THE popularity of “champing” — camping in churches — is behind a rise in visitor numbers to some of the UK’s redundant churches, the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) has said.
Several of its churches featured in the list, published this week, of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions. Highest in the list for the Trust is Evesham St Lawrence, in Worcestershire, where visitor numbers rose by 39 per cent last year. Other churches included in the Association of Leading Visitor Attraction’s (ALVA) most popular sites for tourists include St Martin’s, in Exeter’s Cathedral Close, and Holy Trinity, York.
Although none of the CCT’s most visited churches allows champing, the Trust attributes the general rise in visitor numbers to its 350 churches to the popularity of the phenomenon (Feature, 16 September).
Champing offers campers the opportunity to stay in 12 churches from Somerset to Orkney, open for overnight stays from this weekend to the end of September. Even before the season opened, bookings for this year are double that of 2016.
CCT’s champing administrator, Jessica Aiers, said: “We had 150 bookings in total for last year; we already have 250 before the 2017 season even opens. They are coming in all the time, and 25 per cent are from overseas guests, which is well above the tourism industry average of ten per cent.
“We’ve had huge interest from churches with dwindling congregations, from as far away as Toronto, plus we are bringing new audiences into the churches, in addition to raising much-needed funds.
“We provide all equipment, including battery-operated candles, rechargeable lanterns, water and tea, coffee etc., plus the most amazing compost loo, which we call the ChampLav. It’s revolutionising accommodation in these often quite isolated churches in beautiful parts of this country. We’re joining up with local business and communities, employing local people and bringing tourists to the area.”
Across the UK, visitor numbers to top attractions rose by 7.2 per cent last year, although some London attractions experienced falls in numbers, including the British Museum, which is Britain’s most popular visitor site, with nearly 6.5 million visitors. But Tate Modern, which opened its new extension last year, saw a 24-per-cent rise in visitors.
The most visited church in the UK is Westminster Abbey, which ALVA’s figure show stays at the 14th most visited site in the UK, with nearly two million visitors in 2016, a rise of nine per cent on the previous year.
Visitor numbers at St Paul’s Cathedral, however, the next most popular religious site, fell by six per cent. Visitor numbers were also slightly down at both Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster.