So you’re not going down the church route for your wedding? Maybe you’re not sure about holding your ceremony in a restaurant or hotel? There’s good news! There are less traditional venues available, and they can be wonderful!
Whereas you might choose the Queen Mary II (if you have a large budget!) or The Shard, your back garden might lend itself perfectly to your event. You may prefer to hold the event up Mount Snowdon or in a local aquarium. The London Eye may beckon, or else the seashore. Perhaps a medieval barn. Maybe a foreign clime attracts …
I know of people who have celebrated a naturist wedding, held weddings underwater and even while abseiling down some monstrous crag. (Quite relieved that I didn’t get to conduct those, actually!)
The world is potentially your oyster!
Freedom to choose a place that means something special to you is a reason to go a little less traditional. You may also like the opportunity to select a venue that reflects your personalities. That could be a prehistoric site, a barn or a battlefield for history buffs.
You will almost certainly be choosing premises that don’t hold a licence for weddings. What that means is that you will have to go to the register office to get legally married first. You can go down together (make an appointment first!), in jeans, with two witnesses and get legally married a day or two – or even an hour or so – before the ceremony of your choice. Then you can really relax and enjoy your ceremony. You are secure in the knowledge that the legal bits have been dealt with, and now it’s all about celebrating!
Depending where you choose, you may have to organise most things yourself (or pay a wedding planner to do so). This may include arranging the catering and decorations, PA system, signage, entertainment. Then there’s the celebrant, photographer, florist, and the like, which you’d expect wherever you hold your event.
A lot of people like the idea of an outdoor venue. Yes, you have to take into account logistics and health and safety, but you can let yourself be bounded only by your imagination. Well, by practicality too.
You can select a place that really means something to you. For example, I have conducted ceremonies at Old Sarum (Iron Age castle), a canalside grove and at Stonehenge. The atmosphere was unique and made the event even more special, and that was where the couple absolutely wanted to be.
Things to consider
Don’t forget to ask permission from the relevant landowner before you start organising things.
Weather is going to be a major unpredictable factor, especially in Britain!
Considerations should include:
- availability of protection from the elements (sun, rain, cold and heat),
- accessibility (mud, car parking, signage to the relevant area, distance to the reception and arrangements for getting there),
- health and safety (no trailing wires),
- seating (for, at least, disabled guests),
- PA system,
- potential ambient noise,
- warning/inviting neighbours, etc.
- catering (including providing water on hot days).
So don’t go rushing into this without thinking it through. There can be nothing more magical than a beautiful ceremony in the most wonderful setting – but are you sure you can achieve the results you want?
Given time and sensible planning, you really can achieve your goals. Just be aware that it will call for hard work.
However, the rewards may be so stunning …
Who’d have an outdoor ceremony? Especially in the UK!
In the past few weeks of so-called summer, London has enjoyed (if that’s the right word!) temperatures in the high 30s and also spells of torrential showers with maximum temperatures below 20 degrees. I guess I’m rather relieved that I didn’t have an outdoor ceremony to conduct in that period!
So does that mean that you shouldn’t even consider an al fresco ceremony?
The weather cannot be predicted in the UK – or virtually anywhere else, for that matter. (Let’s ignore the Atacama Desert, etc., for the purposes of this article.) So outside is always going to be a gamble. Is that a reason not to hold such a ceremony, then?
- One reason to hold a ceremony outdoors is that you can save money. You still have to get permission and pay the appropriate fee (unless you’re using a back garden), but this may well cost less than booking a hotel or restaurant.
- You may have a particular attachment to a certain place – maybe you first met or got engaged there. One Vow Renewal I led took place beside a canal for the simple reason that the couple were canalboat addicts.
- If it all comes together, there is a wonderful, unique atmosphere about being outside, especially if the setting is special.
Things can go wrong (indoors as well as out), but the main thing to prepare for when outdoors is the weather.
Every venue is different, but if you have a courtyard, say, with a portico, then that offers guests refuge from rain or strong sun. Job done! However, you will still have to consider protection for yourselves and the celebrant in the event of extreme conditions.
The bride will have to consider her footwear, if there’s heavy rain about, and her train, if she has one. Wind can play havoc with her hair, veil and dress.
Parasols or golf umbrellas may be worth investing in, if people are likely to be in exposed places for long. And if you actually get a hot and sunny day, then arrange for water to be available for guests and also for yourselves and your celebrant.
Finally, if the weather is likely to be really cold, then invest in some blankets, at least for older people.
One of the other things you will have to take into account is sound projection. Are you going to need a PA system? How big a ceremony is it likely to be? If you need a sound system, your civil celebrant or possibly whoever is providing music for later may be able to supply one, but you’ll have to investigate.
Some of the most enjoyable ceremonies I have officiated at have been outdoors, but I have not appreciated reading from my script beneath pouring rain! And as for being pursued by an aggressive wasp during the ceremony …!
It’s time for something a bit more cheerful after my last two blogs (concerning death!). Why not a seasonal outdoor ceremony?
Hold your horses (or reindeer?), I hear you say. Who’d have a wedding or vow renewal in the open – in the deep midwinter?
Well, I agree that it’s a huge gamble. Nobody relishes a wet, cold ceremony. But just imagine if you get one of those crisp, snowy days, with a blue sky. What could be more magical?
If you’re thinking of going for it, there are some ways of harnessing the climate to your advantage; you can also lessen its (negative) impact. So here’s what I suggest.
If you’ve taken the plunge (sorry about the pun!), then accept that you’ve taken a decision and you have to make the best of it.
Two nice touches you could adopt are:
- Issue blankets (whether in themed colours or not) to guests
- When the guests arrive at the reception, rather than ice-cold champagne, why not offer them hot chocolate or mulled wine?
Make the Weather your Theme
You can use snowy scenes as background for your wedding invitations, RSVP cards, and, on the day, for the place cards.
Table decoration could include pine cones, foliage and lots of white. If it is likely to be snowy weather, plain white can work very well for the colour scheme.
You might even replace flowers (which, being out of season locally, can be costly) with pine cone bouquets, which are attractive as well as rather original.
Candles or tea lights may be a good idea, but you will have to take good old health and safety into account – people need to be able to see where they’re going and you don’t want fires breaking out, either! Also bear in mind that exposure to the elements may cause candles to be blown out or even to fall over!
If you are having white as your themed colour, this may allow you to choose strong colours for bridesmaids, which could look very striking.
You can style the wedding cake with festive red and white.
It can be a lot cheaper to use your garden for the wedding, rather than hiring a venue, and it may have, well, a homely feel about it, which can be charming. However, you could save less money than you think, and you risk missing out on that valuable peace of mind that dealing with professionals should afford.
You’ll have to make suitable arrangements for tables, chairs, toilets, parking, catering, place settings and electricity. Then you will need to offer protection from the elements, possibly providing blankets, as already suggested, and even umbrellas.
So, yes, an outdoor winter ceremony is a dangerous gamble, but the rewards can be so worthwhile …!
Michael Gordon can help prepare and conduct a tailor-made civil ceremony in or around London, or, indeed, in Europe.
Home or garden-based ceremonies are becoming more common. I’d like to suggest a few tips to make planning the occasion less stressful.
I am assuming that there will be a celebrant, and that they will plan the actual ceremony with you in advance as well as, on the day, meeting with participants, to confirm their roles.
You will obviously need a suitable-sized room or garden to accommodate the number of guests you are inviting. In the event of bad weather, in consultation with the celebrant, you must be ready to hold the ceremony indoors.
You will need to consider the age and health of your guests, and the length of the ceremony, but you will need adequate chairs (and a table available for the ceremony). Consider wheelchair access, if appropriate. You might need to provide cover from sun (or rain!), at least for the main protagonists.
Make sure everything is laid out well in advance of the first guests’ arrival.
Outside ceremonies in particular can be liable to all manner of disturbances, such as aircraft, lawnmowers, animals, neighbours etc. You can ensure that your pets are shut away, if they are likely to disturb the ceremony. You cannot control external noise, but if there are regular disturbances (eg you are on a flight path), it may be better to hold the ceremony inside.
Alcohol should not be served before the end of the ceremony. There is nothing worse than rowdy guests spoiling the atmosphere!
If laying out chairs, try and leave some at the back for latecomers. If VIP guests are late, it may be possible to delay the ceremony (at the celebrant’s discretion), but you won’t want to leave guests exposed to whatever the climate is doing for too long – or to keep children fidgeting too long.
Health & Safety
Your domestic insurance will need to cover third party liability to visitors.
You’ll have to ensure entrances/exits are clear and safe, and that any garden structures (eg marquee) are safe and secure. Electrical equipment must be safe, with no trailing wires/cables. Water features should be treated as a hazard.
Quite a lot to bear in mind, but with planning and consideration, there is no reason why you cannot hold a wonderful ceremony in your home.