From beaches and barns to fairytale castles, Scotland offers something to suit all wedding budgets and tastes.
As lockdown restrictions ease and more people are allowed to mix socially, wedding venues in Scotland can finally begin to welcome back loved-up couples who want to tie the knot in some of the most stunning, romantic scenery around.
A number of trends have emerged in the last year, though, with more outdoor venues offering an experience to remember, such as lochside, beach and woodland locations – or even up in the trees.
Couples keen to stick to a reasonable budget can find many options with enough variety to suit even the most flamboyant of tastes.
For those who really want to put on a show, nothing beats a classic Scottish castle wedding – and with couples keen to seal the deal after 18 months of delay, demand is high.
We spoke to some venue operators about what they have to offer brides and grooms-to-be in the coming months as restrictions lift, and the ways they’ve coped with Covid.
The Treehouse at the Lodge
Owner of the Treehouse at the Lodge is Iain Hopkins, who has been in the industry for over 20 years along with partner Alice, who runs the wedding planning side of their business.
Together, the couple built the enchanting Treehouse in 2004 that has sparked curiosity from interested couples, magazines and celebrities from across the globe.
Iain said it had been a “lightbulb moment” that had inspired the build and the desire to make the most of the lovely old pine tree.
“It’s a beautiful tree,” he said. “It had been hit by lightning in the ’60s so half the tree was missing, and I thought, the tree needs something.”
Seventeen years later, the fantasy castle-in-the-sky, on the edges of Loch Goil in Argyll and Bute, continues to be a huge draw for weddings.
Along with a ceremony in the Treehouse, couples can expect a private chef and command of the full 22-acre site, if they wish, catering for as little as two guests – along with much-loved four-legged friends – at the seven-bedroom restored Victorian lodge.
However, lockdown has seen Iain and Alice adapt to cater to all sorts of changes in the wedding industry.
Iain said: “We’ve been doing weddings for 20 years and we’ve done, in that time, maybe 1,500 weddings.
“When lockdown came I made a very conscious decision that we would reduce wedding sizes. The trend now is that micro weddings – small weddings – are the way forward.
“We don’t rely on lots and lots of staff, so we’ll wear many hats. I’m a self-trained chef, but I’m also out making concrete and chopping logs. If you don’t do that you don’t survive in this industry!”
Iain notes that Covid has changed the types of weddings people want at the venue, moving away from lavish ostentation to stripped-back simplicity, with the Treehouse now catering for a maximum of 24 guests.
“It’s very rustic,” he says. “People want to get married on the beach. We’ve had weddings here where the bride and groom go wild swimming! Everything has completely changed.”
Brides and grooms will even have their wedding pictures taken in the loch after the ceremony.
“You’d never in a million years think that a bride – who would normally have spent a lot of money on hair and make-up to look a million dollars – would then go swimming in a loch,” said Iain, who is happy to adapt to the changes that Covid has brought.
“We’re quite forward thinking,” he adds. “We’ve noticed trends and what people want. They might want to go up to the woodlands to get married, and photo shoots have completely changed, too; people don’t want conventional group shots any more.”
Privacy is key to the appeal with almost 50 per cent of booking for same-sex marriage couples looking for seclusion, along with those who want a smaller event – which helps in dealing with Covid restrictions.
“Couples have spent so much time during Covid, they’ve re-evaluated their lives,” said Iain. “They say, ‘We just want to get married. We don’t want any fuss, we don’t want lots of people’.”
Many of the changes are being driven by the younger generation who make up a significant portion of the clientele, where previous bookings had been mainly from the ex-pat community.
Iain continues: “Our biggest market now is millennials. We had a couple – game designers – who flew up in a private jet from London, had a private chauffeur, and this place ticked every box for them.
“They had the whole property, all 22 acres, all the woodlands, the shorefront and the treehouse to themselves.
“We had more staff than guests but that’s more common nowadays as we do a lot of elopements.”
Other changes have been a greater awareness of environmental impact of the industry and the need to adapt to that, and Iain encourages people to travel north by sleeper train “for the full travel experience”.
Iain said: “We get asked a lot about sustainability, people want to know about our green credentials. The younger generation are very switched on. They know what they want so you either adapt to it or you get left behind.”
With almost all bookings being done by Zoom or FaceTime, which include a tour of the premises, Iain credits his daughter for help in using social media to best market the property and keeping him up to date with trends.
“People will come back here to celebrate their anniversary, too,” said Iain, who is more than happy to accommodate a non-wedding treehouse dinner. “These people came to us before and supported our business. It’s like thanking them for doing that.”
And with couples even booking their anniversary dinner at the Treehouse on the day of their wedding, the appeal of the Treehouse looks set to continue.
Wedding elopement full packages start at £3,000 including overnight stay, private chef, dinner, breakfast, button holes, after-ceremony champagne and canapes and, of course, use of the grounds, shore, woods and the treehouse.
A traditional Scottish fairytale wedding
For the full fairytale wedding experience, Drumtochty Castle surely fits the bill for many couples.
Set in Auchenblae in the Aberdeenshire countryside, couples rent the entire property for their special event in the neo-Gothic 19th Century castle, surrounded by lavish interiors, antique furniture and historic paintings.
And general manager Nikki Curran knows what a gem the staff have on their hands – and how important it is to meet their clients’ needs.
Since lockdown, enquiries have increased showing that demand for the full traditional wedding remains high, with prospects looking good for the months and years ahead.
“There have been a lot of enquiries since lockdown,” agrees Nikki. “We are the busiest we have ever been for next year. A lot of them are Covid postponements but a lot of them are new weddings, also.”
Following government guidelines, the castle has made the necessary changes and has developed a micro-wedding package for smaller events and – unlike other venues which cater for the British market – the castle is seeing demand from beyond our shores.
“We’re international so it’s probably about 50/50 between UK and overseas enquiries,” said Nikki. “Quite a few international weddings have moved over from 2020-21 to 2022, and we’re taking new international bookings because everyone is hoping that they’ll be able to come across by then.”
Smaller venues can cater for elopements, but the size, scale and sheer grandeur of Drumtochty Castle means it works well for larger events, with a full ballroom and the beautiful estate grounds adding to the appeal.
And with enquiries and bookings coming from several former commonwealth countries, the venue also attracts many well-heeled and mature clients, showing that marriage isn’t just for the younger generation.
“There are quite a lot of professionals, like lawyers and doctors,” says Nikki. “Our average wedding age is probably about 30s because of the costs of the venue – the package is for the whole castle which is 23 guests.”
And the clientele comes with plenty of tastes to cater for as well, with the castle staff keen to help guests fulfil their fantasies.
“We had one Norwegian wedding where one of them wanted to ride a horse up the driveway, waving a sword and dressed like Braveheart,” said Nikki.
Did the team make it happen for the happy couple?
“Yes! We had to organise a horse and horse-riding lessons, so that was quite unusual!”
Drumtochy Castle is welcoming guests now and is open for bookings. Midweek wedding packages start at £8,000 for two nights with use of the castle, the ballroom, St Palladius Church and estate grounds, a full Scottish breakfast and much more.
Festival-style wedding venue
Cardney Steading sits near Dunkeld in stunning countryside – and as a working farm and timber business, guests can be sure to expect an experience to remember.
The former sporting estate now caters for weddings and holiday stays. Combined with a healthy dose of cheerful country air, the steading’s surrounding fields and acres filled with deer, sheep and other wildlife, offer a warm welcome for family and friends – and dogs, too.
Owner Lewis Cameron is proof that with a little hard work and adaptability, Scotland’s rural landscape has plenty to offer visitors – and he’s made the most of his time in lockdown as weddings ground to a halt.
“It has given me more time to make the tables for the venue,” he said. “I’m a joiner to trade; I’ve done all the renovations on the steading, the houses and cabins. I’ve built everything and done it myself.
“We actually felled some Douglas fir on the estate as part of the forestry programme, then we got the local sawmill to cut it up. The local timber yard kiln dried it, then I put them together.”
He says: “We work really hard to do everything on the estate. There’s only myself, my wife Katriona, our venue manager, a gamekeeper and we have a contract shepherd. It’s minimal staff. We work all the time.”
The result of the team’s work is a charming, rustic venue with a variety of options to help guests adapt to the changeable Scottish weather.
“I think people are thinking ahead, they’re taking their time, and looking for good indoor and outdoor options,” says Lewis. “And we have got a busy calendar. From now until November, it’s choc-a-bloc.”
Currently, Cardney Steading is taking enquiries from across the UK and from a younger clientele attracted by the adaptable space, the covered courtyard and the Double Barrel Bar.
“The vast majority are from people in their 20s,” said Lewis. “Our style of venue is about allowing people to come the day before and leave the day after, so it’s more of a party festival vibe.
“Getting married is a life event and some couples have been putting off starting a family until they’re married. Their whole life is on hold until they get married. It’s been a real shame for some young people,” he adds.
However, keen to get back to festival-style weddings, the young groups of guests also bring their own challenges with some creative solutions required from the staff.
“Without a set package, couples can tailor make their wedding and request whatever they wish. People love the flexibility,” explains Lewis.
“We did have one couple ask if the bride could zipline from the woods down to the wedding lawn area for their entrance,” he recalls. “The wedding got postponed, though, several times, so I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen.”
But he would be happy to accommodate the request: “Absolutely – as long as we all got a shot as well! The guests know it’s not going to be the same as the last wedding, and I’m sure we’re going to get some very peculiar requests ahead, because we’ve got so many options here.”
Whatever Covid throws at Cardney, the team is ready to adapt and help people create a wedding break to remember, with fishing, clay pigeon, equestrian and camping options, too.
And with enquiries for as far head as 2024, business is looking good.
Other bespoke weddings
If wet and windy in your wellies is more your thing – even on your big day – then there are a few places that can offer a completely new experience for couples.
For £250 Camusdarach Beach campsite at Arisaig gives access through the garden with parking in the field next to the beach (just over a minute’s walk through the sand dunes), use of loos at the campsite reception and use of the main Camusdarach beach for the ceremony.
Although currently on hold due to Covid, Birkenhill Farm, Banff, offers a taste of what a whimsical forest wedding could be like, with log benches, a dressed outdoor “cathedral” and indoor venue if it rains. From £600. Check the website for updates after Covid.
Western Isle Cruises at Mallaig offers private hire for weddings with chef, bar and below decks seating for a real nautical wedding adventure.