<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Kent Life today click here

Unusual places to stay in Kent: 7 unique staycations

PUBLISHED: 13:45 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:53 10 July 2017

Replica of an old Romany showman's wagon (photo: Nethergong Camping)

Replica of an old Romany showman's wagon (photo: Nethergong Camping)

Archant

It’s the new staycation craze that allows overnight guests to camp inside some of our country’s ancient disused churches. We grabbed our sleeping bags and bravely tried out ‘champing’ in Fordwich, then added six more unusual places to spend the night in Kent this summer

When we told friends we were sleeping overnight in a disused church, the reactions varied from amusement to horror.

Among the many questions flung at us was how our little girl, recently turned seven, would be able to sleep surrounded by graves, ancient walls and creepy things. They needn’t have worried. As with most families, it’s the adults who do all the worrying and the children who just get on with it.

We were going ‘champing’ - camping in one of 12 churches under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) that have been offering overnight stays for the last couple of years.

With 350 redundant churches in the CCT’s care across the country, it was a very bright spark indeed who came up with the idea of offering basic camping inside a few of them. The funds raised help to pay for the conservation of these important buildings.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, near Canterbury The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, near Canterbury

The only one offering champing in Kent is the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, near Canterbury. If you set out to be scared you probably will be. With much of the church dating from the Norman era but still displaying some of its older Saxon origins, it’s by far the oldest building we have slept in and of course it is indeed set in a churchyard surrounded by ancient graves.

For us though, led by our brave little daughter, this all seemed like an excellent adventure. In an ideal world we would have all arrived together but due to work commitments, my daughter and I arrived some hours before my husband and had to settle in on our own.

‘Settling in’ to an abandoned church, it seems, includes hunting for the key, wondering if you are in the right place, reading the old English on tombs dating back to the 1600s, panicking about the apparent lack of a toilet, carrying bedding back and forth from the car and finally sitting down to read the instructions.

Without plumbing in the church, the CCT has cleverly fitted a camping loo in the vestry - built inside an indoor shed and topped with a gargoyle, naturally.

Inside the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, near Canterbury Inside the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, near Canterbury

There were three camping chairs set out for us with cushions and blankets, as well as a water cooler, a kettle, tea, coffee and a breakfast hamper stuffed with local goodies. Although it’s hard to shake the unsettling thought that a congregation might walk in at any moment and start singing hymns, the church was ours for the night and has been disused since 1995.

The 12 champing churches across the country (11 in England and one in Orkney) range in size from a small, limewashed kirk right up to the huge St Michael the Archangel in Booton, Norfolk, with St Mary the Virgin towards the smaller end of the scale.

A handy guide leaflet points out interesting things to look out for in the church, which provided us with a kind of historical treasure hunt. Five points to the first person to spot the original glass in the two 14th-century windows on the south side; five points to the one who finds the 12th-century font.

Best of all is the rather mysterious ‘Fordwich stone’, a long piece of carved limestone that dates from around 1100 and is thought to have been part of the shrine of St Augustine.

The Old Apple Shed in Bethersden makes a cosy retreat The Old Apple Shed in Bethersden makes a cosy retreat

As cooking isn’t allowed in the church, we ventured off in search of dinner in Fordwich, famous for being the smallest town in Britain. Picture-postcard pretty and set along the banks of the beautiful River Stour, Fordwich is less than three miles from Canterbury but we decided to stay closer to home.

There are not one but two excellent pub restaurants within a few steps of the church; The Fordwich Arms and The George and Dragon. At the latter we were met by my husband, fresh from a day at work and slightly confused about the location of our beds for the night.

He didn’t get to see the church until we walked back later in the dark, shining a torch through the churchyard. The fact that some of the headstones by the entrance are decorated in the ‘momento mori’ style didn’t go unnoticed - carvings of skulls and bones surrounded us as we fumbled for the keys.

Inside the church at night, however, was not what we had expected at all. Far from cold, scary or uninviting, we found it comfortable and very peaceful.

Prospect Tower is a tiny folly in the grounds of Belmont Park near Faversham (photo: Landmark Trust) Prospect Tower is a tiny folly in the grounds of Belmont Park near Faversham (photo: Landmark Trust)

The champing season runs from the beginning of April to the end of September so guests don’t end up here in the coldest months. That said, we had been warned to bring blankets, sleeping bags and duvets. The camping beds provided were sturdy and comfortable, set in their own enclosed nooks between the pews.

Having handled the somewhat tricky process of cleaning her teeth without a sink, my daughter took herself to bed with a wind-up lantern and a book to read. Far from being terrified of the dark and the ancient tombs, she was a natural at champing and didn’t give her surroundings a second thought.

In fact we all slept soundly - unmolested by ghosts or zombies - and woke feeling refreshed the next morning to the sound of birds outside.

The CCT’s champing website is deliberately light-hearted and keen to show the fun side of camping inside a church. One of its FAQs asks if you have to be a Christian to stay here; the answer is no.

You can sleep in a cottage at the foot of North Foreland Lighthouse You can sleep in a cottage at the foot of North Foreland Lighthouse

Another asks if you can drink alcohol; the answer is yes and in fact you can order wine from them. Up to two well-behaved dogs are even welcome.

Our stay in the Church of St Mary the Virgin was a short but unforgettable one and I’ll admit to having already looked on the website at some of the other tempting churches you can stay in across the country.

Visit www.champing.co.uk for details of the champing churches and www.visitchurches.org.uk to read about the work being done by the Churches Conservation Trust.

Smarden's Big Cat Sanctuary Smarden's Big Cat Sanctuary

6 other unusual places to stay

1. A horsebox

It doesn’t get much more unusual, but the Strawberry Roan horsebox at Waypost Farm is also very beautiful. Set in rural marshland near Tenterden, this vintage Bedford TK horse lorry has been lovingly transformed into a quirky, romantic place to stay. Although it may have once carried horses and straw, there’s no roughing it here now thanks to a king-size bed, wood burner and private toilet just outside. Visit www.waypostfarmglamping.co.uk

Glamping in the Strawberry Roan horsebox at Waypost Farm Glamping in the Strawberry Roan horsebox at Waypost Farm

2. A folly

Prospect Tower is a tiny flint garden folly in the grounds of Belmont Park near Faversham. One of several fashionable garden buildings built for the estate’s owner in 1808, he used it as a private den. A cricket pitch was built beneath it in 1870 and it served for many years as a cricket pavilion. There are only two real rooms, both circular in shape, but the views from the top floor are stunning. Visit www.landmarktrust.org.uk

3. A big cat sanctuary

Smarden’s Big Cat Sanctuary isn’t a zoo, so visitors can’t just turn up at the gates. Limited to a handful of open days a year and offering photographic workshops, keeper experiences and weddings, the centre also has a number of safari-style lodges.

Surrounded by the enclosures of 50 big cats, included is afternoon tea, a tour of the sanctuary, dinner, an overnight stay and, after breakfast, you may be allowed to hand feed some of the feline residents. Visit www.thebigcatsanctuary.org

4. A lighthouse cottage

While you can’t actually sleep in the North Foreland Lighthouse, as it’s still in use, you can sleep in either of the two whitewashed cottages at its foot. Khina and Lodesman Cottage in Broadstairs both sleep up to four people and share a one-acre garden, well away from the clifftop.

As you would expect, these cottages boast sea views, are family friendly and, set so close to some of Kent’s best beaches, they’re very popular in the summer. And don’t worry, North Foreland is just a lighthouse and doesn’t have a fog signal to wake you up at night. Visit www.ruralretreats.co.uk

5. An apple shed

A modest rustic building thoughtfully converted into cosy accommodation, The Old Apple Shed in Bethersden is exactly what it claims to be. Used to store apples when this was a working orchard in the 1960s, it sat abandoned in the meadow for many years until the current owners converted it.

Furnished in a vintage style and with a toilet and hot shower, a little shed has never looked so inviting. In the colder months it is warm and cosy thanks to a log burner, and the deck and barbecue are perfect in the summer. Visit www.theoldappleshed.co.uk

6. A gypsy wagon

Glamping is big business and these days there are all sorts of tents, wagons, pods and huts you can choose to stay in, but this is as faithful a replica of an old Romany showman’s wagon as you’re likely to find. Built by a local Romany for Nethergong Camping near Canterbury, it is set in its own glade beside the river.

In the spirit of the simple life, the wagon is fitted with a super king-size bed which converts into a table and bench and a nearby kitchen hut houses all the cooking equipment. Visit www.nethergongcamping.co.uk

Share your story

Have you stayed somewhere weird and wonderful in Kent and would like to share the experience with other Kent Life readers? The email editor@archant.co.uk and we’ll publish the best in next month’s edition.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Kent Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Kent Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Kent Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Modern housing, well-tended green spaces, great leisure opportunities and a fascinating history; Kings Hill may be a young community but it’s got plenty going on

Read more
April 2018
Thursday, April 12, 2018

Picnic baskets at the ready because we have gathered 10 of the best places to enjoy a picnic in stunning rural Kent

Read more

Remote Polhill Bank is our oldest and most treasured nature reserve and now you can help secure the future for its precious wildlife

Read more
April 2018
Friday, April 6, 2018

From the rolling Wealden countryside to small perfectly manicured gardens, there are carpets of fragrant bluebells popping up throughout Kent. We pick 12 wonderful woodland walks with pretty country pubs and cafés

Read more

Instantly recognisable for its iconic White Cliffs and busy port, Dover is our nation’s gateway to Europe

Read more
April 2018

Celebrated as one of Kent’s most attractive towns, with plenty of historic buildings and attractions that bring visitors from far and wide, Tenterden has plenty to boast about

Read more
April 2018
Thursday, March 15, 2018

Enjoy a delicious lunch after one of these countryside strolls. Kent Life suggests five great pub walks in Kent

Read more
Thursday, March 15, 2018

If you love a bit of birding, then you’ll be in seventh heaven on this walk that meanders through the sand dunes and salt marshes and rich habitats of the Sandwich bird observatory

Read more
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Can you distinguish your Colchesters from your Canterburys and your Margates from your Merseas? Take our quiz to test your knowledge of Essex and Kent!

Read more

Kent Wildlife Trust reflects on the real difference it has made to the natural environment and its impact on the lives of people in Kent in the past 60 years

Read more
March 2018
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Kent Life Food & Drink awards 2016. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Kent's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search