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.

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The inside of St. Mary’s Church in Fordwich.

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.

Read more: London Itinerary: How to Spend Your First Week in London

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Everything You Need to Know When Champing in the UK

champing uk fordwich kent
This way, please!
champing uk fordwich kent
Entry to the church.

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.

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The oldest part of the church.
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Love a bit of stained glass.

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!)

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Fordwich is quiet and pretty.

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.

Read more: What NOT To Do When Visiting the United Kingdom

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What a sweet, little claim to fame.

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.

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The church seemed as intact as it would have been when services were still performed here.
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Necessary for the nighttime.

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.

Read more: How to Spend a Weekend in Dorset

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Perfect set up for wine and chats.
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Love the thought put into the footstools.

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.

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What was in here, I wonder?

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.

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Pimms at the pub.
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A perfect summer’s afternoon.

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.

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Pardon my worn out pyjamas.

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.

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My doona really matches the decor of the church.
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The battery operated candles were cute.

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.

Read more: The Great Debate, UK Edition: Should You Visit Cambridge or Oxford?

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Am not fake sleeping or anything, for the purpose of this photo.
champing uk fordwich kent

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.

Read more: Affordable Afternoon Tea in London: Honest Reviews

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The morning after.

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.

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Not creeped out by this at all.

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.

  • Pillows
  • Something to lie on, if you don’t want to be directly on the camp beds
  • Dinner (or you can buy it nearby)
  • A duvet
  • Pyjamas
  • Reusable [easyazon_link identifier=”B06XHXYRHF” locale=”US” tag=”birdgehls10-20″ localize=”y”]water bottle[/easyazon_link]
  • Change of clothes

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.

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St Augustine was buried in nearby Canterbury and this is reputed to be part of his original tomb.

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?

Other posts on the UK

How to avoid looking like a tourist in London.
Unusual London tours – Quirky and fun options.
How to spend a weekend in York.
Things to do in south east London.
Fun and unusual date ideas in London.

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Looking for something truly odd to do in the #UnitedKingdom? Why not spend the night in a church in #England or #Scotland? The trend is known as #champing and helps fund the ongoing maintenance of these historic structures - plus it's loads of fun. Here's what it's like to stay in a church in #Fordwich, #Kent. / Unusual Things to do in the UK / Eco-Tourism / #Camping / #Glamping / Spooky Travel / #History / #SustainableTravel / Eco Friendly Travel / #ResponsibleTravel /

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  1. Love it! The only time I’ve heard about staying in a church they have been completely renovated to no longer look like a church, so this idea is brilliant.

  2. It’s great you managed to sleep on those camp beds without foam mattresses. But other then, that we can expect from a 900 year old church that is ready to shelter us 🙂 The church architecture looks beautiful

  3. I lived in Cambridge for a summer and my dorm was older than America! It was totally mind blowing. This church experience looks amazing and totally unique. Love all of the detail in the old buildings

    1. Haha most of England is older than buildings in Australia, so I know the feeling. I go into buildings and think “HOW HAS THIS EXISTED SINCE THE 1200s?! HOW?!”

  4. Haha, tbh, this post at first didn’t really appeal to me, because I’m not a big history or church fan (I am a christian though, so I have been in quite a few churches). But I actually enjoyed the way you write and the pictures and enjoyed getting to know this concept of renting a church ’cause I had never heard of it before.

    1. Thanks Danielle. I like the fact that it’s helping to fund the restoration of the buildings, for future generations to enjoy.

  5. At first glance, I thought that there has been a mistake, “Champing”, what is that? But glad to know about it and the noble cause for which it is done! Quite an experience, though, sleeping on the beds with no mattresses!

  6. What a unique experience! I have never heard of champing but it is certainly intriguing! i totally would’ve forced someone to come to the bathroom with me!

  7. Very interesting to stay at a church, I’d never heard of this! I love hearing about lesser known and unique places to stay. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow, I had no idea this was a thing people could do. I’ve always been fascinated by all the beautiful old churches in Europe, especially England, and I would love to do this one day!!

  9. I love unique locations to stay and visit and this definitely fits the bill. Now I have to add champing in Scotland to my endless bucket list lol. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. I am champing this weekend just outside Oxford. Not sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but we’ll see how it goes! Thanks for the tip about something to lie on and eye masks. Wish me luck haha

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