campspace has a mission we can get behind: to ‘reconnect outside’. The easiest way to explain the concept is that it’s like Airbnb, but for small-scale camping spots. On Campspace’s website you can book anything from an urban camping spot in a local’s backyard in Amsterdam to a secluded private stretch of grass to pitch your tent amongst the grapes in a vineyard in France. Through the platform, you can book your camping spot directly with local hosts and experience a blissful nature stay by yourself or with friends. For most Campspaces, it’s BYO tent or campervan, but there are listings where you can book a stay in a treehouse or yurt without having to bring any camping gear as well.

Trying out Campspace for a night

In the late spring of 2020, at the hight of the coronavirus pandemic, we hadn’t travelled anywhere for months, choosing to stay at home and shelter in place. But as the rate of infections was dropping and the weather was turning sunnier, we decided to say yes to an invitation to go on a micro-adventure close to home and try out Campspace for a night for a new initiative called staylocal.nu. We picked a camping spot with a whole lot of space and private bathroom facilities. Knowing we’d be the only guests, it felt safe to head out for a weekend.

It’s incredibly liberating to drive out of our home city of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands again, after not travelling anywhere for months. We take the highway towards the west and then leave it after just half an hour again, following smaller roads through the flat, green fields of the province of Friesland. One road leads us past a canal and is flanked by rows of towering oak trees. Already, the city feels miles away. It doesn’t take long at all until we reach our destination: the tiny hamlet of Sparjebird, surrounded by farmland and close to two national parks: Alde Feanen and the Drents-Friese Wold.

Sunny deck of the clipper Willem Jacob on the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands
Dutch clipper Willem Jacob cuts through the waves sailing on the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands

Meeting our host David

We’ve arrived at the Campspace of David: a huge backyard with a view of the surrounding farm fields. David gives us a warm welcome and shows us around. He tells us it was the immense space that made him, his wife Joyce and their two small kids fall in love with this place. Joyce has a couple of horses that she keeps in meadows besides their house. Next to the meadows is the massive backyard, consisting of a large patch of trees and lots of grass. There are two camping spots, both secluded between shrubs, and there’s a composting toilet, outdoor shower, wood-fired Finnish-style sauna, and a campfire area. It was the opportunity to build a campfire that made this listing stand out to us, because there are so few bigger campgrounds where this is allowed nowadays in the Netherlands.

We’ve got the whole afternoon to while away before it’ll get dark, so we pitch the small tent that we brought at a spot we picked between the trees, overlooking the fields, and we ask David for some tips about hiking trails in the area. Before we know it, he’s drawn us a complete map, and we set out through the small village. It’s a lovely sunny day and the air smells of freshly-mown grass and fertilizer. After a while the neat plots of land where lambs are frolicking give way to heather and glens. We’ve entered the valley of the Koningsdiep.

A hike and making a fire

We follow David’s written-down instructions and take a trail that leads off the main road. It’s blissfully quiet, there’s no traffic noise anywhere and we only spot a handful of other hikers in the area. After a while, we pass a bridge over a meandering river and head into the forest Wallebos, part of the estate Lauswolt. The trail sticks close to the river, offering up new vistas around every bend, from a thickset patch of trees to a panoramic view of the fields of heather, where a heard of sheep stands grazing. When we leave the forest, we loop back through the meadows and arrive at David’s Campspace again after a wonderful two-hour walk.

We open up a bottle of wine and sit down next to our tent, enjoying the sounds around us: birds whistling, horses neighing and a distant tractor starting its engine. The sun sinks slowly towards the horizon, and because it’s not summer yet, it starts to get a bit chilly. We move towards the campfire area and easily start a fire with the ash firewood, kindling, paper and matches that David sells to campers at cost-price. Next to the firepit is a basic outdoor kitchen, where we deposit the groceries we’ve brought.
We make a simple bread dough and collect some sticks near the trees to be able to roll and roast buns on the fire, which has heated up nicely. We also wrap some sweet potatoes, corn cobs and veggies in tinfoil and put them between the hot coals. As darkness descends around us, we dip the hot cooked buns straight from the fire in some butter with sea salt, and they taste absolutely delicious.

Sunny deck of the clipper Willem Jacob on the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands
Dutch clipper Willem Jacob cuts through the waves sailing on the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands

Drinks with our Campspace host

Every Campspace is different, and if you’re looking for some peace and quiet you don’t have to interact with your host much, but we decide to invite David and Joyce to join us by the fire, if they feel like it. They join us later that evening and as we pour them both some wine, David tells us why they decided to start hosting via Campspace. ‘We’ve only just started to rent out our garden,’ he says. ‘We just absolutely fell in love with this space and we thought it would be so nice to be able to share it. And not just with friends and family, but also with strangers looking to get away from the city and reconnect with nature as well.’

And to us, this is exactly what makes Campspace so special. We’ve stayed at some wonderful small-scale campgrounds and wild camping spots before, but never have we had what feels like such a local experience. As the stars pop out between the clouds above as and we put more wood on the fire, David pulls out a bottle of whisky and before we know it, it’s midnight already. We’ve spent the whole night without checking our phones once, making new friends and sharing stories about our travels around the fire. A true micro adventure, at just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from our home in Groningen.

Our tips for finding a Campspace

Campspace started in the Netherlands but now offers stays all over Europe and beyond. On the website, you can easily choose between spots that allow tents and campervans or offer provided accommodation. Most BYO-gear Campspaces are very affordable, some starting at just €5 per person per night.

Lately, it seems like more camping spots with provided accommodation are being added, but we hope Campspace holds on to its local feel as the start-up grows. Campspace has stated that they want to help contribute to battling overtourism by incentivising locals to share their land with travellers and thus help spread the visitors coming to a country. And by picking a stay close to home you’ll also generate fewer emissions compared to a trip further afield. We loved the mini outdoor adventure we had with Campspace, close to home but away from the masses, and are looking forward to trying out new Campspaces as we set out on our travels in our electric campervan.

Opener image: A Campspace in the north of the Netherlands – ©Campspace

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