California-based bride Shannon dreamt of getting married in her Scottish homeland and pulled out all the stops to make it happen, frequently planning from her bed to account for the eight-hour time difference!

Shannon Farrell and James Raymond Hilser

18th August 2023

Venue | Winton Castle, East Lothian
Photography | Bear and Butterfly Photography

"James and I started dating in late 2016 when we were both studying in Colorado. After uni, we moved to California, where we have lived ever since.

We were out walking our dog, Remi, on a Santa Barbara beach in January 2021 when James proposed. Just when he had popped the question, Remi ran off! So, there I was, ring in hand, tears of excitement streaming down my face, with Remi running away down the beach and James in hot pursuit. Eventually, they both came back and, of course, I said yes.

I lived in Perth until I was nine. Then, I moved to California with my mum. Most of my family still live in Scotland and I get an opportunity to visit at least once a year. The country means the absolute world to me and I wanted to get married near my family. Jamie also loves Scottish culture, so we both wanted to give our American families a taste of my homeland.

We booked Winton Castle in East Lothian for a host of reasons. The place is stunning for one – seriously, it’s like a fairytale. The convenience factor was also huge; it’s not too far from Edinburgh airport, making life easy for everyone flying in.

Another cool thing about Winton is that it’s not just a venue, it’s practically a mini-village. We managed to accommodate a bunch of our family in the castle and on the estate. We had the run of the place for three whole days, each with a different and exciting vibe of its own. We couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop.

We had 136 guests, about half from America and half from Scotland. We didn't set a budget but we didn't spend anywhere near as much as we would have putting on a similar event in America.

I had a pretty clear vision from the get-go. If I was to sum it up, I’d describe it as ‘Scottish fairy-princess-meets-modern-day-love-affair’; the kind of celebration that felt like it stepped out of a dream, but still had everyone letting loose and enjoying every moment. And you know what? That vision pretty much stuck through the planning process. We made sure the whole event felt like ‘us.’

Managing the planning workload for a three-day wedding from California was no small feat. We didn’t have a wedding planner, so that made effective organisation and communication crucial from our end. Regular check-ins and conversations with my significant other ensured we were always on the same page. No assumptions, just clear and direct questions. There’s no room for guesswork in wedding planning.

Given the time difference, I adopted a nighttime hustle, tackling tasks and setting up early morning meetings from the comfort of my bed. Winton Castle’s amazing wedding coordinator, Johanne Falconer, was the backbone of our plans and proved to be an absolute lifesaver.

We also couldn’t have done it without my mum and all the family members we had in Scotland that were in constant communication, namely auntie Ann, Emily and my dad!

We had an opposite-gender bridal party. My best friend Jake, and Jamie’s best friend Meg, were indispensable to us. Jake suited up in tandem with the groomsmen, sporting a small ‘manly’ bouquet for that touch of personal flair. Meanwhile, Meg brought her own spin to the bridesmaids’ look, donning a version of their dresses and adding a kilt pin to the back of hers.

I couldn’t have asked for a better photographer. Sarah from Bear and Butterfly Photography captured moments seen and unseen – details, lighting, joy, emotion – all of it. Her and Danny from TLC, our videographer, were an absolute dream team.

Jamie and I had a ‘first touch’, my dad and I shared a first look – and then it was time to walk down the aisle.

The ceremony was a magical and intimate experience. We did not have a humanist celebrant as, in the end, we thought our cousin, Jordan Lipman, would tell our story best. We included an oath stone that our puppy, Remi, picked out for us on the beach as he couldn’t join us in Scotland.

The wedding reception was nothing short of fantastic. The ambiance was set with fire pits outside, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. We offered a whisky- and gin-tasting experience in the incredible setting of a 1,000-year-old cellar in the castle. Then, the night came alive with the energetic tunes of a live band that jammed out, keeping the celebration up-tempo and the dance floor full.

The day after our wedding, we extended the celebrations with a Highland games day. We organised our guests into competing clans. It was heartwarming to see everyone get into the spirit of taking part!

Top tip: “Prioritise personal connections with your vendors. Take the time to engage with them over the phone or through Zoom, if possible. Building a relationship beyond emails proved to be a significant stress-reliever for us. We felt it established a deeper connection and created a smoother collaborative process.”

Venue Winton Castle
Photography Bear and Butterfly Photography
Filmmaker TLC Media Wedding Films
Officiant Jordan Lipman, the bride’s cousin
Bride’s dress and accessories Savin London from Eleganza Sposa
Bride’s shoes Jimmy Choo
Bridesmaid dresses Jenny Yoo
Flower girl dresses Oui Babe
Makeup Aimee Marie Makeup
Lashes Emily Morrison Lashes, bride’s cousin
Nails Nails by Shari at Hidden Beauty
Groomswear 21st Century Kilts
Rehearsal dinner The Edinburgh Catering Company
Reception and wedding breakfast catering Saltire Hospitality
Day-after catering Oink, Winton Brewery and S Luca Ice Cream
Cake Liggy’s Cake Company
Flowers fiori Glasgow
Stationery Adriana Camile
Live wedding artist What Hannah Does
Ceremony music Ritz Trio Jazz Band
Reception band Goldstar Wedding Band
Piper The Pickled Piper
Transport Edinburgh Classic Wedding Cars

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