Room with a Pew: ‘Champing’ Lets You Sleepover in Ancient Churches
Imagine being handed a key to an ancient church that is immersed in history and having the place to yourself for a whole weekend – this is the experience now open to church campers or ‘champers’. Champing is a new trend in ‘spiritual tourism’ throughout the United Kingdom, where travelers can have sleepovers in archaic buildings.
First launched by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) in England, a charity which looks after more than 300 redundant churches nationwide, the goal was to offer a totally different visitor experience, while at the same time raising money to support the conservation of old places of worship. From Medieval cathedrals to Victorian churches, places of worship with mysterious trapdoors and buried sarsen stones, countryside churches with Saxon connections, and refuges with creepy crypts and sculpted gargoyles, you can choose your experience, perhaps depending on how brave you are!
“Our Champing churches are living time-capsules, with stories that can be traced back as far as the Saxon period, and centuries of history to explore. They present the perfect setting to explore England’s culture, heritage and craftsmanship throughout the ages,” writes the CCT.
One of the champing churches made available by the CCT. Credit: Neil Randall/Churches Conservation Trust
St John’s Church, Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Photograph: Neil Randall / Churches Conservation Trust.
Rugs are laid out on the stone floors and visitors sleep on mattresses in the center of the church or between pews. Folding chairs, tables, and portable lavatories and wash basins add to the facilities available. Guests eat home-cooked meals at a local farmhouse, and at night, candles are lit throughout the church and a local historian relates stories about local legends and historic happenings. Activities include bat spotting in cemeteries, star gazing, and strolls through the churchyard to spot ancient stones with inscriptions that have weathered over the centuries.
Rachel Dixon, writer with The Guardian, who ‘champed’ in St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, Kent, reports her experience:
“It was a bit overwhelming, especially when the key was handed over – a suitably huge, heavy, ancient-looking chunk of iron – and my friend and I were left alone. We couldn’t raid the mini bar, play music or call room service. And, unlike the average hotel, our bedroom was public property: when we neglected to lock the door, a man wandered in with his dog to look around.
The door safely locked, we explored the church’s nooks and crannies. We examined the rare bread shelf, where loaves for the poor were once left. We climbed the 14th-century bell tower (inadvisable: it is pretty rickety). We stood in the pulpit composing a sermon, examined the magnificent Royal Arms over the chancel arch, and played the organ (badly).”
Ms Dixon adds that although the disused churches are still consecrated spaces, guests are free to get up to “whatever their conscious allows”.
One of the 12 churches now available for ‘champing’. Photograph: Neil Randall / Churches Conservation
While many may find the idea of camping out in a dark, disused church a little creepy, there is no doubt that it offers a truly historical experience. So far, the CCT has opened up a dozen churches to those keen on “spending sacred nights in history”.
The CCT has said that while there is always the risk of misuse or vandalism, most visitors have been very respectful and typically consist of families on holiday, pilgrims on a sacred trail, religious followers who organize spiritual get-togethers for prayer and contemplation, foreign visitors out for a new and unique experience, or those that simply want to immerse themselves in a little slice of history.
Top image: Champing at All Saints Church, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire. Credit: The Churches Conservation Trust
Emma Mills (2015). Churches the new Airbnb as 'champing' proves popular. The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/articles/Churches-the-new-Airbnb-as-champing-proves-popular/
Liz Hull (2014). Glamping? Try champing! Latest holiday experience will allow visitors to spend night in disused churches to try and raise funds. Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2721522/Glamping-Try-champing-Latest-holiday-experience-allow-visitors-spend-night-disused-churches-try-raise-funds.html
Rachel Dixon (2015). Holy nights: camping in a church. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/may/29/camping-weekend-in-church-kent-church-conservation-trust