How to have a woodland wedding
When we wrote recently about themed wedding ideas, we mostly looked at geeky fandom-based themes. So now let’s look at something more…outdoorsy.
Jo Allatt and her husband Hazen got married on the weekend between the summer solstice and midsummers day of 2013, in a circle of hornbeam trees, deep in an ancient woodland, tucked away in a quiet corner of the South Downs National Park.
For anyone who fancies doing something similar, we had a chat with Jo to find out how she and Hazen made their perfect woodland wedding happen.
Jo’s one of the greenest people we know. She’s spent her whole career working on environmental projects for local councils in West Sussex and she’s a co-founder of the Greener Bognor Network.
She’s a kind soul and a great laugh – she’s also utterly formidable when she’s on a mission (which she usually is).
Hey Jo. Thanks for chatting to us. Can you give us just a quick ‘what, where, and how’ of your wedding and what made it different to most?
We hired a little-known ‘glamping’ site for the weekend that had a collection of yurts (circular tents), vintage caravans, a log cabin, composting toilets, a small catering-friendly barn and a grassy meadow with space for camping and a marquee.
We had mainly acoustic music, plus friends playing various extras and a disco in the barn later on. Some of the ladies, including me and the bridesmaids, bought colourful wellies to wear with our dresses.
My friend did half of the catering as a mainly vegan feast of dips, breads and salads to go with two south downs lambs that were slow-cooked in front of the guests over a traditional wood fire.
How did your guests react to the idea?
Only a couple of older people didn’t feel they could come, as a woodland wedding wasn’t suitable for them – which is a shame because I think they would’ve been fine and enjoyed it. Otherwise, everyone was great and really embraced the idea.
Give us five quick-fire one-liners of advice for anyone who wants to do something similar.
- Be aware that the more beautiful and tranquil the venue you find, the more rules you’ll have to follow and compromises you’ll have to make.
- Outdoor weddings in the UK are super high risk with the weather. We were lucky, but make sure your guests understand they’ll need umbrellas, just in case.
- Use your craft skills to decorate your venue for free – we taught ourselves to make our own willow sculptures.
- Quality eco (or banana leaf) plates and bowls are a nice alternative to expensive china. They’re easier to wash up and give you less to carry through the woods.
- Don’t be afraid to throw wedding convention out of the window – most ‘traditions’ have barmy roots anyway!
What were the hardest parts of making it happen?
UK law sadly doesn’t allow weddings out in the open air – so our marriage had to be repeated in part at the registry office. We did that on midsummers day itself though, on the Monday after the woods, so it was still a special part of it all because it just became a four-day wedding celebration in the end.
Also, the council laid down strict licensing conditions for how many people could be on site, how much noise we could make and what time we could play until. It was because the woodland was inside the South Downs National Park and was next door to horse stables and a load of smart country houses.
We looked at a lot of similar sites, but this rare one had the benefit of the barn, which allowed us amplified music into the evening and a fully working kitchen with electricity.
The site was quite big, which was great, but as the day went on we ended up with several parties going on and you could easily loose people for ages. Me and my husband often had no idea where each other were!
What were the three best bits of the whole experience? (things that you wouldn’t ever have had with a ‘normal’ wedding)
- When I arrived at the ceremony ground my brother met me at the edge of the woods, then he followed me and my dad into the ground like a minstrel, playing ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ on the ukulele. My husband then took over and played guitar as I walked up the ‘aisle’ towards him with a song he wrote.
- My mum made me a full-length, hooded, velvet cape to wear over my dress if I got cold – it was absolutely perfect. I wore it a lot, which meant I didn’t have to change out of my dress as the temperature dropped and I could wrap my friends up in it too.
- We had a period of silent reflection as part of the ceremony. Despite the large crowd, all we could hear were the rustling leaves and the tweeting birds. A single cow bell hanging in the trees caught the wind and played itself loudly at the end of the silence – as if it was meant to be. We all shared that magical moment together.
Tell us a quick funny story from the big day.
There were wheelbarrows provided on site to help take bags to yurts. It didn’t take many beers for the wheelbarrow racing to kick off. It was a great laugh, especially as I got wheeled around in my wedding dress with my pink, spotty wellies sticking up in the air.
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