Overall winner by public vote: ‘Is it Spring Yet?’ by Lisa Whelan
Once upon a time, the typical wedding involved a religious service, some confetti, and a carvery dinner at a nearby hotel.
As the average cost of a British wedding reaches £21,000, brides (and grooms) are starting to think outside the box to make their day as unique and memorable as possible: think fairy-tale forest weddings, beach ceremonies and dramatic Scottish castles.
Britain has no shortage of romantic locations which will make your big day truly special. Here are a few of our favourite wedding destinations across the country…
If you’ve always dreamed of a beach wedding, you don’t have to look too far. A few years ago, Bournemouth made history as the first British beach which is licensed to carry out weddings. You can choose your favourite stretch of sand, then set up a marquee, barbecue, and a bespoke, shell-strewn aisle, before exchanging your vows to the tranquil sounds of the sea.
TIP: Check the tidal times before your big day, so you can plan your day accordingly. The tide doesn’t come in too far on Bournemouth Beach, but if you want to have a few photos taken in the surf, you might want to arrange for your photographer to be ready an hour before high tide.
Ever since Madonna and Guy Ritchie held their (ill-fated) nuptials here, it has become a high-society favourite. This is where billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk married Talulah Riley for the first time, where Ewan MacGregor married his wife Eve and where movie star Ashley Judd married Scottish racing driver Dario Franchitti.
The beautiful castle was founded in 1186, and it is still in near-perfect condition 830 years later. But what really sets it apart from Britain’s other castle venues is its exclusivity.
In order to use the facilities, you have to be a member of the private (and expensive) Carnegie Club. However, non-members are permitted to visit once, and only once. This means that your wedding will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you as well as your guests – how many people can say that?
TIP: The castle is set amid 2500 acres of land, and the rugged Sutherland countryside stretches out on all sides. Your guests will be bowled over by the location, so arrange a guided hiking trip and longer-term accommodation in the area so they can explore this beautiful part of Britain at their leisure.
Several swathes of the New Forest are licensed to hold wedding and civil partnerships, so you can have your ceremony in the middle of the woods, with birds singing in the background.
Start your day with a gentle walk through ancient woodland, before arriving at your own private glade, where flowers and lanterns hang from the branches, and your marriage awaits. Choose a Springtime wedding for daffodils, primroses, and budding trees; or an autumn wedding for a rich tapestry of colour in the background.
Most licensed spaces in the New Forest offer ramshackle barns and tipis as rainy-day reception venues. But if the weather holds up, nothing beats an open-air fire circle, where you can toast marshmallows, catch up with guests, and dance under the stars.
TIP: Make the wedding reception kid-friendly by planning a few outdoor games after the ceremony. Hide and seek, treasure hunts, and nature walks are easy to organise and will be fun for the whole family.
Cornwall’s Carnglaze Caverns is a definitely contender for one of the most beautiful wedding venues in Britain. Set on the edges of Bodmin Moor, it features a vineyard, a forest, and a network of ancient caves. Couples can choose from four different sites which are all licensed for civil ceremonies and partnerships: The Rum Store Chamber (where you will walk down an 80ft aisle flanked by old casks of rum); The Vine Conservatory (above ground); The Enchanted Dell (in the middle of Quarry Wood); and The Underground Lake (which can be decorated with candles and twinkling fairy lights).
TIP: In May, the surrounding woodland is carpeted with bluebells, which create a magical ambience as your guests make their way to the cave entrance (and look incredible in wedding photos).
The ultimate venue for animal lovers – this is probably the only place in Britain where you can invite elephants, lions, and giraffes to your wedding. And just because you are getting married in a zoo, you don’t have to sacrifice elegance on your big day… The 200-year-old Mansion House sits in the middle of the zoo, and it is surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens. The venue is licensed to perform civil ceremonies, and wedding parties can take advantage of various packages which offer preferred access to the facilities. Guests can get up close and personal with some of the more exotic animals, and you can plan your photographs to coincide with feeding time, so your wedding photos will have a unique Attenborough-esque quality.
TIP: The Mansion House is often in use during term time, when it hosts school groups, researchers, and students. Try to book your date during the school holidays – there may be more people visiting the zoo, but you are much more likely to secure the venue.
Perfect for small, quirky weddings, this old-fashioned windmill holds just 22 people (including the happy couple). This 19th century building has served as a flour mill and a holiday home for a local convent, and today it is rented out for private events, including weddings.
The second floor ‘Sitting Room’ of the mill has a wedding license, and an officiant can be provided by the venue if necessary. The circular space is surrounded by a white balcony, where the whole wedding party can gather for photos.
After the ceremony, ascend to the fifth storey gallery, where you can gaze out across the Norfolk countryside and coast with your partner.
TIP: The windmill comes fully equipped with a bar, and traditional afternoon tea can be served upon request. However, if you are looking for something a bit bigger for the reception, there are some lovely traditional inns in the neighbouring villages, and a range of excellent restaurants in nearby Kings Lynn.
The climactic scenes of Episode VII: The Force Awakens may have seemed otherworldly but they were actually filmed in the very earthly haven of Skellig Michael in Ireland – with very little computer enhancement needed!
Access to the Skellig Islands was limited before the film’s release in December 2015, and has only become more so now that everyone knows where Luke Skywalker has been hiding out all these years. Thankfully, County Kerry isn’t short of stunning natural landforms and attractions. What’s more filming on Episode VIII resumed in Ireland in early 2016, so if you want to visit a ‘galaxy far far away’ you could visit Malin Head on Ireland’s far northern coast or Ceann Sibal and Dunmore Head in County Kerry.
Proving that the wild sweeps of Ireland are as well-versed at hosting tales of fantasy as they are science-fiction and history, much of Westeros in HBO’s insanely popular TV series were filmed in and around Northern Ireland.
Whilst Kings Landing is based in Croatia, the iconic Kingsroad – formed from gnarled beech trees – is actually the appropriately titled Dark Hedges near Armoy in County Armagh. With locations in Northern Ireland hosting everything from the fortress of Winterfell to the coasts of Dorne and the Dothraki plains across several series, you could explore much of the Seven Kingdoms in one lovely location.
It’s worth noting that Ireland has also hosted filming for The Tudors and The Vikings, so you can explore some of the finest TV series’ most glorious locations in one break!
The opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s World War II classic really showed the impact of war. And despite the real D-Day beach landings taking place in Normandy, for the purposes of filming they were actually captured on the white sands of at the beautiful Ballinesker Beach in Curracloe.
The stunning long stretches of sand in County Wexford hosted the film crew for nearly 2 months. Machine gun nests and ‘hedgehog’ fortifications were built on site and many of the hundreds of extras were from the Irish Army Reserve. After filming finished (at a cost of $12,000,000!) it was restored to its usual beautiful and barren self.
Whilst Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner of 1995 seemed like a long love letter to the majestic expanses of the Scottish Highlands, in truth, a large part of it was captured in the stunning rurality of the Emerald Isle.
Trim Castle in County Meath stood in for the city of York in the film. The county’s Dunsany Castle also hosted filming for Edward II’s wedding and much of the film was captured in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park. But it’s the bloody battle scenes that stick in the mind and, yes, those too were captured in Ireland.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge – notable for the lack of an actual bridge! – was captured on the expansive plains on the Curragh in County Kildare. Similarly, the fields around Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare were used for the Battle of Falkirk scenes.
This cult classic from 1987 used Ireland’s fairy-tale beauty to add to a magical fable about romance, adventure and derring-do, with pirates, giants, princesses and more.
The memorable climb up the imposing ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ in the film was captured at the stunning Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Thankfully, an appreciation of the view from the cliffs doesn’t need to follow a slow climb to the top, so you can just walk along and admire incredible views of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, mountain ranges to the north and Loop Head to the south.
Although the drama is based on George R.R. Martin’s novels and set in the fantasy realm of Westeros, the books’ epic power struggles are inspired by English history’s true battle for the crown… The War of the Roses.
We’ve picked the places where you can feel closest to the action. Luckily, these days they’re more beautiful than bloody…
The Battle of Tewkesbury, fought on 4th May 1471 was one of the bloodiest battles in the 32 years of The War of the Roses. The Yorkist king Edward IV imposed a devastating defeat over his rivals, the Lancastrians, who lost their leader and heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales. Martin himself said, “I have the Lannisters and the Starks, and in real life it was the Lancasters and the Yorks.” Series aficionados have pointed out the similarities between warrior-king Robert Baratheon and Edward IV and between conniving Cersei Lannister and Margaret of Anjou, who was a key Lancastrian player in the long battle for England’s crown.
In typical Game of Thrones fashion, after the Battle of Tewkesbury, the victorious Yorkists forced their way into the sanctuary of the abbey. The resulting bloodshed was so horrifying it was reputedly closed for a month in order to be purified and re-consecrated.
Today this former Benedictine monastery is one of Britain’s finest examples of Norman architecture and still holds a communion service for the fallen on the 4th May every year. Every second weekend in July, the battle is re-enacted at the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival.
At the head of the old town in perhaps Scotland’s finest city, sits the impressive fortress of Edinburgh Castle. There has been a royal castle on the brooding slab of Castle Rock since the 12th century, and it has found itself under siege more times than anywhere else in Britain. Now a major tourist attraction, you might have thought twice before visiting a few hundred years ago.
Nobody watching Game of Thrones’ stand-out third season episode will be likely to forget the mouth-droppingly gory scenes of the ‘Red Wedding’. A particularly brutal episode where *spoiler alert*, pretty much all of the north-ruling Stark family are shockingly slaughtered, Martin’s apparent inspiration was not a cheese-fuelled nightmare but a historical event. Ominously named the ‘Black Dinner’, this party took place in 1440, where guests from a rival clan of the child king James II were invited to dine at the castle and there were horribly murdered by their hosts.
Edinburgh Castle still retains much of its drama. Visit its prison vaults if you dare or gaze upon the ancient ‘Stone of Destiny’, used since the thirteenth century in the coronation ceremonies of English , then British kings and queens. The stone will only leave Scottish soil again when a new monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey.
“My wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical” said Martin of this historic boundary, “And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots!”
Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of his wall in 122 AD, to separate the Romans from the ‘barbarians’. It stretched from the Solway Firth to Tynemouth. In the world of Westeros, the Wall was built 8000 years ago by Brandon the Builder and towers along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, holding the Wildlings at bay.
Even though Hadrian’s Wall was a mere 20 feet high and is no longer complete, it is a dramatic tribute to Roman engineering. It would have looked considerably more imposing when faced by its contemporary Scots. Part of it takes advantage of the Whin Sill, a slab of igneous rock forming an escarpment with soaring, sheer cliff faces.
You can still walk the 82 miles from coast to coast along the Hadrian’s Wall Path, a National trail which follows the route of this World Heritage Site. Visit Housesteads – a well-preserved fort with stunning views of the Northumberland National Park or Vindolanda to view fascinating roman writing tablets -the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.
A gatehouse towering a formidable 100ft makes Doune Castle a striking feature in central Scotland’s landscape. The 14th century home of Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany and ruler of Scotland in all but name, Doune is pleasantly sited on a steep bank where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith.
This well-preserved fortification has featured on screen several times; as Camelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, of course, as Winterfell – the drab yet dramatic ancient seat of House Stark.
Doune Castle affords the contemporary visitor stunning views of Ben Lomond from the battlements while inside is one of Scotland’s best preserved examples of a great hall and a lofty musicians’ gallery. You can take a tour narrated by the unmistakeable voice of the Python Terry Jones or follow the nature trail in the grounds.
On 22nd August 1485 the course of English history changed forever. We lost our last Plantagenet king and the era of the Tudors was ushered in. The Battle of Bosworth Field is one of British history’s most infamous battles, concluding the lengthy and bloody War of the Roses with the death of the controversial King Richard III – the last British monarch to die in action.
The area is rather unassumingly rural and beautiful today. Interestingly some believe the battle to have been fought in the marshland here because the site is crossed by Roman roads and the thousands of troops could travel there quickly. Learn about medieval warfare and fascinating archaeological discoveries at the Heritage Centre, or view the battle re-enactment. For a more sedate day out, stroll in the surrounding area on the panoramic ‘Battlefield Trail’.
Leicester famously won its contest with York to be chosen as King Richard III’s final resting place after a skeleton found in a city centre car park turned out to be the body of the man himself. Richard had been buried by the Grey Friars, a Franciscan Holy order, in their friary church. He was reinterred in great pomp and circumstance in 2015 and now lies in state in a peaceful area of Leicester Cathedral. It’s an altogether a more respectable end for the king whom Shakespeare painted as a scheming hunchback and who, in real life, was stripped naked and trussed dead and bleeding over a horse, after fighting bravely to the end in battle.
A few steps from the cathedral is the ‘Richard III Centre’ where you can learn about this amazing discovery and enjoy interactive displays re-telling the compelling story of one of our most fascinating monarchs. Extend your visit to Leicester’s historic Guildhall, 600 years old and one of Britain’s best preserved timber-framed halls.
Another brand new addition to our collection, Cotswold Farm is centrally located in the beautiful Cotswolds and is ideal for accommodating large groups: with beautiful large grounds complete with a heated outdoor swimming pool, a large entertaining pavilion, a BBQ, fire pit and drinks fridge. Sleeps 11 and 2 pets. Find more info on our website.
Our longest reigning monarch, in Right of Her Duchy of Lancaster, owns this stunning holiday property (ref. IXJ). Situated in an idyllic clifftop setting near the elegant seaside town of Scarborough, The Cart Shed sleeps 8 and 1 pet. Find more info on the property listing on our website.
With panoramic views along the beautiful Cornish coastline and down into St Austell Bay, this detached holiday home is set in an acre of landscaped gardens, approximately 300 yards up from the secluded sandy cove of Porthpean, where visitors can paddle, swim or hire a kayak and explore the coastline from the water. Sleeps 15 and 2 pets. More info.