Since the initiative launched in 2015, the unique concept of “Champing™” has become increasingly more popular across England
Inspired by peer-to-peer travel sites such as Airbnb, the Churches Conservation Trust, a registered UK charity, has opened up some of England’s oldest churches that don’t host regular worship to overnight visitors, with profits going towards the maintenance of these ancient structures. This concept, affectionately called Champing™ (Church-camping), allows visitors to sleepover in an enchanting historic space from 6pm in the evening until 10am the next day. The trust, which looks after more than 350 churches across England, offers a range of beautiful buildings for visitors to pick from, including these five beautiful churches.
If you fancy exchanging a tent for a temple of worship this summer, have a look at five of some of the Champing-friendly churches available.
All Saints, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire
Begin your Champing adventure in the church that inspired it all – All Saints. A sleepover in this expansive medieval sanctuary, set within the charming village of Aldwincle, is sure to be a celestial experience, with moonlight bouncing off its stained glass windows and limestone arcades throughout the night. During the day, plenty of activities await: visitors can canoe down the River Nene or take a stroll along the nearby Nene Way, known for its lush meadows, woodlands and wildlife-rich wetlands.
St Cyriac and St Julitta, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire
The 15th-century St Cyriac and St Julitta church was originally two churches in the same village courtyard until 1667 when the buildings were joined. Resting on top of a small hill, this vestry has a splendid and vast Georgian interior, a towering octagonal bell tower, and excellent acoustics. Visitors can spend their time exploring the quaint village of Swaffham Prior, seeking out the fruit orchards, the local farmers’ market and an array of equally impressive chapels and abbeys in the area.
St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
Located in England’s tiniest town, on the banks of the River Stour, St Mary’s is somewhat crooked thanks to severe flooding many centuries ago. As well as a slanted exterior, this designated Grade 1 listed building exhibits a wealth of ancient craftsmanship, with 17th-century paintings and fittings, and an unusual carved stone dating back to around 1100. After a night in the church, happy Champers can ramble along the legendary St Augustine’s Way – a walking route connecting the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate to Canterbury that follows in the footsteps of St Augustine (a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury).
St Michael the Archangel, Booton, Norfolk
This striking and fairytale-like parish stands out from the East Anglican landscape and was created by clergyman Reverend Whitwell Elwin, a descendant of Pocahontas and a good friend of Charles Darwin. With magnificent architecture, St Michael the Archangel was inspired by a selection of other churches, and despite its large size, is still notably cosy. The countryside village and civil parish of Booton, near to the Norfolk coast, is also ideal for outdoor meandering: adventurous Champers can boat, paddleboard, or canoe along the River Bure, and cycle, trek or horse ride across Marriott’s Way – a picturesque and lengthy footpath between Norwich and Aylsham.
St Katherine’s, Chiselhampton, Oxfordshire
This simple and pretty Georgian church, close to the city of Oxford, promises the most pleasant getaway. Hugged by a circle of hedges, St Katherine’s features delightful box pews, with reading lamps overlooked by a wooden-floor gallery, a classic clock turret and outfacing round-head windows, which allow light to illuminate the small space. When you’re not tucked up with a cup of tea and a book, the Bodleian Library, one of the most famous and oldest libraries in the world is worth a visit, as is the medieval and marvellous Dorchester Abbey and museum.
Need to know
Prices start at £49 per adult per night during the week and £59 per adult per night at the weekend. Visitors under the age of 16 will be charged £25 per night during mid-week and £30 per night at the weekend. Breakfast options may be added depending on the church (think fresh eggs from local farmers or a hearty fry-up), bedding (snug sleeping bags and soft pillows) is available for hire and discounts for groups of more than eight adults are available.
This article was first published in 2016 and has been updated on 23/07/19.
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