Following in the footsteps of our trendsetting cousins across the pond, more and more couples in the UK are choosing to tie the knot in the great outdoors. It’s easy to see why; there’s something incredibly soulful about committing yourself to another person, surrounded by your family and friends, on a beach as the waves roll in, under the shade of a canopy of ancient trees or standing amongst poppies in a wild flower meadow.
However, with legalities and logistics to negotiate, not to mention the vagaries of the British weather, open air weddings come with their own unique set of challenges. Today’s article will explore how, with a little bit of ‘blue sky thinking’, you can have your dream outdoor ceremony come rain or come shine.
Let’s begin by taking on the weather!
Weatherproofing your ceremony…
Hope for the best, plan for the worst… and prepare to be surprised!
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing couples wishing to tie the knot outdoors is the UK’s capricious climate. In response to the growing popularity of alfresco weddings, a luxury travel company is now offering a ‘cloud bursting’ service, rumoured to have been dispatched for the royal wedding. In return for £100,000, Oliver Travels can guarantee sunshine on your wedding day using the latest cloud seeding technology.
For those of us without bottomless pockets, however, grey skies needn’t spell disaster – here’s how to plan for the worst (while hoping for the best!).
Step away from the long range weather forecast and get planning!
Are you dreaming of a sunny, open air ceremony with blue skies, a gentle breeze and the odd fluffy cloud rolling past? Unfortunately, Mother Nature may have other ideas…
In some cultures, rain on your wedding day is a sign of good luck, symbolising renewal, fertility and new beginnings. However, if the heavens do decide to ‘bless’ you, you are unlikely to feel lucky unless you have a wet weather plan!
So step away from the long range weather forecast and focus your time and energy on something you can control – a carefully thought out contingency plan.
Don’t let a little rain dampen your big day, have a plan B (and a plan C…)
With rainy days part and parcel of the British summertime, a backup plan is an extremely important aspect of planning an outdoor wedding. For complete peace of mind, a ‘wet weather venue’ is essential, but make this indoor option your ‘plan C’ rather than your ‘plan B’.
A little bit of rain may only require a few adjustments to your original plan and may not involve moving your ceremony indoors. Plan B might be as simple as having a canopy ready to string up, some matting to lay down, plus a few pairs of stylish wellies and brollies on standby.
Remember that your guests are there to support you and will be happy to follow your lead. A little bit of rain, mud or wind, often leads to a wonderful (and memorable) sense of camaraderie amongst guests.
With enough preparation, the final decision about which plan to implement can be made an hour before the ceremony itself. Just make sure that you brief each of your suppliers, as well as the groomsmen and bridesmaids, about all three possibilities in advance so that they too can prepare and are ready to spring into action.
Be sure to hand over responsibility for coordinating plan B and plan C (should it be required) to someone else. The last thing you want to be doing is moving chairs in your wedding gown!
Now let’s take a look at the rules and regulations relating to outdoor weddings…
At present, the rules around tying the knot outside in England and Wales are somewhat restrictive (the regulations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are more relaxed). Couples wishing to marry outdoors, in a legally recognised ceremony, must do so underneath a permanent structure specially licensed for weddings.
Thankfully, many venues have responded to the increase in demand, and pagodas, pavilions and summerhouses, licensed for open air weddings, are popping up all over the country. But what if you have something altogether wilder in mind for your alfresco ceremony? Don’t despair, there is a solution…
Fallen in love with an unlicensed outdoor space? Don’t fret!
Perhaps you have always imagined marrying in the meadow where you played as a child, the beach you skipped along on your first date or on the hillside where your betrothed proposed? Don’t be deterred, there is a way of getting around the legislation.
Tie the knot wherever and however your heart desires…
The answer is to complete the legal requirements in advance. Once you have given notice of your intention to marry, simply visit the register office prior to your outdoor ceremony to sign the register and make the necessary declarations required to become legally married. The process is very straightforward and can be completed in less than ten minutes.
When my partner and I married last year, our beautiful venue had a couple of lovely outdoor locations where we could have held our ceremony and met the legal requirements. The trouble was we’d already fallen in love with a clearing in the arboretum and nowhere else would do. So we headed to the register office, with a couple of witnesses, a few days before our big day. We kept the legal ceremony as low key as possible so as not to detract from our outdoor ceremony (we didn’t even exchange rings).
Leave the legalities at the register office…
By completing the legal requirements prior to our outdoor ceremony, we had total freedom not only over where we said ‘I do’ but also how. The beauty of getting married outdoors, in a non-legal ceremony, is that your celebration can be exactly as you desire, unfettered by rules and regulations; If you’ve always wanted to tie the knot in a handfasting or humanist ceremony, here is your chance! Furthermore, your wedding can now be led by a friend, family member or a professional celebrant.
Now that we’ve tackled the weather and the legalities, let’s explore some of the other aspects of planning an outdoor wedding…
Scout the ceremony site and plan, plan, plan!
Once you’ve found the perfect location for your alfresco ceremony, the next step is to carefully consider the logistics. Indoor wedding venues can usually be relied upon to provide easy access, energy, toilets and a kitchen at the very least. However, if you have your heart set on marrying in a field or on a beach, you will need to carefully consider each of these elements yourself.
Begin by visiting your ceremony site in order to determine what you will need to do to make the space work for you and your guests. The best time to do this is a year before the big day itself – visiting at the same time of year as you plan to marry will give you a better sense of how the space will look and what you will be working with on your wedding day.
Preparing your guests…
Let your guests know in advance that you are planning to hold an outdoor ceremony and help them prepare with advice on appropriate footwear and clothing. Trust that your guests will take heed, but do provide a few extra brollies for the optimists, and heel protectors so that those who turn up in stilettos don’t sink into the ground!
Ensure that your ceremony site is both accessible and comfortable. Provide a shaded area with access to cool water in case of heat and blankets to guard against a cold breeze. Do remember to give special consideration to older and disabled guests who may find uneven terrain difficult.
Bee (!) prepared for a few uninvited guests…
One of the best things about getting married in the great outdoors is the immediacy of nature. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin and the birds singing as you say ‘I do’ is truly unforgettable. However, couples wishing to tie the knot outdoors must also prepare for a few unwanted guests…
Don’t let insects bug you (sorry I couldn’t resist!) on your wedding day. Take steps to protect against tiny gatecrashers by investing in some good quality citronella candles and, in case of bites and stings, some antihistamine tablets and cream. Don’t forget to protect your post -ceremony refreshments too. A mosquito net canopy not only looks good, but will keep your food and drinks fly and wasp free.
Create a focal point…
One of the highlights of tying the knot outdoors is that the backdrop is provided by nature. All that space, however, can feel a little bit overwhelming. A great place to start is by creating a focal point to draw the eye.
The key to creating a focal point is to work with your surroundings. If you are getting married in a forest, try stringing ribbons and paper lanterns from the trees. Alternatively, you might consider creating an architectural element – a leafy or floral arch makes the perfect focal point in a meadow and a driftwood canopy looks positively dreamy on a beach.
Another way of unifying your ceremony space is to repeat patterns and colours using décor. When it comes to styling, embrace your surroundings – take your cues from Mother Nature, don’t try to compete with her. Wild unstructured florals work beautifully in a country setting and rustic details like festoon lights and hurricane lanterns look lovely whether they are lit or not.
Don’t let anyone put you off planning an outdoor ceremony!
There were moments when I wondered whether my partner and I were crazy to be planning a ceremony in the middle of the woods, at the mercy of the elements, when we could be tying the knot legally in the gardens of our venue instead, or safer still, inside. But it really was the best decision we made and our guests loved it, even if their shoes got a bit muddy!
Saying ‘I do’ with the unfathomable vastness of the universe stretching out before you, serving as a reminder of both the eternal bond of love and the precious fragility of each moment spent together, is a truly magical experience.
If you are yearning to tie the knot in the great outdoors, don’t let anyone discourage you. The world is your oyster, dream big and get planning!
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this month’s ‘Something Blue’. If you are looking for the perfect gown for your alfresco ceremony, please do get in touch. Our stylists are highly experienced in helping brides to find their dream gown, wherever they choose to tie the knot. Each and every designer featured in today’s article can be found in at least one of our beautiful boutiques.
- Opt for a wedding gown comprised of natural fibres. Natural fibres help to regulate body temperature, keeping you cool in hot weather and warm when the sun sets.
- Ask your suppliers about their wet weather plans. For example, speak to your photographer about alternative portrait locations in case of rain and ask your hair and makeup artist how they can weatherproof your look.
- Create a special wedding day kit for you and your bridal party filled with outdoor essentials including sun screen, antihistamines, heel protectors and a pretty paper fan.
- Avoid white umbrellas as they have a tendency to blend in with overcast skies when photographed.
- Have towels and blankets to hand so that you can sit down during outdoor portraits regardless of the weather.
- Check in advance whether your guests will be able to hear your wedding vows. If not consider hiring a portable microphone and speaker.
- Finally, make sure you invest in wedding insurance in case of freak weather conditions.
Written by Annora Sutton