Caryn, 27 & Mark, 28

Blair Atholl, Scotland

Wedding Date: August 12, 2009 (in the U.K., August 12 is called the “glorious twelfth” for the very silly reason that it is the first day of grouse-hunting season. How could we resist?)

Number of Guests: 27

Wedding Cost: $20,000+ vacation expenses

Wedding Ceremony Location: State Dining Room of Blair Castle

Wedding Reception Location: Also in State Dining Room of Blair Castle

outdoor wedding in scotland

Why did you have an intimate wedding?

The thought of standing in front of 200-some odd people didn’t appeal to my husband or me. The exchange of vows is something sacred, and so we only felt comfortable sharing that moment with our very closest family and friends.

It seems like, for us, the question isn’t so much why we chose an intimate wedding as why we chose a destination wedding {the couple lives in D.C}. My husband and I love to travel. More than that, though, the desire to reach out to the evironment around us and to learn about people of different cultures is part of our identity as Unitarians. I won’t claim to speak for my husband, but the divine peace I feel after I’ve climbed a mountain is indescribable. I wanted to share this sort of tranquil feeling with my wedding guests– to give my friends and family a taste of the world my husband and I share together and to give them memories they’d never forget. You just can’t get this experience from your standard hall wedding. To walk across the Scottish heath with my family, the warm summer sun keeping us warm as the moorland wind whistles in your ears? I can’t think of anything more romantic.

The first international vacation my husband and I took (in 2003) was to Scotland (I’m of Scottish ancestry and had always wanted to follow the path of my ancestors in their old homeland). We had the best time; the people were warm and hospitable, the landscape was breathtaking, and it was one of the happiest times of our lives (so far). On that trip, I remember seeing a couple weddings– one was in an old cathedral in Glasgow, the other was in a tiny kirk on the shores of Loch Lomond in Luss– and I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to get married in such a beautiful place. Then, when it came time to make plans for my own wedding, I did some investigating… I could spend $20,000 on a run-of-the-mill 200+ person wedding, which didn’t appeal to me at all, or I could spend that money taking my friends and family somewhere they’d never forget. It was never a choice for us… the answer was too obvious.

We used Matthew 7:21 in our ceremony, and the passage talks about building your marriage upon rock and not sand. This has always meant a great deal to me– it always bothered me that I can’t go back to visit the church my grandparents married in because the church has been bulldozed. What sort of symbol is that? Back home in Metro Detroit, even churches feel ephemeral, not to mention reception halls. Not so in the United Kingdom, where even ruins are lovingly preserved. To be able to get married in a castle– a symbol of a fortress- that has stood since the 13th century emobodied the spirit of the Bible passage. It embodied the values upon which I wanted to build my marriage.

So we knew we wanted a destination wedding in Scotland. It takes a certain personality type, not to mention budget, to make that possible for guests, so the guest list quite quickly sorted itself out to around 30 people. Some people are adverse to travel, not to mention international travel, and some people have a different notion about what constitutes a vacation (“ya mean no palm trees or sand?”), so the guest list was in many ways self-selected. This meant less hurt feelings on the part of the invitees. I regret that a couple people weren’t able to come, but I wouldn’t change a thing, even knowing this.

couple in castle wedding

What are some the challenges that you faced planning an intimate wedding?

Again, the intimate wedding wasn’t the problem, per se. It was really more challenging to plan a destination wedding– to coordinate everyone’s arrival times, plans, lodging, etc. Not to mention picking a place virtually blind! I relied a great deal on sites like Trip Advisor to makes plans, identify sites of interest, and to select lodging. I had never been to Blair Castle. I had only seen Margaret’s work online. Things could have gone horribly wrong… it took a great deal of faith and poise to proceed. We also used a wedding planner, Highland Country Weddings, to make arrangements for us. I don’t think this is necessarily a requirement for a savvy or experienced traveler, but for someone who is unfamiliar with Scotland, a planner like Highland Country Weddings really takes the edge out of planning a distance wedding. They were able to coordinate the details (flowers, cake, DJ, car, etc), which meant that I was free to focus on travel arrangements. They also helped us with obtaining our marriage visas for the UK. The resources at the castle were also of great use to us– so I would advise brides-to-be not to shy away from utilizing event planners at the location of their wedding (or the proposed location).

I didn’t find the size of my wedding problematic at all– quite opposite. It was a relief to me only to have a couple dozen guests. I think the guests enjoyed themselves more (and were certainly less self-conscious about dancing!).

scottish destination wedding bride


Was it difficult to pare down the guest list?

No. (See above).

groomsmen blair castle in scotland

Did you have any ‘issues’ with the small guest list from friends and family? If so, how did you address them?

No…and I think this was because the wedding was in Scotland. So if you’re looking to avoid hurt feelings…. 😉

bride in front of blair castle in scotland


What were the highlights of the ceremony?

How to begin… Well, I got married in a castle– how do you top that?! The bridal procession was led into the ceremony by a bagpiper. There’s nothing more beautiful than that! We had a harpist, a charming Scottish minister, my husband said “I do” too quickly (and everyone laughed at him), my flower girl buckled under the pressure and had a meltdown (so sad but also so cute).

small-wedding-ceremony in scotland



What were the highlights of the reception?

The food! We ate at one, long table— a beautiful antique table– by candlelight. The food was phenomenal, the atmosphere unparalleled. And we went downstairs to the Banvie Hall for dancing… And everyone danced! I was afraid that a small wedding would mean that our dance floor would be catastrophic, but I found it to be quite the opposite. I’ve been to weddings with 300 people that had fewer people on the dance floor. Plus, all the men were in kilts… which made for hilarious dancing….

Did I mention that we had a rainbow? Because the ceremony and reception were in the same place, my husband and I were able to go with our photographer around the castle grounds to get photos. It had rained for 15 minutes earlier in the day, and we got our portrait taken under a rainbow in front of the castle.


 What was the best thing about having an intimate wedding?

Being able to really enjoy my family and friends without feeling pulled in a million directions. Being able to dance without feeling like I needed to mingle. Being able to eat my dinner! And most importantly, feeling like I could really enjoy the day with my husband.


What advice do you have for couples who are considering an intimate wedding?

Go for it! Remember that this day is about the two of you, and no one else. Do it exactly as you want to do it, and then you’ll have no regrets.



Photographer: Margaret McAtier
Reverend: Ian Gough
Venue: Blair Castle
Wedding Planner: Highland Country Weddings (coordinated Rolls Royce, flowers, harpist, DJ, etc.)
Accomodations: Roseburn Bed and Breakfast