St Mary's Church
Perched on a small but prominent chalk hillock on the edge of the village of Edelsborough, just south of Dunstable in Buckinghamshire (and not to be confused with the modern Catholic church of the same name in the town itself), the 14th-century Church if St Mary's is about as picturesque a sight as you could imagine. With its squat, square limestone tower, it surveys the surrounding countryside just as a church should – and, as part of the Churches Conservation Trust 'Champing' scheme, it also makes for a unique place to stay.
It's not every day you get to sleep in a church, let alone one that's as special as this. Not only are the views tremendous, but the interior too is full of interest, with Victorian murals and stained glass and a collection of carved medieval 'misericords' – wooden ledges, basically, for people to rest on during prayer – decorated with fantastical carved creatures. The church is set up for eight people in total, with comfy padded camp beds set up in the chancel so you can admire the intricately carved 15th century rood screen and medieval tiles before nodding off. There are bucket-type camp chairs and other furniture, including a storage chest for bags and bits, as well as fairy lights, battery candles and lanterns that provide atmosphere as well as light. The church has electricity, bottled water and in true camping style there's a kettle for heating water (for tea, coffee or for washing) – and a cabin outside provides water-less eco-toilet facilities. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept on a lead in the churchyard. They also provide handy stuff like bottle openers and picnic glasses, but you have to bring your own wine and beer!
After a good night's sleep, St Mary's leaves you well poised for exploring the landscape around, with plentiful footpaths and circular walks across the surrounding chalk downlands Of Dunstable Downs – part of The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The views from the top of these sweeping low hills are magnificent – unsurprisingly attracting a host of kite-fliers and adventure enthusiasts – and you can walk to ancient monuments like Five Knolls and the Medieval Rabbit Warrens. It's also just a couple of miles to the fantastic zoo and safari park at Whipsnade Zoo, which – with almost 4000 animals – is actually the UK's largest zoo. So not only a place to stay like nowhere you have ever stayed before, but very well placed for seeing some great countryside – and it's less than an hour from London.
OpenOpen all year.
Monday–Thursday £49 per adult per night, £25 per child. Friday–Sunday £59 per adult per night, £30 per child.
AccommodationMaximum 8 Champers.
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