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Alternative Weddings in the South West

Pic credit Helen Abraham

Unless you got married recently you’re probably unaware that alternative weddings have become a big thing in the South West.

Why go down that clichéd old church, dinner and dancing route when you could go the whole hog and have your own festival instead? Vintage china, outlandish cakes, boutique camping, your own pop up manor house… the new Bridezillas will stop at nothing. Of course Kate Moss kicked off the trend with her festival wedding in Gloucestershire last year.

Canopy & Stars, the glamping experts, recently began offering wedding venues to cater to a growing demand for people wanting to get married in their beautiful locations.

Die-hard hippies will love Plan-It Earth near Penzance in Cornwall, a spectacular 7 acre site with two grass-topped roundhouses. Tailor made humanist celebrations (no license for formal marriages) take place in the ancient healing well where the bride and groom are blesssed with water. Late night music round the fire at this mystical venue and camping for up to 40 guests in the woodland.

Pennard House in Somerset, another Canopy & Stars venue, has an idyllic country church 200 metres from the beautiful main house, a cool and stylish Coach House with mega sound system for the party and a tipi village for your guests.

Tipi village at Pennard House

Tom Dixon founder of Canopy & Stars says: "We’ve always been focused on the whole experience of being outdoors, creating amazing and beautiful spaces, so festival style weddings fit perfectly with what we’re all about. As with our holidays we want the experience to extend beyond the space itself and so our weddings should be about great locally sourced food, creative and quirky touches and detail.’

Many people now want their weddings to last several days with friends and family joining them on a mini holiday. It’s the most expensive party you’re ever likely to throw so you may as well get your money’s worth. Glamping in bell tents, tipis or yurts is ideal - less expensive but more romantic and original than taking over a hotel.

Tom adds: “Turning a wedding into a longer event for friends and families seems to be a huge trend. It’s great as everyone feels more involved as opposed to the more traditional church/reception/dinner/speech/disco/taxi format!”

Laleh Dastgerdi of hip events management company Potent Productions finds people want more creative edge in their weddings. There's no challenge too big for these supreme party organisers who have recently styled Wacky Races, Carry on Camping and Quentin Tarantino themed parties. Potent can even provide your own pop up manor house for the day - decked out with chandeliers, table lamps, leather Chesterfields and a bar lit to your choice of colour. When Laleh describes the kind of wedding party you could have - 24 hour manor house, a nightclub pod on one side, a pod for children and nannies on the other - well it makes you want to get married all over again.

Potent Production's pop up manor house

Based at Sparkford Hall (itself a perfect venue for weddings) she recently put together an alternative weddings expo there which featured many of the South West's most cutting edge events companies - yurt designers, flag makers, photo booth hire, even wet shave specialists. Sparkford Hall has also begun offering stag and hen parties and you can be sure there's nothing mainstream or pedestrian about these themed speakeasy nights held in the converted cellar.

And then there's Festivalbrides - the company name says it all - which was recently set up by Kelly and Laura, two friends who wanted to style their own weddings like mini festivals. Tired of the conveyor belt feel of many wedding venues they set up a directory to showcase the alternatives -  venues, caterers, photographers, florists, stationers many of whom are in the South West.

Kelly says:"We started the blog as we both felt confused, lost, frustrated and a little let down by the wedding industry. Our ideas and visions just didn't fit the mould of a traditional wedding day.'

Festival Brides shot by Kirsten Mavric

Amanda Baird of catering company The Utterly Sexy Cafe in Tisbury, Wiltshire was way ahead of the curve when she began creating vintage weddings almost ten years ago using her huge collection of vintage china, glass and linen.

She says: "Back then everyone had formal dinners with white china. I started styling vintage dinners and tea parties which was very different - now 10 years later everyone is doing it.'

There's some serious attention to detail going on in an Utterly Sexy event - Amanda will even bring flowers from her own cutting garden. Her cakes are mindblowingly good and extraordinarily artistic - it makes you wonder why anyone ever bothers with the traditional white tiered cake.

Jewel box cake by Amanda Baird.

Bristol Vintage is another West Country company specialising in vintage feel weddings. Vintage tea sets (cake stands, jugs for flowers, the whole shebang) come with cotton bunting and a wind up gramophone for true nostalgia.

Hipster brides will want to order their bouquets from Bristol and Devon based Bellaandfifflowers which specialises in local, organic, ethical flowers. Most brides want their flowers to look as though they've just been picked from the meadow, according to Fifi but these girls can create literally anything.

Last weekend it was a festival head-dress for a West Country bride and they can even make a floral dress. Their bouquets are totally stand out or as they say "a little bit of floral alchemy".

As for the wedding dress - alternative brides should look no further than Minna, a Dorset-based fashion designer who has recently designed a range of vintage-feel bridal dresses that are anything but traditional. In the height of recession, ostentatious weddings have begun to fall out of favour and the Finnish designer's cool, pared down dresses have been a big hit. In September Minna is opening a store at Gold Hill Farm, Child Okeford, so West Country brides will be able to try on her creations.

She says: "No one else seemed to be gearing up for the anti-bridal market and designing dresses that you can wear beyond the day.’

And that's what seems to be key in the new style weddings - people want something that's unique and memorable but in a more laid-back, low-key way.

As Laleh Dastgerdi says: "It's not a question of showing off and spending lots more money. People just want something more creative.'


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