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Truly, madly, camping

by Sam Pow

Planning a wedding should be a happy occasion – but let's keep it real, people! The current economic squeeze has made tying the knot a challenge for the modern couple seeking ways to celebrate saying “I do”. If the £25k-and-rising ceremonies of old – where guests are expected to finance babysitters, 5-star accommodation, expensive items from expensive wedding lists, and never-to-be-worn-again millinery - don't sit comfortably with you, then here’s something to think about. Imagine, if you will, a picturesque field with your nearest and dearest, blue skies above, trees, birds singing, campfires, sky lanterns and…. yes, tents to sleep in. A beautiful bride is running through green, green grass with flowers in her hair; she’s glowing with happiness, and life is good. Yes, camping weddings are not only great fun, (and hugely popular now), they can also be easy on the budget. And anything that gives you more to spend on a honeymoon is a great idea, right?

Of course, I’m biased – because my own wedding was a camping wedding. And honestly, it was one of the best few days of my life. We took over a beautiful campsite in Dorset, bought a huge tent to serve as the ‘marquee’, and all our friends happily mucked in to make it a weekend to remember.

My gregarious American cousin compered, while our loved ones heckled and cheered and toasted the tale behind our matrimony. My husband and I read passages; his was a pop song we'd both loved as teenagers (before we'd met), mine was an excerpt from an astrology book (I thought he needed reminding that my star sign doesn't do housework). Our best friends read wonderful poems, culminating with a concoction of lyrics by my favourite recording artist. It was all very special and heart-warming, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. One first dance later – complete with choreographed fancy swing moves – and we pressed play on our low-volume playlists (lest you forget, sound travels in the country). Cocktails flowed, kids were put to bed, stories were shared around the main fire.

Hosting a two-day affair seemed to work better than a one-night social frenzy, and allowed guests to relax and get to know each other. Being outdoors created the perfect environment for the kids to run free and bond with each other, just as bumping into other guests at the shower cubicles was an ice-breaker for the adults. We'd hired a bouncy castle for the next day, which arrived while my new husband was cooking breakfast for 100 guests over a firepit (thank goodness for supermarket deliveries, keeping several tonnes of bacon fresh isn't a viable option in the middle of nowhere). And even the weather was kind to us, a little windy, but no rain drops in sight. The fresh air was invigorating, in the special way that scented countryside breezes are. All in all, a perfect weekend, with many happy memories.

Camping weddings – tips for success

So here are my tips for making your camping wedding a great success – while saving some pennies along the way.

Venue - There are places that have a special licence for marriages in an outside structure, but it’s more flexible to keep the ‘official’ marriage to a registry office, then have a blessing in your chosen outdoor setting. So find a registry office, church, town hall, or other licenced premises… then party in the countryside with friends. Choose a campsite with equipped facilities, or find your own field and hire a marquee. In our case, we sourced an affordable large garden tent that we later sold on.

Food and Drink - Sit down wedding meals can be very grand, but in these hard-pressed times who cares about the canapés du jour or the silver-service spatchcock duck and Eton Mess, when you could be sampling countryside-reared, organic pork hog roast washed down with DIY cocktails from a makeshift bar.

Accommodation - If you're mixing friends with family, book up the local B&Bs for the elderly relatives to retire to, allowing the youngsters to party on then crash out in tents on-site.

What to spend - You can be as lavish or as budget-conscious as you wish (champagne or prosecco?; 4 spreads or 3?; fireworks or fires?). But remember, nature is free and sometimes, chic is cheap, or at least it is when you have an ounce of style in your bones.

Pull in favours - Ask friends to help out, donate or make bunting, bring tasty cakes along for a tea party (much more fun than a three-tiered wedding cake) – and if any friends are florists get them on board! Guests will be happy to pay for their own pitch (around £20 for a family of 4).

Brainstorm - Add your own ideas. Adorn tables with small bunches of wild flowers. Throw your bouquet from atop a tree. (The girl who caught ours had her own camping wedding the following summer). Instead of favours, give everyone something on arrival; we opted for brightly-coloured garlands.

Things I Wish I'd Known:

  • Invite more people, there's always more space in fields than you might imagine (but then I believe this is a common regret among brides wherever they marry).
  • If you're taking a baby, take a babysitter – this is one weekend you really should not be looking after junior the whole time!
  • Allocate someone else to be in charge of on-site organisation instead of trying to help people put up tents while running through mental check lists – there's being relaxed and there's inviting stress, never the two should meet at your own wedding!

Things we got right:

  • Do tell guests with kids to bring plenty of snacks, to save them travelling offsite when hungry.
  • Provide a list of attractions near the site – camping should be a mini break for everyone to enjoy.
  • Separate couples in a different camping area to young families, so they can have a lie-in.
  • Choose a site with glamping accommodation options to assist the travellers and the camp-shy, and ideally one with electric hook ups for the campervan fans.
  • Rally everyone to enjoy the stars alongside you, and spend your first days of married life running barefoot in the grass. Gorgeous.

So that's it! Hopefully your day will go as smoothly as mine. And as for the honeymoon - well, there's always a camping trip!