From what we wore, to the type of wedding we wanted, this series of wedding posts will cover all the small details and how we arrived at the decisions we made for our wedding.
There was no grand proposal or big moment when we decided to get married. Sam and I already had children, and had always talked about marriage and, more specifically, having a wedding, being something we definitely wanted to do at a time in life when it suited us. Ie, once we were done having babies / being pregnant, and most importantly, once we could afford to have the celebration we most wanted to have. Planning our wedding started, simply, when we decided we had enough funds to make it work.
One evening when we were driving back from a weekend away in Camber Sands, when Otto, our youngest was around 4 months old, Sam said something along the lines of “I think we have the means to start saving for a wedding in a year or two. I think we could make that budget happen if we want to”. And that was how our wedding planning journey was born.
How to chose a wedding venue
The first step in choosing a wedding venue is to work out your guestlist numbers, your ideal wedding venue ‘vibe’, and the price range you are willing to spend on a venue.
Sam and I already had a pretty good idea of our numbers (BIG! – we both have large families) and the sort of wedding venue we would love, so we set to work almost immediately trying to find the right place. My wishlist was something like this:
An outdoor wedding venue with rainy day fallback options (I’ve always felt more comfortable outdoors in and amongst nature rather than in an enclosed room, so having an outdoor or woodland wedding ceremony was always how I’d imagine I’d get married).
A DIY wedding venue that allows us to choose our own food vendors rather than an inflexible menu with a per head price.
Somewhere significant to us and our relationship (this one wasn’t a must have, but just a bonus if we could get married in a location that meant something to us. An example: I originally looked at a stately home venue just yards away from the uni halls of residence where Sam and I lived and met, but it just didn’t have the vibe we were going for).
A wedding venue that we could hire for a weekend rather than just a day – we didn’t feel one day was long enough to spend with our friends and family, especially as we were inviting 120 people!
A wedding venue where our friends and family could stay on site (some camping would be fine but would also need to have some more ‘proper’ accommodation, too.)
A wedding venue that is ‘naturally pretty’ and makes the most of its landscape.
Choosing a festival wedding venue
We started looking at festival style wedding venues, as these seemed to fit most of the requirements of our wishlist. We found quite a vast difference in UK festival wedding venues. Some are literally just a field – the benefit being that it’s a total blank canvas, but the downside meaning a whole lot more organisation in hiring toilets, wedding reception tipis, etc. We didn’t feel that we had time for that level of organising!
We found ourselves gravitating towards UK festival wedding venues that already had toilets and a barn or marquee. I found several weekend wedding venues that ticked most of our boxes but didn’t quite match up to all of our expectations. Then Sam found what looked like the perfect outdoor wedding venue for us on paper.
The guest cottages at Hawthbush Farm
Not only did it have all the essentials from our wishlist, like camping and cottage options, rainy and dry day ceremony options, weekend wedding hire, and a really outdoorsy feel – it had that all-important significance to us because the location was really close to our old uni campus (you had to drive past the campus to get to the venue). The views across this festival wedding venue looked out to Beachy Head, a place Sam and I had visited many times before when we lived in Brighton. Sam was sold when he discovered this weekend wedding venue had its own microbrewery, and you could order kegs for your wedding reception.
We went to visit Hawthbush farm on a beautifully sunny September day. Whilst there, we could picture all our friends and family there, exactly where we’d put this and that, and we got such a great sense of how the day would unfold at Hawthbush Farm, and how relaxed and exciting it felt to think about having our wedding there. Hawthbush Farm is a woodland wedding venue in Sussex.
We only saw one wedding venue, which, as a born planner, is FAR from how I imagined things would go. But it ticked all the boxes and it felt completely right for our outdoor wedding. We didn’t feel that we needed to visit anywhere else.
Hawthbush Farm had a woodland wedding ceremony area, like many UK outdoor wedding venues. But one of the biggest selling points for me was the natural beauty of the reception barn at Hawthbush Farm. The photographer in me noted that it had great light, and the bare wood floors and ceilings were beautiful enough on their own, that it wouldn’t need any extra decoration if we decided that was all a bit too much effort for us. I knew the barn would look great with just the simplest of table flowers on the rustic wood benches, which was exactly the kind of relaxed, minimal effort look we were after.
Choosing a wedding date
We found that in order to have our pick of most dates in what is known as ‘high season’, we were looking at least 18 months ahead. When it comes to choosing your wedding date and wedding venue availability, most venues will be booked up for the upcoming summer, but will have good availability for the summer after that – unless it’s a particularly exclusive or unique venue.
When it came to choosing a wedding date, we knew we definitely wanted to have our wedding in high season. I am a summer girl, it’s my happiest time of year. I love the long days, sitting outside on a balmy evening well into the night. Plus, we had the children to think about – having our wedding during the school summer holidays would be least disruptive for them, whilst also minimising the chances of them being poorly for our wedding day (this was one of my worst anxieties when wedding planning – our children are constantly getting ill throughout autumn and winter and I just couldn’t bear the thought that one of them might be under the weather and unable to enjoy the day with us).
As our wedding would be nearly two years away, we had our pick of dates for summer 2018. In the end, we settled on the last weekend of July. The kids would have had one week off school by that point so would have had a chance to catch their breath after the exhausting last few weeks of term in July. Plus it left the whole of August free, which we were hoping would be the least disruptive for guests planning their summer holidays.
Is a DIY wedding the cheapest option?
My main take home from picking a DIY festival wedding venue is that it’s hard to get a grasp on your budget until your wedding planning is fully underway. In the beginning, you are just guessing at a rough ballpark idea of what things might cost, because you’ve never done this before and those figures only really start to take form once you’ve contacted vendors for quotes. With a venue that supplies everything for you, it is MUCH easier to grasp what your final wedding cost total will be from a much earlier stage.
Planning a DIY wedding can be great fun and gives you so much flexibility to have your wedding exactly the way you want it, but it’s not necessarily always the cheaper option, and you do need to be prepared for unknown costs here and there.
Now our venue was officially booked in, it was time to start sending out invites and looking into catering and bar quotes for our completely DIY wedding venue! Stay tuned for those details in the next posts in my wedding series.
More photos of our outdoor wedding venue. Photography by Shari and Mike: