Elopement advice from wedding celebrants: where and how to elope in Scotland in 2021

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, could eloping be right for you? Rosie Patrick asks Scottish wedding celebrants for their take on ‘running away’ to get married

Davina McCluskie Scottish Highland Weddings elopement on the Isle of Skye
Davina McCluskie of Scottish Highland Weddings knows that nothing beats the elation of an elopement (Photo: Love Skye Photography)

If you’re a bride- or groom-to-be and you’ve had months and months of putting your dreams on hold, contending with guest-list culls and constant questioning from family and friends, it’s no wonder elopements are on the rise.

“The pandemic has definitely caused a shift in the industry,” observes celebrant John Leo Scott at Fuze Ceremonies. “Micro is the new macro. Many couples are now utterly fed up with endless postponing and the uncertainty of when increased numbers will be allowed. This has been a catalyst for those who had planned a big wedding to pare it all the way back. It’s still a gamble – you have to be prepared that in a heartbeat the situation could change – travel could be curtailed again, for example – but, if you’re prepared to take that chance, the rewards can far outweigh the risk.”

Woodland elopement ceremony by Independent Humanist Ceremonies
How epic is this woodland clearing for a ceremony that’s in touch with nature, Independent Humanist Ceremonies (Photo: Marieke McBean Photography)

So, why elope, if you weren’t considering it already? Other than as an escape from the minefield that is marrying in any traditional sense of the word at the moment, Scottish Highland Weddings celebrant Davina McCluskie believes it’s beneficial psychologically for the people who’ve stressed and anguished over devastated plans to salvage a little happiness for themselves. “Couples invest so much time and emotion into their special day,” she recognises. “If it’s disrupted, as so many days have been in 2020, I feel people need to be able to regain something from all the effort they’ve put in. I think that’s as good a reason as any to elope – to still be able to wed the person you so dearly love.”

Need more convincing? Your Service in Scotland’s Jane Patmore’s argument applies regardless of the impact of Covid-19.  “Scotland is marvellous because, thankfully, couples can be married anywhere, as long as it’s safe and you have the permission of the land owner,” she says. “Outdoor weddings are the most reliable option in the face of varying restrictions just now, and I’ve found beaches are always popular, as are the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel on Arthur’s Seat, Dunbar’s Close Garden in Edinburgh and locations close to Loch Lomond.”

Jane Patmore Your Service in Scotland elopement
Celebrant Jane Patmore of Your Service in Scotland conducts a sweet elopement on a pebble beach

We’re spoilt for choice, that’s for sure. “The Highlands in particular provide an inexhaustible source of unique spots,” says John. “Or let’s not forget the turquoise waters and white sands the west coast has been blessed with. Everyone is different: some may want to elope to a city centre, where the architecture can provide the photographer with incredible opportunities for shots (and generally speaking, photographers love the freedom of being able to take shots that don’t involve a huge party!); others want the mountains and glens that this country can provide in abundance. They crave the remoteness, the connection with nature.”

If you think eloping is a case of packing the car and driving off into the sunset on a whim, think again. “You do need to do some planning!” laughs Craig Flowers at Independent Humanist Ceremonies. “The registrar for the area you’re getting married in will need to be notified at least 29 days in advance, ideally longer. You need two witnesses. You require a venue and permission from the owner to tie the knot there. And crucially, you need someone legally authorised to conduct the wedding.”

And as for the ceremony itself, you still have to put in the work, even if your audience is a couple of squirrels, instead of your cousins. “The process is fundamentally the same as a grander wedding, with the exception of speeches and addressing the guests,” Davina agrees. “I send a questionnaire to the couple and they are invited to answer as they wish. It’s enormously helpful in writing the service. I find that with an elopement, it’s much more focused on the love that the two people have for each other. There’s an added element of romance to it.”

A handfasting and quaich ceremony led by Davina McCluskie of Scottish Highland Weddings
Handfasting is a hugely popular custom for elopements (left) as is the quaich (right), both Scottish Highland Weddings (Photos: Love Skye Weddings)

It’s also worth giving some thought to what you’ll do after the ceremony. If you don’t continue the celebrations in some form, it could be a bit of a buzzkill. “What about a lunch, a walk on a wild beach, or an excited phone call to share the news?” suggests Jane.

“I’d arrange a tour of the local area with your photographer,” Davina adds. “Then head off to a lovely restaurant for a special meal, before retiring to a swanky hotel for a cosy night by an open fire.”

What about family? Won’t eloping let your loved ones down? Won’t your parents be disappointed? Maybe in ordinary times, if you’d all been set on the big bells-and-whistles wedding, it might have been hard to break the news. But now? Everything has been put into perspective. Most people will just want to see you safe, happy and married – guaranteed.

“Smaller weddings have been some of the most intimate and beautiful I’ve had the privilege to be involved in,” Craig says. “They’re usually less pressure and stress.”

“The intimacy and personalisation of the ceremony is what makes it really poignant,” Jane echoes. “The couple can focus on themselves, and what is important to them, without having to worry about pleasing other people. There is so much uncertainty and change: eloping is the perfect way to take control, decide on a date and know you’ll finally be married.” We wholeheartedly agree.