Spooky, Sustainable Fun: Champing in a Church in the UK
Have you ever been “champing”? It’s a bit like camping, except rather than sleeping in a tent or swag… you’ll find yourself spending the night in a church! Read on to find out why champing is both such a fun and sustainable travel idea.
As someone who has always been a fan of the macabre, I leapt at the chance to spend a night champing in a 900-year-old church, out near the Kentish coast.
Champing kicked off in 2015, implemented by the Churches Conservation Trust. Church attendance these days is obviously not what it was a couple of centuries ago.
So, while many churches around England remain consecrated and open to the public, services have not been performed in some for almost 50 years.
These beautiful, historic buildings are rotting in their foundations and visitor donations aren’t enough to keep them going.
Some pure genius at the CCT stumbled upon the mother of all ideas – rent the churches out to any overnight guest who is crazy enough to want to spend the night in the same place where people who died from the plague are buried.
The practice is only growing as well. When I went champing, the Churches available for the experience were only in South-East England.
Now there are churches all over the country opening to the experience – and even one on Orkney in Scotland. Now that would be truly fun/frightening.
Everything You Need to Know When Champing in the UK
Picking the right Church for Champing
My church of choice for my champing experience was St Mary’s in Fordwich, a small town in Kent.
In fact, Fordwich holds the title of being the tiniest town in Britain, due to the presence of a council within its minuscule community.
Fordwich is not too far away from the town of Canterbury – still considered the religious capital of England. (Ah! The Archbishop of Canterbury. I get it now!)
The Church of St. Mary’s is ideal for Londoners for a few reasons.
It’s accessible from London. Important, as we needed to be there and back in less than a day.
It was available on the date I wanted to go champing. This was obviously necessary too.
Plus, it is so gosh darn cute and sits right next to a pub.
I was sold.
Getting out to Fordwich
Although I’ve trained it to Kent before, I decided that a car would be the easiest means of transportation.
We packed a doona (duvet, for those of you playing in the UK), a sleeping bag and pillows along with our backpacks, which would have been a mission to travel with via public transport.
It takes around an hour and a half to get to St Mary’s from south east London. I found the key, unlocked the door and walked into the church that we’d be calling home for the night.
As was the theme of the town itself, the church was small, with box pews – something I’d never seen before.
There was one in the far left corner where the choir would once sing. It’s now fitted with a couple of camp beds, where we’d been laying our heads for the night.
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I walk around the church, taking in the set up.
Towards the left, near the vestibule, a small table is set up, with a trio of camping chairs. A food hamper that is to serve as our breakfast is placed to the side. A water purify and kettle has too been set up for our convenience.
St Mary’s doesn’t have its own toilet, so a very cool looking compost loo is contained in the vestibule in the church.
It’s a sunny afternoon and we are super hungry, so we totter off to the pub to eat sub-par food, drink beer and Pimms and bask in the remainder of the sunlight.
Spending the night in a 900 year old Church
We return to the church at around ten o’clock at night, sufficiently fed and watered. As the sun has set, the building has gone from being charming, to a little bit spooky.
We deal with it by turning on all the lights, sitting up drinking wine and trading stories. As midnight arrives, we both started to get tired and decide to give sleep a chance.
There is one disappointing factor with the camp beds – they don’t come with any foam mattresses. I spread a blanket and the sleeping bag across them, throwing the doona on top.
We climb into bed and cuddle up underneath the covers. It isn’t as cold as I have been expecting, but the temperature is still loads lower than it ever is in our flat at this time of the year.
I don’t fall asleep straight away, realising about 40 mins later that I need to visit the loo. I deal with this fact calmly and maturely by waking my boyfriend up from his slumber and demanding he accompany me.
Eventually, I drift off. Sunlight begins streaming through the church windows at around 4am, but I avoid this disturbance by wearing an eye-mask.
I did get woken up a few times by several “bumps in the night” – expected of old buildings, but spooky considering the circumstances!
The next morning
I wake up the next day, a bit stiff from the camp bed, but elated all the same.
Unfortunately, we are working to a tight schedule, which means we have to be packed up and leaving by ten am.
I am not good in the mornings and require at least two cups of tea to get going. As a result, we are scrambling to be ready by ten to ten.
I pop into the vestibule to get changed, which is a good idea. A minute later we are interrupted by two visitors entering the church, intent on having a poke around.
“Um, the church isn’t open until ten am,” I say rather sheepishly, going on to explain that we’d hired it out for the night. They are lovely and decide to wait outside, until we are on our way out.
We do a final sweep of the church and I re-deposit the key. Then we hop into our hire car and drive back to London.
What do you need to bring for champing?
Here’s what you should pack, if you’re heading off for a champing experience of your own.
Champing – Is it worth it?
Absolutely. It feels good knowing that the money we are spending on the experience is to be reinvested in the maintenance of this incomprehensibly old building.
My one complaint is that the camp beds didn’t have any kind of mattress to speak of. I’d recommend bringing something to lie on, if you’re in want of a comfortable night’s sleep while you’re champing (and who isn’t?).
There are all sorts of weird and whacky places to stay all over the UK, filled to the brim with history and heritage – our experience champing was only scratching the surface.
Over to you – have you ever been champing in the UK? Is it something you’d like to do?
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