Some of England’s oldest churches are now offering overnight stays. Our scribe, Arielle Witter, gives us the lowdown on “champing”.
Could camping in a church, affectionately known as “champing”, be one of 2016’s more unusual travel trends? The Churches Conservation Trust certainly hopes so. Inspired by peer-to-peer travel sites such as Airbnb, the organisation has opened up some of England’s oldest churches to overnight guests, with profits going towards the maintenance of these ancient places of worship.
The trust, which looks after 347 churches across England, successfully trialled “champing” last year and has so far opened 10 of its churches to travellers – with more listings in the pipeline.
Now we know what you’re thinking: what’s the policy on, you know, getting intimate in the house of God? Well, though the trust’s churches, which are no longer used for regular worship, are still considered holy, guests are able to get up to what their conscience permits.
However, some guests may be too spooked for romance: though beautiful, these churches are definitely some of the eeriest and most eccentric places to stay in Britain. But if you fancy checking into one for the night, here are the 10 currently open for overnight guests.
1) All Saints, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire
Begin your champing adventure in the church that inspired it all. A stay in All Saints promises to be a celestial evening, with moonlight bouncing off its stained glass windows and lime washed walls throughout the night. During the day, adventure awaits: guests can canoe along the River Nene or stroll the nearby Nene Way, known for its lush meadows, woodlands and wildlife-rich wetlands.
2) St Cyriac and St Julitta, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire
The 15th-century St Cyriac and St Julitta church has a splendid Georgian interior and comes with a working kitchen, free Wi-Fi and a bathroom, for those who want to champ in style. Despite these modern amenities, the church maintains its ecclesial charm with its octagonal bell tower and excellent acoustics, helping guests hear all the things that go bump in the night.
3) St John’s, Duxford, Cambridgeshire
Dating back to 1140, the walls of St John’s church are inscribed with medieval graffiti, offering champers a glimpse into its ancient history. By day, guests can cycle along local bike routes, or visit nearby Cambridge, before bedding down in this historic bolthole. Drift off thinking about the church’s medieval worshippers, who also used the walls to sharpen their arrows, creating grooves that are still visible today.
4) St Martin, Colchester, Essex
You might want to sharpen your theatrical skills before staying in St Martin’s: this simple structure was formerly a theatre. Located in the centre of England’s oldest Roman town, Colchester, some of the building’s bricks are rumoured to be from earlier Roman structures and date back to around 200 AD. Before night falls, champers can learn about Roman history in the nearby Temple of Claudius.
5) All Saints, West Stourmouth, Kent
This Saxon church will guarantee champers a restful evening amid a wooded sanctuary. Rebuilt after a 1382 earthquake, the building reflects the skills of craftsmen from subsequent centuries. Though champers will spend a quiet evening nestling amongst the trees, there’s no shortage of activities during the day: guests can pedal their way over to nearby Canterbury, or canoe in the Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.
6) St Mary, Fordwich, Kent
Located in England’s oldest church 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 skewwhiff charm, the structure exhibits a smorgasbord of ancient craftsmanship, with a stone shrine dating back to 1100 and stained glass windows dating back to the 14th century. After a night in the church, champers can walk the legendary St Augustine’s Way.
7) St Andrew, Ufford, Cambridgeshire
St Andrew’s in Cambridgeshire is the latest church to open its doors to champers. Perched atop a grassy hill, the 14th-century place of worship overlooks the Welland Valley and providing champers with exceptional views. Boasting an organ and a plethora of hidden nooks, St Andrew’s maintains its medieval charm. Restless guests can explore the village of Ufford, nearby nature reserves, like Caster Hanglands, and neighbouring towns such as, Stamford or Peterborough.
8) St Peter and St Paul, Albury Park, Surrey
Before champing in the church of St Peter and St Paul, champers should know that it was the location for the third wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Movie history aside, the church is home to an ornate mortuary chapel designed by Augustus Pugin, better known as “God’s architect”. Local attractions include Albury Park, a Grade II-listed country house, and the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The River Wey is also close by.
9) St Peter, Claydon, Suffolk
Another St Peter, this church overlooks the gorgeous Gipping Valley. Dating back to Saxon times, the interior is a contrast of colours, with dark church pews alongside white walls and colourful stained glass windows. Champers seeking a little adventure can sail down the nearby River Orwell with Viking Mariners, and cycle or walk along designated local paths.
10) St Michael the Archangel, Booton, Norfolk
The bucolic St Michael the Archangel has a unique connection to historical figures. The church’s rector, Whitwell Elwin, was not only a good friend of Charles Darwin, but also a distant relative of Pocahontas. As well as a rich history, the church is a good base for various outdoor activities: adventurous champers can boat, paddleboard, snorkel or canoe along the River Bure, and cycle, trek or horse ride along Marriot’s Way.
NEED TO KNOW
Prices start at £60 per person, per night. For more information visit www.champing.co.uk or contact the Churches Conservation Trust (www.visitchurches.org.uk).