Tamara Pitelen joins the well-trod path to Gretna Green to get married over a blacksmith’s anvil.

I got married today [at time of typing]. Actually, it was an elopement because we didn’t tell anyone till afterwards.

Gretna Green, Scotland, Eloping Two

Myself and the man who I am now getting accustomed to calling ‘my husband’ – without giggling into my hand – travelled yesterday from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to Gretna Green in Scotland in order to plight our troth, as they used to say about 16,000 years ago.

Gretna Green has been the destination of a constant stream of runways lovers wanting to be legally wed since 1754. That’s when the English government of the day decided they wanted to make it harder for people to get married so passed the Lord Hardwicke Marriage Act.

Suddenly, you couldn’t marry if you were under 21 unless you had express parental permission and you had to get married in a church.  There were more new rules than that – like not being allowed to get married after dark – but these two were the main ones that caused unsuitable lovers to beat a path to Gretna Green, often involving dramatic chases on the road from Carlisle as enraged parents and their henchmen, followed the wannabe married in hot pursuit determined to prevent the union. In some cases, this is because the bride was the young and naïve daughter of a rich gent and the groom was a charming, older suitor who owed someone a lot of money, a fact he may not have mentioned when he proposed marriage to his love-struck virgin bride.

While England tightened up the rules, Scotland did not and Gretna Green has been reaping the rewards of the wedding industry ever since, due to its handy location just across the border from England.

Gretna Green, Scotland, Eloping Four

The town is built on weddings and all the paraphernalia that goes with them, from photographers and florists to manufacturers of the endless merchandise – Just Married banners, his ‘n’ hers joke mugs, horseshoes, shortbread, photo frames, novelty confetti, champagne flutes… some criticise the town for having become a wedding factory and while this is probably true, in our experience it was a bonus. More on that later, here’s a bit more history… after Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, the destination for controversial couples was the old blacksmith’s shop where the blacksmith priest would perform the ceremony over his anvil. There were a string of anvil priests over the years but the most famous was probably Joseph Paisley. In Gretna today, you can read some of the original letters to Paisley from people wanting to be married by him – some of whom didn’t actually have a partner. Paisley became a kind of agony aunt cum matchmaker to whom desperate young women from across the UK would write asking if he could recommend any nice young gentlemen for them to wed.

My husband and I [snicker] did not flee to Gretna Green because we can not legally be wed in Dubai – although, just as an aside, Dubai’s laws do not make it easy for expat residents. Authorities want a mountain of paperwork, all of which must be translated into Arabic. The bigger impediment though is the insistence that the wedding takes place in either a church or an embassy. Neither option suited us. However, it is illegal in Dubai to live with a person of the opposite sex who is not a relative. Rock and hard place. Cue plane ticket to Scotland.

Still today, getting married in Gretna Green is easier than even neighbouring England where a couple must reside in the parish they wish to marry for 14 days prior to the wedding. Not so in Scotland. As long as you file all your paperwork to them three weeks before the wedding, you can just fly in for the ceremony.
Which brings me back to my husband and I [snort]. We were formally fettered in the bonds of conjugal union at a lovely place called the Mill Forge. Originally built as a grain mill, the farm buildings were built circa 1740 and the farmhouse was constructed in 1862. After many additions and renovations since then, the property now caters completely for weddings yet the charm of its earlier function remains in the beautiful stone buildings.

Gretna Green, Scotland, Eloping Three
The Mill Forge has everything from it’s own pub, restaurant, dance floor, shop selling wedding paraphernalia and souvenirs, small ceremony venue complete with its own anvil as well as plenty of ensuite accommodation for wedding parties who want to make a few days of it. It’s also got beautiful gardens full of props for photographs – a kissing gate, a water wheel, a bandstand, an old British red telephone box, and a model blacksmith created out of iron horseshoes.
The management of the Mill has wedding planning down to a finely honed art. It is a wedding production line, which sounds impersonal and factory-like but it’s not. It’s great fun and the smooth, streamlined expertise of these wedding professionals means everything goes perfectly.

I loved the fact that all day, every couple of hours I could watch a bagpiper lead another wedding party to the small chapel-like venue for the nuptials. Each group bubbles over with its own happiness and excitement, which lends that energy to the groups following them.

After the ceremony and the photos, the rest of the day is given over to drinks in the on-site pub, dinner and dancing.

Towards the end of our big day, we were opening another bottle of champagne in a cosy corner booth of the cute little pub. I looked around and in the same room at least three other brides and a throng of wedding guests were doing the same. Painstakingly hair-sprayed up-dos were starting to drop and high heels were getting kicked off as the celebrating took hold. Children were running amok, jokes were being told, and from the dance floor in the next room we could hear the strains of ‘YYY M C A, it’s fun to stay at the YYY M C A-AA…’

It was brilliant. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Gretna Green, Scotland, Eloping One

Holiday Goddess Editors

About Holiday Goddess Editors

Holiday Goddess. Travel for Less.