Bivouacking in an old Church? Give Champing™ a go!

By Gery de Pierpont

Trying out a new and different kind of holiday in the UK . . .

Unusual, authentic, ecological, exclusive, affordable, spacious, convivial, and inspiring are the positive comments made by pioneer ‘champers’ – a phenomenal new trend and English to the core! But what exactly is it?

Champing bivouacking in a church

Capture the mystery of old churches and experience the ardour of those who built them and imbued them with prayer. © Joseph Casey Photography

Take a disused or rarely used church in a tranquil setting. Install a water container inside and an eco-dry toilet outside. Set up some camp beds or inflatable mattresses; add a few folding chairs a mat, some cushions and a few torches and battery operated candles (for security). You then need to find a willing neighbour or local café owner to provide breakfast, and your church is now ready to welcome its guests for the night – redolent of the past when many religious establishments offered shelter to travelling ecclesiastics, pilgrims, and ordinary travellers. 

And there you have it – Champing™ (a portmanteau word made up of church and camping) – closer to bivouacking than to staying at a B & B. The churches and chapels that offer this type of shelter are not heated (and because of this are only available between April and September). They are rarely connected to running water or electricity, so there is no question of Wi-Fi, hi-fi, bathrooms, or cooking. It is in these conditions that Champing™ will give you a truly authentic historical experience! Do you know of many period buildings that have changed so little (either in structure and function) as old churches?

Champing, bivouacking in a church

There may be many deconsecrated churches that have been transformed into hotels, but none will have retained the authenticity of those that are given over to Champing™. © Neil Randall

The concept was first launched in 2014, by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a dynamic British establishment dedicated to preserving an endangered religious heritage. The organization manages some 350 churches, all of which need conservation and restoration work that is beyond its means. The Trust came up with the idea of opening a dozen churches to fans of ‘spending sacred nights in history’ – a scheme that has rapidly caught on among heritage lovers and those looking for different experiences.

Champing spend the night in a church

One of the advantages of Champing™ is that it is exclusive – there is only one tenant for the entire space, whether you are a couple, an extended family, or a group of friends (16 people max.). © Joseph Casey Photography

So who rents these places of worship that are on the lookout for a new public? They are families on holiday (children are fascinated by this project), young people on outings, or groups of friends, or foreign tourists who have heard about Champing™, and of course, pilgrims on a sacred trail, or believers who organize spiritual get-togethers for prayer and contemplation, but above all, the tenants are people who respect the sacred character of these places. Churches managed by the CCT are still consecrated even though they no longer offer regular religious services.

Champing, sleeping in a church

The magic of nightfall… © Neil Randall

As well as sleeping bags, duvets and blankets (indispensable), ‘champers’ can take what they like – food, drink, games, binoculars, cots, battery operated lanterns, or guitars – provided the churches are left as clean and tidy as they are found. Alcohol is permitted (to keep one warm!), but noisy musical instruments and parties are not. Football and climbing games are not allowed; however, well-behaved dogs are (two or three at the most).

Champing spend the night in a church

Champing™ costs between £19–£59 a night per adult (depending on the chosen package) or £9-£19 per child (2017 tariffs), with a discount for over 8 people. © Joseph Casey Photography

Champing™ has been such a success that it has caught the attention of the keepers of many religious establishments throughout the world. It was a daring venture, but churches touch anyone who takes the time to tune into these monuments to prayer, whose tranquillity inspires peace and invites meditation, a fortiori in the mystery of night.
Of course, guarantees have be re-evaluated in detail, for churches and their heritage interiors and furnishings are vulnerable to desecration. But making the space available at night has actually resulted in greater security for the building and their content, if only because it prevents organised theft. 
How is inappropriate behaviour to be avoided in these sacred places? Experience has shown that the vast majority of their tenants have been extremely respectful of the historical and spiritual nature of these places. Although ‘zero’ risk does not exist, the benefits engendered by this project seem to be much greater than the drawbacks – particularly in the returns from this type of tourism. Moreover this special contact with religious buildings in their “nocturnal intimacy” can be profoundly meaningful for those that experience it – as much in a social and cultural sense as spiritual. Some of these old stone buildings are a true (yet silent) testimony of faith.

Champing, bivouacking in a church

Churches that have been set up for Champing™ are basically furnished with inflatable mattresses or camp beds and bits and pieces of furniture such as mats, cushions and covers, that are easily moved around. © Jeremy Seal

For further information and bookings on site see:

Champing holiday in in a church

Change the atmosphere from one stay to another . . . © Joseph Casey Photography

Leave a comment

Please fill in all fields, your email address will not be published

Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort