Ceremony-only venues: what do you need to know?

Hosting your nuptials across two different venues isn’t as common now as it once was. But choosing somewhere special for the most important part of the day can add a touch of magic

Although Chatelherault can host full weddings, it often serves as the opulent setting for an exchange of vows before the couple and their guests zoom away to a second party location
Although Chatelherault can host full weddings, it often serves as the opulent setting for an exchange of vows before the couple and their guests zoom away to a second party location

Exclusive-use venues hog the limelight these days. We’re as guilty as anyone of bigging them up, partly because they’re a shiny and (relatively) new phenomenon in the world of weddings, but primarily because they’re so incredibly practical. Nonetheless, they are not your only option.

The nature of how we say our ‘I dos’ has changed and, thus, so has our approach to venue-hunting. Historically, doubling up on big-day settings has always been the inevitable by-product of holding a religious service, with guests travelling between church and hotel. But what about now? Statistically speaking, we’re a more secular bunch in 2019, and a large majority of us opt for a humanist ceremony that can, for the most part, be held anywhere, any time. Is there any point in having separate locations if it can all feasibly happen under the one roof?

The short answer is yes. Why? Well, maybe you don’t want a roaring reception later on. Or maybe you crave variety? Whatever the reason, there are loads of ceremony-only venues worth considering.

Intimate ceremonies can take place at the National Trust for Scotland’s Holmwood House, a classically inspired villa near Glasgow
Intimate ceremonies can take place at the National Trust for Scotland’s Holmwood House, a classically inspired villa near Glasgow

What do you want?

We’d hope that in this day and age you’d feel able to express yourselves with your wedding, but if the old-school characters in your life are resistant to change, consider this endorsement from Auntie Rosie. Ask yourselves: what do you really want? Would an unconventional ceremony-only venue better suit your vision?

“The couple may want a low-key, no-fuss celebration or to elope, to bring the focus back to the two of them,” muses Michelle Hall at Gretna Green, which looks after the Famous Blacksmiths Shop. “In true Gretna Green tradition, we do have couples who are planning to travel to Scotland and stop off here to marry. Ceremonies at the Blacksmiths are quick to organise – if you’re busy and short on time, they can be planned in one phone call.”

Good things come in small packages

Intimate nuptials ringing a (wedding) bell? Ceremony-only venues often have that very remit because they are compact, meaning they are ideal for a cosier vibe. Where others might have to face having an awkward cull of the table plan to secure the same venue, you won’t have to compromise.

“For smaller services, there is more flexibility as we have various ceremony sites,” says Derrick Lothian of The Hermitage, a National Trust for Scotland property in Perthshire. “Ossian’s Hall provides an unusual indoor location that can accommodate around 25 or 30 guests when most are standing. Another breathtaking spot is the bench just past the Hall. A narrow path leads you down to an incredible view over the waterfall, bridge and the Hall. It gives couples a bit more privacy.”

“The Hermitage, in Perthshire, is perfect for ceremonies. It has an intimate 18th-century folly called Ossian’s Hall, and is in a stunning location,” explains the National Trust for Scotland’s Derrick Lothian.
“The Hermitage,in Perthshire has an intimate 18th-century folly called Ossian’s Hall, and is in a stunning location,” explains the National Trust for Scotland’s Derrick Lothian (Photo: Number 94 Photography)

What if you fancy the best of both worlds – a teeny audience for exchanging vows and a massive crowd for the after-party? It’s more tactful and pragmatic to have separate venues. “It allows for the day to be more clearly defined,” considers Fiona English, Glasgow City Council registrar.

“It’s easier to have a modest number of guests during the day, who’ll attend the ceremony and then maybe a meal, then expand to a bigger party elsewhere at night. In some cases, it can be more financially viable.” This timeline would work out nicely at Chatelherault Country Park in Hamilton. It’s not strictly speaking a ceremony-only location, but its capacity can lead brides and grooms down that road. “Chatelherault can seat a maximum of 50 guests for a wedding meal,” says the venue’s Christine Slowey. “However, if our couples require a larger venue for the meal and reception, they can choose from a wide range of hotels, halls or clubs in the area. We see all types of wedding. We have couples who wish to be here for their ceremony and photography and are happy to cut down their numbers to suit the venue’s size, then move on to a bigger place for their evening reception.

“We also have smaller parties of 50 who stay with us through to midnight, with the full menu package and evening buffet. There was also a tiny wedding recently with just the couple and two witnesses, who stayed for photographs and a bottle of champagne.”

Bigger is better

Grand and elaborate more your scene? Hosting your day across multiple locations sends guests on a magical mystery tour and puts unforgettable, can-you-believe-where-they-got-married venues on the table. “It can open up buildings that might be different to the more usual choices,” Fiona points out. Buildings such as her base, 23 Montrose Street (based within Glasgow’s landmark City Chambers), become contenders when you’re willing to break up your day a bit.

“23 Montrose Street is a unique building, right in the heart of Glasgow’s Merchant City,” says Glasgow City Council registrar Fiona English. “Our friendly, experienced registrars assist couples through all the paperwork.”
“23 Montrose Street is a unique building, right in the heart of Glasgow’s Merchant City,” says Glasgow City Council registrar Fiona English. “Our friendly, experienced registrars assist couples through all the paperwork.”

And who says the second half of your day even needs to be held in this country? “We once had a couple and their guests turn up in Hawaiian shirts and flip flops for the ceremony,” Fiona laughs. “They were heading straight to the airport afterwards to catch a flight for a big reception in Ibiza!”

For destinations with complex marriage laws, this could be the most glamorous workaround we’ve ever heard.

Time to plan

Let’s get real for a second: an extra venue requires extra organisation. Some of the most memorable weddings I’ve ever been to have been spread across two locations (one friend tied the knot in the atmospheric Dornoch Cathedral before bussing us all back to Inverness for a boisterous ceilidh in a hotel), but there’s no doubt there were some complex logistics to iron out. Why not seize the opportunity to think creatively and go all out?

Duthie Park’s David Welch Winter Gardens can host services for up to 70 guests, 50 in the main ceremony area and 20 in the upper level (photo: Sarah L Smith Photography)

“Horse-drawn carriages are beautiful, pulling up the long driveway,” suggests Christine. “But we are also within walking distance of Chatelherault train station and have a dedicated car park.”

“We have seen so many modes of transport over the years – vintage buses, tractors, helicopters, cars,” recalls Michelle. “One bride even arrived at the ceremony on her own horse. Nothing surprises us any more! Nonetheless, most of our wedding venues and hotels are nearby. The Famous Blacksmiths Shop sits opposite the four-star Smiths Hotel, for example, with 57 bedrooms and ample banqueting space. Many of our couples don’t book transport since everything is so close by.”

Something else to consider is the prospect of dressing two separate interiors – you might need to make the budget stretch to, say, more flowers or décor items. “Couples like to install opulent floral and foliage displays to echo the Banqueting Room’s ornate Georgian plasterwork, tall Venetian windows and high ceilings,” explains Christine.

Even if your day is more humble, thinking outside the box is still a valuable exercise. When the suitably formal ceremony setting is taken care of, why not research more informal venues for the meal? “Our hotels’ restaurants offer intimate dining – whichever day of the week you marry, there will always be a bottle of champagne or two being popped!” highlights Michelle.

“Legend has it that if you touch the Gretna Green anvil, you’ll gain good luck in affairs of the heart,” says Michelle Hall at The Famous Blacksmiths Shop
“Legend has it that if you touch the Gretna Green anvil, you’ll gain good luck in affairs of the heart,” says Michelle Hall at The Famous Blacksmiths Shop

Location considerations

A handy location is helpful if you’re on the hunt for this type of secondary venue. “We’re right in the centre of the city,” says Fiona of her base, 23 Montrose Street. “We’ve experienced many a ceremony that then moves on to a restaurant.”

If you’re concerned about affording transport, the venue’s postcode will be critical.

A ceremony-only venue can be fabulously freeing. “The advantage of hosting your wedding in a place like Gretna Green is that you can do it your own way,” says Michelle. “If you want to stick to tradition, the groom and guests will arrive at the venue around 15 minutes prior to the service, with the bride showing up just in time to walk into the marriage room. One of my favourite ideas, if it’s just the two of you, is for the groom to collect the bride from her bedroom, allowing the couple to see each other without any distraction – it’s a very special moment.”

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