Have you ever been champing in Fordwich, UK? 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.
Looking for somewhere to go glamping near Canterbury? Or just fancy staying somewhere quirky in the UK?
Why not consider champing overnight in a de-consecrated church? Yes you read that right and no, it’s not a typo.
‘Champing’ is quite simply, the act of sleeping (camping) in a church. In the case, 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 – to rent the churches out to overnight guests. Brilliant.
What it’s like to go champing in Fordwich, Kent
If you’re passionate about responsible travel and sustainability, then this is perfect for you. Not only is it low-impact – the money spent champing goes back into the maintenance of these extremely old and vulnerable buildings.
When I went champing, the Churches available for the experience were only in south-east England.
Now churches across the country have signed up for the experience. However, for the purpose of this review, we’ll be going champing in Fordwich, which has the distinction of bring Britain’s tiniest town!
Picking the right Church for champing
Fordwich is not too far away from the town of Canterbury – still considered the religious capital of England.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin is ideal for Londoners for a few reasons.
It’s not too far to travel there from the city, which is great if you’re short on time.
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’m sold. How about you?
Getting out to Fordwich
I went champing with my then boyfriend, perhaps because we were somehow running out of quirky London date ideas.
Although I’ve trained it to Kent before, I decided that a car would be the easiest means of transportation. I use Rentalcars.com to compare car prices.
I brought a doona (duvet), 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.
Once there I found the key, unlocked the door and walked into the church that we’d be calling home for the night.
Champing in Fordwich – inside the church
As with the town itself, the church is small, with box pews – something I’d never seen before. I guess it’s not a very Australian thing.
One in the far left corner was where the choir would sing. It’s now fitted with a couple of camp beds, where we’d be laying our heads for the night.
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 for breakfast is placed to the side. A water purify and kettle have too been set up for use.
St Mary’s doesn’t have its own toilet, so a very cool looking compost loo is contained in the vestibule in the church. Yay! I love composting, so am very excited about this.
It’s a sunny afternoon and we are super hungry, so we totter off to the pub to eat, 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! People who died during the plague are buried under the floor, after all.
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.
- Something to lie on, if you don’t want to be directly on the camp beds, like a foam mattress
- Dinner (or you can buy it nearby)
- A duvet
- Reusable water bottle
- Toiletries (although you couldn’t shower while champing in Fordwich)
- Change of clothes.
Champing in Fordwich – is it worth doing??
Absolutely. It feels good knowing that the money we are spending on the experience funds 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, for a comfortable night’s sleep.
There are all sorts of weird and wacky places to stay all over the UK, filled to the brim with history and heritage – our experience champing was only scratching the surface.
I highly recommend champing in Fordwich if you’re keen to try something different on a day trip from London. It’s definitely one of the more unusual places to stay in Kent. Would you sleep overnight in a 900-year old church?