The marquee, the secrets: expert advice for your big-top big day

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These intriguing structures, supplied by White Horse Yurts, make a sensational alternative to the traditional marquee.

Words by Claire McBain

The famously unpredictable Scottish weather means that even in high summer we’re not guaranteed sun for an outdoor ceremony – which might make you wonder why on earth anyone would risk hosting their wedding in anything but a solid brick building with a leak-proof roof.

But of course it’s not just the hope of sunshine that makes so many people choose a marquee for their celebrations. Perhaps a ready-decorated venue, complete with set menus, is their idea of a nightmare. To them, a marquee is a beautiful blank canvas, offering the chance to show off their unique take on the occasion.

Katherine Self of Finesse Marquees knows that personalisation is crucial for many brides. “Other venues are limited by the décor that’s already in place, whereas a marquee allows you to create something from nothing and be as inventive as you like – it gives you much greater control over the look of the day. And, of course, you can have a marquee set up almost anywhere you want.”

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The traditional marquee, such as this fine example by Finesse Marquees, offers unbeatable scope for personalising the interior design

Finding the perfect pitch is key: “The more level the site, the better the finished marquee will look,” says Joanne Cox of the award-winning Olympus Marquees. “They’re really designed to go on grass but we’ve drilled into tarmac and bolted onto concrete. Land in the countryside is great as we can position the marquee to maximise the views, be it coastal, hills, fields or even castles.”

Lots of quirky little touches will add personality to the expanse of white, as Olympus Marquees demonstrates here

Lots of quirky little touches will add personality to the expanse of white, as Olympus Marquees demonstrates here

Will you need to factor the cost of site hire into your budget? That depends. If it’s your parents’ back garden, it’s probably a freebie. If you’re looking at a field in the middle of nowhere, there may be a fee. And if it’s the luscious lawns of a hotel or a stately home, definitely leave some space in your budget.
Okay, we’ve mentioned it – let’s get the big bad B-word out of the way. Marquee spend can range from £1000 for a cosy, intimate ceremony to £15,000 and above for all the bells, whistles and a cherry on top. If you have a rough idea of location and guest numbers, you’re in a good position to ask for an accurate quote from potential suppliers.

The various different types of marquee will appeal to different tastes and requirements. If you’re a traditional girl, there are classic fabric marquees. If your views are spectacular, try one with sides that can be rolled up, or even a clear-walled construction. And if you want something really memorable, how about a festival-style yurt? Circular in shape, yurts offer a different perspective; the bride and groom get married in the middle, surrounded by their guests (sitting on hay bales, perhaps?). “Our authentic Mongolian yurts are a work of art – truly amazing and unique,” says Edwin Siebers, of White Horse Yurts. “They may look small from the outside, but they’re actually very spacious.”

Two or more marquees can be joined together to make multiple ‘rooms’ – catering annexes and bars, say, or simply as a way of keeping your excitable dancing queens away from the relatives who just want a drink and a chat. And the variety of sizes means small and intimate is just as easy as inviting everyone on your Facebook friends list.

This gorgeous garden-themed set-up, from Finesse Marquees, shows the flexibility offered by such structures

This gorgeous garden-themed set-up, from Finesse Marquees, shows the flexibility offered by such structures

For marquees, only very high winds and serious snowfall would mean disaster. If the temperature just a little nippy, Olympus will supply two heaters free of charge between November and March.

That’s not all a supplier will provide. If you’re opting for a wedding in a remote part of the country, you’ll need all the trimmings. “We can supply everything to create a stand-alone marquee, so power isn’t always required,” says Finesse’s Katherine. But if your space is an add-on to an existing venue with access to water, electricity and toilets, for example, costs could be significantly cut. Hurrah!

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A White Horse Yurt not only has the wow-factor but its wool-wrapped walls mean they stay warm in winter and cool in summer

If you’re starry-eyed and sold on marquees, get your diary out. Much like popular bricks-and-mortar venues, provisional bookings are recommended at least a year in advance. Katherine explains: “The further ahead you book, the greater the choice of equipment and style. But we also take short-notice bookings, within even a month of the date.”