Take me to church: the rise of champing

Camping is always marching on, always diversifying, always presenting something new. But who would have thought of putting camping and churches together?

The Churches Conservation Trust, that’s who.

Take a disused church steeped in history. Take friends and families who are always looking for the next adventure, something different, something to feed the soul. Put them together and you have champing. Church camping. A juxtaposed stay as down to earth yet as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.

Churches available in 2017 can sleep from 2 to 16 people. The hire of a church is completely exclusive; you won’t be rubbing shoulders with any strangers, apart from maybe the odd spider or two. Child-friendly, dog-friendly, group-friendly, picnic-friendly, alcohol-friendly, the experience is surely one to consider if you’re looking for an authentic, unforgettable mini-break experience.

Facilities are basic with camping beds, rugs, cushions and camping chairs supplied but you will have to rely on your own bedding and blankets to keep warm. It isn’t fancy yet there is a certain magic and humour about having the free run of a church for a night or two that makes it seem actually quite spoily. Think of it as a massive tent filled with history. Imagine lying there with the moonlight coming through the stained glass windows, pondering awhile on all the people who have paced the flagstones over hundreds of years. Imagine the kids playing hide and seek in the churchyard and swapping spooky stories by torchlight. That is quite something. And to top the Blytonesque experience, a steaming breakfast butty will be delivered to you by a friendly local in the morning. Sold.

Brainchild of Peter Aires, director of the Churches Conservation Trust in the south east, the scheme was piloted in 2014 and launched officially in 2015 with three churches. More than 150 holidaymakers stayed at a champing church that year, including Andrew Flintoff, the former England cricket captain, who documented his overnight stay in Aldwincle on Sky One after England won the Ashes series.

In 2016 the trust opened a further four more churches for their champing experience and nearly 700 guests came through their doors. The movement (for it certainly feels like a movement) is increasing to twelve churches in 2017. It is an imaginative way to generate income to maintain these congregation-less churches while offering a new phenomenon in camping.

Champing is certainly making the press sit up and take notice. It has been featured in the likes of The Times, The National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and even on national TV. It really feels like there is a wave to catch here. With a new website launched today at www.champing.co.uk and our online booking facility in place to support them, the Churches Conservation Trust is already ramping up the bookings, even from as far afield as America.

So, are you going to frequent church in 2017? We most certainly are. Champing. It’s the one to watch.

Vanessa Glossop

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