Champing: Spending the Night in a Church in England

Champing, or camping in a church, is becoming more popular in the UK. Here, bedding down at St. Katherine's Church. Claire Henderson photos.
Champing, or camping in a church, is becoming more popular in the UK. Here, bedding down at St. Katherine’s Church. Claire Henderson photos.

By Claire Henderson

Camping comes in many shapes and forms (and that’s not just the tents), but sometimes we all crave something a bit… different.

So I decided to try “champing”. Despite what the acronym suggests, it’s not strictly camping in the traditional sense – it’s camping inside a church.

The one thing you can't avoid is that familiar church smell, and be aware when the bells will start ringing.
The one thing you can’t avoid is that familiar church smell, and be aware when the bells will start ringing.

And you don’t have to be religious for this to be a fun holiday idea…everyone is welcome, and if you haven’t already noticed, some of the most stunningly ornate buildings in our country are religious houses.

The increasingly trendy trend of champing was started by The Churches Conservation Trust as a new use for beautiful ancient churches across the country, from the wilderness in Orkney, down to the Somerset coast and various points in between.

To St. Katherine’s Church

After stumbling upon an article about champing online, my curiosity got the better of me and I took three friends down to Chiselhampton in Oxfordshire to spend a night in St Katherine’s Church.

The church where they slept.
The church where they slept.

As I read my thorough instructions from the champing gang while packing, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea what to expect. And then my friends started texting me asking about the possibility of ghosts… And thus began a little feeling of nervous excitement bubbling in the pit of my stomach.

We were instructed to go to the nearby Coach and Horses pub to collect the key, before heading to our home for the night. Even on this grey, wet Saturday, as we drove up to our home for the night, the little church looked adorable with a gorgeous tree and flower-

addled graveyard at the front.

However, we still opened the door (with slight trepidation), we were instantly hit by that classic “church” smell. Musty, damp dust mixed with furniture polish and candle wax, it isn’t exactly a pleasant smell, but there is something comforting about it, in its own unique way.

Creeky Camp Beds

A stone building, with stunning paneled windows, our “camp site” came equipt with slightly creeky camp beds, extra blankets, a seating area, lamps, drinking water, a kettle and a bountiful supply of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. There was no running water but thankfully there was a toilet – a drop toilet.

We then wandered back to the Coach and Horses for dinner and drinks, and the locals who spotted us strangers standing out like sore thumbs, decided to wind us up with scary stories of the church (all of which we were later told were made up… phew!) but we were also warned by the pub’s waitress that the clock was going to strike every hour.

So with this in mind, and the realization that we had forgotten eye masks and the big church windows did not have curtains, we drank rather a lot of wine before heading back to our home for the night.

Cots to sleep in when you are Champing.
Cots to sleep in when you are Champing.

The wine did the trick, and it was a decent hour when we awoke to the bells pealing, with the sun streaming in the windows, warming our faces as we listened to the birds chirping outside.

More Comfy than Expected

We all agreed the beds were much comfier than we had dared to believe they would be, and we were all warm enough in our sleeping bags.

My friends, who were all up for an “unusual, different” experience, loved getting out the city. It’s not somewhere you would want to stay more than one or two nights due to the lack of showers and home comforts, but it’s a fun way to spend a night.

With no wifi or phone signal, and only a couple of hard-to-find plugs, it’s a nice excuse to switch off from the rest of the world, too. However, here’s a word of warning – champers only have sole rights to the church between 6 pm and 10 am, so be prepared for visitors at other times!

You can also rest assured the money spent on this adventure is going somewhere worthwhile – all the funds go to the Churches Conservation Trust.

This year there are 12 churches to choose from, all available to book from March 31 to September 30, 2017.

See www.champing.co.uk for more details.

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