Rest in peace - with B&B in beautiful Booton church
PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:00 29 August 2018
(C) Copyright 2015 Joseph Casey Photography. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and promotional use only. www.josephc
A night in one of Norfolk's most unusual sleepover venues
Flights of angels hovered overhead. Dozens more glowed gently in stained glass windows as we settled into camp-beds for a night in a huge, heavenly and almost-empty church.
“Champing? Is that child-free camping?” asked my son. It is not, nor was it chilly camping. Champing is church camping, in a selection of the beautiful and historic churches looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. Children are welcome at all 27 champing destinations across the country, and you can also book groups of up to 16 people into the bigger churches. This, though, was just my husband and me and the confection of towers, pinnacles and arches that make up the extraordinary Booton church, near Reepham.
We arrived to find our beds set up on a circular rug in the middle of Norfolk’s only champing church, alongside camping chairs, cushions and rugs, and a table laden with fairy-lights, wind-up lanterns and battery-powered candles. Nearby was another table with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, crockery, cutlery and a corkscrew. A huge vat of water and a kettle are also provided and, through a side-door into the churchyard, a super-clean toilet cabin. Champing churches are no longer used for regular parish worship but are still consecrated spaces, open to the public by day and now available to hire for overnight stays between April and September.
“But won’t you be scared of ghosts?” asked a surprising number of people. It turned out that any ghosts would probably have been more scared of me.
As for spirits, well we could have brought our own, but opted for wine instead.
It seemed a privilege to have, for a night, this peaceful place of prayer, created to celebrate a loving God. And never mind a guardian angel, the church is alive with heavenly hosts of angels.
Even in an area of astonishing churches (Salle, Cawston, Little Witchingham, and the triplet churches of Reepham, are all close), in a county with the largest collection of medieval churches in northern Europe, Booton is extraordinary.
The medieval core was rebuilt by Victorian rector Whitwell Elwin in a soaring, and idiosyncratic, gothic style inspired by favourite churches abbeys, palaces and colleges. Outside is the post box installed because of the volume of his correspondence with the likes of Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. Nearby is Booton Hall, the childhood home of Stephen Fry.
The champing people have a witty way with words too, which adds to the experience.
Once you have booked your stay they send out full instructions covering everything from bedding to breakfast, via ablutions and access codes.
And fear not, they reassure champers they will not have to share with strangers overnight, “Unless,” they quip, “You consider some people in your party to be strange, but that’s something we can’t help with.”
I think “strange” was the more polite and church-appropriate of my husband’s descriptions of me when I struggled to return from an early-hours foray to the loo and had to flit through the graveyard in a long white tee-shirt before clanking and creaking back through the main door. Any passers-by would have been even more perturbed.
And champing is not just fun with high notes of fabulously eccentric. It’s charitable too, devised as a way to raise money for the Churches Conservation Trust. Every stay helps the charity look after 350 historic listed churches across the country. Prices start at £49 per night per adult, with discounts for groups of eight or more. Once you’ve booked, whether for one person or 16, the church is yours for the night.
East Anglia’s three champing churches are at Booton, Swaffham Prior near Newmarket and Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex. Further afield you can stay in the church where Shakespeare wed in 1582, a pilgrim church in Kent and churches with pubs, stately homes, a Roman town or moorland next door.
I can’t wait to fall asleep in church again.