Eloping in Scotland: ideas and advice for couples planning an elopement

We all joke about it when the going gets tough, but what if elopement was a reality, not a fantasy?

“We had a Humanist ceremony conducted by Denise Morton, who lives near Glen Clova,” explains Laura. “It was such a small wedding party, she felt like family.” (photo: The Caryls)

Laura Geyer was starting to think that marriage wasn’t for her. “The idea of a traditional wedding left me feeling numb, and I didn’t want to spend a year planning and being constantly asked how it was going,” she says.

“Then I discovered adventure elopements. I was instantly taken by the idea of two people heading off into the wilderness to make their vows: no crowds, no fuss, just them. It felt authentic. I knew with absolute certainty that this was how I would marry.”

Laura (pictured above) tied the knot with Adam Browne at Corrie Fee in the Cairngorms in April this year, before retreating to the nearby Glen Clova Hotel for afternoon tea. The dramatic location had become precious to the pair a few months earlier, when Laura had spontaneously popped the question there.

“The place is really something,” she says. “We’d already agreed that I would let Adam know when I was ready to get married, and he would then propose, but being there that day, I was overcome by the surroundings and how happy we were. I had to ask him myself.”

Laura and Adam are the brains behind nomadic design studio Yellow Matilda, so an outdoor elopement suited them to a tee (photo: The Caryls)

That’s the thing: when you elope, the setting plays a crucial role. Where many of the typical suppliers can be bypassed, the venue isn’t one of them – it’s still your number one concern. And there is much to think about. On the one hand, there’s the very real worry that you’ll feel lost in a conventional space that has been built for a much larger crowd.

On the other, when you don’t have to take into account elderly relatives or guests’ travel arrangements, every remote glen or hidden waterfall is a potential ceremony backdrop – and there are so many to choose from. It’s a chance to tie the knot somewhere really memorable and meaningful – and it’s all up to you.

Where should you elope to?

Start by deciding whether you want to host the ceremony indoors or out. If the security of a venue appeals but not the standard function suite experience, you could do worse than head to where it all began: a certain famous little town just two miles from the border with England.

“We have at least one elopement per day,” says Gretna Green’s Kevin Stewart. “It’s what we’re experts at hosting, as our history is built on runaway love. Each and every couple we welcome to Gretna Green is special, and we aim to ensure their day, even though it’s just the two of them, is magical and just right.”

“Eloping isn’t just for couples with a tight budget,” stresses Gretna Green’s Kevin Stewart. “We offer a bespoke service, where you can design the day of your dreams with our award-winning planners. It can be just as elaborate as a large-scale do.” (Photo: Photos by Jess Rose)

That’s a critical point: you need to focus on finding a venue that prioritises the two of you, somewhere that’s no stranger to a wee wedding. “Pick a place where you’ll be made to feel you’re the most important people at that moment in time, where, even though you’re a small party, you’ll be treated as well as a bigger group,” insists Mhairi Preston at the Glen Clova Hotel.

“You need to be comfortable with the staff and have some sort of connection with them. Eloping can be exciting, but it can also be lonely, so it’s really worth having a trusted co-ordinator who’ll make you feel valued.”

Kirsty Williamson at Dunans Castle on the Cowal peninsula is in full agreement: “An events team or dedicated planner definitely makes your life easier. At Dunans, the size of the celebration does not affect the amount of support you’ll get. In fact, we are more specialised in smaller weddings, due to our size and location.”

And if you’d simply rather get married in the great outdoors? Well, first up, you can’t just decide on the day where the ceremony will take place – for legal reasons, it needs to be pinpointed well ahead of time, as our runaway bride explains: “You can be legally married outdoors in Scotland, but the ceremony spot you specify on your Marriage Notice form has to be where you actually marry and where you sign the marriage certificate,” says Laura.

“Keep in mind that your declaration to marry (which you must submit to the council in the area you plan to elope) takes 29 days to process – we almost missed this and had to pick it up on the Friday before our Monday wedding!”

This intimate dinner in Dunans’ idyllic grounds is perfection (photo: Ann Peters Photography)

Kirsty at Dunans Castle reckons the decision of where to marry should go hand in hand with when. We’re not talking exact dates but rather seasons, as this will determine which locations are feasible. For instance, if winter is your vibe, will you really manage up a moor in a blizzard?

“That said, the weather can be unpredictable any time,” she says. “But if you have a special spot in mind where you want to tie the knot, you could either organise a rental car or ask your hotel to arrange transport so you can reach it. And it’s worth asking if you’d be able to have exclusive use of the hotel grounds, and whether there are any private places to take photos on site.”

What can an elopement wedding involve?

It stands to reason that without a hefty guest list to cater for, you’ll have a little more money – and time – to spend on yourselves. How can you make the most of it? What options do you have?

“We have a selection of romantic activities that you can book, such as a couple’s massage at our on-site beauty salon at Smiths at Gretna Green,” Kevin offers. “After the ceremony, you could lock in your love forever with one of our exclusive LoveLocks, either on our Wall of Love or in our Courtship Maze.

The scenery on Glen Clova Hotel’s doorstep is out of this world (photo: Barry Robb Photography)

And at Gretna Hall, we could organise a picnic for you, packed by our chefs. Choose a spot in the ten acres of surrounding parkland, or take it away into the countryside or along the coast. Even better, have it served up in the secret room of the Sheridan Grant suite.”

There’s plenty of pampering on offer at Dunans too. “We can arrange for you to have a massage while you sip champagne,” Kirsty says. “Or, if you’d rather try something a little more energetic, our local guide could take you out on a hike.”

Food is another element you can splash out on. “We pride ourselves on the provenance of our cuisine,” says Mhairi. “We rear our own beef, lamb, venison and game at Glen Clova, so we serve superb free-range meat. We have a fantastic team of chefs who’d be happy to discuss a menu that’s unique to you.

Similarly, with drinks, we carry local ales, gins and whisky, but if you’d prefer to toast your happiness with Cristal champagne, we can make that happen too. Your first meal together as newlyweds should be somewhere cosy and romantic – the Climbers Bar in our hotel would be ideal. It is the most beautiful, rustic space, and there’s a corner next to the woodburning stove that could be dressed just for you.”

A portrait in front of the iconic Gretna Green sign is a must (photo: Gavin Jacob Power)

What do you need to consider before eloping?

No matter how certain you are that an elopement is right for you, there will still be moments of doubt. Will it feel as significant without your loved ones cheering you on, for instance? Will you feel dwarfed by the venue? Will you regret it?

“Just because your wedding is on a smaller scale doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the usual touches and traditions,” says Mhairi reassuringly. “We have a community kirk just 100 metres away from the hotel that you’re welcome to use – you can even decorate it. But wherever you choose, it’s vital that the area doesn’t feel too big, so we’d recommend experimenting with flowers and screens to carve out a more intimate space.”

The precise blend of communal celebrating and solitude that’s required will be different for every couple. “Everyone loves a wedding,” says Mhairi. “We have an international clientele at Glen Clova – if you don’t want to be on your own the whole time, you could join in with them at the bar.”

Who says you must get hitched on dry land? Seaflower Skye operates out of Portree harbour and can serve up a locally sourced seafood feast after a relaxed ceremony on board

And if you do want to be entirely alone, there’s a chance you might not be. You’ll have your witnesses, naturally, but if you’re marrying in a public place, you may well have the actual public to contend with.

“Even if you plan on getting wed in a very isolated location, there is a chance other people will be there – and they may sit on a rock nearby to eat their sandwiches and watch!” recalls Laura with a smile. “Luckily for us, they’d moved on by the time the vows came around.”

And finally, let’s address the elephant in the room: what if friends and family are hurt by your decision to elope? Our bride has some frank advice. “You don’t have to have a big day that pleases everyone else,” says Laura. “I’m sure some people were a bit disappointed that Adam and I didn’t make a grand event of it, but when we look back on our day, we can truly say that it was ours.”