I have long dreamed of living in a church.

Put it down to a love of all things gothic, but the idea of a home with a bell tower, stained glass windows, ancient stone, a yew tree over mossy tombs, a place steeped in ancient history – well, that would be the perfect grand design for me.

And it turns out I can stay in a church – at least for a night or two. The Churches Conservation Trust has ventured into holiday lets. This is not camping, nor glamping – but champing.

Champing is a new way for the trust to raise valuable revenue to support their work protecting some of our most precious churches. While it may not be for everybody, it turns plenty of people do indeed want to camp out under the arches, around the pews and before the altars.

We are staying in the church of St Katherine, in Chiselhampton, near Oxford. It is 38 miles from Swindon, so a suitable distance for an easy weekend away. The church accommodates up to six, and we are staying with my brother, his wife and their secondary school-age children. We arrive first, and collect a huge, iron key from the nearby pub.

Stepping through the stone pillars in the graveyard, seeing the church rise in front of us with its blue door, the golden painted clock and the tower with a weather vane, we are filled with an almost childlike excitement.

This beautiful place is ours for a night!

Before stepping inside, we walk around the outside of the building, among the ivy-covered stones, past clusters of daffodils and primroses. High trees grow all around, so the place feels isolated, even though it is in a village. A pair of rooks flies into and out of the bell tower with pieces of twig in their beaks.

Then we slip the weighty key into the lock, open the door, and step inside.

St Katherine’s, in its current form, was built in 1792. No stained glass, unfortunately, but large smooth-arched windows with clear glass offering views of bare trees, and the occasional squirrel. But we do find beautiful Georgian box pews, made of dark wood, a high pulpit, antique gold boards behind the altar painted with prayers.

We also discover a church organ and a nave paved with worn flagstones.

Our fellow champers arrive, with their dog - another major plus for champers is that four-footed pilgrims are also welcome – and we all explore the church, marvelling at its many beauties, and sorting out our sleeping arrangements.

This is camping at a very basic level. The trust provides camp beds, drinking water, a kettle and some coffee-making supplies, but you have to bring your own sleeping bags, pillow and blankets.

The toilet is what they describe as a dry separating toilet – and while it does not smell at all, it is a little odd, and we have no sink to wash, an obviously no shower or bath. Neither are you allowed to cook in the church.

Nonetheless, this was not an experience chosen for its creature comforts, but for the rare opportunity to experience the place in an entirely new way.

The youngsters set up their camp beds upstairs on the balcony, while we adults choose the space at the head of the nave, and inside one of the larger box pews.

My piano-playing niece works out how to pump the pedals and play the organ, and we gather round for the rather incongruous and unexpected pleasure of having a sing-along to some contemporary rock numbers.

We dine at the excellent Seven Stars at Marsh Baldon, four miles away, and when we return, the church is full of shadows.

Time for a quick card game by torchlight, and then we all tuck up in bed. It is not as cold as I had expected, nor is it as spooky – though, what with the graves outside and the locked doors inside, we all sense the potential for making it so if we started to think about it too much. The bell chimes eleven, and we all settle down.

We do not experience the best night’s sleep, as in most camping experiences, and the following morning compare how many of the hours we heard chimed on the clock (eleven, one and eight for me) but the atmosphere is tranquil and calm.

We have a picnic breakfast in the morning, and round off the experience with a series of one-minute sermons delivered on a topic of our choice in the towering pulpit, from which you can gaze down at your flock (a rather uppity flock it was this Sunday morning) to deliver pearls of wisdom on, among other things, Eurovision, cycling and school.

It is a little odd to be allowed to drink (a corkscrew is provided), sleep, breakfast and play games in an ancient church which is still a consecrated building – but we all found it fascinating.

St Katherine’s is one of 26 CCT churches available for Champing. It is a relatively new project, that started with just one in 2015.

It is not exactly budget prices either, costing between £49 and £59 per adult per night, children £25 to £30 per night, with breakfast and bedding extra if you don’t wish to bring your own.

On the other hand, the money raised is helping to maintain some of the most beautiful and quirky churches in the country, and it is certainly a unique and fascinating experience.

Poet John Betjeman write a poem about St Katherine’s to raise money for its restoration back in 1952.

He described the “high box pews of Georgian days” as well as that “pulpit high.” I can’t help but wonder, when he bids us donate “our much, our more, our all,” what he would have made of champing.

I suspect he would have been in there in a flash, with a bottle of sherry and a notebook, marvelling at the night-time beauty of the place, just as we did.

For more information on champing at St Katherine’s, and a host of other church venues, visit champing.co.uk.