We take on the intriguing experience of paddling one’s way to CHurch cAMPING, rather than the less appealing thought of chewing on horse-derived mouthwear
When car camping we’ve lugged some mighty canvas constructions with us, but it’s fair to say that shelter doesn’t get much weightier than a church. Started last year by the Churches Conservation Trust, champing is a truly genius plan to use ancient buildings for shelter, rather like they would have offered when first built many centuries ago.
The first to be opened was Aldwincle in Northamptonshire, a mere three villages from where we live. It’s also a very relaxed paddle down the Nene from easily-accessible Thrapston, just off the A14. Being joined together sorts, the local canoe hire company – Canoe 2 – have an overnight campsite just 10 minutes’ walk from the church. You can opt to stay either on the riverbank like Ratty, or under holier eaves as we did.
The paddle is in sturdy Old Town canoes – immensely stable, a bit tricky to haul out and get through one of the portage points, but perfect for loading up to the gunwales with picnics and your waterproof barrel.
Children and canoes is always a multi-directional affair, so the nominal eight miles of river included multiple visits to both banks and pirouettes enough to please Madame Fifi the ballet teacher. Despite this viking-like progress we still spotted a couple of herons, three sorts of geese, moorhens and the first brood of ducklings. The otters and kingfishers managed to stay out of our way.
Once up at Aldwincle it was time to spend half an hour cursing – in a most ungodly fashion – the useless directions for finding the keys… Until we discovered the issue was with our useless navigation in finding the wrong church.
Upon the righteous path once more, it was time to find the Hammer House of Horror prop of a key and creak open the hefty door. Inside we find All Saints pew-free and almost empty, but for our beds and camp chairs already set up illuminated by the sun spilling through the west windows.
There’s no cooking inside or in the churchyard, so we had a pub supper in the next village before heading back to bed down. A trail of electric candles was laid to the loo (turn left at the altar) and as the church darkened the full moon rose and filled each window in turn.
However hard they tried, the children were gently subdued by the peacefulness of the church. It took no time for word games to fizzle into deep sleep, as everyone except me relished three season sleeping bags. Like a true penitent I’d decided to go lightweight and there’s only one winner in bodyheat vs a thousand years of cool stone.
The morning was floodlit through the stained glass; those early masons knew how to light the local golden stone to best effect. As we gathered ourselves together, we checked all had slept well. As you’d imagine, the children (youngest 8; oldest 12) had been spooked by the thought but worry simply flowed away after exploring and making the church theirs for the evening.
Champing.co.uk lists the 12 venues, all over the UK. Prices for adults start from £39 per night. Beds, tea, coffee and an exotic dry loo are provided. The church is yours to do with as you wish. We think it’s rather amazing. Runs April-September. Do read the website – it’s lovingly-written (and explains church architecture exquisitely).
Canoe2.co.uk run day trips down the Nene including return drop-offs to your car. Prices start at £35 for a paddle around their base lake to get your oar in, or £90 for the day from Thrapston. A very jolly, knowledgeable bunch.