February 8, 2016

Getting Married Outdoors in England and Wales


Many couples want to get married outdoors, with the grass under their feet and the wide open skies above them, by the sea or in a little clearing in a woods.

I have shot lots of wedding where the couple have chosen to get married outside, even well into Autumn and as lover of the great outdoors these are some of my favourite types of ceremony to shoot, as well as usually being lovely and relaxed.

The rules in Scotland are different as Humanist celebrants can provide a legally binding ceremony outdoors, so this piece is about the laws and options in England and Wales. On the whole, most outdoor ceremonies are not legally binding, and you will need to have a legal civil ceremony performed elsewhere in order to formalize the marriage. Different rules apply to religious celebrations especially if there is also a legal element, but one notable exception is a Jewish wedding blessing, for this you can set a Chuppah up anywhere and outdoor blessings are a popular option.



[Lucy & Alex held their Jewish wedding blessing outdoors at their venue, having been legally married a few months earlier]

I’m going to cover the three most popular non-religious options to get married outdoors

A civil ceremony

In some cases if you choose to have a civil ceremony performed by registrars there is the option to have the ceremony outside. Registrars have, in many cases, made the rules on what can be included in a ceremony more flexible and creative, and weddings I have shot have included ring warming ceremonies, sing a longs and live music performances as well as the more traditional readings. All of this gives you the chance to personalise your ceremony.

As, with civil ceremonies, it is the building or structure that has the license for legally binding weddings to take place and not the person performing the ceremony, you will need to perform the symbolic part of the ceremony outside with your guests, along with any readings or music, and then the legally binding part of the ceremony and the signing of the register either inside a separate room, or under a physical permanent structure. Some venues which are geared up for outdoor civil ceremonies will have something like a pergola or bandstand like structure that this can take place underneath. The venue you choose will also need to be a licensed wedding venue, which rules out certain other spaces such as back gardens, tents or spaces which can be used as reception venues, but don’t otherwise hold a wedding license.

As different local registration services have different ways of working, you will need to check the possibility of having an outdoor ceremony both with your venue, and with the registrars when you book them.

Clearly, the possibility of an outdoor ceremony is quite a strong selling point for venues with the space, so you should get a good idea of whether this is something that the venue has done before and whether it is possible.

One of the great benefits of choosing to have a civil ceremony outdoors is that it wraps everything up in one ceremony. Do check with the registrars and the venue what the plan would be for wet weather – you may be happy to give your guests umbrellas and brave a little rain, but do check whether the ceremony will need to be moved indoors, and check whether the available space will be big enough, just in case!


[Cat & Will had a outdoor civil ceremony at Narborough Hall Gardens, the venue has a dedicated space by their lake for outdoor ceremonies, but they needed to go into the main house to complete the formalities and sign the register]


[Gemma & Clare were married at a venue in the Cotswolds where they have a covered platform that was licensed, for the main part of the ceremony they stood in front of the structure, but went underneath when it was time to say the legally binding part of the vows.]

A Humanist ceremony

Humanist ceremonies are some of my favourite. Choosing to work with an accredited humanist celebrant for your wedding means that your ceremony can be highly personalised and meaningful.

What is humanism? The British Humanism Association says “Wouldn’t it be great to start your married life with a ceremony that really means something? To tell your friends and family what your relationship means to you, and why you are choosing to get married?
Many of us who aren’t religious are looking for a wedding that is more flexible and personal than a civil or register office ceremony.
A humanist, non-religious wedding ceremony gives you the opportunity to marry where you want, when you want and how you want. There’s no set script: it’s too personal an occasion for that. Instead, each wedding is tailored to meet the particular couple’s requirements. You can set the tone that’s right for you and choose your own words and music.”

The obvious downside is that they are not legally binding, and you will need to have a separate legal ceremony in order to finalise the marriage. The upside is that they can be conducted anywhere (health and safety and private property laws notwithstanding) and at anytime, and as well as being a great way to get married outdoors, they also mean you can have an indoor wedding ceremony in an unlicensed venue, which is a fabulous way to use an unusual venue for all parts of the day.

Katharine & Judd's wedding at Mc Motors

Katharine & Judd's wedding at Mc Motors

[Katharine & Judd had a humanist ceremony inside at MC Motors, which despite being a popular wedding reception venue, was not licensed for marriage ceremonies which meant they could hold the whole day there. The ceremony was performed by Zena Birch]

A humanist celebrant will take the time to get to know you, and help you create a bespoke ceremony that reflects you, your relationship and your relationships to your nearest and dearest. There are no restrictions as to what can be included, as long as it is right for you. Another thing I love about humanist ceremonies is that through the preparation process, and the time spent with your celebrant you get time to consider what marriage means to you as a couple. Which is a great substitute for those without religious beliefs for the preparation for marriage courses that churches sometimes offer.


[Carly & Al’s Humanist ceremony at Fforest. Although one of the buildings at Fforest is licensed for civil ceremonies – they chose to have a beautiful humanist ceremony in the tipi]

You can find an accredited humanist celebrant here https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-celebrant/

Having a friend perform your ceremony

This has been quite a common theme in weddings I’ve shot this year. Again these ceremonies are not legally binding, but they can be deeply personal, especially when performed by someone close to you.

Similarly to humanist weddings, the only restrictions with these types of ceremonies are your own imagination. You can combine readings, poetry, singing, guests playing kazoos, close friends sharing their memories of your relationship, and all conducted by someone who knows you and cares for you.

If you have a theatrical friend, or just one who is great at public speaking, then asking them to lead your ceremony could work well, and gives you the opportunity to build the ceremony from the ground up.

Here are a few recent examples of weddings I’ve shot with friends conducting the ceremony

lara & gav's cute and quirky back garden wedding.

lara & gav's cute and quirky back garden wedding.

[Lara & Gav’s wedding was a colourful explosion of emotion, fun, poetry and music, with each of their families giving readings and sharing thoughts]


[Victoria & Ian’s wedding was conducted by a friend, and allowed them to continue their festival style wedding at a venue that had never held a wedding ceremony before]


[Libby & Steve’s outdoor wedding was performed by their friend, which made it beautiful and personal]

Out of 39 weddings shot in 2015, 10 of those were outdoor, or humanist, and it makes Ellie Gillard photography not only well placed to cover outdoor and alternative wedding ceremonies, but pretty excited to too. So, would you like to get married outdoors, did you find this helpful? If you’re planning an outdoor wedding, then do get in touch and let’s talk!