Espace Wedding

UK weddings on the beach: for better or worse?

Picture your dream English or Welsh wedding ceremony. Is it somewhere up in the wind-rippled hills of the Brecon Beacons, or maybe barefoot on warm Cornish sands at Kynance Cove, or perhaps under the sun-dappled canopy of the Forest of Dean? That’s a shame, because at the moment saying your vows in any of these locations, other than at a licensed venue, would mean that your marriage isn’t legally binding.

Under UK rules, beyond Scotland (where nuptials are permitted in almost any setting) all couples must have their wedding in a place of worship, a register office or a venue approved for civil ceremonies — often that’s a hotel or stately home. But this is all set to be turned on its head if the Law Commission has its way.

In a report published on Tuesday it recommended a complete rethink of where weddings are legally permitted to take place, allowing couples to choose to have their wedding in “any type of location”, whether that be on a beach, in a park, at a theme park or — why not? — in international waters (on board a UK-registered cruise ship); just imagine the after-party.

Beach weddings in Scotland are legally binding, but those held in England and Wales are not

Beach weddings in Scotland are legally binding, but those held in England and Wales are not


If these proposals are accepted by the government they will make up the most comprehensive overhaul of wedding laws since at least the 19th century. With admirable understatement the commission notes that ceremonies have “failed to keep pace with modern life”.

It’ll be too late for me if these proposals do pass into law, though. I’m getting married next month to Martin, my partner of ten years, and — like many couples in England and Wales — we’ve been denied the opportunity to have our ceremony where we wanted. Martin and I are adventurous; we like camping and the outdoors. One of my favourite memories is of us snowed into our tent in Yellowstone National Park, laughing (and, in my case, crying) about how cold we were and drifting off to the sound of wolves howling. A posh stately home just wouldn’t do for our wedding — it would feel as though we were putting on an act.

As the Humanists UK public affairs and policy director Richy Thompson says, what’s important is “constructing a ceremony that’s as meaningful as possible to the couple. For many, the most meaningful location may well be outside — on a beach where they’ve holidayed forever, perhaps, or even on the town square where they met.”

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Which is why we’ll grit our teeth through the jiggery-pokery of a not-very-us legal civil ceremony with two witnesses at the town hall the day before, then have what we’re lovingly calling our “fake wedding” at the venue of our choice. We’ve gone for the tepee-filled orchard of the White House glampsite in the Wye Valley — a place that we fell in love with when we canoed 40 miles down the river between lockdowns. This arrangement leaves us with two bills to pay and some very romantic questions to ponder: should we take off our rings when we leave the town hall? When will our anniversary be?

I’m not the only one who has felt this way. Hannah Summers, 35, from Hastings met her partner Jon, 40, at a power-ballads club night in London (she was “very taken by his dancing to Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time”).

Five weeks ahead of her big white wedding she had a meltdown. “As the date crept up I became increasingly anxious that it wasn’t what I had envisaged — I’d always wanted to get married on a beach,” she says. They ended up eloping to Powfoot beach in Dumfries and Galloway, not far from Gretna Green.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times couples have asked me, ‘Can we marry by the lake, in the meadow or in the woodland?’ ” says Claire Gatens, a wedding planner at We Fancy the North. “Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible — even if we did manage to hold a ceremony outdoors, the vows had to be said under a licensed structure [before restrictions were eased during the pandemic].”

Under the proposed new rules, the focus would shift from the venue to the officiant, meaning that your wedding ceremony could take place anywhere, as long as the person directing you through it agreed.

Does this mean that we’ll be gearing up for weddings on top of Scafell Pike or while cliff camping in Pembrokeshire? Not quite: the officiant is responsible for ensuring that the location is “safe and dignified” — the T&Cs are TBC, but adrenaline sports are likely to be out of the question. Still, “it could open up a world of possibility for couples to have the ceremony they want”, says Zoe Burke, editor of the Hitched website. Especially those “who would never have considered a lavish event”.

But one couple’s world of opportunity may be a wedding venue’s unwanted competition. The move will no doubt have an impact on hotels that specialise in weddings — an impact they may be ill-equipped to face after years in the throes of the pandemic. “It clearly provides a threat in that the list of competitors can now be endless,” Warren Elliott of Elite Hotels says.

Hannah Summers eloped to get married on a Scottish beach

Hannah Summers eloped to get married on a Scottish beach

Other institutions may not be so chuffed either — such as churches, for which weddings constitute a big part of their income, although the Church of England is entertaining the possibility of allowing weddings to be held in exterior church grounds, as they did in medieval times.

And where are couples likely to want to get married? Probably in beauty spots that are already facing massive overcrowding — the Lake District, the Cotswolds, Dartmoor. On top of complaints about littering, packed roads and second homes, it won’t be long before we start to hear of confetti on the beaches.

Though perhaps outdoor weddings won’t end up as popular as we might think. If there’s one thing everyone can rely on, it’s the unpredictability of the British weather, and something else that hotels and other venues can offer is a plan B if the weather isn’t on side — “a beach wedding potentially wouldn’t be able to provide that,” says Amy Hatch of Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire.

Even so, if my “fake wedding” ends up being a washout, it will still be more meaningful to us than one in a stately home. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we’ll even get snowed in.

What do you think about the proposed changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below or email us at


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