With “staycations” currently in vogue, many UK couples planning a wedding anniversary getaway this year will be inclined to stay as close as possible to home. From luxury hotels with sumptuous spas and gourmet restaurants for a weekend of delicious pampering to bucolic boutique establishments in the midst of nature for a more serene celebration… the options throughout Britain are diverse and alluring.
Or perhaps stepping back into time to relive an era when lovers were forced to elope to fulfil their wedding dreams. Gretna Green is steeped in romantic history, an iconic destination for those wanting to rekindle the fires of passion or simply savour the delights and charms of a classic parish village where marriage is celebrated in venerable style.
On re-opening in July, Gretna Green established a series of strict health and safety protocols to re-assure visitors, with access phased in to initially accommodate residents and later tourists from the rest of the UK -– and eventually overseas holidaymakers when travel restrictions are eased and full confidence is restored in holidays abroad.
More than 800,000 people visit the destination during a “normal” year, and over 1,000 weddings and nearly 200 blessings are held within the Famous Blacksmiths Shop, which was the original marriage house.
The whole area of Gretna Green and nearby Gretna – a planned town built during World War I to provide homes for 30,000 employees of the then largest munitions factory in the world (14.5 kilometres long) – welcomes around 5,000 couples every year tying the knot. This represents about 13 per cent of all weddings in Scotland.
Gretna Green’s “runaway past” dates to the mid-18th century, when English lords approved new laws requiring couples in England and Wales to be 21 years of age before they could marry without their parents’ consent – and their wedding had to take place in a church.
Under Scottish law, however, they could marry on the spot, in a simple “marriage by declaration” or “handfasting” ceremony. Inevitably, this led to an influx of young couples to Gretna Green, the first village across the border in Scotland and located on the main route from London.
Gretna Green Ltd., a family business founded in 1885, operates the former rural hamlet’s Famous Blacksmiths Shop, Gretna Hall Historic Marriage House and Hotel, flagship Smiths boutique hotel and Old Toll Bar café – among other major tourist resort attractions.
Guests have the opportunity of being married “over the anvil”, staying in one of the luxurious hotel suites, savouring a romantic meal, enjoying a family day out at the museum and “courtship maze”, or shopping for Scottish gifts and luxury brands.
But, as members of the fourth-generation family currently running the resort note, “You don’t have to get married at Gretna Green to be a part of the world’s greatest love story. We also offer Anvil Blessings and Anvil Handfasting ceremonies in our Famous Blacksmiths Shop. Both are informal ceremonies, conducted by our Blacksmiths Guides, and are a wonderful way to celebrate special occasions or to simply commemorate your visit.”
In order to “protect the health of your family and ours”, Gretna Green is following COVID-19 guidelines set out by the Scottish government. “We will update the limited numbers at each stage, in line with the changes in regulations outlined by the Scottish Government and amend any requirements accordingly. To protect both our visitors and colleagues, we have put in place high-standards of COVID-secure measures, including social distancing, enhanced cleaning processes, hand-sanitising stations.”
Main photo (top) and photo below – VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins