Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Church camping or champing is really something you have to try with the kids, particularly if the idea of camping in a historic building tickles you. Indeed, in terms of British postcard trips, it’s hard to beat a weekend that includes a country Victorian church, breakfast in the adjoining community hall, herds of sheep in the hills and a Silver Award Loo of the Year. As icing on the cake, our champing church was in a lovely part of the UK known as the Lake District, by far the most popular national park in England. Tempted?
Here are a few highlights of our church camping experience, as well as likes and dislikes, so that you too can plan your family trip in ancient churches.
When I first read, “camping in a church” on a Twitter feed, I thought for sure that either it was a joke or I needed new specs. Whoever would be mad enough to camp in a church–religious people, pilgrims, bone diggers, Da Vinci Code fans?
But then, I browsed through the champing website and it looked so much like a camping booking platform that I kept exploring. There, I saw 12 historic churches around the UK, some with twin towers and some with stained glass windows, some with angel sculptures and some with views on the beach. I also found out that champing money contributes to the upkeep of buildings that might otherwise go to ruin. Come to think of it, champing churches reminded me of disused lighthouses converted into B&Bs, except on the rustic end. Oh heck, why not?
While we knew we would get an arched roof, pews and leaded windows, I wasn’t sure about much else. Turns out, a champing booking at St Mary of Longsleddale also includes:
In the (heated) community hall, we had access to:
The exquisite adjoining Silver Award Loo of the Year offered:
And on our end, we packed:
Longsleddale! Quite frankly, discovering this valley of the Lake District was our absolute favorite part. It was gorgeous and, surprisingly for a bank holiday weekend, the two hikes we walked were not crowded at all.
My 11-year-old was possibly the most enthusiast about the champing experience. Initially, she had her doubts about sleeping in a big public building. Would it be scary? Would it be freaky? However, when I got three sets of festive lights out of a bag, she immediately relaxed. Oh, they looked so pretty. Of course, festive lights in a church also look like Christmas in April, but we didn’t care. The church nave where we slept looked so cool with them. Fear of the dark was not an issue for her, as she slept like a baby with her nightlight on a pew next to her cot. In fact, she felt very cozy.
Us adults wondered whether the religious atmosphere of the church would be an issue. As a matter of fact, the church had been used for a funeral two days before our arrival and the community hall had leftover beer cases from the celebration. However, the church was lovely and the funeral flower arrangements, in tones of white and pink, smelled wonderful by the entrance. To the point, we didn’t feel intimidated by religion a bit.
Oddly, I had not considered outside sounds as a possibility but a church is only slightly better sound-insulated than a tent. Yes for stone walls but no double glazing and huge windows, you see. As a result, I was woken up at the crack of dawn both mornings by the shepherd rallying his flock and that made me smile. To know that rural life in this part of the country was still very much an everyday thing and not just a show for tourists, was really cool.
Meeting our champing greeter, Mike and his family, was one of the highlights of the trip as he had really good advice for hikes and went the extra-mile to make us feel welcome. He and his family even stopped by with leftover cakes from a fundraising event on the second day. How sweet is that?
While my youngest would go champing again in a heartbeat, my 13-year-old didn’t enjoy the experience as much. She is usually a very happy camper, but she felt that it was weird to sleep in a church. Also, she got out at night to go pee and had to cross the graveyard in the dark to access the restrooms. Even for an adult, walking through any graveyard at night is bound to play mind tricks on you. Obviously, she was scared.
The church temperature was also colder than we expected and as our blankets kept sliding off the sleeping bags, both she and I got cold on the first night. Apparently, neither my husband nor my youngest felt it was an issue.
Last but not least, champing is expensive. Lake District accommodations are notoriously pricey because of heavy tourism and the cost of our champing trip was closer to a mid-range B&B or vacation rental than a camping site. We knew that our money would go to the church’s upkeep, so we made our peace with the price but you have to be ready for the price tag.
Overall, our church camping experience was very positive and I can heartily recommend it to other families. The pluses far outweigh the positives and I think that bigger churches would be an absolute hoot with a group of friends–imagine the treasure hunt at night. Oh, the fun! I’m all for supporting ancient churches and I’ll happily do it again.