Wedding Reception Styling in Cornwall and Devon

Outdoor Weddings: inspiration for going al fresco

Outdoor Weddings: inspiration for going al fresco

The Great Outdoors

Our guide to a dreamy outdoor wedding in Cornwall and Devon

Hannah May
Hannah May - Chief Features Writer

Imagine taking your vows to the soundtrack of the sea or birdsong carrying through the treetops; schmoozing with your guests to a backdrop of woodland, clifftop or riverside; dining under open skies before dancing together under the stars... We can’t think of anything more blissful than an outdoor wedding.

With last year’s announcement of the legalisation of outdoor civil wedding and partnership ceremonies in England for the first time (on approved premises) alongside a powerful cultural shift toward everything outdoors – al fresco weddings have never been more popular, especially for couples wanting to create a unique day rich in wild romance and sensorial detail.

Not only does the idea of place assume greater meaning, but a bespoke celebration is also guaranteed, since every detail can be individually designed at a personally picked location. You may wish to arrange a back garden wedding, host an open-air ceremony or plan an outdoor wedding from start to finish. Here’s some ideas to get you started.

Camel Studio Verity Westcott Photography Outdoor Weddings1

Verity Westcott Photography

The pre-ceremony gathering
A get-together before the vows provides your guests with the perfect ice-breaking prelude to your day, setting the scene and introducing each other while kick-starting the celebratory mood.

Weekend weddings allow the couple to greet guests the day or evening before the main event, and can take the form of a relaxed afternoon picnic and garden games, excursion or activities, or evening supper. If you’ve hired a venue for the entire weekend, then take advantage of all the spaces available by hosting dinner or afternoon tea in your marquee, or evening drinks on the lawn or courtyard. If not, then consider booking a space nearby or decamping to a wild spot for an activity like open water swimming followed by a barbecue, or a coastal walk to a pub with a scenic beer garden. Breakfast on the wedding day can follow a similar vibe and, if the weather doesn’t play ball, bring the outdoors in with hampers packed with fresh foodstuffs topped with posies of wildflowers.

Verity Westcott Photography Outdoor Weddings3

Verity Westcott Photography

The ceremony
Outdoor ceremonies are one of wedding world’s must-haves. And thanks to the recent legislation changes (with the government promising that reforms to religious ceremonies are to follow), couples can now officially tie the knot in a glorious variety of open-air spaces.

Humanist, pagan, civil ceremonies and civil partnerships can all be enjoyed outdoors, with the non-legally binding varieties facing no restrictions at all regarding place should you dream of saying ‘I do’ with the sand between your toes or a river at your feet.

Pick ‘your’ place such as your favourite country retreat, where you became engaged or went on your first date – or opt for a venue that allows designated parts or every stage of your day to take place outside in keeping with your vision.

Incorporate the venue’s natural features into the ceremony: for example, add a sand ceremony to your beachside pagan wedding, gather at the lakeside or wed under the giant oak at your licensed venue, or encircle the blooming rose or herb garden for a sweetly scented outdoor ceremony.

Thomas Frost Photography Outdoor Weddings2

Thomas Frost Photography

The drinks reception
This gives you the chance to really show off your venue or select an outdoor space that you adore. If you’ve married in a religious building or an indoor venue due to the season or weather, relocating to an outdoor or semi-outdoor space (such as an open-sided marquee or arbour) for the drinks reception allows everyone a change of scene and breath of fresh air as the festivities commence.

If you have chosen an outdoor ceremony, the drinks reception can follow directly in the same area or slightly ‘off stage’ with an outdoor bar, mobile drinks and catering vans, canapés and live music whether it’s an acoustic band, singer or string quartet.

Be creative with the layout, seating, décor and refreshments, and incorporate the natural scenery as much as possible into your choices to accentuate the open-air aspect. You might create a garden-themed cocktail menu, hang rattan egg chairs and scatter swing seats, sun loungers, bamboo chairs, botanical print cushions and green velvet sofas (and bring the indoors out!).

Thomas Frost Photography Outdoor Weddings5

Thomas Frost Photography

The wedding breakfast
There are so many outdoor wedding breakfast options. You could select banqueting tables for sharing platter feasts or formal seated dining, a smattering of food stations or street food vendors, or opt for a barbecue or picnic for a wonderfully interactive vibe.

Incorporate fresh, local and seasonal produce into your menus and consider the presentation to optimise your outdoor setting. Use botanical crockery and linens, adorn tabletops with an abundance of foliage and flowers, and pick earthy tones, natural materials and floral themed décor for everything from the table settings to the chair sashes.

Thomas Frost Photography Outdoor Weddings1

Thomas Frost Photography

The evening reception
When dusk falls and the air cools, it doesn’t mean that you have to move indoors. Part of the joy of an outdoor wedding is embracing every natural nuance from the landscape to the light and staging your evening reception outdoors can provide a magical finale.

Whether you host a cocktail hour or beach stroll at sundown, s’mores and marshmallow toasting as the last light lingers, or even arrange an outdoor disco complete with dance floor (one of the hottest trends du jour), unique entertainment (think roaming acts, fire and glow performers, stilt walkers, live landscape artists and fireworks) and warming drinks (glühwein, coffee and liqueur, hot toddys, mulled cider) – you’ll be providing the most unforgettable endnote to your day.

Arrange an awning, covered area or open-sided marquee complete with heaters and snug areas to keep guests warm. Outside, light firepits, scatter patio heaters and focus on lighting for extra ambience. Consider festoon and fairy lights alongside a range of candlelight (line paths with tea lights and surround seating areas with hurricane lamps), and fashion a gazebo or cushioned area slightly away from the action for a spot of stargazing.

Thomas Frost Photography Outdoor Weddings3

Thomas Frost Photography

The after-party
Depending on your schedule and venue hire arrangements, why not extend the celebrations the next day and host an open-air brunch or lunch – or take your guests to a beautiful location for more al fresco fun? You could arrange a boat trip, snorkelling or stand-up paddleboarding, beach picnic, garden games, lunch with live entertainment or simply refresh your wedding night’s reception space with fruit platters and cool boxes full of pressés, juices and lollipops for a reviving morning-after soirée.

Thomas Frost Photography Outdoor Weddings4

Thomas Frost Photography

Make sure your outdoor wedding is as practical as it is pretty with these top tips

Weatherproof Stock up on essentials for all weather scenarios with sunscreen, flip-flops, insect repellent, wellington boots and umbrellas. And, of course, make sure there’s somewhere under cover that’s decorated and ready to use should the weather take a sudden downturn. See our feature on p.106 for more ideas.

Access Ensure walkways are flat (and well-lit) for any wheelchair/pushchair users and young or old guests who may be unsteady on their feet.

Verity Westcott Photography Outdoor Weddings1

Verity Westcott Photography

Comfort Consider your guests’ changing needs throughout the day. Will they become cold, tired, bored or hungry at any point? Pre-empt this and put plenty of contingencies in place with blankets, outdoor heating, a round of evening snacks and warm drinks, a variety of entertainment (think live acts, a mixologist or garden games) and accommodation and/or transportation.

Facilities Think about your individual guests’ requirements, from toilets and baby changing facilities to a crèche and play/quiet area. Signpost where everything is and ensure that the signage is visible at night with extra lighting.

Main image: Thomas Frost Photography

words Hannah May