Planning an English country wedding | Part 3: The venue

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).

There are quite a few stone circles in Lancashire. There’s one on Extwistle Moor—‘Spooky,’ utters my mother with a disdainful eye-wobble. And another on Oswaldtwistle Moor. ‘Freezing,’ with a knowing shudder.

‘What about the one in the Forest of Bowland?’

Since our last conversation, my father has consulted with an archbishop on the subject of stone circles (the existence of which he previously denied) and takes great joy in pointing out that this one is actually made of wood.

We are up north for a weekend of wild-goose chasing in frivolously warm weather. On the way back from tea with friends, I frighten my parents with a shout. I have spotted a ruined tower that could be somehow important in The Wedding. Wearily, they trudge behind me, dodging cowpats and harbouring grudges. I wave from an archway and my humouring fiancé and I hold a mock wedding ceremony, slightly obliterated by sounds from the nearby motorway. Later, we will discover that the photographs my mother is taking feature nothing but her well-manicured thumb. Modernity is similarly problematic at the ruins of St Patrick’s chapel, on the headland at Heysham. The view out to sea is stupendous and the wild, salty air invigorating—I imagine a bedraggled but bohemian wedding party, laughingly holding onto their hats and dancing in procession along the cliff, perhaps to the strains of that plinky-plonky song from the wedding in The Godfather, or The Wicker Man-esque folk music. Heysham village is sweet. The only problem is its enormous, ugly ferry terminal, a sprawling mass of industry that appears just around the bend of the headland. Once you know it’s there, you can almost hear it humming. My plinky-plonky accordion grinds to a discordant halt.

We are in the car when Jamie drops a bomb. He adores organ music; an organ must be heard at The Wedding. My parents do not speak, but their glee is deafening. Organ means church. I suppose I wouldn’t mind not getting rained on.

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St Hubert’s in Dunsop Bridge is supposedly at the exact centre of Britain. It was built on the winnings of Kettledrum, the 1861 Derby winner, and its interior invokes hushed silence. Without, there is much talk of what we would do with the guests—the church only seats 100. My suggestion that those of sharp hearing could sit on hay bales in the graveyard is pooh-poohed.

That night, over supper at the Inn at Whitewell, we shake our heads. Stuffed with pie, sticky toffee pudding and dashed hopes, we head from the hills back to London.

Next time, it’s Hoghton Tower, a fortified manor down the road from my parents with ‘excellent shooting’. I’m not sure what shooting has to do with it, but it’s been brought up a lot. It is beautiful, majestic and has played a prominent part in my childhood—farmer’s markets, outdoor theatre, egg-and-spoon races, ghost stories. Oh, and ‘excellent shooting’.

Sunshine suits the castle, imbuing the sandstone battlements with un-Lancashire-like warmth. A medieval marketplace is being re-enacted on the front lawn as we stroll through walled gardens and climb crumbling towers. This place has romance, I think.

But, sound the trumpets, Jamie has another declaration to make. This time, he reminds me of a character from Little Britain: ‘I don’t like dark wood.’

‘But this is the table at which James I knighted the loin of beef!’ we cry.
‘You like sirloin,’ I add encouragingly.

He is unmoved. And as there isn’t a favoured church—or stone circle—nearby, I’m not disappointed. Also, ever since my father introduced himself to our tour guide as the groom, and me as his bride—are all fathers this awkward?—I haven’t been able to look her in the eye. We beat a hasty retreat.

planning an english country wedding

Trough of Bowland, Lancashire

Finally, I can picture The Wedding (or so I think). A crush in St Hubert’s, then a free-spirited shindig outdoors. Did I mention Pool Field? It belongs to some friends (the ones with the tea) and is in the heart of the Bowland AONB; we will dance on the grass while the sun sets over the valley.

‘This is dreamy,’ I giggle, skipping down to the River Loud.

Once again, the old folks are unimpressed. Despite the acres of land at our disposal, they wonder where people will park. They think the river at the bottom of the field (down a steep drop) is dangerous—their aged bones might take a tumble.

It is a bit of a hazard. But only if you go near it. Or fall over. Or are elderly. Or drunk. But many a party has been held in this field and I’m pretty sure no one died. They may have even had fun.

Last year, my 71-year-old father went bungee jumping over Victoria Falls and cage-diving with crocodiles in Zimbabwe (moron). My mother used to gallop about this county bareback and barefooted, chasing bulls and flaunting boundaries. Now, they are frightened of modern words like ‘generator’ and ‘water mains connectivity’.

Back in the car, I have an idea that could freshen our thinking. ‘Shall we go back for a quick swim?’
Wordlessly, but with vigour, my mother unzips her handbag and spritzes herself with her signature scent, Clinique Aromatics Elixir. This generous deluge lasts for at least 30 seconds and chokes the entire car into submission. Desperately, we grasp window buttons and rasp in our throats. It’s a technique I recognise from my childhood. She is not amused.

planning an english country wedding

The Venue: Grade II*-listed Leighton Hall, Arnside & Silverdale AONB, Lancashire

Another weekend, another scavenger hunt. This time, finally, we hit gold. The rolling parkland of Leighton Hall, overlooking the Lakeland fells, is gloriously wild, the gardens and woodlands are fit-for-frolicking and the softly Gothic house is welcoming and has a Catholic history (ding ding ding).

We’ll connect a marquee to the back, so the house will be in use throughout the party, and Suzie, who lives there and will help us to organise ourselves, is fun and down to earth. What’s more, she knows all about those ‘scary’ generators. Let the wedding planning commence…

To be continued…

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