It’s my birthday, and I’m having a house party. There’s a White Walker from Game of Thrones dancing in the lounge, and bicycle wheels where the lower halves of my legs should be. Everyone’s having a really good time, knocking back Ribena, and… wait… what’s Judi Dench doing here? And, hang on, whose house is this? And, actually, why are there road bike wheels where my shins should be? And…
I awake in the eerie, darkened, silence of St Mary’s Church – Fordwich, Kent. It must be two, maybe three, o’clock in the morning and not for the first time tonight I’ve exited suddenly from a strange dream. I sit up and look around, unable to see beyond the glow of the camping light and into the cold blackness beyond. My girlfriend’s sound asleep on the camping bed next to me, oblivious to the weirdness of my dreams and sudden urge to visit the toilet.
“…the cold silence of the church makes me hesitate.”
Driving into Fordwich 12 hours earlier, I see that the welcome sign for the place is proudly announcing to the world that this is “Britain’s Smallest Town.” It feels cruel to remark at this point that my mind does wander to thoughts of Royston Vasey in ‘The League of Gentleman’, but I can’t lie to you. Despite this first impression, I’m happy to report that tiny Fordwich is far more idyllic and far less sinister than the nightmarish place where Tubbs and Edward tell outsiders: “This is a local shop, for local people.” Usually, right before killing them.
We’ve come to Fordwich to experience a night of ‘champing’. Champing, as you might have already guessed, is a portmanteau that merges together churches and camping in one neat micro-adventuring package. Currently there are 12 historic churches in the UK involved in the Champing Project, churches you can pay to spend the night in between the end of March and the end of September. Run by the Churches Conservation Trust, it might sound like an eerie thing to do but an increasing number of people can’t seem to get enough of it.