This year many people in the UK have found an unusual way to spend their holidays locally: camping in a church. Given that local destinations have been in such demand, many have looked for ways to avoid the crowds.
Camping in a church? It’s possible, at least in the English countryside, where thrill-seekers can rent one for a night of terror sleeping on centuries-old tombs.
“The thought of those sleeping beneath us makes the atmosphere more exciting,” explained Kae Ono to Agence France-Presse. Ono is a Japanese history student who decided to spend a night at the medieval St Mary’s Church in Edlesborough, about 60 km north of London.
The term coined for this activity is “champing”, a word that fuses church and camping, a practice that allows the maintenance of monuments to be financed. It costs £50 (56 euros) per person to rent St Mary’s and share the space with bats. Champing is the official name of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) initiative.
According to The Guardian, champing is on track to record its highest number of domestic visitors to date in 2021’s season, which runs from April to October. The spike is likely due to Covid-19 travel restrictions in place and huge demand for UK-based staycations.
The Association for the Preservation of Churches, which runs St-Mary, provides camp beds and sleeping bags for sleeping in this unusual environment, in whose subsoil the notables of yesteryear are buried.
The Association, which manages 354 buildings, 19 of which can be booked for overnight stays in England and Scotland, was selected in consultation with local authorities, often very enthusiastic about the initiative, says Neil Best, head of the program.
Fiona Silk, business development officer for CCT’s Champing, told The Guardian that this year they have had around 1,350 champers, and 6,500 since they started in 2015.
People are wanting to come and find a new place, a new perspective close to home, and they’re discovering places on their doorstep which they might not have known about previouslyFiona Silk, business development officer for CCT’s Champing
Through the initiative, guests can discover the nooks and crannies of their temporary quarters with the nervous excitement that usually accompanies the beginning of a scary movie. They are provided with camp chairs, tea and coffee, camp beds, water, a kettle, battery-powered candles, lanterns and fairylights and access to a toilet. There is no shower available. An important note: it is allowed to drink in the church and some have parties.
Although still consecrated, St Mary’s, an Anglican parish, organizes very few religious services and its overnight guests are subject to few restrictions, apart from avoiding noise, so as not to disturb the neighbors. Even alcohol is allowed. “Mind you, don’t fool around,” the association’s website warns. So far, no abuse or degradation has been reported and visitors have behaved respectfully.
They’re having that experience of those solid walls, that ancient door, those beautiful stained glass windows around you that have that light coming in in the morning. And they’re getting that sense of solace or peaceFiona Silk, business development officer for CCT’s Champing
The Association assures that the church “will remain a place of contemplation, tranquility and peace.” And it stresses that these particular camp-outs “are but the latest chapter in an ever-evolving tradition.”