Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Church tourism on the increase despite falling church attendance figures

15th century church of St Mary's Old Dilton Photo: ITV News

Church attendance may be falling across the country, but church tourism is on the increase. Visit Wiltshire has put together a 'Saints and Sinners' trail, which matches its most historic churches with local pubs. It's part of an effort to maintain these buildings for the future.

In deepest Wiltshire lies the 15th century church of St Mary's Old Dilton. This view hasn't changed much in three hundred years, and neither has this one. People come from all over the world to see it.

People come from all over the world to visit St Mary's Credit: ITV News

Looking through the visitor book Dr Neil Rushton from The Churches Conservation Trust finds an entry from Sarah Burnett from the USA who says "my ancestor Samuel Harris was married here in 1638."

There are only two services a year at St Mary's now, and it's a challenge to keep these ancient buildings alive.

There are four churches on the Saints and Sinners trail. Another is St Leonard's in Sutton Veeny.

Despite its history and beauty, you might not have realised St Leonards even existed.

St Leonard's in Sutton Veeny Credit: ITV News
St Leonard's is one of four on the Saints and Sinners trail Credit: ITV News

It might be at the end of a country lane that churches like this might be as well known as other places. And therefore by highlighting those we can hopefully make sure people stop and see the beautiful historic importance of places like this.

– Florence Wallace, Visit Wiltshire

Wandering around old churches in Wiltshire might sound like thirsty work but the organisers have of the trail thought of that. They've matched each church up with a local pub.

All part of the effort to attract and retain the hoards of holidaymakers thundering through Wiltshire to more famous destinations.

"We have people going through to Dorset, through to Devon, through to Cornwall but increasingly people are becoming aware of the fact that Wiltshire has something within itself that is as interesting as anywhere else can offer around."

– Charles Luxton, Pub owner

These stones and archways have withstood rain and wind for eight hundred years. As congregations fall, now more than ever they face a test of survival.