Weddings In Dorset
The wedding insider’s guide to creating your perfect wedding day: venues, suppliers, decor, the lot. Don’t stress, we’ve got it covered.
If you’re planning to hold your wedding in Dorset, then you’ve chosen – in my opinion – the most beautiful county in England to celebrate in! OK, I may be a bit biased, but as I live and work in Dorset, I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful history, fantastic unspoilt countryside, and gorgeous architecture.
Dorset, of course, as well as being amazingly beautiful, is also incredibly varied in what it has to offer. From the stunning surroundings of the World Heritage site of the Jurassic Coast, to the sleepy picturesque villages stuffed with true chocolate box thatched cottages, Dorset is absolutely a county with something to offer everyone.
With advice on some of the best wedding venues in Dorset, guidance on how to choose your perfect wedding suppliers, and even some helpful tips thrown in on how to make your wedding day run as smoothly as can be, it’s a bite sized, one-stop resource for anyone planning to marry in Dorset.
Oh, and I’ve thrown in some gorgeous wedding images for you to check out, too! So, what are you waiting for – get stuck in!
Dorset is the homeland and inspiration for many of our finest literary minds. You may already know that one of our greatest authors, Thomas Hardy, was born here and lived here for most of his life, with many of his iconic novels and poem set in and around the towns and villages of Dorset. But, it’s not only Hardy who was inspired by Dorset’s beautiful landscapes – Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter also immortalised the county in their work.
Dorset also has strong links to some of Britain’s best known historical figures. T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) lived for many years in the county, as did one of our greatest explorers, Sir Walter Raleigh, who resided at Sherborne Castle.
Dorset’s dramatic scenery also features in many films and television programmes. Most recently, the unmistakable, awe inspiring cliff face of West Bay is the backdrop to the TV murder drama ‘Broadchurch’. The stunning coastal town of Lyme Regis, with its famous Cobb wall, was the backdrop to the classic film adaptation of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’. And, unsurprisingly, many Jane Austen adaptations have been filmed around the county.
But, one of Dorset’s most famous scenes often gets mistaken for Up North! If you remember the iconic Hovis TV commercial of the 1970’s, with the baker boy pushing his bicycle up and down a steep hill, that’s not Yorkshire – that’s actually Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, which has remained pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years.
let’s talk about the big things.
It’s a huge decision. It’s where the magic happens. But, just where are the most beautiful places to marry in Dorset? So, I’ve chosen three of the best wedding venues in the county for you to take a look at…
Kingston Maurward, Dorchester
Fine elegance amongst rolling parkland makes this wedding venue one of the must-visit places for anyone planning a wedding in Dorset
Boutique Luxury and incredible views combine to make this one of Dorset’s premier wedding venues right now
Highcliffe Castle, ChristchurchIf you want to get married like a princess, then this is an absolute jewel in Dorset’s wedding venue crown!
There are far more fabulous wedding venues in Dorset than I could possibly manage to write about here, but I’ve chosen the three above as personal favourites which I know and love. I’ve shot weddings at all of these venues, and they all have something different to offer. If you’re planning a wedding, one of the hardest things to do is to find a venue to hold your celebrations at which not only fits into your budget and can accommodate your number of guests, but that also fits your personal style. I truly believe that a wedding venue should say something very personal about you as a couple, as well as being somewhere you feel relaxed and at home in. So, when it comes to the big question of ‘which is the best wedding venue?’, the answer is as individual as you are.
Let’s take a look at my top three in a little more detail, and I’ll let you know what I love about each of them. You never know, one of these just might be your perfect wedding venue!
The short photofilm above will only start playing when you’re ready. Just hit the ‘play’ button to take a look.
Kingston Maurward, Dorchester
Getting Married in Hardy Country
Fancy tying the knot at an historic eighteenth century mansion amongst rolling parkland, against the backdrop of real Thomas Hardy country? If you do, then Kingston Maurward College is definitely worth a visit to check out what they have to offer. Just a mile or so outside the county town of Dorchester, it’s an absolute haven of flora and fauna – and if you are lucky enough to visit during springtime, you’ll see how incredibly impressive the grounds are, too, which isn’t surprising considering that it’s also the site of a horticulural college!
I shot a beautifully relaxed wedding at Kingston Maurward, on a gorgeous springtime day, where all the guests were able to enjoy not only the beautiful Georgian interior of Kingston Maurward house, but also wander amongst its incredible formal and wildlife gardens leading down to the lakeside. There’s also a variety of stunning accommodation adjacent to the house within the parkland grounds, so whilst it’s not a hotel, there are plenty of options for a memorable stay.
Reasons I love weddings at Kingston Maurward: well, apart from the fact that I am an absolute sucker for anything remotely connected to Thomas Hardy (the house was mentioned, albeit under another name, in the novel Desperate Remedies) – it’s just got so much to offer. Unlike many impressive country houses, it doesn’t overwhelm the visitor; it welcomes. You feel you can kick your shoes off, make yourself at home and really let your hair down. Plus, I quite like the feeling of wandering by the lake, pretending that it’s all mine!
High end, boutique luxury weddings. Period.
If you thought that the West Country was all about rustic charm, you’d be wrong. Dorset can also do high end luxury – and there’s no better place to discover this than at Axnoller, near Beaminster. Axnoller is a private house on a working equestrian centre, but if you have childhood memories of muddy stable yards and shabby tack rooms, put all those away right now – this is an incredibly sophisticated venue where absolutely no expense has been spared to give you and your guests the ultimate wedding experience.
The views out across the hills from Axnoller House are, frankly, simply majestic, and the only part of the equestrian centre you’ll experience will be the sight of horses gently grazing in the distance (unless, of course, you want to). There are accommodation options in the main house, where you’ll simply be so impressed by the finish that you’ll throw out all your furniture when you get home, and there are further options for guests in the equally chic self catering options just adjacent to the house.
Why I love Axnoller: how could I not? It’s OUTRAGEOUSLY gorgeous. I want to live there. First, I need to win the lottery.
Press the ‘play’ button above to watch a short photofilm of some of my favourite wedding images from Axnoller House
If you’d like to watch the short photofilm from Highcliffe Castle shown above, just click on the ‘play’ button and enjoy.
Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch
Getting married? Want to feel like a princess? Then you need a castle.
If your wedding wishlist starts with ‘fairytale castle’ and then goes on to say ‘magical setting’, I think it’s rather important that you hurry straight along to Highcliffe Castle in Dorset to see what they have to offer. Whilst the castle and grounds are open to the public, don’t let that put you off, as the incredible clifftop setting really makes up for the lack of exclusive use. Of course, you get exclusivity on the areas you hire, whether that’s the Winter Garden for your ceremony alone, or one of the beautiful banqueting halls for your reception.
There really is nothing quite like the magnificence of getting married at such a fabulous architectural gem of a building – and of course, there are wonderful gardens to wander in, as well as a winding path which leads down to the sandy beach with glorious views out over the South Coast. The sheer romance of the building and the setting lends itself wonderfully to the most romantic of moments – the marriage of two people in front of those they love.
From the castle, it’s just a short drive into Christchurch for accommodation for your guests, or if you would like to hold your reception in a separate venue after the wedding ceremony. I shot a wedding at Highcliffe Castle, and then the celebrations continued at the waterfront maritime chic of the Captains Club – a really fabulous juxtaposition of styles which made a truly unique and wonderful wedding day.
Why I love Highcliffe Castle: it’s a castle. On a clifftop. It’s filled with light, and gorgeous inside and out. It’s a photographer’s dream.
Have you blown your wedding budget?how to spend smart & still have an amazing wedding
What are the most important things to spend money on at your wedding?
First things first. Weddings are expensive, and that’s certainly not a secret. When all’s said and done, you’re buying an expensive dinner (or probably two) for maybe upwards of a hundred people, and that’s not going to come cheap. But, there are things you can do to keep the budget in check, and avoid starting married life in debt up to your eyeballs.
The first thing is to remember that a wedding is JUST ONE DAY, whilst a marriage is a lifetime. Remembering that might just help keep everything in proportion. It’s easy to get carried away with all the detail, the ‘nice to haves’ becoming ‘must haves’, and so on. But your family and friends want you to enjoy married life, not carry around the misery of a huge loan for the first few years. They are here to celebrate with you, not to check out how much you’ve spent on floral design. So if you feel that you can’t afford everything you want, remember that you’re probably going to be the only person who will notice.
As a wedding photographer, I’ve worked at some incredibly lavish weddings where expense is no object, and also many where the budget was certainly more on the modest side. Which ones were the best? The ones where the guests enjoyed themselves the most. That has nothing to do with how much you spend. There are, of course, some important things to remember on how to rock your wedding, so let’s go through these. Once you’ve ticked these off the list, then everything else doesn’t really matter. I promise.
Here we go… what to make sure you’ve got covered, and what’s not so important.
food and drink
The golden rule is, if your guests have enough to eat and drink throughout the day, of a good standard, they’re going to be happy bunnies. That doesn’t mean you have to fork out for haute cuisine, or have a free bar all day. Guests will expect to pay for their own drinks after the wedding breakfast, so that’s covered. So, budget for canapes after the ceremony, and an evening buffet, as well as the wedding breakfast, and it will be money well spent. But, spend wisely and shop around if you have the choice of caterer – and always take up recommendations and taste testings. This is one of the biggest expenditures of your wedding, so you’ll want to get it right.
I guarantee you that you’ll see your wedding cake for less than five minutes on the wedding day, and your guests will probably spend even less time gazing at it. So, if budget is getting to be an issue, don’t spend a fortune on a cake – or if you really must, cut it before the wedding breakfast and serve it as dessert, to save on a course. I bet that if you ask about, there’s at least one family member who would be absolutely delighted to make your wedding cake for you as a gift, and most likely do an absolutely amazing job at it, too.
Here’s a tip – give up looking at Pinterest and all those ‘aspirational’ wedding blogs which look as if they’ve been styled by professionals. I’ve photographed some absolutely amazing weddings where the decor is an absolute knockout, and many where they’ve kept it elegant and simple. Both types look incredible if you do it right. You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy bits and bobs for your wedding tables (unless you want to, of course), and I promise that you’ll hardly give them much of a glance on the wedding day. Here’s a tip: choose a wedding venue which needs very little in the way of dressing, and you get the decor for free!
Entertainment is vital at weddings. You’ve got your guests captive for maybe 12 hours or more, so giving them something to do with the time is critical. I’ve seen weddings ruined by a dodgy DJ – the dancefloor literally clearing in minutes. it’s a matter of shopping smarter, not spending more. Never take a venue’s first recommendation for a band or DJ – insist on seeing them work before you book. And don’t forget the daytime! If you have children at the wedding, then something to keep them happy is great – colouring books, games, or even a safe ‘kids room’ with videos and toys. Think what your guests would like. Garden games? Casino? You know them best, so book what you know will go down well.
So, you might think I’m biased here, but genuinely this is what all wedding suppliers, photographers or not, will tell you. Get the best wedding photographer you can afford. This is the ONLY thing you’ll have left after the wedding, aside from a dress you can’t wear out again, and a pile of presents from your happy guests. (Oh, and a new spouse, of course!). Weddings aren’t about things, they are about emotions, experiences, happenings. Your wedding images will be with you for the rest of your life, so allocate your budget proportionately. Sermon over!
How to find the best wedding suppliers in Dorset
Choosing your wedding suppliers can be a hugely confusing process, not to mention a stressful one. After all, it’s not as if you use a cakemaker, a wedding photographer, or a wedding florist on a regular basis, so you don’t have a network of trusted professionals to reach out to. When you’re spending a large amount of money on your wedding, you want to make sure you book wedding professionals who can deliver the goods – and at the right price, too. So how can you find the right wedding suppliers?
It’s worth mentioning that the wedding industry attracts a large amount of ‘hobbyists’ – people who work in it part time whilst they have another full time job. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some of the most talented people in the wedding industry have to keep a ‘proper’ job to start with to support themselves as they grow their wedding business. However, as with all suppliers, do make sure you do your due diligence before paying over deposits or booking suppliers. Here are some questions to ask:
- Can I meet you and see examples of your work?
- Do you have business insurance? Can I have copy certificates?
- Is your business registered with the Inland Revenue?
- Can I have contact details of previous clients?
- What happens if you are ill on the wedding day?
- What are my cancellation rights?
- Where are you based? Do you know the Dorset area?
- Can I see the vendor contract and review it before booking?
- What happens if I have to move my wedding date?
There are a variety of places you can find your shortlist of wedding suppliers, and of course, the internet comes into its own at this point to research your dream wedding team. However, never book a wedding service online without first corresponding with, or speaking to the supplier; just because someone has a professional looking website, doesn’t mean that they are a reliable professional. Again, due your due diligence and check everyone out before handing over your cash.
Your wedding venue will most likely be able to supply you with a list of vendors who they can recommend (I’m on the list of preferred suppliers for a number of wedding venues), but don’t feel obliged to book their recommendations; you may well get a better deal, or a better fit for your wedding, if you shop around. If your wedding venue insists on your using a specific photographer or florist, be wary – it’s your wedding day, you shouldn’t feel dictated to.
Dorset has a number of wedding fairs which are useful to go to in order to research suppliers (and eat cake samples!) – your wedding venue may hold its own wedding fair, and there are large fairs held in Dorchester, Poole and Bournemouth to mention a few places. However, remember that not all wedding suppliers attend wedding fairs – I certainly don’t!
Finally, one of the best ways to find a great wedding supplier is by word of mouth. Have any of your friends and family recently got married in the Dorset area? If so, do you remember how great their cake was, or how the dancefloor lit up when the DJ started? Whilst you naturally won’t want a carbon copy of someone else’s wedding, personal recommendations go a long, long way, so asking around is well worth doing.
And finally…. here’s the best bit. My wedding insider tips on creating the best wedding imaginable.
how can I have a stress free, enjoyable wedding?
Draw up a wedding day timeline and have your wedding venue and photographer check it to ensure that there is plenty of time allocated for every element. Remember to leave at least half an hour between the start of the afternoon reception and the group/couples photos, for you to mingle, have a drink and enjoy yourself. Then – DON”T LOOK AT IT ON THE DAY. It’s other people’s jobs to make it run smoothly; you’ll have a much better time if you don’t clockwatch. In fact, don’t wear or watch, and leave your phone at home.
Leave at least fifteen minutes between the group shots and your couples shots. You’ll need a break, a drink and a refresh. Remember, you’re there to enjoy the day with your family and friends, not to hang out for hours with your photographer. They can be busy getting on with shots of the guests or the wedding breakfast setup whilst you have some time to relax.
Brides: take two pairs of spare shoes. One for wearing during your couples shots (if you’re worried about your fancy shoes getting dirty or stuck in the grass), and a comfy pair for dancing. Many a day has been ruined by sore feet!
If your wedding party or best man isn’t that great at organising people, employ a toastmaster for the wedding day. They don’t have to be formal, but they get the job done and help everything run smoothly for you and your guests. Again, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether the guests are sitting down to the wedding breakfast at the right time.
Don’t worry about the weather. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the one thing you don’t have control over, so worrying is pointless. Be prepared for any weather by having a few umbrellas, and make sure your photographer has a Plan B for shots inside if needs be. Whatever the weather holds, it’s your wedding day and it will be amazing.
is it better to book a photographer who has worked at my wedding venue before?
Whilst it can be advantageous in some ways for the photographer to know the wedding venue (they won’t get lost on the way there, for example!), in reality it actually doesn’t matter whether they’ve shot a wedding there before or not. All good wedding photographers will carefully recce the venue (whether on the morning of the wedding, or beforehand) to ensure they are using the grounds and venue to best effect, given the lighting conditions on the day. So, book the wedding photographer whose work you love and who can show you many examples of their work, in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions – not just because they know your venue!
Dorset Wedding Photographer
Belinda McCarthy Photography Ltd. Company Registration Number 9551009, registered in England & Wales.
Pear Tree Cottage, Blandford Road, Shillingstone, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0SF
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