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Champing: Have faith in a staycation with a twist by camping in church in Berden or Stansted

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Two Essex churches near Bishop's Stortford are opening their doors to overnight campers.

Introduced by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), the concept is known as Champing – an ecclesiastical twist on glamping which offers life under canvas with added luxury.

The charity hopes the stays will help fund protection of historic churches like St Nicholas' in Berden and St Mary's in Stansted, which are both participating.

St Nicholas' Church, Berden (39996926)
St Nicholas' Church, Berden (39996926)

Champing began four years ago. Across the UK, 20 ancient places of worship are welcoming visitors.

Mark Trapmore, churchwarden at St Nicholas' in Berden, said: "We are delighted to have become a Champing partner with the Churches Conservation Trust.

"Champing is a fantastic, original idea and also a new way of fundraising for the church.

Camping in Berden's church (39996918)
Camping in Berden's church (39996918)

"When you come Champing you have the church to yourself for the night. We provide camp beds, chairs, basic camping equipment and a unique venue. You can bring your own picnic or you can try out the local pubs who can provide lunch, dinner, and breakfast too!"

Camp beds are set up for guests inside the church, with a sitting area, complete with rugs and cushions. Twinkling lights and candles reflect off ancient stonework, providing the perfect backdrop for relaxing with a glass of wine.

St Nicholas' is a grade I listed, medieval church included in the Pevsner Architectural Guides. The church, which can accommodate up to six overnight guests, was built in the 12th century and is still a well-used community facility in Berden, unlike St Mary the Virgin, off Church Road in Stansted.

Now redundant as an Anglican place of worship, it has parts dating from the 1100s and stands next to the grounds of Stansted Hall. Open for four guests at a time, visitors have ample room to explore the grade II listed building, which includes two exceptional 17th-century tomb figures: those of wasp-waisted Hester Salusbury in her hunting clothes and her father Sir Thomas Middleton.

St Mary's Church, Stansted Mountfitchet. Picture: Vikki Lince (41148189)
St Mary's Church, Stansted Mountfitchet. Picture: Vikki Lince (41148189)

The CCT has been given accreditation to resume overnight stays from VisitEngland after demonstrating it is adhering to Government and public health guidance on Covid-19.

The Champing season usually starts in March, but due to the coronavirus crisis opening was delayed and bookings are now being taken for stays until the end of October.

Guy Foreman, head of enterprise at CCT, said: "Champing is a unique and completely different experience. It is an 'off the beaten track' staycation and allows people to relax and enjoy our ancient heritage spaces.

"Champing naturally lends itself to social distancing guidelines as our churches have plenty of circulation space and each group has exclusive use of the building.

"As we reopen we would like to reassure all our visitors that we will be following all the necessary Government guidelines, and the framework laid out by Visit Britain, to ensure that their stays are safe and welcoming."

Rates are from £49 per person, with a 20% discount for groups of eight or more. Guests can pre-book a Champer hamper breakfast of local goodies or eat out locally. There is also an add-on option for a children's explorer pack, and dogs are welcome.

To find out more and to book, see https://www.champing.co.uk/ .

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