Tips for planning a woodland handfasting wedding

We are celebrating our 3 year wedding anniversary this week (where did that time go?), so I started to get all misty eyed and realised that I shared bits about our wedding day on the blog but more in a 'how to tutorial' kind of way but never did an actual write up and shared lots of our wonderful photos.

It was brought even more to the forefront of our memories as we visited our wedding venue, Saltmarshe Hall, this week and was instantly transported back to the special day. It was so magical to see it again.
It was made even more special by a lovely couple approaching us in the lobby to say they were booking the venue for their wedding next year after seeing our wedding photos on the blog. How incredible?!
It really made our day to hear we managed to convey so much love and personality from our own wedding day. It really is one of the most special days you are ever likely to have and finding the right venue is one of the biggest decisions to make. We left with big grins on our faces and wishing them all the very best for their wedding and life together.
THE PROPOSAL | The Carnivore proposed on a holiday inter-railing around Italy that I planned as a surprise for his birthday. Little did I expect he had a surprise of his own up his sleeve. He asked me in romantic Venice, on top of a cute bridge over one of the many canals. He popped down on one knee for the briefest of moments and a nearby family, who we hadn’t even noticed stood nearby, burst into applause. I was so taken aback with surprise that it felt like 10 minutes passed before I could speak! I said yes, we kissed and then ducked into a nearby bar for some prosecco. We didn’t tell anyone else until the end of our holiday in Florence and it was a glorious few days reveling in our little secret.
THE VISION | We started with a blank canvas and decided we wanted it to be an informal (formality gives me the heebie jeebies) and fun. The Carnivore had a view on the big things like location, food etc but other than that he let me run wild with my imagination. I described the vision as ‘part Nordic forest fairytale and part modern country style'. Think Downton Abbey, but with a budget and vibe more suited to the servants than the Grantham’s. Imagine the staff being home alone for the weekend without fear of being caught, with relaxed family style dining around long wooden tables, homemade desserts and kick your shoes off dancing in opulent surroundings. In summary an eclectic, rustic, DIY wedding, which was full of love.
THE PLANNING PROCESS | We started with a discussion about what we envisaged for our wedding day, which was mainly about ensuring our family and friends could celebrate with us. We set a budget to work to, pulled together a loose guest list to get a sense of numbers and then set to work finding the venue. We had spreadsheet for the numbers and a calendar for keeping track of key milestones. We also had a Dropbox folder for things that needed both of our input, such as invitation designs. I made sure DIY projects were planned in early to give us enough time. 
We also created a wedding website to keep folks updated on progress, which was a great time saver and stopped us getting bombarded.
BUDGET | It was a DIY wedding, with a view to saving money wherever we could, but without compromising on what we really wanted. We wanted it to be fun, our guests to be well fed and watered and there to be plenty of entertainment. We managed to pull it off for £10k, even with a few little extras. We’ve since sold some of our DIY decorations too, which helped pay for printing some of our wedding photographs. 
THE VENUE | We live in an area of beautiful countryside and so we wanted an exclusive hire venue that could provide the nature inspired outdoor ceremony we craved. I stumbled across the intimate venue of Saltmarshe Hall online and fell in love with the romantic history but modern decoration of the house and most importantly the 17 acres of gardens it sat in, all overlooking the mighty River Humber, known locally as the chocolate river. We went for a visit and found the owner to be really relaxed about our ideas for personalising our day, with nothing being too much trouble or too out there. The spooky wine cellars and derelict stables also appealed to us and we could imagine getting some great photos down there.

THE DRESS & ACCESSORIES | I wore a vintage inspired lace dress with a sweetheart neckline, which I bought from a local bridal outlet. The day I tried it on, complete with a puddle length veil, myself and my mum had big smiles on our faces and I suddenly felt like a bride. I ordered some  Steve Madden sparkly shoes. I wanted a boho feel to my look and would never have been able to get married without having flowers in my hair, so I had a beautiful medieval flower crown. My garter was a boho thigh chain and my something blue was a sapphire bracelet of my mums. I made a bespoke Jo Malone fragrance to wear at the wedding.
FINDING THE DRESS | I had no idea what kind of dress I wanted and changed my mind a million times about the style over the course of our planning, even after I had already bought my dress. I was adamant before I started I didn’t want a fit and flare dress but it just goes to show you don’t know what will suit you or what you’ll fall in love with until you’ve tried a few on. It was one of the things I found most stressful and part of me wishes I had tried a few more boutiques/ dresses before I took the leap, just so I didn’t spend 6 months worrying, but I really did feel amazing on the day and got a lot of compliments on the dress, so obviously my initial instincts must have been right.
GROOM’S ATTIRE | We wanted an informal country gentleman’s club look for the Carnivore and the groomsmen and so went for a mix and match suit with the blazers and waistcoats from Asos, ties and pocket squares ordered online and high street chinos and brogues. The photos of the groomsmen wearing their tweed with cigars and brandy in hand are some of our favourite shots.
THE READINGS & MUSIC | We had two ceremonies on the day as we didn’t want a separate registry office ceremony, which meant we could have quite different music and feel to each of them but also created more work! For the legal ceremony, we kept it short and sweet and Holly Maher’s Perfect Day played.
For our woodland ceremony, I imagined a Botecelli inspired scene with medieval flower maids surrounded by beautiful woodland and a harp strumming to Florence and the Machine’s Cosmic Love. 
We found so many beautiful readings but none that felt very us and so my Maid of Honour read the lyrics to the Friends TV show theme tune ‘I’ll Be There for You’. Silly but fun.
BEAUTIFUL BRIDESMAIDS | I love all of my girlies, so choosing a small number of maids was always going to be tough, but there could have been no other choice to walk at my side than two of my oldest friends who have been through so much with me. We set to work looking online for a classy but boho inspired dress which would suit them both. I came across the LOVE dress on ASOS and with its kimono sleeves and muted colour, we all liked it. Winner! To preserve the girl’s modesty and to differentiate them slightly we customised the front with grey and cream lace inserts. Finally to transform them into the perfect woodland flower maids they each had a foliage crown made for them. Another of my oldest friends played a special role in the day as our Mistress of Ceremonies and did a great job of organising everyone and keeping the party going.
THE FLOWERS | We love nature and the great outdoors so bringing as much of the outdoors in was the brief we gave the lovely Jane of Blooming Yorkshire, who we liked so much we asked her to be our celebrant too! Jane grows all of the flowers in a Victorian walled garden which suited our ethos of local, seasonal and sustainable. I liked the botanical foliage look and the colour and texture of wildflowers, which Jane managed to interpret in the most stunning way. Most of the budget went on the reception room where we had our feast. I asked for long foliage centrepieces with trailing ivy at the ends to suit the long table arrangements and an abundance of wildflowers in a variety of jars we had collected over the year. The tables were each named after a flower that had a special meaning in the Victorian era, when people would give flowers as a symbolic gesture.
We had a trailing ivy garland running down the staircase and hydrangea heads in a collection of demi johns we previously used to make our home made sloe gin favours. Jane also titivated the flower crowns we wore and made button holes and wrist corsages for the bridesmaids instead of bouquets. Jane also made the most stunning, magical cascading bouquet for me, which I wish I could have kept forever.
We tried to keep costs low by doing as much decoration as we could ourselves and with our woodland ceremony, the beautiful outdoors did the hard work for us. Inside we made a statement love centrepiece at the entrance, which we made out of succulents and old wood pallets placed on a shabby chic ladder. I also placed ivy anywhere and everywhere to create a green feel.
THE CAKE | We wanted to use our cake as a dessert to save on catering costs, as so often it goes to waste anyway, which swayed us to get a 3 tier naked cake decorated in moist berries. The piece de resistance was our cake topper, hand knitted by another friend, in the form of our pets, the tortoise and the hare (well, house rabbit).
I also arranged to have a wedding bake off, with guests bringing their lovely home made creations to form a wedding dessert table which our friends outdid themselves on, with yummy cupcakes, lemon drizzle and even a gluten free offering. I invited them to come up with a name for their creation and provided some cake flags. The ‘Got Squashed in the Car’ cake won the day!
YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER | I set to work early looking at photographers work I liked and we both agreed that this, along with the venue, would be one of our main indulgences, as ultimately the only reminder left of the day are the photos. I spotted the work of Hannah on a blog where she’d done a film and photo fusion for another wedding which moved me to tears. I knew that if her fusion of someone else’s wedding could leave me with that feeling it would be so much more special if it was ours. I must have watched our fusion 50 times (okay, probably more like 100!) and still get choked up when I see it. Hannah was great fun to work with and instantly put these two camera shy folks at ease. She even indulged our suggestion to go visit the haunted cellars of Saltmarshe Hall and got stuck into the East Yorkshire staple of Patty Butties. Our kind of gal!
THE DETAILS & DÉCOR | It was a true DIY wedding and we undertook a lot of projects to put our individual stamp on the day. We designed our own logo which we included on the save the dates, invitations, ‘The Feast’ menus, orders of service and a who’s who telling funny stories about each of the bridal party. We also set out our vision for the design of the invitations, complete with bluebell wood illustration and little packets of wildflower seeds, which the amazing Candelabra Designs helped us create and print as part of a competition we won on WWW.
Ethereal Forest Eclectic Fairytale Wedding Stationery Invitations
Where possible we wanted to engage all of the senses, so we placed vintage swiss cow bells on chairs and asked people to ring them when we kissed and placed lavender filled hanging jars on the chair ends to leave a lovely lingering scent. People were very generous and gave us hundreds of jam jars and wine bottles which we decorated, spray painted and distressed with candle wax, to dot about the place with flowers and candles.
We created a DIY photobooth out of a tepee, which my hubby made from scratch, as a backdrop for people to pose inside with props. As the night went on the dressing up got crazier and we got some great photos.
As the night wore on and the girl’s dancing feet became sore, I set out a basket of granny slippers and invited them to slip a pair on and get down with their bad selves. There were some comedy moments with a pair of ‘special’ winkle pickers with bobbles on the end that I found in a charity shop! We also put out some glow sticks for when the lights went down and the serious dancing moves came out.
We made distressed signs to direct people to the bar, woodland and lawn games area in the kitchen garden and made home made blackboard signs dotted around the venue to invite people to help themselves at our tuck shop, which we filled with 80’s classic crisps and other pub snacks, and at our signature ‘tie the knot’ cocktail and cigar bar.

Outside we created woodland décor to complement the beautiful nature surrounding us. We made a boho ribbon curtain as a backdrop and placed cut logs holding candles in a semi-circle where we said our vows.
Around this we placed hay bales for our guests to sit on which made the handfasting feel very intimate and inclusive. We wrote our own promises for our personal humanist ceremony and each wrote a secret letter to Jane, our celebrant, recalling how we met and our first impressions, which Jane turned into an emotional heart-warming handfasting. Festoon lights and hanging lanterns gave the woodland a magical fairytale feel.
We made confetti cones full of dried lavender and set up our take on a wishing well by providing a crate full of flower petals and pebbles for our guests to throw into the river with a blessing. We also made a swing with our initials carved into it and set it up overlooking the river as a tribute to family and friends that couldn’t be with us.
I love horses and really wanted to have them as part of the day so I arranged a pony and trap, which would have been a cob horse with a rustic apple cart, but they let me down the night before (cue panic!) and Trotting Taxis thankfully stepped in at last minute with Jimbob, their miniature pony. He was adorable and tiny, and we all wanted to take him home.
My talented friend created a large personalised colouring sheet for our adult colouring station, which was a nice way for our guests to create something lasting for us that we could display in our house. This worked well alongside our wishing antlers, where people hung messages of love and support written in bright colourful crayons!
We also personalised our food as we wanted it to be a very family style affair, so we had a yummy anti-pasti sharing platters for the starter and a ‘bake off’ dessert table for pudding, which both helped to break the ice between our guests. For the evening munchies we had a chippy van serving the East Yorkshire delicacy of patty butties, which people loved.

THE HONEYMOON | Our lovely guests gave us honeymoney which helped us create lasting memories in South Africa and Mauritius. We had an incredible time on safari seeing the Big 5 and although the weather was a bit iffy, we had amazing adventures rallying around in our jeep and getting stuck in the mud, which meant we had to get out and walk through the African bush! It also meant we were able to get cosy next to our log burning stove, while fairy lights created a magical atmosphere and the lovely staff even put hot water bottles in our bed at night. We then flew to Cape Town, enjoying amazing food and cocktails, sightseeing and great white shark cage diving, followed by flying to Mauritius for 9 days to have some sun and beach time. We had the most amazing few weeks – going back to work was a shock to the system, I can tell you!
MEMORABLE MOMENTS | Standing with my lovely, proud mum waiting outside the room at our legal ceremony and feeling the mixture of nerves, giddiness and relief that the moment had finally arrived after months of planning. I walked in with my head down afraid to meet anyone’s eye in case the tears started and then looking up to see the Carnivore with a big grin on his face and just in that moment knowing it was all going to be okay.
Marauding around the grounds in heels with my dress hitched up, with Hannah, our lovely photographer, and my new hubby, with champagne and cigar in hand, scaling ditches and walls to get the best shots.
We arranged for an acoustic guitarist to play in the gardens during the early evening and I remember kicking my shoes off and the Carnivore and I racing from one side of the house to the other to get there in time to hear ‘Friday I’m in Love’ by The Cure, which we’d requested. It ended up being an impromptu first dance and was such a happy moment.
I sang our proper first dance song – Norah Jones, Turn Me On – which I had recorded onto CD as a surprise gift for my hubster but the chap who produced it convinced me to use it for the actual dance and despite my initial shyness, it was a really special moment between us.
We also did get to explore the haunted cellars and got some fab pictures down there.
It was absolutely one of the best days of our lives, close only to the day our Little Inspiration came into the world and the joy she has brought us since.

It was a day full of magic, whimsy, love and pure joy and I know that although we may not go back to Saltmarshe Hall every year for our anniversary, when we do visit, it will be like going right back to that amazing day when we said I do.

Are you planning a wedding? I'd love to hear all about it. Would you like to see more wedding DIY posts? I'll also be posting about EPIC honeymoon so stay tuned.

1 comment

  1. Stupendous photography! I have no words to describe. All the moments have been captured beautifully. I am going to share this post with my fiancé as we are getting married by the end of this year in one of the most beautiful San Francisco wedding venues. I am in love with this wedding photoshoot.


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