For a true ChampingTM pilgrimage, book a stay at The Church of St Mary the Virgin in England's tiniest town, Fordwich in Kent, just three miles from historic Canterbury.
First there was camping, then there was glamping, and now, there's ChampingTM. Church camping is revolutionising the traditional camping break, giving you exclusive use of some of the UK's greatest listed buildings for the most unforgettable sleepover of your life.
ChampingTM came about in finding long term, sustainable uses for stunning churches that are no longer used for regular worship. Cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust, these magnificent buildings are some of the greatest architectural wonders our country has to offer, and often come with fascinating histories too. So what better way to appreciate one than to stay in it?
For a true ChampingTM pilgrimage, pack your bags for a visit to The Church of St Mary the Virgin in England's tiniest town, Fordwich. Just three miles from historic Canterbury, this Norman beauty sits on the Way of St Augustine and has welcomed pilgrims for centuries. With later medieval additions, a striking spire, and an idyllic location on the banks of the River Stour, you can look forward to a heavenly stay in this incredible ancient wonder.
Once you step inside, this incredible space is yours to enjoy. You'll see the ChampBots will have set out everything you need for your stay - comfy, fold-out camp beds, camping chairs and cushions for an extra touch of home. If you want to move things around just to your liking, go ahead! After all, this is your home for the night, and you're free to arrange it as you please.
Those ChampBots are even kind enough to provide teabags, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, long-life milk and all your cups and cutlery - everything you need for your well-earned cuppa on arrival. Bottled water is provided, as are camping lanterns and battery candles for when it gets dark at night. There's even a ChampLav set up for you - a dry separating toilet to take care of all necessities.
Forget any preconceptions of tiptoeing round and whispering in the church; as your home for the night, you're free to chat, laugh, sing, dance around - whatever takes your fancy. Kids can run about or play the best game of hide-and-seek ever, while adults can relax back in a camping chair with a bottle of wine (bring your own, or pre-order when booking - the ChampBots even provide the corkscrew!).
There's also so much to look at inside The Church of St Mary the Virgin, you might not know where to start! Savour the Saxon windows in the nave, admire the ancient beams above, or bed down in a box pew for an unforgettable night's sleep. The stunning wall fixtures date back to the 17th century and are well worth a peruse, including the Royal Arms of James II displayed proudly over the chancel arch.
You'll also find a particularly unusual feature in The Church of St Mary the Virgin - a large block of limestone in the north aisle. Standing 1.7 metres tall, the Fordwich Stone is believed to date to 1100, and was most likely part of a former shrine to St Augustine of Canterbury. It even spent a spell at Canterbury Cathedral in the Georgian era before coming back to Fordwich in 1877. Now, you don't get one of those in every holiday home!
After you've woken to birdsong and sunlight spilling through, step beyond your church door for a wander round quaint Fordwich. It may be the smallest town England has to offer, but it has no fewer than two pubs, as well as a stunning town hall, virtually untouched since 1544.
Canterbury is a must-see, and with a footpath leading directly from the church to this beautiful city, getting there couldn't be easier. Of course a visit to the Cathedral will be on your list, but also pay a visit to the Canterbury Heritage Museum and the Eastbridge Pilgrim Hospital for a fascinating journey back in time.
ChampingTM not only gives you a break from modern life, it also gives you a break from cooking. You can't cook inside the church or churchyard, but why not tuck in instead to delicious home-cooked comforts at Fordwich's pubs? The George and the Dragon is a 30-second walk down the road, while The Fordwich Arms is just next door to the church - perfect. You can also order a fabulous ‘Champer Hamper', brimming with breakfast goodies from local suppliers for an indulgent start to the day.
Sadly, the time will come to leave The Church of St Mary the Virgin, but it couldn't be more hassle-free. After your departure, the ChampBots will take everything away as if by magic. You don't get that in a camping field!
Whether you're young or young at heart, part of a group or traveling on your own, a spot of ChampingTM should definitely be on your bucket list! And for quintessential English charm in the stunning Kent countryside, The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a wonderful place to start.
Things to note
ChampingTM season runs March - September, no minimum stay requirement, Champers should bring their own bedding including pillows, sleeping bags, duvets and blankets, up to two (or three if they are small) dogs are welcome upon prior arrangement, children are welcome and encouraged to stay although they must be supervised and no ball games are permitted in the church yard, Champers are welcome to bring their own alcohol, and wine may be pre-ordered on booking. Champers have sole access to their church after 6pm and before 10am.
See the video below to find out how the ChampingTM team transform an empty, serene church (St Thomas, Friarmere) into a cosy champ and back again, in the blink of an eye.
Tried and tested
"Stayed at St Mary's in Fordwich on Tuesday - it was amazing. Certainly
one of the more unusual places we have slept in! Had a delicious evening
mesl in Fordwich Arms - Thoroughly recommended. All very well
organised. We will certainly ‘champ' again next year"
"Thank you so much for the amazing stay. It was a beautiful building and an incredible experience. Will spread the word and definitely champ again in the future."
"We had a perfect stay at St Mary's, Fordwich on the hottest day of the
year so far. What better place to be when it's 30 degrees outside, than
in a cool church! We had a picnic in the beautiful churchyard surrounded
by wildflowers and birdsong, then walks along the river Stour which
runs behind the church. In the morning, we woke to sunlight streaming
through the stained glass. It was great having a breakfast picnic hamper
and it was full of delicious goodies - and far too much for us to eat!"
Region: Fordwich, Kent
Cost (from): £19 per night per person
Sleeps: Up to 12
Minimum stay: 1 night
Property ref: 337
Sleeps up to 12, fold-out camping beds, cushions, camping chairs, hammocks, kettle, crockery, cutlery, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, long life milk, corkscrew, breakfast provided.
Canterbury cathedral, museums, galleries, canoeing, beaches, theatre, nature reserves, parks, golf, cycling, punting, sailing, paintball.
At a glance
- ChampingTM (Church Camping) at The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, Kent
- Exclusive use of charming Norman church - from single travelers to large groups
- Everything you need set up for your arrival and taken away afterwards
- Just bring your bedding, snacks and drinks
- Enjoy hearty pub grub at The Fordwich Arms next door and The George and The Dragon down the road; ‘Champer Hamper' available for breakfast from Whitstable Hamper Company
- Located on the Way of St Augustine, on the banks of the River Stour
- Just 3 miles from Canterbury, accessible by footpath leading from the church