*Lagerplatze fur Rad-Wanderer. Sleeping Lightly on the Earth

Networks of cycle-friendly landowners are enabling cycle-campers to enjoy the carefree pleasures of the travellers of old.

After a day enjoying the freedom and spiritual lightness of cycletouring it often comes as a shock to arrive in the evening at a big, anonymous and highly organised campsite. Whereas sites with full facilities are critically important for many cycle-campers, others are less happy pitching their puny little tent amongst rows of awesome canvas palaces. Few commercial campsites have a strong sense of place, and a quiet night's sleep is often out of the question. This kind of site can become a useful stop-over, but rarely does it become anything more than that.

There is a different kind of cycle-camping which brings the way one spends the night into greater harmony with the serendipity and subtle pleasures of the cycling experience itself.  The cycletourist can rest more lightly on the earth, and at the same time make real contact with local people, by using the many camping opportunities offered by obliging farmers and friendly cycling families across Europe.

The bare minimum for this kind of travelling is a sleeping bag. There are cyclists who would rather bivvy under the stars than suffer the luxury of canvas.  Quite often a barn is available: allowing a comfy bed of straw and the chance to dry out wet things.  However, camping is the norm. Usually on offer are what we call in German the three 'W's: Wiese, Wasser und WC - meadow, water and toilet. The use of your host's toilet obviates the ecological harm caused by chemical toilets on conventional campsites.

Every stop-over is different. You may spend one night camping in a farmer's apple orchard, the next in someone's garden summerhouse, and the next in the attic of an ancient barn. Quite often a farming family will offer you a wholesome breakfast, with milk fresh from the cow. In most cases you have access to a shower, or there may be the possibility of bathing in a specially dammed-up stream nearby. Whatever your experience it will bring you closer to the way people live, and to the natural history of the area. This kind of camping is not free. The fee to your host is usually standardised according to the country you are in, and tends to be set at a symbolic rather than a commercial level. Extras such as a farmhouse breakfast are often by private arrangement.

The idea began in Denmark, in 1988. Today 500 or so individual land-owners offer basic rural camping facilities (naturlejrpladser), and thousands of cyclists make use of them.

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