England and Wales Say “I Do” to Gay Marriage

by Our Editors

The first legally recognized same-sex weddings took place in England and Wales on March 29, 2014.

by Stuart Haggas

If you prefer a more classic venue, Further Afield also recommend The Rectory Hotel, a lovingly restored property set in three acres of Victorian-walled garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, two hours west of London. With accolades from Vogue and Brides Magazine, this 12-bedroom country house hotel is licensed to hold intimate ceremonies for up to 60 guests. Hosts Jonathan and Julian can arrange anything from wedding breakfast with Champagne and canapés in the sunlit conservatory to beer on tap and hearty pub classics in adjacent sibling The Potting Shed, winner of The Good Pub Guides 2012 Pub of the Year.

Now that the Queen has approved same-sex marriage, why not marry in a luxury London hotel next to Buckingham Palace? The Goring is where Kate Middleton spent her final night as a commoner before marrying Prince William at Westminster Abbey. Unlike the abbey, The Goring welcomes same-sex marriages: there’s a choice of private rooms for civil ceremonies, the spacious private garden is ideal for a marquee, and they have access to the very best suppliers including florists, photographers, horse-drawn carriages, and toastmasters.

If that isn’t grand enough, some of England’s most famous royal palaces, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Banqueting House, and Kew Palace are licensed for civil wedding ceremonies. A ruined Elizabethan manor with renowned gardens, Sissinghurst Castle is a unique setting for civil weddings that changes with each season. Former owner Vita Sackville-West (famous for her passionate affair with the novelist Virginia Woolf) created the gardens in the 1930s. A more contemporary option is 30 St Mary Axe, better known by its phallic nickname The Gherkin. A distinct new addition to London’s skyline, you can get married beneath the glass dome at the very top of this landmark, surrounded by family, friends, and unsurpassable 360º views.

Other British cities with significant gay populations provide welcoming wedding venues. Manchester’s Cross Street Unitarian Chapel was Britain’s first place of worship to offer civil partnerships to same-sex couples. The Unitarian Church is not part of the Church of England, has a number of openly gay ministers, and was approved for civil partnership ceremonies in March 2012. They’ll soon be conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies here too.

WONDERFUL WEDDINGS IN WALES

Rich in history and mythology, Wales is reputed to have more castles than anywhere else in the world. The men are 100% Welsh beef, reared on a diet of rugby, choral singing, and dragon-chasing. It’s also the birthplace of gay rugby player Gareth Thomas, singing sex-bomb Tom Jones, and film stars Richard Burton, Ioan Gruffudd, and Matthew Rhys. Shirley Bassey, and Catherine Zeta-Jones are also Welsh, proving the women here are just as fiery. So what better place for an unforgettable wedding or honeymoon?

One magical choice is the holiday village of Portmeirion. Designed and built between 1925 and 1976 by Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, its inspiration was drawn from his love of classic Italian resorts like Portofino. The result is a make-believe Italianate village of tutti-frutti colored cottages, an elegant piazza framed by colonnades and statues, and 70 acres of sub-tropical woodland gardens—not what you’d expect to find on the Welsh coast!

Following a starring role in cult 1960’s TV series The Prisoner, today Portmeirion receives around 250,000 visitors a year and is one of Wales’ leading tourist attractions.The best way to experience Portmeirion is to stay here, allowing you to appreciate its charms once the day-trippers have gone. Seventeen of the delightful cottages provide self-catering accommodation, and the grand quayside Hotel Portmeirion has 14 rooms whose guests have included H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw; Noël Coward wrote the play Blithe Spirit while staying here in 1941.

It also makes an unusual wedding venue. Four rooms are licensed for civil wedding ceremonies, ranging from the hotel’s dazzling Mirror Room which is ideal for intimate ceremonies for up to 12 guests, to the historic oak-panelled Hercules Hall, which can host ceremonies for up to 100 guests. Afterward, you can enjoy a wedding breakfast in the hotel’s art deco-style restaurant, that is designed like a grand ocean liner. They can also help arrange anything from flowers and photographers to fireworks.

Another nearby option is Plas Dinas. The ancestral home of the Armstrong-Jones family, it gained a frequent royal visitor when son Antony married the Queen’s sister HRH Princess Margaret in 1960—the first commoner to marry into the royal family in centuries.

Plas Dinas today is a comfortable, chintzy country hotel run by gay couple Andy and Julian Banner-Price. Licensed for civil-wedding ceremonies, it’s ideal for intimate gatherings of up to 26 guests. You may even honeymoon in the Princess Margaret Suite, with king-size four-poster bed, feature fireplace, and roll-top bathtub big enough for two.

An hour’s drive from here is Ynys Llanddwyn (Llanddwyn Island). This tiny, desolate isle off the coast of Anglesey is considered one of Wales’ most idyllic spots. Legend tells of Dwynwen, the daughter of a 6th-century Welsh Prince, whose story of unrequited love forced her to live her life as a hermit on this island. Llanddwyn means “the church of St. Dwynwen,” and the church built here in the Middle Ages was important for both pilgrims and lovers. Although the church now lay in ruins, St. Dwynwen is today considered the Welsh patron saint of lovers—the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine.

The path to true love isn’t always easy, and neither is the path to this beautiful spot. The island remains attached to the Welsh mainland at all but the highest tides, and can only be reached by walking about a mile along a beach. Hollywood and royalty have nevertheless made the pilgrimage: romantic thriller Half Light starring Demi Moore and blockbuster Clash of the Titans starring Sam Worthington were filmed here, and royal couple Prince William and Kate spent the first three years of their marriage living in a nearby farmhouse while William served with the RAF. Although there’s nothing on Llanddwyn Island besides church ruins, a lighthouse, wild ponies, and grazing sheep, it’s perfect for a romantic honeymoon picnic.

It’s also worth knowing that a key ingredient of President Barack Obama’s favorite treat, smoked sea salt caramel milk chocolates by Fran’s Chocolates of Seattle, is Halen Môn sea salt from right here in Anglesey.

Before leaving this part of Wales, you should visit the town with the longest place name in Europe. Interestingly, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch wasn’t always its name—it’s little more than an early publicity stunt, contrived in the 1860s with the intention of creating Britain’s longest railway station name. And it worked: many thousands of visitors stop at the railway station each year to be photographed next to the extra-long platform sign.

A classic choice for weddings, Nanteos Mansion near Aberystwyth in mid-Wales provides gay brides and grooms with the quintessential Downton Abbey experience. Built in 1738, this imposing mansion once stood at the heart of a 33,000-acre estate, but today it’s a more modest 30 acres of private grounds.

Nanteos Mansion opened as a hotel in Spring 2012 after a £4.5 million refurbishment. You’ll feel like a lord (or dowager countess) as you approach the grand columned façade and a handsome, smartly dressed local whisks away your luggage.

The 14 rooms and suites are named after people, places, and events associated with the mansion’s history, and come complete with your very own servant: instead of a “Do Not Disturb” sign, there’s a cute teddy bear in a Nanteos Mansion sweater to leave outside your door, but it seemed heartlessly aristocratic to do that, so I tucked mine in bed instead!

With its chandeliers, mirrors, and frivolous wedding cake plasterwork, the Music Room is licensed for civil marriage ceremonies. The Nightingale Restaurant is perfect for a grand wedding breakfast that could include roast loin of venison on dauphinoise potatoes with port jus, fillet of halibut on green pea and samphire risotto, and local Cardigan Bay shrimp, crab, and lobster. Because this isn’t an impersonal chain hotel, you may have exclusive use of the whole mansion and grounds for your special day, and they can tailor everything to your exact requirements.

If you want a fairytale place to stage the most memorable day of your life, Cardiff Castle can fulfill your wildest wedding fantasies. This medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion in Cardiff city center has various rooms licensed for civil wedding ceremonies for up to 100 guests, from the magnificent Banqueting Hall with its flamboyant Camelot-style décor to the atmospheric stone-vaulted Undercroft that dates from the 15th century.

Whatever your preference—sexual, cultural, architectural, or historical—England and Wales welcome you with open arms and could be the perfect partner for your special day.

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