Friday, 26 May 2017

Our great big anniversary 'champing' adventure (plus tips for future champers!)

Hello you. 

You might think that, with 25 yearstwo and a half decades, a quarter of a century, to prepare, James and I would've planned our anniversary celebrations a little further in advance than we did. 

You might think that we'd book somewhere traditionally fizzling with romance say ... Paris, or Venice or even a boutique spa in a hotel somewhere deep in the English countryside. 

And you might even think that booking a camping holiday in an old, cold, church, on top of a wild and windy moor, about a week ahead of our stay, doesn't exactly scream "keeping the flame alive!"

But I say, hey ... come back to me after you've remained on speaking terms with your significant other after sharing a 'separating' dry-composting toilet and watching each other spit toothpaste into a plastic cup for two days. And if it's actual romance you're after you can do worse than picnicking, laughing and waking up beneath the glories of stained glass.

Anyway ... if you got your wet wipes and wind-up torch handy, welcome to our great big anniversary champing adventure ...

First let me define a few things:
  • The term 'champing' = 'church camping'. Which is ... well, camping inside a decommissioned church under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust (in the UK).  You can find out all about it, and all the currently available churches, at (which is a brilliantly written, fun and informative site).
  • No - this is not in any way a sponsored post. The Champing folks have not paid me and are not aware I'm writing this. 
  • And when I say 'anniversary', as we're not married, I mean the anniversary of our first date back in May 1992. The evening where he picked me up to take me to the cinema wearing a plain white T-shirt (until then I'd only ever seen him in black heavy metal T-shirts) and Lynx 'Alaska' body spray, playing All About Eve on the car stereo. And I wore a catsuit, a see-through flowery shirt and a thin veneer of anticipation. I linked his arm while we waited outside the cinema and we held hands watching the film, and then ... 

... 25 years later we had St.Thomas's in Friarmere (Greater Manchester) all to ourselves:

It was a little tricky to find at first, we don't have a satnav, but we knew we were nearby because we could see it, it was there, plain as day on top of the hill ... we just couldn't find the road that lead to it! In the end Google Maps on the phone saved the day, and we arrived at our temporary home:

Do you want to come inside?  OK then ...

Alongside a few other considerations, it was the stained glass that really led us to choose this particular church. Isn't it incredible how this from the outside you just see this:

And then, step inside and all that dark, flat, wire-grilled, drabness is transformed into this:
This was taken as the sun was setting and then, when it had finally moved around to the west ... this was the disco-dazzling sight it created:
Even the areas of damage, where the painted faces are now missing, were interesting reminding me in places of Julian Opie portraits:

And then there were these little guys, who we only spotted on the final morning before we left:

But the stained glass isn't the only colourful decoration inside St.Thomas's - there's decorative stencilling and design work right throughout the building: 

The church dates back to 1765, although much of the paintwork reminded me of the Arts & Crafts movement, and William Morris - which was a bit later, so I either this was added afterwards ... or there's a gap in my art history knowledge! 

And the stencilling even extends up into the rafters: 

While we're looking up ... fancy a nosey around upstairs? I hope you've got a head for heights:

If all of this has given you an urge to try champing for yourself ... then here are some of my top 'champing' tips! 
  • Read through the site thoroughly; it will answer tons of the questions you no doubt have about it, and probably some questions you've not even thought of! The FAQs page is great.
  • You don't need to be a practising Christian to enjoy the experience; neither of us are, and we did!
  • You don't need to be brave and adventurous to settle-in in an old church. I'm not at all, and I did! I can honestly say I didn't find any of it spooky or creepy, not as much as I did that time we spent the night - alone - in a 16th Century Manor House! now that hat was unnerving! I think that the open space of the church  (versus the many little rooms and dark corners of the manor) helped make it feel perfectly safe and comfortable. 
  • You don't need to be outdoorsy, camping type people with all the gear, in order to survive out there on your own; we're not ... and we did! 
*If you can afford to, then pay the extra to have them supply you with sleeping equipment! 
Their 'ChampBed hire' includes a camp-bed, sleeping bag, sleeping-bag liner and pillow:
And for non-campers like us it was ideal.  During our stay the floor was coooooooollllllllddddd and that camp bed lifted us up off it. 

After reading the advice on the website we also brought additional bedding (a spare duvet, a blanket and extra pillows) and we used - and needed - it all. That said, I slept really well (so did James but, he's no benchmark - his Nan used to tell the story of how he once slept through a marching band!) 

I've definitely had worse nights' sleeps in overheated, noisy, hotels. And, seriously ... what's not to enjoy about sleeping under stained glass?!

*If you're easily woken by sunlight, bring an eye-mask. Stained glass windows tend not to have curtains ... 
The first morning I woke up before 6am which, considering there was nothing at all to block out the light, was really no different to at home. And while I did bring something to cover my eyes, meaning I could have gone back to sleep, truth-be-told ... I didn't want to!!

It felt a lot like Christmas-morning, with so much to see and absorb, I didn't want to close my eyes again. Instead I watched the sun stream through the Ascension scene window, wrote in my journal, and stared at the mildewed angels (surely a title for a story there!) wondering if they'd spring into life.
I even thought that, if they'd just move a marble elbow a little, I wouldn't have been spooked, in fact I quite looked forward to it. Never happened.

*Take plenty of clothing that you can layer up. Even to sleep in.
The cooling factor of churches is well known; when you're on holiday somewhere warm you might stop and pop into a church because, however hot it is outside ... inside it's guaranteed to be several degrees cooler. Now imagine you're stepping inside from a damp British spring day ... and that temperature drop may not be quite as appealing!

Take layers, take a dressing gown, take a vest, take a hat. And you too can look as glamorous as I did:

*And take something to wear on your feet. Something you don't mind getting a little dirty! 
Chances are you'll have been walking through at least a churchyard, perhaps a graveyard, or fields and moors (if you're that way inclined.) and you might not want to wear wet/muddy shoes or boots while you're relaxing on an evening. And - trust me - you don't want to be doing bare feet on the chilly floors.

For the record: my socks would have not been quite so dirty if I hadn't jogged around the knave for a while (a) trying to get warm and (b) enjoying all of the space to run around indoors ... (because clearly my inner child came on holiday with me.)

*Be aware, and mindful, of other people in the vicinity.

Just because these churches are decommissioned doesn't mean they, and their grave yards, are entirely abandoned. On our first evening there, we headed outside for a walk around the churchyard and just metres away, were two people visiting a grave; so we just walked by quietly and headed to the furthest corner, to leave them in peace.

And ... just a few notes before I go ... :
  • Take lots of photos!! You can even share them with the Champing folks via their Twitter account or Facebook page.  (That's what I'll be doing with this blog post!)
  • If the church you're visiting has electricity (ours did, some don't) then instant porridge makes a great quick and easy breakfast. You can book a breakfast at a nearby location, but we wanted to just get on the road for our day trips without stopping off. I guess the same would go for other instant foods, pot noodles, soups etc and if there's no electricity ... don't forget your travel kettle! And pack a good picnic as cooking is not allowed on site. Pack plenty of brie and crackers and you can't go to far wrong and .. you won't need to worry about refrigeration ...
  • Take wet wipes. I used mine to remove my make-up, clean my hands ... and dust off a 19th Century sun-dial. So, all in all, a pretty versatile addition to your champing packing ...
And finally ...  
  • You can put on a full face of make-up, do your hair and put on your jewellery all from the comfort and warmth of your sleeping bag. Who knew? It was worth you reading this post just to learn this particularly vital point wasn't it? Thought so. 
ISo, what do you think? Did you enjoy this peek into our great big anniversary champing adventure? 
  • Has it made you consider the idea? Can you picture yourself of champing any time soon?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to know about it? (Don't forget to visit for lots of useful information). 
  • Or have you already been? Which church did you stay in? Have you written a blogpost about it? Feel free to link me up in the comments. 
Do get in touch, but until then farewell from me, James, and St. Thomas's Friarmere!

Julie x

You can continue this conversation here in the comments or through any of my online homes:

And if you'd like to spread the champing word (i.e. drop a hint to someone you'd like to go with!) then feel free to share this post and image on social media / or add to a holiday idea Pinterest board.


  1. what a brilliant adventure and a splendid way to celebrate your anniversary! I've not heard of champing, but it sounds a brilliant idea... what a beautiful church you found!

  2. I'd never heard of such as thing as this until now but it certainly was interesting, for sure! Not sure it'd be for me as I'm in no way even a semi roughing it type of person. lol Thanks so much for sharing your adventure and all the great pics, I really loved reading this post [as I do all of yours!]

  3. What a wonderfully fascinating post, Julie! I've heard of champing, but not ever read anyone's experience ... I loved the photo of you and James moving around the church - very clever :). Such great tips too. I reckon my DD and some of her friends would enjoy it a lot too. The stained glass looks amazing, and how special to have all the painting too ... I think a night with cherubs and angels looking on sounds quite comforting!


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