Every time we book something, no matter how small, it's really exciting. But with the venue, we had our date booked, and it meant we could envisage our wedding, so even more excitement. It was from this point that it started to feel real.
As soon as we were engaged we had folders, magazine cuttings, notebooks and iPad documents detailing ideas for our wedding. I had imagined our venue to be an old stately home type building, and L's ideal was a converted barn, so we started making a list of both types of venue in our area, plus a few that didn't fit either category, just in case! And made plans for visiting all of them (yes, all 12 of them!)
It was weird that everyone kept telling us that as soon as saw "our" venue, we'd know, we'd just feel it. But it didn't happen like that for us, it took some time and some re-visits, and some adjustments in our minds of what we did want, but eventually we found the one!
Firstly, we found out about places that had Open Days - quite popular way to visit places as they often set the place up as a wedding, as sometimes it can alter the way you see a place. Luckily, getting engaged in March meant open days were up and coming fairly quickly (most are held over the summer).
A brief mention on the places we visited (in case you fancy getting hitched there yourself!):
New Hall Hotel, Sutton Coldfield
What a big, old building. Very old, and very very dark! The exterior is pretty and full of history, but the interior is full of the blues / reds / oak panelling we are really keen to avoid. It was dark, musty, and completely not us. The style just don't sit well with a modern, fuchsia pink and white wedding!!
Warwick House, Warwick.
I have to say I wasn't too impressed that this is about a 45 minute drive away from us. I know it doesn't matter how long people have to travel if its the right place, but I did imagine we'd marry somewhere a little closer to home. Anyway, we went to visit, because we LOVE looking round venues!! Warwick House is really really beautiful, it's an old but modernised building. You drive up to it on a busy main road (so off putting) so no long sweeping driveway that I'd hoped for, and pull onto a tiny gravel car park (amazing how the photos cleverly disguise this!!). We actually were so put off we nearly didn't go inside, but did because we'd driven down there especially.
And.. the inside really took our breath away. This venue was us in a nutshell....it was elegant, luxurious, classy and very bright inside... perfect for our chosen colours. It was grand enough to feel impressive but small enough not to swamp our wedding. Plus all the 10 bedrooms were included in the price, perfect as we hope a good proportion of our party will stay over with us. I have this idea of waking up on 5th July 2013 as wife & wife, and celebrating that fact with all our closest family and friends, its a beautiful way to begin married life...
We had a lovely feeling about Warwick House, it really is a gorgeous venue....but the lack of grounds let it down for us. There's a tiny garden at the back of the house, and we really couldn't get over it being situated right on a main road. We couldn't expect people to be with us for 24 hours and not really want to go outside!! Such a shame, because moved to bigger gardens, and off that main road, this would've been our venue!
Dunstall Hall, Burton - Upon - Trent
Firstly, amazing sweeping driveway and views over looking beautiful greenery. So far so good. Not so good - the wedding co-ordinator asking us to meet her at the back of the venue, so we were met with a sight of construction workers and a very unappealing side view of the place. Next - how to put off a couple in fell swoop - ask which one of them is getting married and then recoil in horror as you realise they are a same - sex couple. Ignore one part of the couple and focus instead on the other one and her Mum (who had come along to view too). Thirdly, don't try and sell your venue - don't open any curtain or turn any lights on, just show them round as quickly as humanly possible and get them out of the door. We didn't stop to enquire about prices of availability, we quite frankly, didn't want to know. We couldn't trust someone so appalled by our relationship to build us the perfect day. It was such a shame though, because the venue was beautiful.
Swinfen Hall, Lichfield.
Same old problem, amazing beautiful exterior and old, red / blue / oak panelled interior. Exactly what we are not looking for. But look how beautiful this Edwardian house is...
Berrow Court, Edgbaston
Again accompanied by L's Mum (who loves all this wedding business as much as we do!) we visited two venues in one day, with a stop off for a nice lunch in-between! Berrow Court is quite new on the wedding venue circuit, but not a very new building. Again matching up to some of the others in exterior, it was the interior that let it down. We were very unimpressed that the rooms were so separated. It was like....here is the bar, down the corridor and to the left is the room that people can dance in, if you go outside and round the back you can access the grounds. With a bit of Location Location style knocking down walls and re-structuring, this could be a place to be reckoned with. But not for us. So onto the next....
Nuthurst Grange, Solihull
Well! How to divide two people on where they'd like to get married. This is the only one we really disagreed on. I think I (L) was completely sold by the barn...my ideal. Old, rustic, converted barn, in which we would marry, and would also dance the night away with our family and friends in the evening. Sarah wasn't so sure, and was really put off by the main house that it was attached to, in her mind it resembled somewhere old people might visit for afternoon tea, not her wedding venue. Plus we did again meet with resistance (well, distaste) from the wedding co-ordinator for being a same - sex couple. Grr.
Beautiful barn inside and out
Shame about the Main House!
Ettington Park Hotel, Warwickshire
Our final venue viewing, this time with the other Mother of the Bride, S's Mum! Ettington Park is a huge venue, with a beautiful long sweeping driveway, and is quite simply, stunning. It is a gothic mansion, and the history behind it is immense. We were met by one of the many wedding co-ordinators, who was very warm and friendly, and very enthused about us having our big day there. And then she showed us round....our ceremony and wedding breakfast would be held in an old library, which looks out over their amazing grounds. We were impressed, a library would be very 'us'! And then upstairs...up and up and up and up...to where the evening reception would be held. Ah. This is where the problem lay...all those stairs, into a small, enclosed room. No outside space to be able to enjoy the (hopefully) evening sunshine... just one, stuffy, small room. How very disappointing!
Oh gothic mansion, how we loved you!
.....but not your interior....
On our search we found two converted barn types - one was stunning but completely out of our price range, the second was part of a working farm thats quite well known for producing pork- as vegetarians, this was definitely out of the question! We didn't actually visit either, knowing before we started that they'd be unsuitable.
Along the way, we visited one venue in Birmingham that was different to the others. It was smaller, it wasn't a stately home, and although the building is old, it's decorated in a modern style inside. Our first viewing was on a very busy open day. We didn't really have chance to talk to anyone, and one of the other couples nodded towards us, made a silly comment and sniggered. L really liked the venue, but my experience of the open day put me off. We got the chance to speak to a registrar here who gave us their details, which was useful as we began to understand the process behind forming a civil partnership.
We did decide to go back though, as this particular venue stuck in our minds, so booked an appointment with a co-ordinator. Our experience this time was much better. One lady showed us around the whole venue, and another talked us through everything. They seemed genuinely eager to help us make our wedding lovely, gave us space to talk things through by ourselves, answered every question, gave us free champagne - this is how booking your wedding should be! Without all the crowds of the open day, it gave me chance to imagine our wedding, and it was perfect. I wasn't what either of us had imagined when we first envisaged our venue but it had everything; a pretty, traditional ceremony room, a bright, modern reception room and large beautiful grounds with a stream and a little bridge, and accommodation for all our guests. AND it had the long driveway L so very much wanted! They are also providing our catering, and have experience doing all vegetarian weddings.
We chose our date in early july as we hope for sunshine, and chose midweek as you'd be amazed as how much money can be saved with a mid-week wedding, and we also have a better chance of the venue not having a wedding the day before, so we can set the place up the evening before.
And there and then, we booked our wedding for Thursday 4th July 2013 - it was suddenly all very real!