Having performed at over 200 weddings in Berkshire, Surrey and London, I suppose you could think of me as a connoisseur of weddings in the South East. I've seen many a well-maintained garden, a plethora of stylishly renovated barns, and scores of bunting-lined marquees, and I know what works and what doesn't, what creates a romantic atmosphere and what kills it, and what makes your guests go away with a glow at the end of the night (that isn't just from the free wine). Just for you, I've condensed my years of experience to present to you 4 places that I feel are the best of the best (I couldn't narrow it down to 3!).
Beloved, thou hast bought me many flowers – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter series lived in London and was engaged (and was real), she would probably pick this venue in a heartbeat. Housing 5,000 different plants, many of which are edible for those that like a quick botanic snack, the Chelsea Physic Gardens are not only beautiful, but are also a place of significant scientific interest.
When you have a venue as naturally beautiful at the Chelsea Physic Gardens, inevitably you save a lot of money on decorations. The backdrop for all of your photos is ready made, and can't possibly fail to make every photo look special.
One of the unusual things about this venue is how quiet it is. While it is right in the heart of the busy capital, none of the outside noise and bustle disturbs the peace in the gardens. As a result, the venue has a very private, and very exclusive feel to it, and there is a sense that you are almost the only people in the whole world. It also gives your guests a lot of freedom, as they can spend their time between the different parts of the day looking around the gardens. It's as if time slows down here.
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library' - Jorge Luis Borges
If by 'kennel', Goodwood mean 'actually quite massive fancy mansion house', then that gives an accurate idea of what this venue is like. The reason for the name is that the building used to house the Duke of Richmond's hunting hounds, which is something of a head-scratcher given the lavish library and sophisticated studies within the building; there was clearly more to those dogs than met the eye.
I digress. Even taking the unusually literate hounds out of the picture, this venue is really something special. The view from the house is a grand and beautifully maintained golf course, but the venue itself is remarkably intimate, the cosiness of the setting emphasised by the vastness of the grounds. Within the Kennel, visitors are met with a warren-like collection of rooms, all impeccably decorated in true Victorian style – with a lot of modern twists. The library on the top floor is particularly spectacular, with the style of the room fusing a traditional and modern style. The bookcases set into the dark blue walls lend the room a mysterious atmosphere, and the low, old fashioned light fixtures give the room a seductive glow. I could have been in a Bronte novel. In a way, I think I was.
Willows whiten, aspens shiver
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot
If a poem could be a venue, then it's this one. Had the Lady of Shalott grown tired of Camelot and started house hunting, I think she would have chosen to settle at The Dairy at Waddeston Manor, and who could blame her? Surrounded on one side by sweeping meadows, and on the other by a deep-green, glassy lake, this venue conjures up images of knights and damsels in distress (or, ideally, damsels who are very calm and ready to make a life-long commitment).
Inside The Dairy is all wooden beams, long tapered candles and majestic fireplaces - the perfect backdrop for distracting your guests from that joke your best man is about to make about that time in Benidorm with the flip flop and the goat. The actual building itself has a courtyard at the centre, and a lakeside terrace, giving your guests plenty of space to mill about and take in the scenery, whatever the weather. For couples looking to replicate a true sense of a bygone era of courtly love – look no further, my lords and ladies.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare. - WIlliam Henry Davies
Great Fosters has a real presence about it; there's so much to see, it's not just a feast for the eyes, it's a 10 course taster menu. If George Clooney were a building, he'd probably be this one; it's architecture oozes mystery and charm, and it's grounds are so beautiful and vast, you probably wouldn't mind getting lost in them. Preferably with George Clooney, probably.
It's unlikely that there's a better venue in terms of photo opportunities; Great Fosters has a Saxon moat, a Japanese garden and the most manicured topiary you've even seen in your life. You'll stand in front of these remarkable landmarks and start wondering to yourself whether you might, in fact, be distantly related to Henry VIII.
Inside Great Fosters matches its vast 50 acre grounds, and is well suited to larger events. There are many rooms to choose from in which to host your reception, and all have a sense of history to them. There are beautiful vaulted ceilings, candelabras, and genuine Tudor beams, all of which would lend grandeur to any event.