Heritage Open Days: 10-19 Sept. 2021 - what did you discover?!

Introducing… Explore Churches

Standing at the heart of our local communities for centuries the churches of England are chock full of history within the most stunning architecture. Over HODs thousands of them open up their doors, towers, nooks and crannies for you to explore, but year round there are always new things to discover. To help you find them check out the excellent 'ExploreChurches' created by our friends at the National Churches Trust. To spark inspiration, here's Sarah Crossland, Tourism Manager at NCT with some hidden gems and personal favourites.

Over HODs you could explore the stories of local heroes and villains from the Civil War at St John on the Wall © St John the Baptist, Bristol

Whatever your passion, we can feed it!

That’s a pretty big claim, I know. But it’s so true.

Step inside the gloriously large Holy Trinity, Tattershall, for the tiny tale of Tom Thumb! / © ExploreChurches

ExploreChurches is the perfect place to discover a love for churches and to find out all the information you need to visit them. We list over 4000 churches across the UK, almost too many to know where to start! 

Art, architecture, walking, cream teas, climbing, sculpture, labyrinths, stained glass, wildlife havens, secret symbolism, beer, embroidery and Doctor Who. The churches, chapels, meeting houses and cathedrals of England are 'treasure houses' of heritage, history and community. They are the only national collection of ancient buildings and furnishings still being used for their original purpose (not many castles are stormed these days). As such you really can step back in time and stand on the spot where history happened, everything from your family history to great national events.

Here’s a taster of some of our lesser known gems and a couple of my favourites. I hope you’ll pay us a visit!

Remote relics

Lovely to look at from the train, but even better in person! St Andrew's, Cambridgeshire / © Alex Ramsay

Looking for calm? Yearning for a slower pace and a place to feed your heart and soul? Indulge yourself in the simple things and the peaceful space of an off the beaten track church and churchyard.

Standing in splendid isolation in a field on the edge of a nature reserve in the Cambridgeshire Fens, St Andrew features on our list of simple churches. More than fifteen million people pass it every year as the East Coast Main Line between London and Scotland rattles past, but very few take a walk to visit.

Ancient wonders

It’s astounding how elements of our very earliest churches survive today. Many churches have sections of wall, a font, churchyard cross, even carved stones dating over a thousand years. Here, at these ‘thin places’ where heaven and earth collide, you can, quite literally, touch the past.

One of only three complete Saxon churches in Britain, Escomb Saxon Church in County Durham is wonderfully preserved. It sits in a sunken circular enclosure bordered by battered walls, an influence from Celtic Ireland, and is one of our seven pre 800AD churches.

Do you dare meet the grinning gargoyles at St Wulfrum's in Grantham! / © Wikicommons

Excellent events

Many churches hold events. Large or small, grand or intimate, unique and moving. They are a great way to experience the space differently. They also raise much needed funds to sustain these wonderful buildings beyond our lifetime. Events often feature wonderful homemade cake; it’s powered many a church crawl!

The spire at St Wulfram would very likely have been the tallest in England when it was built in 1280-1300. But this Lincolnshire church also soars at organising exciting, diverse and magnificently popular events. Its huge expanse of nave is home to the Land of Hops and Glory beer festival and a combined Christmas tree festival and ice rink. Yes, in the church!

Churches are full of fascinating history - look who was buried at St Olave's in London! / © St Olave's Church

Secrets of the city

London and other cities teem with churches and chapels of all shapes and sizes, often out of view of the main tourist routes.

St Olave in the City of London sits in an atmospheric churchyard a world away from the hustle and bustle outside. Samuel Pepys is buried here, as is Mother Goose! If you dig a little deeper Nursery Rhymes sometimes reference plague, medieval taxes, persecution, prostitution and churches!

Find out more

About Sarah Crossland

Sarah is Church Tourism Manager at the National Churches Trust. She manages regional projects across the country and was the first paid church tourism officer in the UK way back in 1998. Sarah is often found tramping across muddy fields in Yorkshire, dragging family and friends into churches ‘for a quick look’ or eating ice cream. Simple pleasures!