Experiencing Champing in rural Northamptonshire
I sat bolt upright in bed and forgetting for a moment that I’d gone champing, wondered where the hell I was. It was freezing and I could see my breath in the pale moonlight shafts that were penetrating the stained glass windows. Then I heard it again, the disturbing scurrying sounds that had so rudely awoken me from my equally disturbing dreams. Peering bravely out into the gloom I caught a movement and a flash of brilliant white. A shadowy figure gliding over the cold flagstones, and a ghostly silhouette projected beyond all human proportions on the stone pillars that were standing like resolute sentinels guarding their ancient ecclesiastical realm. Stifling a scream worthy of any pathetic heroine in a dodgy movie, I cowered under the duvet and reached over to poke hubbie awake. No way was I going to be scared all by myself!
The bed was empty!
Grabbing my torch and trying to convince myself I didn’t believe in the supernatural, I shone a reassuring yellow beam around the empty church. And there, gloriously illuminated in just his underpants, was hubbie, chasing mice in the dark.
So just what were we doing sleeping all by ourselves in a Grade I Listed Building out in the middle of nowhere in the heart of rural England?
Apparently ‘champing’ is a thing, and I wanted to try it! Champing basically involves camping out overnight in a church which is no longer used for normal worship. The concept has been likened to ‘glamping’, but since I can’t stand that term (we think camping should be done properly, out in the wilds!) I’m not going to draw parallels. It’s just a little bit bonkers, and a great way to keep the heritage of these important sites alive. Being a history nerd known for moments of madness this was right up my street. Hubbie wasn’t so sure but as usual didn’t have a choice in the matter.
The Churches Conservation Trust currently has 4 champing properties throughout England, but with it’s rural setting and Medieval appeal, I only had eyes for one.
Let me introduce you to All Saint’s Church in Aldwincle, Northamptonshire…
If you want to experience ‘real’ English villages, come to this area of Northamptonshire where the chocolate box houses and historical buildings have changed little over the centuries. Just down the road from the famous village of Fotheringhay (where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587), Aldwincle is a delightful village nestled on a bend in the River Nene, surrounded by wildflower meadows, wetlands and woods.
Aldwincle was once two parishes, All Saints and St Peter’s. Each had their own church but when the parishes merged in 1879, All Saints Church (which was built between the 13th and 15th centuries) became more or less redundant. Sited on the very edge of the village opposite opposite Dryden House (yes, the poet John Dryden was born here in 1631, and baptized at the church) All Saints feels in a world of it’s own.
And it was all ours for the night!
Parking as instructed by the lych gate, we unloaded our gear (so much just for one night!) and padded through the grave yard, our steps leaving footprints in the wet grass. Finding the hidden ancient key we were soon pushing open the door to our new home, almost tripping over each other in excitement.
So without further ado, lets step inside…
The Medieval interior was sparsely furnished giving it a cavernous ambience, and the absence of pews meant we could spread out and use the space as we wished. Just as well seeing as we appeared to have brought everything but the kitchen sink with us on our little jaunt. There are several camp beds, inflatable mattresses and thick blankets, as well as camp chairs, bean bags and even a little coffee table complete with a complimentary bottle of wine.
What more could a girl need?
Ever since I booked our champing experience I was slightly concerned about the toilet situation, knowing that as well as not having heating or lighting, the church had no plumbing. Sure, we’ve camped out in the Sahara where the desert floor was our bathroom, and whilst wild camping up in mountains we think nothing of crouching behind a rock. Yet visions of creeping out into the graveyard at the witching hour to use a portaloo were really giving me the heebie-jeebies!
I needn’t have worried. Once used to house robes and collection plates, the vestry to the left of the alter is now home to it’s very own composting toilet. No outside midnight excursions for us! Inside the ‘bathroom’ there is plenty of toilet paper, anti-bacterial hand gel (since there is no water), colourful flag bunting and instructions on how to use the toilet. All I can advise is you need to aim true!
One essential out of the way, it was time to check out the others. Cooking isn’t allowed in the church, but there is a gas stove for those all important cups of tea. A kettle, camping mugs, wine glasses and a basket of tea and coffee is provided, although I suggest bringing your own beverages if you are particular about what you drink. There are also hot water bottles (it does get rather chilly!), torches and batteries, and even eye masks since the windows don’t have curtains!
We spent the next hour or so (who am I kidding, it was pretty much the entire afternoon) happily clicking away with the cameras, poking around the little hidey holes, discovering what was behind all the doors, and wondering at the presence of a coffin cart at the bottom of the tower. Apparently they still occasionally hold funerals here!
Of course the most important question was where to set up our bed.
Perhaps in the nave beneath the lofty limestone arches, or maybe tucked away in the 15th Century Chantry Chapel which came complete with it’s own organ and priest’s door.
I was all for sleeping in the latter before hubbie pointed out I’d be right next to the door and would be the first in line to tackle any intruder. It didn’t matter that all the doors locked from the inside and the only nocturnal visitors were unlikely to be the sort who could be kept away by doors.
Surprisingly the organ still worked, sort of! Once we’d dusted off a few spider webs and realised it was operated by a foot pump, I tried out a bit of Bach to see what the acoustics were like. It wasn’t the most melodic rendition, which was only partly due to the state of the instrument, and I admit hubbie probably had more success with his take on Chopsticks than I did with a bit of baroque.
In the end we decided to set up our bedroom in the Chancel, the raised area up in front of the alter, overlooked by a colossal Medieval stained glass window and contained by a Jacobean communion rail.
‘Champers’ are told they are allowed to get up to whatever their consciences allow, and whilst making our bed right on top of the tombstone of one Thomas Ford didn’t feel altogether quite respectful, we decided it would certainly get us into the spirit of the whole experience. As a reminder of acceptable behaviour, a royal hatchment flanked by the Ten Commandments looked down on us from above the Chancel arch. Pity we couldn’t read them from far below!
Up until this moment I hadn’t really considered how we would feel about being in a church, all alone, in the dead of night, but as dusk fell it suddenly sunk in just what we were about to do. I thought longingly of our warm, comfy bed back home, and tried not to think about all the man-eating spiders I’d already spied scuttling across the church flagstones. Never mind about ghosts, what if the arachnids came to investigate whilst we were in bed?
Believing light would banish creepy crawlies as well as unwanted spirits, we decided it was candle time! There are about 20 battery operated candles provided by the Churches Conservation Trust, all set up on the 13th Century font. We soon hand them placed all around the church which was both sexy and ghoulish at the same time. Hubbie surrounded the bed with them which reminded me of a scene from a vampire movie. Great.
After pulling on a few more layers of clothing we hunkered down for a romantic picnic tea in the nave, encircled by lanterns and fairy lights (hubbie had hidden them in our luggage as a surprise, the boy is a romantic at heart!) for ambience and perhaps safety! We enjoyed several glasses of wine to fortify us for the night ahead.
Then it was out with the cameras again, and what we had really come for…
Some while later the owls began their nocturnal calls and reminded us it was probably bed time. Not far away a fox started yowling and we decided it would be safer snuggled under the duvet (and several layers of blankets on top!). Stepping outside to clean our teeth in the graveyard (as you do) we were momentarily mesmerised by the liberal sprinkling of stars across the dark sky, always so much clearer out in the countryside.
I had thought we’d sleep with the candles on, but decided that would actually be more spooky than total darkness, so there we lay, wobbling about on top of two inflatable mattresses for insulation, all our senses alert despite not being able to see a thing.
It was at this point we realised churches are actually quite noisy places.
The old building creaked as the temperature changed. The gusting wind outside somehow made it’s way through the cracks and swirled around the pillars. Then there was an odd almighty crash for which there was no reasonable explanation.
We hadn’t really come expecting a good night’s sleep, but I actually found it far less frightening than I’d anticipated. Perhaps it was because we were protected from evil, being in God’s house. The distant murmur of the A605 was also quietly comforting, reminding us we were still in the present and that other civilisation was not far away. Then it began to rain and the drops pounding the the roof drowned out all the other more creepy goings on inside the church.
Just as we were drifting off, the scampering of tiny rodent feet accompanied by frenzied squeaking had us sitting bolt upright, instinctively pulling in our feet which had been hanging off the edge of the bed. I selfishly was thankful that hubbie was taller than me, as the mice would clearly nibble at his toes before mine! The little terrors were munching on something (we could even hear them chewing!), and some of them took delight in pattering across the Chancel floor right past our bed. Needless to say I was now wide awake and clinging to hubbie in terror.
This is pretty much how we spent the rest of the night, until eventually we fell asleep, and I was woken by hubbie chasing the mice in his pants.
Next morning there was a knock on the door at 8am. Breakfast. The folks at Pear Tree Farm just down the road deliver a hamper to overnight guests, and it was definitely food for the soul. The giant breakfast baps were crammed with pretty much a full English minus the baked beans, and there was local apple juice, yoghurt and a basket fresh fruit. Not a bad start to the day.
We had a lot of fun doing a walk through of the church, to show you what it’s really like inside. I’d like to say this was the first attempt, but due to far too much giggling, tripping over, creaking doors and the music running out before we’d finished, this is actually the FOURTH film we made. Not sure we’ll win any Oscars but it’s certainly organic!!
The whole champing experience was scary but exciting, and sleepless yet romantic, and I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies trying something a little different.
Champing takes place between May and September.
Bear in mind it will be light later in the summer and you’ll need those eye masks! We went in September so we could get the night photographs.
It costs £60 per person at weekends, and £45 during the week. This includes breakfast and you have exclusive use of the church.
Beds and chairs are provided but you need to bring your own bedding. It will be chilly!
Take some extra torches and a few spare batteries for the candles…several didn’t work when we arrived.
Tea and coffee is provided, but if you’re partial to anything in particular it’s best to bring it along. You’ll need to take your own milk. There was no cutlery when we were there, so make sure you take some teaspoons for both drinks and the morning yoghurt.
Bring a plastic box to store your food in overnight, otherwise the mice will get it!
Behind the Scenes
Introducing our new feature which shows what really goes on behind all these trips and photographs…
When we travel abroad, often for weeks at a time, we easily manage to fit everything into a single suitcase each, and a small carry-on bag for the cameras. It only takes a couple of hours to pack, we know precisely what we want to take, and I guess you could say it comes as second nature since we’ve done it once or twice before.
So it stands to reason that packing for a single night away in our own country, just 3 hours drive from home, should be easy, right? Nope. Working out what to take took an entire afternoon, and this was the result:
Yes, we even packed that ladder and a washing line pole, thanks to an overdose of caffeine by hubbie the night before, and his ensuing bright ideas.
Still, apart from the multiple hats, down jackets and sunglasses (yeah, bit optimistic that one!) we did use everything.
Even the pole and ladder…
Hubbie told me afterwards I resembled a fishing gnome. Just the look I was going for!
Next time we go champing I’m going to take my wedding dress as a prop. Now let’s just see what he has to say about that!
I also took it upon myself to try out the acoustics with my flute (my other hobby!). Definitely recommend taking your musical instrument if you have one!
Found this post useful? Why not pin it for later…
Wonderfully told! I had both videos playing at the same time, so I could listen to your music while watching the inside of the church.
Ah, thanks Ana, glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Only just found this site but what amazing photography! and the whole experience sounds fun.
This looks like such a neat experience!! Definitely something I would be interested in trying!
It’s certainly something different! And great fun too!
What an interesting idea!
Sounds like a fun choice for lodging and I would give it a try. Although it looks a bit cold. Any ghosts?
Only in our imaginations!
I’ve never heard of champing. What an idea! I definitely would give it a try! Would I feel scared? No idea, but church with breakfast sounds interesting 🙂
Interesting experience! I once spent the night n an old church in Dublin on St Patricks day after the hostel ran out of room! An eerie experience !
Wow, never heard of anyone doing that before, though perhaps you might have been less scared since it was rather impromptu?!
OMG I have never heard of champing, this is brilliant. I’m definitely going to try this!
Wow! I never heard of “champing” before! This can be very exciting and interesting for others, unfortunately not for me… I find it spooky Lol, but maybe I will try for fun with a group of friends! I watched your youtube too with you playing your flute, wow very impressive! Really cool!
I’m easily scared too, but it wasn’t half as scary as I’d expected, and with a group it would be really fun too! Thanks for watching my video too, it had to be done 🙂
At first seeing your title about “Champing” in a church my first thought was OH Yeah, in a heartbeat! But once you mentioned the huge spiders that was a huge “I don’t think so!”. Reading on as long as it was in the summer it would be quite a romantic experience.
You have to look beyond the spiders!I only saw a couple and if I can cope with them anyone can!
Ahah, this is an adventure! I totally love the idea! Such a cool thing to do!
I live in London so I will definitely make the trip next year 🙂
There are a couple of champing churches in Kent which may be nearer you? And the Churches Trust are planning on releasing 10 more sites for next year, so there may be more down your way too!
What a great idea. And I like your honesty about the whole toilet thing because it will always be the first question Spanky asks me “what’s the toilet situation??!” There should be an area on every post dedicated to the toilet situation.
Anyway, sounds like a great experience and my question was whether you had the whole place to yourself…but then you addressed that in the wrap up. Spanky’s always wanted to visit England and this sounds like an interesting activity when we do. Mice wouldn’t be her thing though…
That sounds like a great future post, toilets of the world! A girl gotta know where she’s gonna go! Just maybe don’t tell Spanky about the mice, or bring a hammock to sling between the pillars so your toes don’t dangle out of the bed!
I admire your experience here. For me, I’d be totally freaked out with the noises in the night. Very cool experience and pretty awesome suggestion for other travellers to try out on their adventures.
Haha, I have NEVER heard of this, love the idea and hopefully it will spread across the Europe!
Well there are enough churches in Europe so you never know…
That is pretty cool! I’d never heard of Champing before!
Well this is something very different! Beats a leaky tent I guess! I always think of churches as being cold but tents aren’t much better! I always like trying new things so this would be great!
Ha ha, anything beats a leaky tent!
I wasn’t sure about this, but it actually looks really cool. Great idea.
What an experience! I’ve never heard of champing before, but it sounds like a very extraordinary adventure 🙂
What a cool unique experience! Awesome idea…at least these beautiful places are getting used…although I am not sure I could stand the cold! Much like camping you wake up freezing! 🙂
I’m sure it’s warmer in the summer, and lighter too so less scary!
Heather, it is totally NOT me, but even though you say that you could be a scaredy cat too, somehow I see that this is totally YOU:) thanks for sharing your experiences with the frightened ones:)
Ha ha, I’m sure you’re right! Glad you can experience it through me, and sometimes even scaredy cats need to get out amongst the church mice now and then 🙂
I so want to give this a go! I was looking for inspiration for my next England trip and I think I found it! Thanks for sharing 🙂
It would certainly be a tale to tell the folks back home! And a very ‘English’ experience too!
I love this idea! It looks like the glam version of monastery stays. I was considering staying at a monastery in Italy but after seeing this, I think I’d much rather go champing!
Ooh, I’d love to stay in a monastery (although only if I didn’t have to get up for Matins!)
I’m not sure about champing but you as you say, why not? We would definitely need to indulge in the wine like you guys. Love the video!
Wine certainly helped 🙂
I remember you telling me about this in one of your comments and no way did I picture the church to look anything like this. This is absolutely brilliant. I love this, and instantly added it to my list! I’m totally jealous right now and looking up old abandoned church in my area. HAHa.
PS. I also cannot stand the term glamping. But I’d probably still consider giving it a try.
It’s gorgeous isn’t it! Hope you find some in your area 🙂 Another one for the anti-glamping name club, yeay 🙂
I really want to do this.. looks like a beautiful church too!
This is brilliant – love it. What an experience!
Certainly one we won’t be forgetting in a while 🙂
I had no idea such a thing existed: fun! The only thing that really puts me off is the cold: I used not to see the point in glamping until I realised it came with stoves: now I hate the word but love the concept 🙂 A part from that, would love to try champing. Do you think we can campaign for a different name though?
These names they come up with really are ridiculous aren’t they. Let’s start a club and think of some new ones!
PS It’s not that cold when you’re fortified with wine and copious amounts of blankets!
I’m totally not a camper but this is something else completely. I’d love to spend the night in an old church like this.
I would totally love having the freedom to explore and photograph every nook and crannie!
Such an interesting concept! I love it
What a holy jolly experience! I would never have thought you could do this! It is a great idea!!!
A bit bonkers but so much fun!
A million yeses!!! (Is yeses even a word??? LOL!) this seems like an incredible adventure and I so want to try it with my kids. They would love it! I have not even heard of this before so thanks for putting in on my radar! LOVE!!
Reading the visitor book it’s a great hit with families! And even the odd well behaved hen party apparently 🙂
First of all, I loved reading the post. It is so captivating and amusing. About the whole concept of champing, I am not fully sold… yet. I would definitely go and explore an abandoned church, or any empty building for that matter. Curiosity is the main reason why we traveling from place to place, and stand-alone building could be as interesting as a whole town. Spending a night though is a different story. I can see how it could be an attractive proposition for some adventurous souls. Personally, I need to ponder more about this idea.
BTW, what is it about the UK and “…amping”? Just a couple weeks ago I read about glamping (glamorous camping as it was helpfully explained) on some UK farm, and now champing. So curious what would be the next one 🙂
I wasn’t sure about it before we went either (I’m scared of my own shadow sometimes!) but so glad we did it. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
And as for ‘glamping’, don’t get me started. I hate the term, and was a bit reluctant to write ‘champing’ too, but that’s what the Trust call it so I didn’t have much choice. Personally I think if you go ‘glamping’ you may as well just stay in a hotel!! 🙂
Absolutely agree about “glamping” – I fail to see the point.
Glad it’s not just me!
What a cool idea, had not heard of this before. Love the behind the scenes- always fun to see how people do things. :)?
Thanks, we figured sometimes what goes on behind the scenes is just as important as the final cut 🙂
Wow, what a story! Sleeping in church at night wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I didn’t even know it was possible, or that the churches have bathrooms. As for the mice, they would have been reason enough for me to sleep up on the ceiling. I hate them! They are a nightmare. But aside from the inconveniences, this was quite an interesting experience, I’m sure.
The mice really weren’t that bad, not in hindsight anyway, although I did wonder whether we should’ve taken a hammock to sling between the pillars instead!
What a totally cool idea. I hate camping, but would definitely be up for this – but maybe not the mice….. It’s certainly a beautiful little church and to be able to experience it in such a special way would make a wonderful treat for any visitor to the UK.
We used to love camping but the British weather has put us off over the last few years, so this was the perfect unique alternative!
It all sounded like it would be such an amazing experience that I would love to do…until the mice. Ugh–something I hadn’t thought about.
I think it’s a good job I hadn’t thought of them either otherwise I might not have gone! But they took my mind off the spookiness.
On one hand… this is AWESOME. On the other hand, I’d be worried about bursting into flames once I stepped foot in the place. I love the photography in this post, so beautiful. The stained glass windows are gorgeous. It seems like a really fun and romantic place to spend an evening.
The last time I attended church was for my wedding, I’m far from a being good girl most of the time, and I can confirm I didn’t burst into flames…so I’m sure you’d be ok 🙂
I was totally enchanted by your story from the first sentence! What an experience. I’m not sure it’s for me since I could scare myself silly knowing I’m sleeping next to a graveyard. Really enjoyed reading about it though and love the “behind the scenes” part! Thanks for sharing, Rachel
Thanks Rachel, for your lovely comments! I thought I’d be scared witless too, but actually decided it was more ‘fun’ than spooky (apart from the mice!!).