Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, I am really hoping I get to visit the seaside this year. But if not then I will revel in this gorgeous seaside wedding courtesy of WWW readers Sarah and Neil. They were married on the 22nd June 2019 at Purbeck House Hotel in Dorset followed by a back garden marquee reception. They both work in wildlife conservation and naturally their wedding was as eco-friendly as possible, sourcing local suppliers, using recycled materials, they gave wildflower seed favours to their guests and even home grew their own flowers. With a nod to their love of nature they also named their tables after birds, which was such a lovely personal touch.
Their day was truly a DIY affair with their loved ones all rallying round to craft up a beautiful reception; Sarah’s dress was custom made and the reception was held in a family friends’ garden. All in all it was a day filled with love, happiness and a real community vibe. Look out for gorgeous outfits, wildflowers and cool transport too!
Oli and Steph Photography thank you ever so much for sharing with us your totally brilliant images.
We got engaged whilst on holiday exploring the amazing country of Cuba in April 2018, which followed a two week work-trip away from the UK for Sarah. After a wonderful day of cycling, snorkeling, wildlife watching and drinking mojitos whilst listening to Cuban music, Neil proposed on the beach in the fading light. We then joined the family we were staying with and drank more mojitos to celebrate!
We wanted to have our wedding near the sea, to be nature-inspired and to be as eco-friendly as possible to reflect our love for the wild. We decided that Dorset would be the perfect location, where Sarah spent her childhood and where we lived for a while before our careers (both in wildlife conservation) took us elsewhere.
The Planning Process
Having decided on Dorset, we wanted to keep our wedding as local as possible, to support local businesses and to engage as many family and friends in our wedding as we could.
Once we started planning and asking people for their help it made us realise what a talented bunch we have in our family and friend network – and made us appreciate how lucky we are to have so many amazing people in our lives!
After viewing several lovely wedding venues in Dorset, we settled on having our wedding in Swanage. It is an important place for us as it is by the sea and is Sarah’s hometown. We chose the Purbeck House Hotel for our ceremony, which we opted to have as a non-religious ceremony. We knew it was the right place as soon as we entered the building – with its quirky Victorian décor and unique charm it had exactly the right atmosphere we were looking for, plus the room could hold up to 90 people which helped our decision (Sarah’s family is pretty large!). The wedding event manager at Purbeck House, Emily, was so incredibly helpful and is exactly the right person you want to be there on the day to help make sure everything goes smoothly.
To keep the personal and informal vibe going, we had our wedding reception in a family friends’ garden. They had spent a good part of a year working on the garden, clearing away part-finished ‘projects’, growing wildflowers to go with our nature-inspired theme, and covering their trees with fairy lights… the garden looked totally amazing and it meant so much to us to have our wedding reception there.
We hired a marquee for the reception from a locally based business, Chique Marquees, who catered for all our needs and gave us plenty of time for decorating and for clearing up. They were even happy to change some of the panelling at the last minute (literally, on the morning of the wedding) which allowed more visibility into the garden.
The Readings & Music
For the ceremony entrance and exit we played the song ‘Detectorists’, by Johnny Flynn. Johnny Flynn is one of our favourite artists and we have seen him play several times… We have not watched the TV series ‘the Detectorists’ but we absolutely love this tune!
For the signing of the register we played the song ‘Old Pine’, by Ben Howard, which takes us back to the wonderful year we spent living in Cornwall, where we first met.
We decided on just one reading during the ceremony, which was an extract from the book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres, and is one of Sarah’s favourite books. It was read by one of Sarah’s school friends, Mariel, who totally nailed it. So beautiful.
For our evening entertainment we had Tailored Entertainment’s ‘Reno and the Reverends’ as our evening band. From London, they were the only aspect of our wedding that was not locally based or a personal contact… we had absolutely no regrets bringing them to Dorset though – they were absolutely fantastic! They were very flexible with the planning, allowing for an early set up, an acoustic wandering set around the garden in the afternoon, and provided the DJ set – all of which was brilliant. They even learnt our first dance song for us.
The key thing for us was to find something that all three of our bridesmaids would feel comfortable wearing for the whole day. After sharing a few ideas with our bridesmaids Hayley (Neil’s sister), Katie (Sarah’s school friend) and Hannah (family friend), we actually ended up going for the first dress that we found online, a light mint green midi dress with a floral lace skirt from Oasis. Neil’s mum and a friend of Katie’s helped with the minor modifications needed, but one of the benefits of going for a midi dress is that the length of the dresses didn’t matter.
We got them a white cardigan shawl for the evening and asked them to get white shoes they were comfortable wearing. They all looked fantastic – and they were comfortable and happy, which was the main thing!
We left this aspect of our planning until last, not really on purpose, but more because hair, make-up and grooming does not hold much excitement for us! Appreciating that perhaps just for our wedding day it is important however, we found a local mobile hairdresser, Abby Fletcher, who was able to come to Sarah’s parents house on the morning of the wedding to do Sarah’s hair along with the bridesmaids Katie, Hannah and Hayley’s; Abby did a great job!
For the hair, we went with half-up half-down. To keep with the nature-inspired theme, Sarah wore a crown of dried wildflowers and Katie, Hannah and Hayley all had a dried wildflower hairclip each. These were from FlorenceAndFlowers on Etsy.
As for make-up… Sarah does not really do make-up, so wanted a ‘natural look’. So, following a good friend’s advice, Sarah kitted herself out with some Bare Minerals make-up from Boots and the salesperson on the counter showed her how to use it all. Following one trial attempt, she was good to go! With only one slight mishap on the wedding day with getting eyeliner and eyebrow liner mixed up, all was good. ‘Natural look’ nailed.
…and Neil sorted himself out just fine!
Your Outfits & Accessories
After an unsuccessful shopping attempt for a wedding dress (the whole experience was not great – Sarah is not a natural shopper!) Sarah asked her cousin’s partner, Amy, if she would be interested in making her wedding dress. Amy is an incredibly talented dressmaker, and it was such fantastic news when she said yes! Sarah gave her some ideas and off Amy went; drawing, designing and getting fabric samples… Every few months we would catch up so that Sarah could try on various parts of the dress in its development, and to make decisions on lace patterns, beads, buttons, fabrics etc. It was just a great experience and insight to see the dress develop from start to finish, and to marvel at the complexity of making a wedding dress!
Amy also embroidered a beautiful hummingbird brooch which was placed on the belt of the dress. It is stunning and such a lovely keepsake from the day. The hummingbird was totally Amy’s idea – which had such a wonderful meaning as we saw bee hummingbirds (the smallest bird in the world) whilst in Cuba where we got engaged.
For Neil’s suit, we decided on a navy-blue herringbone jacket, and after a fair amount of time browsing wedding suit websites, we found the perfect jacket, trousers, shirt and tie… all from Next. Perfect!
Neil’s dad already had a nice suit which he wanted to wear, and Sarah’s mum found a suit for her dad in a charity shop – good work!
Our best man and usher’s suit jackets were also from Next, apart from those who already owned something similar. We just asked if they would wear tan trousers and brown shoes as it really didn’t matter for them to match exactly. We got ties for everyone with a wildflower pattern from ASOS, so these were matching across all our groomsmen, which felt like a nice touch.
One of our ushers, Yve, did a great job of finding a skirt that matched the colour of the bridesmaid dresses and she also wore the same dried wildflower clip. She looked fab!
We decided early on that we wanted to grow as many of the flowers ourselves as possible. Every spare space in our and our parent’s houses had seed trays going!
We were a bit unlucky with the weather early on in 2019, so it took a while for everything to get growing… however, nature prevailed and some of the cornflowers, ox-eye daisies and cosmos were out in time. Phew! This coupled with a welcomed raid of family and neighbours’ gardens, we had a fantastic array of flowers.
Sarah’s Aunty Janet arranged the bouquet, table piece and floral decorations for the ceremony, which all looked fantastic. Sarah’s mum spent much of the year nurturing plants in large plant pots to decorate the marquee with.
Neil’s mum did an amazing job arranging the flowers for the table decorations and creating the buttonholes.
We met our photographer, Oli Prince, through his partner, Steph Prince, who is a colleague and friend of Sarah’s. With their love of nature and wild spaces, and knowing that Oli has spent much of his time taking incredible photographs of wildlife all over the world, we knew that they would be good.
The photographs they took, however, were far more than good – they totally blew us away! Oli and Steph take beautiful natural shots, and they really managed to capture the atmosphere of our big day. Oli really is an incredibly talented photographer and is just a lovely guy, someone you can feel comfortable having around… even on the morning of your wedding day. He and Steph went above and beyond to get those challenging shots that capture those special moments, and we loved that they carried on right into the evening and captured the antics on the dancefloor!
Oli also came down the day before to scope out the venues. We wanted to have some photographs on the downs in Swanage, to capture the town and the sea. The photographs he took of us with the sea as the backdrop are just beautiful and are really special to us.
The Details & Décor
Our invitations, table names and table plan were truly a team effort! Neil’s Aunty Aly runs a print company, Bee Creative Print, and she kindly did the design and printing of our invitations, table names and plan, all on recycled card. Our good friends, and truly talented women, Yve (Ink & Mouse) and Louise (AdelinaArt) kindly did the incredibly stunning calligraphy writing and artwork for us. Sarah drew the map and painted some of the artwork for the invitations…. And then Aly did a fantastic job of bringing it all together!
We had 12 tables, all of which were named after a bird or animal that we hold memories of and, where possible, connect us to the people sitting on each table. As we met in Cornwall whilst studying, we decided to have the two birds that we were studying as the main feature on our invitations – the house sparrow and common snipe. The rest of the décor was based around a classic country garden party – straw bales, bunting, wildflowers, games, fire-pits etc. For our wedding favours, we decided to stick with the nature-theme and give everyone some wildflower seeds from Wildflower Favours, with some of the profits supporting the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Food-wise, we chose scones with jam and cream on arrival instead of canapés, before a sit-down two course meal of a picnic-style main and pavlova pudding. The food was provided by Bliss Food Co. who were totally brilliant, so flexible and the food was awesome. Our evening food was also great, wood-fired pizzas that just kept coming from ‘Pizza with Love’. Booze-wise, one of the local pubs, the Kings Arms in Langton, set up a bar for us next to the marquee (which they ‘recycled’ out of a field from a previous wedding event!). We had a Cornish cider, pilsner and ale on tap and pretty much every spirit you can think of. Ricky and his team were brilliant!
We spent 10 days in beautiful Cornwall for our honeymoon, which was where we first met whilst living in Falmouth eight years previously. We stayed for three nights near St Agnes on the north coast and seven nights in Coverack on the south. We spent our time going back to old haunts and finding new exciting beaches and coastline… just a perfect break!
Some of our wedding gifts from friends and family included paddle boarding, a boat trip (where common dolphins swam alongside the boat), and tickets to the open air Minack Theatre. Throw in some cycling, surfing, and lots of good food = Just epic.
Not having to worry or faff about getting flights immediately after the wedding day was also brilliant. We were so emotionally exhausted, staying local and doing all of our favourite things was exactly what we needed.
For what we considered as a formality before the day, the ceremony became one of the most memorable and fun parts of the day for us. The laughter, the silly things, the commitment we made in front of all the people that mean so much to us… it was just wonderful.
…The clutch breaking on the yellow VW campervan transporting us from the ceremony to the reception was also quite a memorable moment! Our family friend who was driving dealt with it masterfully!
The following day we arranged a time and a place for anyone who wanted to meet to go for a swim in the sea. It was so lovely having something planned for the next day, and a dip in the ocean was exactly what we all needed!
We do not have much love for fruit cake, so we went for a three-tiered sponge cake with different flavours. We had chocolate orange for the base, Victoria sponge for the middle and lemon for the top tier.
The cake was masterfully made and decorated by Sarah’s Aunty Anne, who was following a vague specification of what we wanted. It looked and tasted incredible, and we loved the little touch of the two bee-eater birds that she put on the top of the cake!
Advice For Other Couples
The main advice we would give to others would be to:
- Try not to put too much of your energy into stressing about the guest list – it will all work out fine in the end!
- Keep it chilled. It is the laughter and the silly things that will stay with you forever.
- Find someone to be the ‘Wedding Manager’ on the day. This may sound silly, but especially if you are having a DIY wedding having someone else, be it a friend or relative, as the main contact for the caterer, the bar, the portable toilets, the band, etc on the day itself will take a real load from your shoulders.
A final point would be to consider a honeymoon at home. We have some beautiful places in the UK, especially in June/July – we highly recommend it after the cost and emotional blur of the wedding day itself!
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Oli and Steph Photography
The Kings Arms, Langton Matravers
Purbeck House Hotel
Pizza With Love
Abby Fletcher Hair
Invite Design & Calligraphy
Ink & Mouse
Sarah and Neil thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous seaside wedding with us xo Lou