It’s no secret that I am quite fond of an old church to mooch about in, and even fonder of a good old graveyard. I love a good graveyard. Imagine how chuffed I would be, then, if I could be the guest of a church for a night. My very own church and my very own church yard to match. Imagine no more. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

First came Camping, nights under canvas. Then Glamping, nights under canvas plus luxuries. Having done both of those, what next? Champing. Nights spent under the roof of a historic church, wrapped in beauty and history. Church plus Camping equals Champing.

Champing is made possible by the Churches Conservation Trust. Visitors, known as Champers, get to enjoy a unique overnight experience whilst supporting the preservation of ancient spaces . Its a great idea, great fun and a win-win.

The Church on the Hill

We picked St Marys in Buckinghamshire as our Champing base. All the Champing churches look fabulous so we made this choice based on nothing more than driving distance and the fact that it took us to somewhere we hadn’t been before. It’s known as ‘The Church on the Hill’ for good reason, it literally perches on a hilltop, looking over the surrounding countryside with the churchyard tumbling down around it. She’s a beauty.

View from the Church on the Hill

On arrival, I doubted myself. Was this vast, beautiful building really all ours for the night? Well, yes. Champing currently gets you sole occupancy and the key to the door, so you are free to lock up or lock in. To do this though, you need to find the keys and that’s where the fun begins. I’d read the confirmation email and noted- or thought I had- that they key was in a lockbox by the door. I’d even correctly remembered the code.

Two laps of the church later and a few diversions to quirky gravestones that caught my eye ( can’t help myself, can I?) I gave up and consulted the email. Long story short I’d remembered the right code, but the wrong set up. The key was in the box and the box was in the toilet block located in the church yard. A few more laps , couple of diversions and the toilet was found. Yep, the loo is located outside the church. It looks like this:

Here’s the thing with pitching up in an ancient space; the church predates most modern amenities. Expectations must be managed. The Champ Lav is a dry separating toilet. I wasn’t sure, but it works just fine. Other than that, bathroom facilities basically involve baby wipes and plenty of hand sanitiser.

Once you have the key- and it’s up to you if you want to make a game of finding it. There is the option of reading emails properly- it’s an amazing feeling to open the door, walk into such a beautiful space and know it’s yours. Definite ‘Wow’ moment. I’ve stayed in some nice hotels and quirky places but this one took the biscuit. Never mind room with a view, this is a room with a pew. Loads of them, actually.

There’s something special about Champing and it comes in two forms. First in the history and provenance of the place. We had a walk around, sat in the pews, found some beautiful carvings. Imagine all the people before us who gathered here, wed here, had children baptised here ?

Ornate interior filled with paintings, carvings and tiling.

Secondly and less fancifully is the work of the local Champbots. These are the volunteers who make Champing possible, who ready the church for use and make the experience special. You aren’t just allowed to stay over, you are welcomed with everything you need. From beds and camping chairs, to lanterns and fairy lights plus hot drinks and a kettle. Even a corkscrew and wine glasses. There is no issue with Champers having a tipple.

There has been no expense spared, either. All of the equipment is top notch and in great condition. It’s also thoughtfully set up for your party, along with a little welcome card. A nice touch.

So, in and settled, what do you actually do when Champing? Well, that’s up to you. The lovely thing about it all is that although the churches and their contents are precious, nobody is precious about you being there. Champing is about enjoyment, relaxation and discovery.

We sat round chatting, did a bit of public speaking practice from the pulpit. The Little Chap wanted to ‘do a bit of Judge Judy’ and hear a case whilst perched up in the pulpit, so we did a bit of that. I was accused of something terrible and completely untrue and it didn’t go in my favour. No justice.

Pint size Preacher.

We also had a go at playing the organ, badly I suspect. Apart from of one of The Teens who smashed out a great version of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida . Then hide and seek. FYI, the pulpit is a top hiding place. Because when you’re the last one hiding, you can pop up triumphantly to seize the win. Yes, I did. I’m a terrible winner.

Then, bedtime. A late night walk to stretch the dogs legs was rewarded with a couple of glimpses of a barn owl swooping about in the church yard. Everybody slept well, tucked up in the camp beds. Except me, but let me tell you why.

I woke up at 01.50 feeling something brushing over me. And heard it. It made me a little nervous. The dog was totally relaxed though, surely he’d bark at anything untoward? It happened again. I switched my torch on and waited. Bats. A pair of bats flying in circles and flitting in and out of a hole in the door frame just by my bed.

So I lay awake for a couple of hours, cuddling the dog and watching the bats doing their thing. Went home a tired but happy Champer. In a strange twist, before we went to bed, I’d pointed out these two carvings that caught my eye. A bat and an owl. Both of whom came to visit. Fancy that.

Luckily it wasn’t until the next morning I discovered this carving, a stern faced mermaid suckling a lion. Because, honestly, I wouldn’t have been quite so charmed to meet her in the middle of the night.

For details on Champing, visit the dedicated website here.

Helen x

27 thoughts

  1. Champing ! I had no idea this concept existed and what an adventure it was ! Fabulous post, Helen .

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you, it was a brilliant experience.

  2. Well, that’s a first. But maybe not a last for you? I love fossicking about old churches, but this for some reason doesn’t attract me at all. It’s not the bats, or the fear of ghosts. I’m not sure what it is, but you keep right on doing it and writing about it – great post!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks, I think we would do it again but not too soon. It has got me thinking about different places for a unique stay so who knows where we’ll end up next πŸ€”

  3. What a unique place to stay Helen. I’d never heard of Champing but it sounded fun, even with the bats thrown into the mix. However did you learn that it was even possible to sleep in a church? so exciting! For our part, we are attending a family wedding in Tewkesbury Abbey in a couple of weeks so it will be interesting to see what happens without the choir and hymns etc. M.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I stumbled upon the Champing thing completely by accident, I was researching a local church and stumbled upon the Champing site. And since going abroad isn’t happening just yet…well, why not? I suppose the wedding will be all instrumental. This pandemic is just reaching into every aspect of life, isn’t it?

  4. Never ever heard of this. Champing? Sounds so interesting but I’m not sure I could sleep in a church, my imagination would be going overboard. You did so well and it sounds great.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Must admit the bats gave me a moment! I don’t think it would be for everyone but it was something different.

  5. Can’t believe you had a chance to stay in a church, that must have been an amazing experience. I would probably be up for most of the night due to strange sounds 😹 thanks for sharing and have a good day πŸ˜€ Aiva

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It’s a strange one, it seems not that many people know about the Champing concept. But those that do have usually done it time and again. It was good to do something different anyway!

  6. Another very enjoyable post, Helen, and one from which I learned a lot. First up, if I’d ever felt tempted to sleep in a church overnight your post has cured me of that. Bats! No way. Not even sure about the owls outside. And someone mentioned ghosts, there’s that to consider as well. But so glad you enjoyed the experience and wrote so lightly about it giving us all something to smile about.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I don’t mind a bit of wildlife for company, I loved seeing the bats…well, once I realised it was bats an my heart rate returned to normal.

  7. Champing?! this is a first, how intriguing.

  8. This is sooo cool!! I heard of champing a few years ago but then I never heard of it again and I’ve never heard of anyone doing it, so I assumed it was a random idea that had fizzled out. I might have to look into it, a truly unique experience! I like that you can have a drink too – champers drinking champers! Haha.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Oh champers drinking champers, why didn’t I think of that? Shall pack the bubbles next time! Hope you do get to go for a Champing experience, it’s a lot of fun.

  9. This looks amazing ( a little scary maybe, with the bats) but what an adventure!
    After a little research I found that one of the few churches that do this is actually quite near me at Old Langho in Lancashire. Who knew! Might have to check it out. πŸ™‚

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      You should, definitely. It’s a great experience, especially as it gets dark and your sat round chatting with the (battery operated) candles on. I think it’s such a great way of helping with the upkeep of the old places.

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