You’ve probably heard of ‘glamping,’ but how about ‘champing’? Combining the words ‘church’ and ‘camping’ into one special idea, champing is a practice that has become very popular in England, where people are actually allowed to stay in centuries-old churches. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and is fast becoming one of the top reasons to visit the United Kingdom.
All around the southeastern part of England, an ever-growing number of travelers are enjoying unique experiences by staying in the form of accommodation that is truly unique: village churches. These people aren’t necessarily religious; they’re just looking for something different, and ‘champing’ is what they found.
With more and more people looking to head ‘off the beaten path’ and find new experiences, champing is swiftly becoming a fun option, with many of these churches having centuries of history behind them.
The Churches Conservation Trust is the group responsible for the popularity of this fun form of accommodation. The Trust is an organization that aims to preserve and protect some of Britain’s most beautiful old churches.
The Trust had the idea of letting people stay in the old churches as a way to raise money for conservation and preservation efforts. So far, their plan has really paid off, with plenty of people interested in spending a night or two in such historic locations.
The Trust gave champing a test run back in 2014 at the All Saints Church in the little village of Aldwincle. This beautiful church is located near the edge of the village, surrounded by trees, fields, and a local river for scenic walks and wildlife spotting.
Only a few hours away from the British capital city of London, the Aldwincle champing experience quickly proved popular, with guests loving the history of the church and the sense of escapism it provided.
A year after the pilot run, the Trust decided to add a few more churches to its selection and saw more than 300 guests participate in the ‘champing season’ (May – September). A year later, that number more than doubled to 650.
Many of the ‘champers’ were relatively young, between the ages of 26 and 44, and lived in cities. Many were couples in search of a romantic getaway, but some guests were families with kids, along with solo adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts.
At the moment, the churches involved in champing are all located in the southeastern part of England and are all within a two to three-hour drive of London, offering a lot of appeal for residents of the big city.
All of the churches are in little villages, with lots of beautiful old buildings and charming scenery to be enjoyed, and there are plenty more villages like these all around England and even over the border into Scotland and Wales, so there’s room for expansion in future.
One of the top champing destinations so far is Fordwich, which is said to be the smallest town in all of England, as well as being home to the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Built way back in the 13th century, this church is said to be the site of St Augustine’s grave.
St Augustine was a Benedictine monk who actually brought the Christian religion over to England and played a significant role in the spiritual and religious development of the nation.
Naturally, these churches are historical sites and are open to the public in the day, but when evening comes, only the champers are allowed to walk around. You get the place to yourself all night, free to explore and learn all about the history of the location.
This makes champing a super option for history buffs or people who want to feel history come to life all around them. There’s no other experience quite like it.
If you’re interested in “champing”, you have to be prepared for the issues that come along with it. This isn’t like glamping, with running water, electricity, Wi-Fi, and other amenities; champing is definitely a ‘back to basics’ experience.
These old churches don’t have any heating or water, with most of them not even having regular toilets either, so guests have to adapt and live in a classic medieval way, jumping back in time to a very different era.
Champing is a relatively new phenomenon, so we’ll have to wait and see how the pros and cons all weigh up in the long term, but right now it’s looking like this fun way to stay could actually help save plenty of churches.
Without champing, those churches may have been doomed for redevelopment or even torn down, but with champing, the Trust has been able to start adding more churches to its lineup and implement new pricing structures, merchandise, and more.
So is champing just a fad or can we expect it to last a long time? Well, experts are predicting that this unique form of camping has got a bright future ahead of it, but the same can’t be said for Christianity itself.
Statistics are showing that the number of British Christians has plummeted in recent years, with only 1.4% of the population actually going to church. This means that more churches are going to close and could be used for champing purposes.