Five cups of coffee, half a pack of tissues and bucket-load of lemon sorbet…. and I’m finally ready to share my very own Real Wedding with you beautiful Festival Brides readers! Writing a Real Wedding feature about my own wedding has been a total emotional delight. I think I’ve brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘happy tears’… I’m sure most brides will agree that this pinnacle day in all of relationship history is so sacred that it’s often indescribable to people that weren’t actually there with you, living and breathing the moment for themselves. However, through bloodshot eyes and smiling cheeks, I’ve really tried my best to share our wedding with you as honestly and authentically as I can, in the hope that our alternative, outdoor, rustic, bohemian day will give inspiration to all you free-spirited brides. Think hippy, laidback with an ethereal touch of old-chic glamour and a whole lotta LOVE and you will be on your way to envisioning our day. Using Festival Brides and Pinterest as my guide, (OK, so I know I’m biased, but Festival Brides is THE best inspirational blog for brides like us!), we managed to create a dreamy DIY wedding on a shoestring budget. With just a third of most couple’s average wedding-spend, I think we’ve proved that you don’t have to break your back (or the bank) trying to afford your perfect wedding. The only thing you really need….is love.
A lot of our inspiration actually came from the venue itself. The beautiful, flowing aura and healing spiritual nature of Coed Hill made it incredibly easy for us to create something that fit. We wanted to use natural textures in the décor, wild flowers, haybales, hessian and keep it all quite simple. I think our slightly rough-round-the-edges lifestyle and laidback attitudes inspired us to be creative and unconventional. I guess we were the main inspiration for our wedding! Mix that with 10-years worth of love, an outdoor hippy paradise, and a budget less than half the national average wedding and boom – our wedding was born!!!
Home is where the heart is…. he proposed on our favourite Devonshire clifftop
One rainy day in January 2014, James told me that we were going away for the weekend. He didn’t say where, just that we were staying in this country and that I needed to pack a bag. We set off on a Friday night and hit the M5. I pretty much knew at that point that he was taking me home (Devon), however I still didn’t click why …..We hit my hometown and headed straight out the other side towards the North Devon Coast. Growing up on these beaches as a child meant that each sandy bay held a special place in my heart, but there’s one favourite cliff in particular that overlooks Saunton Sands and the sea as it curdles around to Croyde Bay. We were heading towards the cliff and even though it was complete darkness. I do remember thinking this was a little strange, I mean, it’s not like we could enjoy the view in the dark! I got out of the car and I could barely see a thing. I could hear the crashing of the waves below and feel the cold sea air. He walked around to my side of the car where I stood in the freezing cold and just kind of stood there in front of me without saying a word…. then he reached to his pocket. He held out the small box in front of me and asked me to marry him. I totally thought this was a joke, as James’ sense of humour is certainly unique, but as a car’s blinding headlights beamed towards us, the ring lit up in the reflection which confirmed this was no joke. I don’t even remember saying yes. I just hugged him and cried!
We shared the love at a hippy, eco, rural artspace retreat
We decided to get married 2-years later in July 2016 at Coed Hill Rural Artspace in Cowbridge, South Wales with only 6-months to plan! I didn’t have a dream venue in mind, but what I did know is that I didn’t want it to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill wedding. Bows on chairs, matching chair covers, hotel food – all that just gave me the creeps. So I started to Google ‘alternative wedding venues’ in Cardiff. Not much came up and I felt pretty uninspired in the first few days. Then I found Coed Hill Rural Artspace on a Netmums forum. It was a completely random find, there was no website, no reviews and no pictures online of any previous weddings, but something in my heart agreed that this was to be our venue. The next day I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I drove out into the country and after an hour of getting lost I finally found my muddy way into Coed. Even in out-of-season the place looked beautiful to me. I didn’t even need to see further than the wheelbarrows, caravans and artwork in the front courtyard to be certain that this was the place. I pretty much agreed to it within 5-minutes of being there! We hired the most beautiful Bell Tents from Bear and Butterflies for most of my family and some guests. The venue hired out a couple of their vintage on-site caravans and their hand-crafted Yurts to host the rest of our guests. As with most weddings, we had guests travelling from all over the world to be with us and so we wanted to accommodate them for the whole weekend. I always thought a day to celebrate marriage was far too short…….so we went for a full weekend celebration!
The team at Coed made the entire experience so enjoyable. They are flexible and incredibly open-minded when it comes to the creative planning process and pretty much anything goes. They will let you create your vision whole-heartedly and do anything to help nurture and inspire your ideas. Rob (the events co-ordinator) is such a warm, kind person and he worked with me on a very personal level. He truly engaged himself in our day and he actually lives onsite in one of the caravans along with the owner, Artist Rawley, and some of the other Coed Hill crew. The venue is extremely special to the people that live and work there which radiates throughout the buildings and the gardens that they personally up-keep. The actual grounds of the venue are vastly big and feature a lake, sculptures, hidden woodland dens and hideouts and the most beautiful surrounding countryside. I honestly believe this place is a one-off, a hidden gem that I felt very fortunate and touched to find.
Harmonious ceremony with a blessing of peace and love…..and a lot of song!
We’d known Carl and his wife Jane through my work and also through Quaynotes Choir which I’d been a part of for a few years. Carl had hosted many weddings and I knew that he would be the absolute best person to bring us together that day. Over time we formed an even closer relationship with them and on the day it felt as if our surrogate parents were marrying us! We had both the wedding ceremony and reception at Coed Hill. The ceremony took place on the top circular tier of the glass roof barn which meant my guests were able to see me walk in over the balcony. The main objective for our ceremony was to make it personal and true to us. A lovely friend of mine Naomi Gidney (a professional singer) sang my absolute favourite lovesong as I walked down the ailse – ‘Kissing You’ by Des’ree. Her version blew us away! I can’t even hear that song now without crying buckets! One of my best friends Hayley did a beautiful reading that we chose together, and my incredibly talented choir sang a Metallica song (James’ favourite), ‘Hallelujah’ and tradition welsh hymn ‘Calon Lan’. It was just beautiful. Our little girl sat with our two other mini-bridesmaids in the front row and her eyes filled with love as she watched us. If I could replay any moment from the whole day, it would be seeing her little face, so proud and so happy for her mummy and daddy.
Pretty bohemian hues and naturally wild petals
I knew I wanted simple flowers and the thought of spending a fortune on them made my palms sweat. I found Amanda French Flowers after she was recommended by another florist. I met with her over coffee and talked about my dress, the overall style of the wedding and the venue and she just got it. She sketched out a rough drawing of how the wedding arch would look, she suggested the most perfect tones and hues for the bouquets and buttonholes and she also had props for us to borrow including lanterns, candle holders and vases. I couldn’t believe id found her. I handed her a budget and she gave me everything I could have ever imagined and more. Her care, attention to detail and creative flourish was totally radiant on the day. I was so taken with the beauty and wildness of her work. I only wish Id seen her on the day to hug her and thank her properly!
Rustic setting, DIY décor, hand-carved tree slices and a whole host of personal touches….and tequila!
We hand tied tulle bows to each pillar in the barn and added fairy lights to the top and bottom tiers of the barn. I handmade absolutely everything, from the table runners to the seating plan. I may have only had 6-months but I totally made use of every single hour that I had! The centre pieces for the table were made from wood slices that my husband had been collecting from work and I collected giant glass coffee jars for the tea lights. He hand-soldered the tree slices to create the most beautiful and personalised wedding décor – one that held tea lights and a giant one that had our names on it at the bottom of the ceremony staircase. The place cards were hand cut and handwritten and the table names were mostly inspired by all the places that we’ve lived! (Aside from the ‘Marbella’ table which was where we met 10-years ago on our very wedding day). I bought a selection of different frames and displayed a picture of each place on each table. Saunton Sands held a spot on one of the tables!
I scoured Pinterest day and night for inspiration and found a collection of ideas that I knew I could pull together in the time that I had. It’s amazing what you can do with brown card, string, frames and chalk! We decorated the Bride and Groom’s table with a fairy light backdrop wall and hessian bunting saying ‘Just Married’. It looked divine! My husband and a few helpers picked a variety of wildflowers from Coed Hill to use in the cutlery wraps which we all tied together with brown string. Although most of the planning and buying of materials and accessories was done by me, the actual décor production and prep was a joint effort. Thankfully we had access to the venue 3-days before the wedding!
The favours were given to us as a wedding present by the wonderful Surrey Flynns (James’ Aunty and Uncle and his two cousins). They bought miniature beverage bottles and filled them with the most delicious multi-flavoured tequila by Cazcabel. We had coffee flavour and a honey flavour. Both equally delicious! Together on a table top production line in Aunty Caroline’s kitchen, they made up over 100 rustic-boxed and personally labelled the miniatures for our guests. Such a heartfelt gift that I will be forever grateful for. We all drank them during the speeches, well, I had a couple actually……certainly banished any lingering nerves!
Something old, something borrowed, something new…
My shoes were by Roland Cartier bought from Debenhams. I actually bought 3 pairs before I settled on these! And I love them still – I’ve worn them on nights out since! My hair was done by my dear friend Cath Daggitt-Masterson who is the best hairdresser in the world. We spent a few hours playing around with my hair one night and finally settled on the loose rose-bun. Classic but not too weddingy! She also did the bridesmaids hair along with a friend of hers. The hair was perfect and suited all of our individual styles. The bridesmaids had delicate white flowers in their hair and I wore a floor length plain sheer tulle veil that James Grandma had bought me. My jewellery was borrowed from Diane, my lovely kind dinner-lady friend from the school that I worked in. She always wears the most incredible jewellery and one day she came into work with a pair of beautiful Swarovski drop earrings and matching necklace. I couldn’t believe how perfect they were and also how kind she was to lend them to me.
My make-up was done by the incredible Kim Manson. I’m one of those typical girls who dislikes anyone doing my make-up……apart from Kim! I’d known her for a while and lots of my friends were clients of hers so I knew I’d be in good hands. She was brilliant and the poor girl had to do my make-up twice on the wedding morning as I’d cried it all off. Sorry Kim! She literally had to cleanse everything off and start all over again. Might have something to do with me being an hour late on the day. Every Bride’s prerogative right?!!
The adult bridesmaid dresses were from ASOS. I ordered 10-15 different styles/colours all in different sizes and we had a dressing up day at my house. Thankfully, we found a dress that suited all of them! They were around £30 each and I thought they were stunning. The flower girl dresses were from Monsoon and were around £50 each.
James didn’t have many responsibilities when it came to the planning of the wedding except to make sure he dressed himself and his best-men. 2-weeks before the wedding, he still didn’t have an outfit, nor did his 11-man crew of best men…….I decided not to panic or nag him, as I knew he would pull it off. Thank goodness he did, courtesy of the high street – so big thanks to H&M, TKMaxx, Moss Bross and the Tie Rack! The vision for the boys was that they shouldn’t exactly match. We decided that pale chinos and white shirts with braces were to be the staple items and in the end, everyone actually ended up providing their own outfits due to the lack of organisation on James’ part. My wonderful husband is a man of many talents but organising anything other than getting out of bed in the mornings isn’t his forte! However, I wouldn’t have dressed any of them any better myself – they all looked so cool and just so handsome. And James’ outfit completely blew me away. He wore a metallic navy blue suit, brown leather shoes (River Island) and the most adorable bow-tie with motorbike cufflinks! I know I’m biased, but handsome doesn’t even come close to how he looked that day.
From Grace loves lace to enzoani….
I had a very specific designer in mind for my dress; Grace Loves Lace. From the moment I saw GLL on Festival Brides I was hooked. The patterns, materials and free-spirited elegance of these dresses is undeniable. But it wasn’t meant to be…. I obsessively searched for GLL dresses every day morning til night for 3-months hoping to find an affordable second-hand gown in time. At full price, I wasn’t willing to risk ordering from Australia as I just didn’t have time on my side. I’d been fighting against going traditional wedding dress shopping for fear of being disappointed. I was certain there wouldn’t be anything even slightly bohemian or even half as beautiful as GLL. But with 3-months to go, I had no choice. With a giant huff, I gave in and I was so unexcited by the thought that I didn’t invite anyone to come with me! I finally found my dress on a sale rack at All About Eve in Newport. I hadn’t spotted it, but the store assistant suggested I try it on to which I completely hesitated. It was quite different from everything I’d imagined and it had far too much glamour about it to suit me. However, once I put it on and had a good half an hour look at it from all different angles I decided that I could pull this one off. I arranged a second-viewing before buying it and this time I took my mum, sister-in-law and one of my besties, the gorgeous Festival Brides founder Laura! They all agreed that this was ‘the one’.
Photography and videography heaven
I found our photographer Tim Bishop by hunting online. I had no clue where to start, but once Id seen his portfolio and website I knew I had to have him. We chatted by email and then spoke on the phone and connected instantly. He loved the sound of our venue and it seemed to suit his preferred wedding style. We met for a drink one night and became friends pretty quickly. He put us both at ease and knew how to capture us. I first realised this during our pre-wedding photoshoot down at Ogmore Beach. We waited for the perfect sunset and one June evening, we all met up at the cliffs for the shoot. He is patient and a real professional. In fact, I am so thankful to Tim, not only for his incredible professional service but also on a personal level, for his love and support on the day and in the lead up to our wedding. He helped keep me calm, he fit in with my friends and I barely noticed he was there on the day. A true artist and a true gent……we are still friends now and I will be forever grateful to him for capturing our wedding the way he did.
Our videographer was Zach Gidney from ZG Videography. I’ve known Zach for a couple of years so I trusted that he would do a fantastic job and he absolutely did. If it wasn’t for Zach and his creative vision, our wedding film would’ve probably been just like everyone else’s. But he understood what was important to us and the love we had for each person present that day, and of course, the love we have for each other. Him and his partner-in-crime Ashley did the most impeccable job and I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve watched this video. It is edited exactly to the spec that I gave Zach including the overall filtered finish. It gives me goose bumps each and every time. Thank you Zach!!!
It’s all about the music
One of my biggest criteria for our wedding, aside from the décor, food and all the usual stuff, was the music. Ive been to countless weddings where the music has been so dire the party never properly gets started and in the end you’re forced to dance along to cringey classics like ‘Brown-eyed girl’ and ‘Build me up buttercup’. Not one single wedding-classic stood a chance of making our playlist and thankfully I had an incredibly versatile DJ who was open to playing exactly what we wanted. Before the DJ arrived, we put on our own playlist which ran throughout the day until he arrived early evening. We were truly blessed with the weather which meant he could set up outside. Having people dance and party outside in the sun was reminiscent of Ibiza holidays. The atmosphere was electric! We brought the party inside at around 10pm as it got dark and didn’t stop dancing until past 2am.
Love on top!!!
For anyone that knows me, you will know that I absolutely heart Beyoncé. So many of her songs remind me of different times and eras of my life. ‘Love on Top’ is one of her songs that James also fell in love with after seeing her perform it live on TV one night. We’d dance around to it in the house with our little girl and belt it out as if we were her personal backing singers! I thought it would be a really fun first dance song as we love it, everyone knows it and lyrically its perfect! Straight after the first dance came ‘Born to Hand-Jive’ from the film Grease. This song had become a traditional wedding favourite amongst my best friends as they all pretty much had it to follow their first dances. It holds great memories for us girls and I knew it would get everyone dancing (not that anyone needed any encouragement, the party was in full-swing by this point!).
It was at this moment that all the apprehension, nervous energy and tireless stress of planning went out the window for me, as I went wild to the hand-jive. I was like a woman possessed. My glorious Enzoani master-piece dress, my delicately pinned rose-bun and veil took a backseat while I quite literally lost control I had all the guests crowded around me cheering me on as I busted out some serious-moves, working the circle like some sort of celebrity. I even did a Dirty Dancing run and lift with James which he was totally unprepared for but thankfully he caught me and lifted me like a pro. It was the dance of my life!
Crème de la Crème of crepes
Upon arrival our guests were treated to a selection of Italian meats, crackers, olives, breadsticks, chutneys and all sorts of nibbles as well as prosecco of course! We also had home-made hummus and a delightful asparagus dip made by my beautiful and kind friend Kate. Everyone loved it and the choir stayed for canapes too. The sun shone, everyone sat out on the haybales and gathered around the firepit – it was magical. We bought all of our arrival drinks and table wines from Aldi – you can’t beat it! For main course we had a traditional BBQ hosted by a local company called Owen Catering. Little did I know when I booked them that James and Tom Owen went to primary school together which turned out to be another lovely personal connection. The BBQ was great and so relaxed. We didn’t have an order for people to go up and get their food, we just let the service happen organically. In the evening we had the most delicious crepes and waffles by another local guy called Tim from Sub-Rosa. I found Tim online and he threw the most incredible tasting session for me, James and Ava a few months before the wedding. Our guests raved about the food which made us super happy. Everyone single one of our suppliers put their heart and soul into making our day so special and so personal.
How can I possible pick one moment….from start to finish our day was super-charged, it burst from the seams with love and it captured absolutely everyone’s hearts and exceeded all our expectations in every way imaginable. If I had to pick one, it would be the moment I walked into the barn with my dad by my side. I couldn’t bring myself to look up but I knew everyone including James had their eyes on me from above as they looked over the wooden beams. When I reached the top of the candlelit stairs, I did a lap of the circular balcony to my entrance song, which gave me a chance to see my guests before I finally got to see James. Standing in front of him, right there, in that moment, I knew that all my dreams were about to come true. I’ve never felt anything like it.
The best advice I could give, is to let your love and personalities shine through on your wedding day. After all, this day is supposed to be about you and your relationship, your family and your friends. Its a holistic celebration of love and life! Don’t let the little things cause you drama and try not to be persuaded into making choices that fit into the normal realms of wedding planning. You don’t have to have the best of everything and you don’t have to spend a fortune. We spent £14,000 on our wedding and with that budget, we created the day of a lifetime not only for us, but for everyone. Create a day that you would want to be invited to!
Use your gut instinct but also do your research when it comes to suppliers. We had the best line-up of people involved in our wedding and they were all chosen because of the connections we felt with them from the very start. I really believe this is what shaped our day into such a success as it was full of so many personal touches from suppliers that went over and above to add to our happiness. Also, use your friends and family, let them help and integrate them into your day as much as possible, especially if you’re going to have as many DIY elements as we did. I took so much on alone when it came to planning and making, as I’m so used to working this way, but I actually wish Id been a little more open to asking for help!
The Line Up
Photographer: Tim Bishop Photography
Videographer: ZG Videography
Venue: Coed Hill Rural Artspace
Flowers: Amanda French Flowers
Bell Tents: Bear and Butterflies
Make-up: Kim Manson
Catering: Owen Catering
Wedding favour Miniatures: Cazcabel
Brides Dress: Enzoani
Groom’s Outfit: A mix of high street!