The Great Outdoors: Tips on hosting an outdoor wedding ceremony

Ready to be at one with nature? Three venues show Amy Shearer how to make an outdoor ceremony an unforgettable success

Married couple standing hillside, photo by Eilidh Robertson
Cardney Steading is surrounded by lush countryside, as captured here by Eilidh Robertson

I like pina coladas, but I hate getting caught in the rain. It usually happens when I come out the hairdresser’s, realise I’ve forgotten my brolly and am parked what feels like the equivalent of the London marathon away from the salon. I look less Farrah Fawcett and more The Grudge by the time I reach my car. I really should know better living in Scotland, but this is what being an optimist does to you. 

If you’re planning on getting hitched at an outdoor ceremony, you’re probably an optimist too. But you’ll need to do more than just cross your fingers and hope for the best – actual work, effort and planning needs to be put into such an occasion to make sure it is just right. 

Many venues are equipped for alfresco wedding ceremonies, offering stunning scenery, gorgeous gardens and even lovely lochs to gaze at while you make it official. 

So how do you make it happen? And how do you ensure you don’t end up with a soggy gown and a bunch of guests greetin’ about the cold? We stepped into the great outdoors to find out all you need to know.

Flexibility is key

An outdoor ceremony is a wonderful thing but it isn’t without risks. The Scottish weather, let’s face it, is as changeable as Cher’s wigs were in the ’90s. It’s wise to expect sunshine, rain and wind all in the same day (snow, too, if you’re really unlucky)… and that’s before you’ve even had lunch. Even if the forecast is for wall-to-wall sunshine, it is always, always, worth having a plan B, as Beth Farquhar at Cardney Steading in Perthshire explains. 

“If you’re planning on having an outdoor venue, it’s not just about the weather on the day; you also need to take into account what has been happening leading up to this. Extended periods of harsh weather can compromise the ground conditions, especially in grassy areas,” she says.

“We always recommend you have a back-up plan, just in case. It’s also important to think about how much time it would take to execute said back-up plan and who would need to be involved in making it happen. At Cardney, we can leave the decision until around nine o’clock on the morning of the wedding; that gives us enough time to set up the ceremony elsewhere and to move any chairs and so on. But a lot of venues don’t offer this service, so the couple would need to rope in their guests to help. Weather conditions are increasingly erratic too, so it’s getting even more difficult to predict.” 

Lindsay Bain at the New Lanark Mill Hotel says her venue will be prepared if things become too difficult to host the ceremony outside. “We always have two plans scheduled for each couple’s special day,” she says. “We have plan A, namely our rooftop garden; but we also prepare our stunning Musicians’ Room indoors just in case the weather doesn’t behave.”

Wedding guests mingling on the lawn at Cardney Steading
Drinks by the water at Cardney Steading make it clear why people rave about this venue! (Photo: David Grant Simpson)

Reality check

The idea of an outdoor ceremony is very seductive: the sound of birdsong, sunlight filtering through the leaves and the scent of pine on the breeze… But will the real thing be as appealing to your guests? Louise Kelly, senior event manager at Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms, advises putting the comfort of the people you’re inviting at the forefront of your planning: “I always encourage my couples to think about car parking, appropriate footwear and accessibility for guests – three elements that usually help to narrow the search for an outdoor venue.

“The couple have to be flexible and understand that sometimes, for the safety and comfort of their friends and family, their plans need to change. Here at Mar Lodge, we’ll always do our best to bring your vision to life, so these changes can sometimes be last-minute – which is understandably disappointing.”

So, if you have a granny who’s a bit unsteady on her feet, or have a guest who’s a wheelchair-user, consider the logistics of how they’ll move around the site before you seal the deal. There could be nothing worse than realising ten minutes before the ceremony starts that some of your loved ones won’t see you tie the knot because they can’t reach the spot you’ve chosen.

Couple standing in the rolling hills of Mar Lodge Estate
Mar Lodge Estate is enveloped in the grandeur of the Cairngorms, your guests and photographer will be sure to appreciate it! (Photo: Hannah K. Photography)

“We leave enough time to set up the ceremony elsewhere and to move chairs and so on. But a lot of venues don’t offer this service – the Couple would need to rope in their guests to help”

A helpful heads-up

It’s worth letting people know as early as possible that you are planning to marry outside so they can prepare accordingly. If they know what to expect, you won’t have anyone sitting there shivering in a sleeveless dress or wearing a sodden fascinator. 

Beth at Cardney Estate has lots of sensible advice: “Alert your guests to the fact that they might be outdoors for a while so they can plan appropriate outfits and footwear. Think about any older guests or those who’re likely to have trouble reaching more remote locations. We offer transport to make sure these guests don’t miss out on any part of your special celebrations here.” 

Damage control

Some parts of the great outdoors are protected areas, so you must be considerate if you’re planning on bringing decor with you. The National Trust for Scotland offers its sites – including the spectacular Mar Lodge – for your use as outdoor venues. It says it can accommodate most requests; however, its guiding principles are that most things are possible “so long as they do not damage the property in any way and do not offend or cause possible harm to anyone”. It’s worth examining your contact with the venue in great detail so you can be sure that what you’re hoping to achieve is both possible and appropriate.

Couple surrounded by guests at outdoor wedding ceremony
New Lanark Mill Hotel has a huge rooftop garden that lends itself to sophisticated outdoor ceremonies, like this one captured by PMCG Photos

Ask the experts

“There can be many logistical obstacles to overcome during the run-up and on the day itself, so take advice from your professional suppliers – they have been involved in hundreds of weddings in all sorts of places,” suggests Beth at Cardney. “And speak to the coordinator at the venue itself – no one knows it better than the people who work there.” 

She adds that while rain and wind are the obvious factors that could scupper your plans, too much heat is not ideal either: “I know many string quartets and musicians hate to play in direct sunlight as it can damage their instruments. It’s a good idea to supply sun cream for your guests too – you just never know!”

More than the ceremony

If you feel it’s not worth the hassle of setting up the whole ceremony outdoors but you still like the idea of catching some rays, you could simply host the drinks reception outside; many venues are happy to facilitate this. Lindsay at New Lanark Mill believes the rooftop garden at her hotel is the ideal place to mingle and soak up the atmosphere. Beth at Cardney, meanwhile, reminds us it’s possible to have the courtyard bar at her steading covered over, so people can enjoy the outside space even if the weather isn’t on side. They say marriage is all about compromise – and that sounds like a good one to start with!