I married my man Alex, FOUR years ago today!! Wooohoooo!!! We had the best weekend wedding festival in Oxfordshire, so I though it would be appropriate to write a blog post about it and share it with you. The great thing about being a wedding photographer myself is that when we started planning our wedding, I already had a bundle of inspiration and ideas from my clients about what really worked at weddings and what didn’t.
ALTERNATIVE WEDDING VENUE NEAR OXFORD
Finding the venue, I’d say, was the hardest part of wedding planning. Once that bit was sorted everything else kind of slotted into place; the venue determines what kind of wedding you are even going to have. We knew we wanted it to be near our home in Oxford and wanted it to be super relaxed. I did a lot of research googling ‘alternative wedding venue’s in Oxfordshire’ and wasn’t really getting very far in my research until someone told me about Braziers Park.
Braziers Park is one hell of a magical place. They don’t advertise themselves as a wedding venue, it’s more of a hippy commune that runs lots of yoga workshops and is the birth place of Wood Festival.
It was the only place which we visited and instantly fell in love. It ticked all our box’s; it was child friendly, we could have it for an entire weekend, all our guests could stay, it had a camping field, and we could do what ever we wanted to it. Boom. Booked.
I’d personally say, once you’ve got your wedding venue and date sorted, send out a ‘save the date’ as soon as possible. Even if all you do it send a text to everyone – you need people to get that date in their diaries asap!! Once that’s sorted book your photographer. As a photographer myself I can get booked up a year in advance, so if you have a certain photographer in mind you’ll want to book them as soon as possible. I booked Lisa Jane Photography who I met her at a number of photography events and instantly fell in love with her work. So boom, second thing booked. Next I’d say would be time to find that dress….
One of my best friends works in the film industry as a costume designer and she guided me into finding the dress I fell in love with. I found the dress thing a little overwhelming, there were so many choices, and I didn’t want to spend a lot. I though I’d be happy with any kind of alternative white dress, but once I’d found ‘the one’ I knew what everyone else was talking about. We found was a vintage 1940’s stunning dress, it was delicate and floaty, with 40’s style shoulder pads which I fell in love with. I bought it from a second hand shop called ‘House of vintage’ which is has sadly now closed down. My shoes were flat cowgirl inspired boots, unintentionally matching the cowboy theme that Alex had going on with his boys.
Alex wore a suit that he found a few days before the day (yep, I know!!) And he looked dapper as f*** with his cowboy hat and leather bootlace tie.
THE WEDDING PARTY
So, our wedding party (ushers and bridesmaids) consisted of me having 8 best grown up people (and a handful of kids), and Alex having 12 best boys… every one of these guys really are family to us and so we wanted them all to be a part of the wedding party.
I asked my gang to wear what they felt good in, and if possible for it to match the copper/gold theme we had going on. All their outfits were so different and very ‘them’ and they totally rocked it! I was never bothered about flower bouquets and gave my guys decorated tambourines instead. We danced through the field to All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar blaring out of the PA system, and skipped and cheered through the field shaking our tambourines! The younger ones wore white and gold monsoon dresses I picked up from eBay and skipped through the field waving gold sticks with ribbon that I’d made.
Alex’s boys all wore their own suits with cowboy hats and they looked AMAZING! He bought them matching bootlace ties too to go with his outfit. As I walked down the isle with my mum and dad by my side they all took off their cowboy hats out of respect!
DIY (AKA BUDGET) WEDDING DÉCOR AND COLOUR SCHEME
I had a quick flick through Pinterst and again it can be quite overwhelming on what road to take, there is so much wedding inspiration out there, and so much of it is amazing and lovely. I randomly decided on copper, gold, and white… there was no reason, it’s just what I liked, and to be honest I just needed to make a decision.
We wanted to spend money on the right things, and I really didn’t want to spend much on décor or flowers as I felt these things would eventually be thrown away. I use to be quite a hoarder, and seeing a we were planning a house renovation the following year, I decided (much to Alex’s joy) to get rid of all the brick and brick that I collected over the years, and spray it all gold or copper to use for the wedding. The thing with wedding decorations, it doesn’t really matter what you have, you just need to make sure you have a s*** load of it. So the gold / copper theme really did shine as beer bottles, wine bottles, ornaments, tin cans, wellies, stones, lampshades – anything I could get my hands on, all got sprayed! The result looked pretty sweet!
The flowers on the tables were all home grown by our lovely friend Kate, I didn’t want flowers but as a gardener she insisted that our wedding present from her was all the flowers and they looked so so good.
My mum loves a bit of sewing and offered to make lots and lots of bunting. I bought lots of gold and copper material from material shops in Shepherds Bush London, and she and her mates got their stitch on and came up with miles and miles of bunting. It looked really impressive. Name places were just stones picked up from Gower Beaches (where my parents live) and sprayed gold, and we didn’t have any favours – another thing I think can be a waist of money and something no one misses.
The venue was all decorated the day before by us and our guests. It was a great bonding for all our friends and family to really get to know each other. Everyone had some sort of creative task to make or build, one group was putting up the bunting, another putting up camping signs, another hanging up lots of festoon lights in the barn, another building the bar, laying tables, ironing table clothes, pitching tents, setting up the PA system, building fires, the list really goes on for a DIY wedding! At the end of the first day we had a bbq and sat around a bonfire before the big day itself.
We had a humanist ceremony conducted by Alex’s brother. We choose his brother not only because he is very close to us, but also because we knew he’d be brilliant at writing and conducting it all. He has quite a theatrical presence, is very funny, and made the whole thing really special. We really didn’t really give him much guidance, we just told him the promises that we wanted to make to each other (which were quite silly ones) and what readings there would be, and that we wanted everyone to sing ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’ by Elvis (I totally nicked this idea from one of my clients and can’t recommend having a sing song at your wedding ceremony – all the goose bumps and all the tears!!)
During the ceremony he made us hold a stick and asked us to break it, and told us that it was easy to break on it’s own, but with all it’s friends and family supporting it, it would never break, and he gave us a handful of sticks that of course we couldn’t break. He then tied a bow around them, and we still have the sticks now… seriously loved it so much.
HOW TO ENTERTAIN FIFTY KIDS
So this was very much a family wedding, and everyone was invited with their kids (as we have two kids of our own) so in total there were about 50 kids!! To be honest we didn’t need much entertainment as the venue was so amazing already, it had a meadow and a wooden playground to keep the little ones happy all day. A few things I did do was to hire in a bouncy castle for after dinner, my daughters helped design little personal colouring books to keep the kids busy during the speeches, we had marshmallows for the campfires in the evening, we had Mike Sanchez and his band play who were just EPIC! We had a game of Aunt Sally set up (for those of you who don’t know, Aunt Sally is a very well known game in Oxfordshire where you have to throw a baton at a skittle on top of a post), my eldest daughter did a bubble show, and my youngest sang a snowman song (!!)
I did hire a handful of babysitters to sit with the kids once they had all gone to bed, from about 9pm, there were a couple in the main house and a couple in the camping field so the grown ups could party until all hours and the babysitter would phone them if there was any problems. I also hired a nanny for my own kids, more for my youngest really as she at the time was a toddler and I just wanted to make sure she had one person she could totally rely on to play with, and give her lots of attention if she needed it. I can’t recommend this enough, especially if you have young ones.
We provided all the beer and my in-laws provided all the wine. We just asked our guests to bring their own spirits if that’s what they preferred to drink. If you are doing a DIY wedding like this I would highly suggest getting in loads more than you think you’ll need. We ended up with so much left over and it was great to be able to give it to our guests as a thank you for all their hard work in setting up and de-rigging. Alex and all his mates are from Hook Norton and they are massive Hooky Beer drinkers, so The Harris Suite (the DIY bar) had barrels of it ! We had a champaign cart where peeps could just help themselves, and we had wine on the tables. The biggest advice for DIY weddings is make sure you hire in freezers (for ice) and fridges (to cool the wine and beer) – very important on a hot day! The one mistake we did make was concentrating on the alcohol and neglecting the water… (which had to keep being filled from the tap – very time consuming).
A friend of a friend used to work as a wedding coordinator and so we did a trade swap, she coordinated my wedding and the following year I photographed hers. It was the best swap I’ve ever done. She helped set up and take everything down on the Sunday, but on the day she made sure drinks were served, wine was chilled, food was out, and all of the behind the scenes housekeeping jobs were taken care of. I’ve been to many DIY weddings and I’ve seen the ushers having to rotate white wine in fridges, fill empty jugs with water… it’s a big job and so I’m so glad we had Lucy to take it all on board.
HOMEMADE WEDDING CAKES
We really weren’t bothered about having a ‘special’ wedding cake. I’d seen at so many other weddings my clients having a selection of cakes made by guests, and we were totally inspired so created a cake competition for a bit of fun. My daughter and her mate tased the all the cakes and choose the winner! It was a lot of fun, and all of the cake was eaten with a mug of tea!
FESTIVAL WEDDING FOOD
We wanted good grub rather than anything fancy, so we proved pie and crisps at the beer tent just before the ceremony, and then after we had a hog roast with lots of yummy salads and breads. We hired in an ice-cream van for guests to have as pudding. We then had mugs of tea and cake (see below) and for the evening a fish and chip van came.
ADVICE & REGRETS (!)
I’ll be honest, the only thing we regret is not hiring a videographer for the day. It’s so lovely seeing everyone’s little video’s on their phone, but it just would have been wiser to have someone professional doing it for the entire day.
My advice is; if it finished on the day, accept it’s not going to get finished. There is no need to be distracted and you really want to be fully immersed in the day, so don’t sweat the small stuff, I go to so many weddings and no one notices… I promise!
For our wedding, the most important things for us was everyone coming and staying for the whole weekend, feeding everyone good grub, giving everyone a bottomless drink, and a having a rocking dancefloor. It was the best day every and I wish I could do it every year. To the same man obv!
If you are looking for an alternative wedding venue in Oxford, have a look at the blog post I wrote on 10 AMAZING AND ALTERNATIVE WEDDING VENUES OXFORDSHIRE, and if you’ve had a wedding festival in Oxfordshire yourself, and would like to be featured on this blog, please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you