Planning an English country wedding | Part 1: The engagement

Join Country Life’s Annunciata Walton from engagement through to ‘I do’, as she tracks the highs and lows of planning a rural wedding up north (from London).

Rabbits were everywhere, lolling on lawns, rolling in flowerbeds—this Sussex garden is where it started, with a ring and a bunch of bunnies.

‘Do you think this hotel has a rabbit problem?’ I said, pre-proposal, as my fiancé-to-be had an awkward tussle with his jumper. He’d tied it round his waist, which was unusual. Later on, he explained that the box wouldn’t fit in his trouser pocket, so he’d had the ingenious (not) idea of slipping it into the sleeve of said jumper, before double-knotting it to himself like a schoolboy. He was walking with a John Wayne gait to prevent it slipping out the bottom. Casanova was no Englishman.

Putting his behaviour down to the need for a drink, I tried to drag him inside. He refused. He said he wanted to walk a bit more. He never wants to walk a bit more. After scrutinising every corner of the garden like a paranoid bodyguard, he chose a curved bench, forced me to sit down, had another tussle with his jumper and told me a few home truths that ended with the word ‘wife’.

Somehow, this was extremely shocking. I had had no suspicions. It wasn’t odd for him to behave oddly, if you see what I mean. Dumbly, I stared at the box he was holding, wondering if I should open it or give an answer first. I opened the box.

I had never thought much about what an engagement ring should be. I’ve seen many beautiful ones, some simple and elegant, others bold and exquisite. My mother’s is characteristically her—two powerful, intertwining towers of diamonds in graduating size; my grandmother’s a simple oval aquamarine surrounded by diamonds, à la Diana, Princess of Wales (and now the Duchess of Cambridge), only a bit paler, more subtle. I suppose it depends on the person.

Well, I am very lucky indeed. Bentley & Skinner, jeweller by Royal Appointment to The Queen and The Prince of Wales, is legendary—and my ring lives up to its legacy. It is a sizeable ruby, framed by two diamonds of equal magnitude, filled with purest white light, and enclosed in a crown setting.

It belonged to Jamie’s grandmother. I never met her, but she was a Lancastrian like me. Jamie reckons his grandfather chose it because it represented the Red Rose of Lancaster (ruby) and the White Yorkshire Rose (diamonds) in dazzling harmony. He was a lovable, clever, kind man and I adored him—the image of him picking out this ring at Skinner & Co in the 1950s (pre the Bentley & Co merger) makes me feel a part of his happy family legacy.

We announced our engagement in The Telegraph, amid much discussion on correct terminology and the placement of multiple ‘of’s. In fact, our betrothal was announced twice. The first time, one of the said ‘of’s was actually an ‘or’—disaster! Nobody had noticed, but my mother used her powers of persuasion and The Telegraph ran it again. Engaged twice in the space of two days—not bad, eh?

After a few weeks of Champagne quaffing, I am now partially deaf; every person I know has shrieked in my ear mid hug. Dehydrated and through bleary eyes, I peer at the 2017 calendar, looking for a date that says ‘The Wedding’.

We’ve decided, vaguely, on next spring, and now that The Wedding is officially up for discussion (earlier attempts at getting us to fix a date failed), my father has gone into overdrive.  He’s been planning this for years. I’m his only daughter and I suspect he has written his father-of-the-bride speech already, possibly in a hospital waiting room 31 years ago—he’s very officious.

He is also a traditionalist. He imagines my getting married in the local church, where he was married, and holding my reception in the grounds of the local castle. My mother, on the other hand, has been noticeably quiet on the subject of The Wedding. Possibly, I suspect, aghast at the prospect of being put to work.

We kick things off by planning a weekend in Lancashire. It’s where I’m from, so it’s a good starting point. I speak to the old man before we travel up and break the news that I might like to be married outdoors.

‘It’s not practical,’ he says.
‘It’d still be Catholic,’ I add, quickly.
‘What about women with shoes?’ he says.
‘They can wear flats.’
‘It’ll rain.’
‘It might not.’
No one makes the obvious point—that we are talking about the North of England.
Long pause.
Tentatively, ‘Are there any stone circles in Lancashire?’

This is a lie, as I later discover.

To be continued…

Look out for the next instalment as Annie plans her English country wedding, delving into a world of dress-shopping, venues, flowers, bridesmaids, intensive decision-making, cake-eating, wine-tasting and much, much more.