Is it possible to marry outdoors all year round at Scottish wedding venues?

With the prospect of face masks peppering photos when marrying indoors and safety concerns to consider, it’s looking increasingly likely that, no matter the weather or temperature, many couples will want to be outside for their wedding ceremony. How do you go about it in Scotland, especially in winter?

Cambo Estate Party Woodland
Snuggle up close next to the blazing fire pit in Cambo’s Party Woodland (Photo: Marc Millar Photography)

Usually at this time of year, we’d be writing about cosy candlelit ceremonies, fabulous festive feasts and warm and inviting indoor settings. Instead, thanks to the pandemic, we are pondering if it’s possible to marry outside in winter. After all, keeping your most treasured guests as safe as possible while you exchange vows is the biggest wedding trend of all right now. Here’s how to go about it.

Cambo Estate bride and groom walking hand in hand
A couple takes a stroll through Cambo’s lush gardens and grounds (Photo: Claire Fleck Photography)

Find a flexible venue

“You need a venue that’s versatile,” stresses Louise Walker at Cambo Estate, just south of St Andrews. “This could be a space boasting an overhead covered area, with open sides or good ventilation, somewhere you can hire a small gazebo; or a location that has an intimate feel, but that’s also sheltered. Couples’ priorities have changed: people are now open to different ideas and much more flexible. If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s how to adapt.”

Cambo Estate courtyard
Dripping in fairy lights, Cambo Estate’s semi-covered Courtyard offers a fire pit, chimeneas and a BBQ – a heavenly set-up for Covid times

Have a plan B on standby

On the day itself, it’s over to the venue’s trusty team to run the day: part of its selling point should be the staff, so when you’re in the search phase, pay attention to the people you meet. Can you rest easy knowing your wedding is in their hands? This is vital in the current climate, when the stress of rapidly changing restrictions and the challenge of hosting a service outside in winter call for more support than usual.

At Cambo, the team have the logistics down to a fine art, says Louise: “The day before, we usually have a look at the forecast to make sure everything planned can go ahead, but hold off until the big day to make the final decision, whether it’s Plan A or Plan B. Our couples typically aim for a 1-2pm ceremony, giving them enough daylight hours for an outdoor event. We have the chairs laid out nicely, giving guests ample space on the lawns or in the woodland. We prepare for the worst and anything else is a bonus!”

Cormiston Farm wedding marquee
Sunsets at Cormiston Farm are something else

Plan for rain – or worse

Find yourself a venue that’s poised to help in every eventuality. “For an outdoor ceremony, obviously the weather is a key factor,” acknowledges Richard Phillips, owner of Cormiston Farm in the Clyde Valley. “I always say, plan for rain, and be delighted if it stays dry and sunny!”

Tell guests to wrap up warm

“Make sure your guests know they are going to be outside,” says Vicki Steel at Aikwood Tower in the Borders. “They’ll get colder than you as they wait for the service to begin and won’t be charged by the same wedding adrenaline you’ll have. Tell them to wrap up warm, wear reasonably sensible shoes and bring a brolly (although we have a big supply at Aikwood on standby).”

“For those who ignore the advice to wrap up, it’s worthwhile having blankets or shawls for them to put over their shoulders,” adds Richard at Cormiston Farm.

Aikwood Tower in the snow and table setting
Aikwood Tower is a grade A-listed Border Peel Tower, with 500 years of history and looks gorgeous both in the snow (left) or inside at its Cart Shed (right) (Photos: Douglas Robertson Photography and Sara Wight Photography)

Work around the masks

An open-sided marquee is the most effective form of cover. Under current Covid-19 restrictions, if the wedding’s held in a gazebo-style marquee, it means that guests don’t need to wear masks, although bear in mind that social distancing is still important, so the space needs to be roomy enough.

“We have a large marquee that has removable sides, so that we can keep one or two up to protect your loved ones against the prevailing wind,” says Richard at Cormiston Farm. “Guests stay dry, can social distance, and don’t have to wear a mask. The position of our large rhododendron bushes and garden walls also shelter the lawn where most services happen.”

Cormiston Farm wedding venue
There are many outdoor spaces up for grabs at Cormiston, like the rustic courtyard

Seek out sheltered spots

If a marquee isn’t setting your soul on fire, there are other options. How about Winton Castle’s romantic, walled garden, for instance? “It’s a beautiful, private space, glorious with colour, whatever the season,” smiles the venue’s Christopher Lamotte. “It’s two acres of pure joy and can be hired as an exclusive-use venue, entirely yours to play with. The adjacent Potting Shed also provides a superb indoor-outdoor combination by day, or at night, for after-hours entertaining. It’s a new area that offers the chance to reunite with friends in tranquil surroundings.”

Winton Castle The Potting Shed exterior in winter
A former gardener’s bothy set within a walled garden, The Potting Shed is a new addition at Winton Castle

Embrace the season (not each other)

“The trees at Aikwood Tower can be decorated with fairy lights – we’ve even seen brightly coloured chandeliers or umbrellas hung up. Make a virtue of the weather and embrace it – think lots of twinkly lights, fire pits and lanterns,” says Vicki at the Borders venue. “Substitute fizz with hot punch or mulled wine instead.”

“And should it turn for the worse, then both our Great Hall and Laich Hall can accommodate socially distanced ceremonies. It’s simply a case of all hands on deck to move the chairs and decor.”

Aikwood Tower fireplace in Great Hall
Coorie in with your beloved round Aikwood Tower’s roaring fire (Photo: Douglas Robertson Photography)

Consider throwing your reception outdoors too

Cambo can also keep the party going outside, if you’re keen. “Outdoor receptions are great,” enthuses Louise. “We can host these on many parts of the estate. Some of our couples have transformed our Party Woodland parachute area into a dance floor, while we’ve had another couple using the outer courtyard for this. My favourite wedding meal in memory was served outside, with Anstruther Fish Bar catering. The tables were set out in the courtyard and guests enjoyed a chippy tea, followed by Fisher & Donaldson’s fudge doughnuts. What more could you possibly want?”