Guests have been bedding down between the pews of a church in Orkney this summer as “champing” comes to Scotland for the first time.
St Peter’s at Sandwick has been welcoming overnights guests following a trial by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust (SRCT).
Champing has taken off south of the border with more than 600 people getting into the spirit of the alternative accommodation last year.
More churches may be opened up to champers in Scotland if the test run at St Peter’s, which overlooks Skaill Bay and sits around a mile from Skara Brae World Heritage Site, is successful and wins approval of locals.
Victoria Collison-Owen, director of SRCT, said: “We felt that St Peter’s would offer something really unique to champers.
“The views are amazing and of course in the summer in Orkney it never really gets dark. To open the doors to the church and look out across the bay and across the fields is extraordinary.”
While Scottish churches may conjure up memories of draughty, often austere places, Mrs Collison-Owen said St Peter’s was a “warm and cosy” place.
She added: “St Peter’s is not a scary spooky church in the least. It is a very pure and beautiful space.
“It was built for preaching and there is very little floor space to put down campbeds. Your camp bed goes between the pews or there is a little space by the pulpit.
“It is not as if it is a big echoey space. All the finishes are in wood so there is a kind of warmth and cosiness to it.”
While services have not been held at the church since the 1980s, the space is still used for concerts and weddings.
Champing is on offer at St Peter’s for a maximum two-night stay and groups of up to four can be accommodated.
Guests will find a camp bed, sleeping bag, pillow and sleeping bag liner set up on their arrival with a caretaker living locally.
A small stove is also left for tea and coffee with an optional breakfast of local produce available at extra cost at the Skara Brae cafe.
Mrs Collison -Owen added: “It is not luxurious in the way that you think of a hotel with crisp linen and the likes but it I think it is a luxury of a very different sort.
“It is a luxury that you have this amazing space to yourself for a really extraordinary experience. It’s a luxury that is very hard to put a price on.”
Mrs Collison-Owen stressed that champing at St Peter’s was not like a hostel experience.
She added: “This isn’t like Girl Guides or the Scouts. This is about you having exclusive use of the church. It is your space. I was talking to a woman on the phone recently and when she realised she would have the whole space to herself, she asked if she could bring her cello.”
Only a couple of rules apply to champers at St Peters - no candles or naked flames are allowed in the church and fires or barbecues are not permitted in the graveyard.
Mrs Collison-Owen added: “I think champing suits people who are just looking for an experience that is completely different - for people who are open to new experiences.
“I don’t think it is a religious thing - but there is a spirit of adventure about it.”
SCRT maintains seven churches in Scotland with funds raised from champing at St Peter’s helping to fund preservation of the buildings.
Overnight stays at St Peter’s range from £39 to £98 for adults and from £19 for children. Breakfast is extra.
For more information, visit www.champing.co.uk