HOW TO: plan an outdoor wedding

So, you want an outdoor ceremony. No wonder! But how to make it work with our temperamental weather? We consult the experts on logistics and locations

Cambo Estate has elegant indoor spaces, as well as lush grounds (photo: Burfly Photography)

I have an issue with July weddings. Yes, I’m aware that, up until very recently, that’s been the most popular month to marry, and, no, I don’t need an attitude adjustment. I genuinely can’t wrap my head around it. The reasoning behind a high-summer date has always been the better odds of sunshine but I’m sorry, what country is this again?

In my experience, it rains from the 1st of July to the 31st, non-stop. Where does this myth of a magical dry spell come from? May and September, in contrast, are when Scotland really shines.

Another myth that needs to be dispelled is that getting hitched in the great Scottish outdoors is difficult at best, and downright impossible at worst. It’s ironic, given that we have some of the most sublime landscapes and that we can legally wed pretty much anywhere.

Yet people have scary visions of flyaway veils, waterlogged chiavari chairs and Wizard of Oz-style twisters blowing celebrants off their feet, so they instantly dismiss any thought of marrying alfresco. But what if there was an insurance policy, a plan B? What if you were to tie the knot outside – at a venue?

BEST OF BOTH

Think about it. The option is there to say ‘I do’ on the shores of a loch or under a cherry tree in blossom, while mere metres away there’s a back-up spot with a reassuring roof over its head should a monsoon materialise. It’s the perfect solution, no? Well, yes, provided there are a few other elements on hand. What exactly should you be looking for in such a venue?

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This sparkler send-off at Winton Castle is utterly magical. The grounds are so versatile, it’s no wonder the venue has seen so many inventive celebrations (photo: Rustic White)

“Make sure it has the capacity and ability to pull the service indoors at very short notice,” suggests Sandra Cunningham at Lodge on Loch Lomond.

“Perhaps it has a dedicated ceremony suite that adjoins the gardens or grounds, or maybe there’s a pop-up marquee. We have two outdoor ceremony/patio areas that can accommodate weddings; should the rainclouds arrive, the suites overlook these, meaning it is easy to draw the service inside – both have wonderful views of Loch Lomond. Whatever the weather does, it won’t ruin anything.”

Consider the setting carefully. “An outdoor ceremony isn’t complicated to arrange, but it’s important to make sure that your venue ticks certain logistical boxes,” according to Rufflets’ Louise Turner. “Is there an area that’s reasonably flat? Is it big enough to accommodate your guest numbers? Is it sheltered from the wind? Access is also key: will elderly or less mobile guests be able to negotiate the terrain?”

Winton Castle’s wedding manager Rae McGonigle agrees: “You need to hunt for venues with beautiful, sheltered grounds. Winton has been opening its gardens under Scotland’s Garden Scheme since 1931, longer than any other in the country – in 2016, the Duchess of Rothesay even celebrated our 85th anniversary at a birthday tea party.

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Lodge on Loch Lomond’s spacious function suites make the most of the venue’s exceptional location, and put the lochside vistas front and centre as the focal point

“Another factor would certainly be how accessible the space is for any less mobile guests, and proximity to toilets.” Good point.

Something else to ponder is what kind of ceremony entertainment you’re planning. “If you’re thinking about booking musicians to perform, find out if they need electricity – and if so, how they’ll access it,” says Rae.

Think about how the sound might travel: could music simply be blown away on the breeze? Louise at Rufflets reckons it’s worth dropping the musicians a line: “Is your harpist or string quartet going to be happy playing outdoors?”

Once you’ve found your venue, it’s a case of time and place. Where – and when – will you wed? “April to September is better temperature-wise for outdoor ceremonies,” Sandra says, “but we have had successful January services, where the guests just popped on cosy jackets.”

“Most couples opt for a 2pm ceremony,” notes Louise. “This is a popular slot generally, as it lets you make the most of your day, but at Rufflets it’s also when the gardens are in full sunshine. We’re lucky here in St Andrews to be blessed with drier weather and more sunshine than other parts of Scotland.”

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This Cambo Estate couple hosted their nuptials in the venue’s ‘party woodland’, and strung up records as bunting (photo: The Curries)

And what gardens – you’re spoilt for choice. “We have nearly ten acres, and lots of lovely spots for a ceremony. My favourite is the Lower Garden – it’s secluded and has an absolutely breathtaking aisle walk!” smiles Louise. “We also offer the main terrace to couples who are having a more intimate day, so they can use the famous façade of the house as a backdrop.”

Over in East Lothian, what’s the deal at Winton? “We have both a walled garden and a terraced garden, looking out over Sir David’s Loch,” reports Rae. “The two-acre walled garden has a large herbaceous border with shrubs that flower from mid to late summer. You’ll find our special themed ‘wedding border’ here too – it provides a stunning backdrop for photographs, with its purple, pink and white flowers.”

IN OR OUT?

It’s settled: you’re getting married outside. Hooray! But before you start frantically checking BBC Weather, calm yourself: there is no way to guarantee you’ll be en plein air come 2pm on w-day. So how might it all unfold if there are dark clouds on the horizon?

“We make a final call with regards to weather one hour before the ceremony,” Sandra explains. “We have everything else ready and raring to go – seating, music, aisle runner and ceremony table for signing the marriage certificate – so there are no logistics to worry about that wouldn’t be the same for an indoor service.”

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Rufflets’ ivy-covered exterior is a no-brainer for a ceremony backdrop (photo: Victoria Photography)

It’s a similar story at Rufflets. “Scotland’s weather can be incredibly fickle, but generally we’ll know fairly early in the morning whether or not a ceremony can take place outdoors,” says Louise.

“On the rare occasion it isn’t clear, our policy is to make a final decision no later than two hours before the wedding. This is mainly to allow suppliers and florists time to do the necessary styling. There are exceptions, of course, particularly for smaller groups, and we have moved ceremonies outdoors with as little as 15 minutes’ notice.”

And this strategy, though it needs more forward-thinking on the part of the venue staff, most likely won’t cost you any extra. “It is simply an either/or scenario,” confirms Sandra.

Is your heart breaking at the thought of not tying that knot outdoors? You might be wondering if it’s possible to chance the elements. That depends entirely on the kind of elements you’re faced with.

“If there is the slightest hint of rain, we need to move indoors – that’s because once the chairs are wet, they’re wet for the rest of the day!” says Rae. No one wants a soggy bottom.

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There are rustic courtyards and a hundred acres of woodlands and gardens that lead to sandy beaches at Cambo Estate in Fife (photo: PJ Phillips Photography)

Rain is getting a lot of airtime in this scenario, simply because it’s so disruptive, but there are other conditions to account for, as Rae explains: “If your aim is for an outdoor ceremony, I would suggest giving guests advance warning so they bring suitable clothing, such as a shawl or jacket for cooler days, or sun cream for those really hot afternoons.” Fingers crossed for the latter…

Spare a thought for your decor too. “Will candles stay lit and pedestals remain stable in a brisk St Andrews breeze?” Louise challenges. “There are lots of little extra organisational points that will come up with your co-ordinator. Thankfully, we’ve never had to abandon an outdoor ceremony completely – modern short-range forecasting apps are a godsend!”

GARDEN PARTY

Your service needn’t be the only part of the day to be staged out in the natural world. “If the ceremony takes place outdoors, the drinks reception definitely will as well,” says Louise.

“Guests at Rufflets make their way back up over the bridge from the Lower Garden to the lawns and terrace in front of the hotel for drinks and canapés. Even if the event is indoors, it’s also fairly common for hardy Scottish guests to have drinks outside!”

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What a glorious blue sky for this incredibly fortunate pair’s ceremony on the sun-drenched patio at Lodge on Loch Lomond

In fact, this point in the day is a real highlight at Winton. “Outdoor drinks receptions are very popular at the castle, and guests can take advantage of our croquet lawn and host outdoor games,” says Rae.

“One bride even brought a badminton set to keep her gang amused! Most drinks receptions are held on this lawn, but we’ve also had a few couples make use of the terraced and walled gardens, in which case we’d set up a few tables and chairs and a drinks station.”

Photography, too, is an obvious contender for the fresh air, especially when you happen to have an iconic tourist attraction right on your doorstep. “The view of Loch Lomond from our patios is spectacular,” beams Sandra. “We also have our jetty, which allows you to get right out onto the loch.”

Where might you get those mantelpiece shots at Rufflets? “There are some classic ‘Rufflets scenes’ that every photographer lays down when they work here,” says Louise. “The bridge over the burn, the gate at the West Lawn, and the endless horizon of the field across the road from the hotel. And we’re always excited when photographers manage to capture newlyweds enjoying a firework display after nightfall.”

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The terraced gardens at Winton Castle

“There are so many opportunities,” Rae chips in. “The terraced gardens are so colourful throughout the year: daffodils in March, cherry blossom in April/May, wisteria in May/June and summer blooms right through until October. There’s also the lake and its pier, while the quaint dell to the east of the castle has a fairytale feel to it, with a stream running through the centre.” Sounds dreamy…

Whatever your plans and however you make your commitment, embrace every single one of those 12 hours, come wind, rain, snow or hail. “If you want to enjoy the outdoors on your big day, accept that you’ll get a little windswept, and your dress and veil will pick up leaves and twigs,” says Louise. “It’s not the end of the world!” 

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