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Sunday Times, 13th August 2006

Sunday Times, 13th August 2006, Marriages made in castles, or on canals

Marriages made in castles, or on canals

More couples are rejecting the traditional church or register office wedding to get hitched just about anywhere that takes their fancy, writes Fiona Russell

Sixty friends and relatives climbed 1,000ft to be at our wedding. Many struggled up the steep incline to reach the summit of Dumgoyne Hill in the Campsie Fells just north of Glasgow. Some, including both our witnesses, cursed us between gasps of breath for dragging them up ‘some crazy hill’ on a hot summer’s day.

But everyone who reached the top could see in an instant why we’d chosen the spot for our ceremony. The fantastic views, fresh air and amazing sky, plus the generous drams of whisky, combined to produce a truly sublime atmosphere.

Dumgoyne is significant for being the first hill my husband Vik and I ran together and, as far as we know, we are the first couple to be married on its summit.

I am definitely the first bride to have changed on the hill, from walking clothes into wedding dress and heels. Thanks to the venue this was a wedding we and all our guests will never forget. But we aren’t so unusual, apparently.

The growing trend is for brides- and grooms-to-be to turn their backs on the more traditional wedding. From the location to the invitations, gift list, wedding dress, rings and food, looking for alternative options is a prerequisite of the thoroughly modern wedding.

Carol Richardson, from wedding website, says: "We are definitely seeing more people moving away from the traditional marriage. I guess people are less likely to conform to tradition these days. Many of the couples are also older when they marry, or doing it for the second time.

"Whatever the reason, many choose to put on a big show for example, themed Elvis or 1950s weddings are big just now or they want their big day to be more personalised."

Ros Nash, of the Scottish Wedding Directory, adds: "People want their wedding to stand out from the crowd. Alternative gift lists are popular, brides are choosing a non-traditional dress, perhaps in a bright colour or with a tartan influence, and they are looking for unusual venues."

In Scotland, aside from a church or register office, a couple can have a religious or civil marriage in a location that’s already approved, or anywhere deemed appropriate, by the local authority. In June 2005, it became legal for a humanist celebrant to perform marriages. Six months later, the government granted same-sex couples the right to legalise their union under the Civil Partnership Act.

According to the General Register Office for Scotland, in the last few years there has been a leap in the number of couples requesting ceremonies in less conventional locations, including castles, beaches, lochsides, hill tops and lighthouses.

Eileen Nicol, a registrar at Callandar, says: "Couples are becoming much adventurous, especially thanks to our improved summer. Outdoor weddings are more popular, be it in someone’s back garden or in the grounds of a hotel. We’ve had a couple marry on a munro and a few on the Sir Walter Scott steamship on Loch Katrine."

Edinburgh Zoo, the location of the first humanist wedding last June, reports more wedding bookings. The Falkirk Wheel has also seen a sudden increase in bookings this summer, including from Mairi and Douglas Sharpe, who married on July 1.

"We just wanted to get away from the traditional wedding in a hotel with a sit-down meal," says Mairi, 23, of Bannockburn, Stirling. "Having a civil ceremony on the boat that rides the wheel was fantastic. We followed this with a champagne reception and then an 80s-themed party in the visitor centre."

Vik and I had to put in a few calls before finding our humanist celebrant, Helen Wood, from Glasgow. At the time, she was one of only 12 working in Scotland and we required one who was fit and happy enough to climb a big hill.

In response to the growing demand, the Humanist Society of Scotland has trained eight new celebrants, including Juliet Wilson of Edinburgh, who recently carried out a ceremony at Belhaven Bay, East Lothian. "We’ve had ceremonies on Arthur’s Seat and Inchcolm Island too," she says.

Her colleague, Ivan Middleton, is a veteran of outdoor ceremonies. "I’ve married couples as far afield as Machrihanish beach, near Campbeltown, St Andrews castle and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.

"I did one recently on Canna island too, but the weather was terrible. While Scotland’s great outdoors can be very beautiful and romantic, we do want couples to have a plan B in case the weather turns nasty."

Amanda Haig and Paul Crowe were prepared to take a chance with our fickle climate. Last month, the couple, who met while working on a nature reserve in Hong Kong, travelled all the way from their new homeland to be married 2000ft up Drummond Hill, Perthshire.

Haig, originally from Scotland, says: "We wanted a wedding that reflected our love of wildlife and the natural environment. It was so romantic being married among the heather."

As well as our ‘non-traditional’ hilltop ceremony, Vik and I also dispensed with the usual gift list. "The alternative wedding list is very much of the moment," says Catherine Coyle from Best Scottish Weddings magazine. "Many couples have lived together before they get married so they don’t need any of the usual household items. Instead, I’ve seen couples asking for travel vouchers towards a honeymoon, or money towards their garden or a piece of art."

Ellen Arnison, 39, from Bridge of Weir, who marries her boyfriend in October, has asked guests to help convert their downstairs cupboard into a bathroom. The innovative gift list includes items such as a loo brush or the cost of a plumber fitting a toilet.

Vik and I also had a house together when we decided to marry, so we signed up for a conscience-liberating charity gift list with World Vision. Friends and family spent a total of £3000 on a range of gifts, from footballs to a carpenter’s training, for people in developing countries.

For us, doing things non-traditionally meant that we could control the costs. So our invitations were made by my seven-year-old daughter and we decided against a fancy three-tiered cake, costing more than £500, opting instead for a novelty cake in the shape of Dumgoyne, priced £75.

We did not even have a sit-down meal, but threw a big party with a buffet of bacon rolls and steak pies. We could have taken the alternative theme a step further and insisted on being more ethical. Many couples now go for locally sourced food for the reception, wedding outfits made from organic materials or conflict-free diamond wedding rings. "Not forgetting the little pots of environmentally friendly seeds as favours and biodegradable confetti," adds Richardson. At the website, brides can even order vegan wedding shoes and Fairtrade dresses.

But all this does seem like a lot of effort for just one day. "That’s why people are now extending the wedding to cover two or three days," reports Coyle. "The trend is for couples to exclusively hire a venue then invite guests to stay for the whole weekend. They’ll have a pre-wedding meal, the wedding day and a wedding breakfast the day after. I guess if you’ve spent a lot of money you want to make the event last for as long as possible."

The only limitation on a 21st-century wedding, it seems, is the couple’s imagination.

Tying the knot - Where can I find out more alternative wedding options?

Try or for weird and wonderful places to get married.

For alternative gifts try or


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