June 15th, 2017 | Laura McDonagh
Merewood Country House Hotel won Lauren and Ash over as soon as they visited, and its luxurious interiors, quirky library and spellbinding views became the inspiration behind their glamorous wedding day.
Except this couple’s celebration was more than just a day, with their lucky guests heading to the Lake District for a whole weekend of celebrations. They hosted a Friday night party with a Gatsby-esque 1920s dress code, organised a champagne lake cruise, a classic crooner, a mind-reading magician and much, much more.
Of course, a weekend wedding requires more than one outfit too, and Lauren swapped her Friday night feathery flapper frock for a customised fishtail Mori Lee gown on Saturday – please do yourself a favour, readers, and check out that killer back detail. You can thank us later!
With images by Kelly Cotter Photography
lauren says: We got engaged in Edinburgh at Carlton Hill. We’d been together over five years, but Ash had wanted to become a PE teacher and be able to purchase a ring himself before he proposed. He took me up to Edinburgh the first weekend after he had been teaching for a year. We arrived at the Radisson Blu on the Royal Mile, where we were instantly upgraded to a suite (alarm bells, but I kept quiet!) We walked up Carlton Hill, and while I was looking over the city, I turned around to find him on one knee!
Our wedding was on 8th April 2017. It was the middle weekend of Ash’s Easter holiday. Turns out it was the hottest day of the year so far!
We both have fond childhood memories of the Lake District and have family breaks away very regularly – we‘d already discussed prior to getting engaged that we would marry up there. We walked into the entrance hall at Merewood with its wingback chairs and a roaring fire, looked at each other and knew it was the one!
We completely took over the venue for the weekend off the wedding. The house felt like our home from Friday at 11am till Sunday lunch time.
Before we were engaged I had, like many girls, a Pinterest board of that wedding that might happen one day. Mine was full of rustic burlap, lavender pots and bunting. However, when we walked into Merewood, that was all forgotten. The art deco conservatory bar and eclectic library just screamed 1920s/1930s Gatsby Glamour and our (subtle) theme was born!
Our floor-length gold sequin bridesmaid dresses added glamour and the flowers were elegant and timeless handtied bouquets of anemones, roses, ranunculus, succulents, eucalyptus and freesias. The venue flowers followed the same suit with a eucalyptus top table runner, a staircase garland of sweet smelling neutral coloured flowers and cut-glass vases which we filled ourselves with flowers from the florist, Made in Flowers.
I didn’t want to ‘put’ a colour into Merewood. The venue was already full of golds, rich greens and reds and dark wood and I didn’t feel that adding a bright colour would work. So, I took the gold and creams of the main Lonsdale suite and carried it through the whole wedding. As the wedding planning progressed, blue seemed to pop up a little – as it’s the Lakes, I wasn’t surprised. The men were in navy suits, which was where the blue started to naturally appear. Our colour scheme evolved organically over time, which I loved.
The first dress I chose was the one I wore on the Friday night of our wedding weekend. It was a flapper-style white dress with feathers around the hem. This dress gave me the idea for a 1920’s fancy dress party.
But onto the main event… I was so excited to go dress shopping after years of dreaming about it. The last shop I went in was Amelia’s in Clitheroe. They were lovely, friendly and helpful. My taste had evolved a bit in that I still wanted a simple gown with a back element, but by this point I felt I needed some glamour. The dress I finally decided on was Mori Lee 5108. Most brides put a belt around this dress, but I didn’t want to be most brides: I wanted a fancy back! We discussed in great lengths with the seamstress and decided to cut the back boning out and cut the back as low as possible. We added some delicately beaded straps to give the dress more support, and for my glamour I made a three-tier crystal back necklace which the seamstress attached to the straps.
Just as important as the dress were my shoes. After quite a few trips to Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, I decided on a pair of navy velvet Manolo Blahniks heels. They were similar to Carrie’s famous Sex and the City heels; however, the crushed velvet added just a touch of extra glamour.
Ash wanted him, his groomsmen and our fathers to all wear the same suit. We ended up choosing a premium Italian wool one from Next, which came in two styles, slim and tailored, which meant everyone looked great. The waistcoats were our nod to both our families’ Scottish heritage, but also added glamour. To accessorise, we gifted all the men Dunhill cufflinks. Ash got a pair from my brother and his partner, which were also from Dunhill, but set with a precious stone in and engraved with our wedding date. We also added green pocket squares for them all with a silver Dunhill one for Ash, pocket watches and dark brown brogues.
Our bridesmaid dresses were from Jenny Packham at Debenhams. They were floor length, gold and sequinned. Just stunning, and totally fitting with the glamorous theme.
We were transported to the venue in a VW minibus from North West Vintage VW. It was so elegantly restored and it added a little romantic country element. The groomsmen, bridesmaids, and then me and my dad were taken down to the church in it, and then after the ceremony Ash and I were taken for a quick drive around Bowness.
The next form of transport was the Windermere Lake Cruise. We were taken all around the lake, served champagne with bottles of Chambord and strawberries on the tables for guests to add themselves. We felt like film stars!
As we were about to dock at Waterhead Pier, our guests started to hear some bagpipes. We were greeted on the Jetty by a sole pipist playing The Skye Boat Song – another nod to our families’ heritage. It was a friend of Ash’s father who plays the bagpipes in Accrington Pipe Band.
We were then transported back up to Merewood by Mountain Goat who provided five 16-seater minibuses, which were really comfortable.
Our photographer was Kelly Cotter Photography. Joanne and Nikki are a really great team. We had Joanne come up to Merewood and do a pre-wedding shoot which really put us at ease and allowed us to figure out some great shots for the big day. They felt like they were friends on the day – just one of the girls! While we were getting ready they helped with tasks, had a laugh with us all and basically made the whole process fun and easy.
As a special welcome to guests who stopped in our main hotel or the sister hotel, we provided a canvas welcome bag emblazoned with our wedding logo. It contained a few leaflets on the lakes, some chutney I made at Christmas, Kendal mint cake, a pack of playing cards, a little tipple, hangover kits and a few weekend essentials they may have forgotten like toothbrushes and razors.
In terms of favours for our day guests, we gave a four-piece pack of Grasmere Gingerbread. We always visit the shop when we’re up in the Lakes and it seemed like the obvious choice. They went down really well, not a piece was left! We also had mini picture frames with pictures for each of the guests to act as place cards as another little favour (we were very grateful to all our guests!)
A family friend had recently set up her own cake making business – Claire Louise Cakes – and we’d previously ordered a cake from her which was absolutely delicious, so we tasked her with making our wedding cake. We decided on five tiers of red velvet, chocolate and caramel and carrot cake. There were gold sequins cascading down the side to add another bit of Gatsby glamour. The cake topper was the lyrics to our first dance song – ‘I belong with you, you belong with me’ – which I bought online and had custom laser cut out in gold acrylic.
Straight after the ceremony after leaving the church, guests were greeted by a mini portion of fish and chips from the shop across the road, Vinegar Jones.
For our main wedding breakfast, we chose a five-course meal. The food was just amazing. Our guests enjoyed a sumptuous feast including an amazing slow-cooked brisket of beef and a fabulous dessert featuring caramelised vanilla English cream, strawberries and honeycomb and caramel ice-cream – my favourite!
Merewood rear their own meat and source many of their ingredients locally. We were so impressed with the meal and the presentation was faultless even on a large catering scale.
For the evening meal, we wanted to do something a little different. Ash and his friends have a love for fajitas, and often go over to each other’s houses for ‘Fajita Friday’. So that’s what we had! They were just as good as the wedding breakfast, if a little more relaxed, and went down really well with all the guests. In addition to this we had a wonderful cheese cake which was a wedding gift from our friend Lynne Clarke at Simply Scrumptious.
Entertainment-wise we hired Glen Anderson, who we met at a Lake District wedding fair. We sat down and listened to him for a good half hour: he just kept singing our requests! We booked him the next day. Glen really brought the day together, acting as compere, singer and DJ, so well worth the money. When the evening started, he sang and played our first dance song on his guitar – I Belong with You, by the Lumineers. Ash and I had had a few dance lessons, but didn’t take into account the size of my dress so could only do a few of the moves, but it did look good with a few twirls rather than just shuffling.
We also had Chris Hurst who is a mind-reading magician. We met him at the same wedding fair as we met Glen. He amazed us by guessing both our phone pin codes! We’ve said we are going to have to book him again if we have a vow renewal or a christening – any excuse! They were both great – in fact, some of our guests have also booked Glen for their own wedding!
As extra entertainment, we made our own photo booth style room in the library. We used the 1920s props we’d bought for the Friday night, an instant camera with plenty of film and I made a cork board for people to pin the photos on. The photos are hilarious and are a great memento of the fun people were having.
As I run a plastic factory with my dad, I wanted to incorporate plastic somewhere into the wedding. With the help from the guys at work we made large A board itineraries and ‘Dance Floor Rules’. Dad and I also made the fish and chip holders. I then asked a customer to create large A & L letters; they did an amazing job with them and everyone commented on them as they were the first thing that welcomed them as they made their way up the drive. In fact, I’m planning to work in conjunction with them to make more and sell them online!
I would absolutely recommend Merewood as a venue to other wedding couples – they made us all feel relaxed and at home. They even went to the shop on the morning of the wedding for super glue! The wedding coordinator was amazing – you could say she was on my organisational wavelength and we really got on. She thought of things before I did! Normally I worry about hitting schedules and events going to plan – however, with Merewood, I could let go and be completely relaxed. I let them put all of my plans into place, which they did to the highest degree.
I have three contenders for my favourite moment that I can’t choose between. First up was getting ready in the bridal suite with my mum and friend Kirsty Thornber doing my makeup and my bridesmaids and feeling so excited and happy. The second was the twenty minutes I spent with my dad before the ceremony. He told me how proud he was but we also had a laugh about dousing me in perfume and him telling me that my uncle who is always late had actually arrived! The third highlight was our boat ride. I‘d been worrying about being cold but I didn’t want to wear a typical bridal cover up, so I decided to wear a leather jacket. That’s what I wear most of the time, it felt like me and also gave me a bit of edge. Turns out I wore it for ten minutes as it was so hot!
We went to New York for a minimoon following the wedding. We stayed in the New York Edition which was amazing. We saw all the sights, ate lots of food, and had an amazing time exploring. As Ash is a teacher we only had a few days, so we’re going to go to Italy in the summer for a more relaxing honeymoon, too.
My top tip to other Brides Up North is – plan, plan, plan! Making and distributing lists and itineraries allowed me to relax on the day. I’d thought about everything, right down to sewing kits and spare deodorant. This meant when I woke up I was just happy and ready to get married. Sitting at the top table, I took a moment to look around the room – everyone was laughing, chatting, eating or singing, they were all just so happy. I felt like, yes! We’ve done this!
I’d also recommend reading Brides Up North, and especially the real weddings. I followed a few similar blogs, but found I homed in on BUN more than any other. I felt the write ups were really interesting, with loads of details and great for inspiration. In fact, I’ve read almost every article posted on Facebook over the past 18 months, and still am now!
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Laura is a true Northophile: she married Adam in Durham in 2011 accompanied by 200 Northumbrian lamb shanks and a Mackem 1950s tribute band who did a rockabilly cover version of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. They honeymooned in Northumberland in a 1972 MG convertible, went surfing in Alnmouth and made it to the Edinburgh Fringe (let's ignore the fact that it rained all week). Her big mantra is 'no regrets'...but if she could travel back in time and wear a wedding dress with a Peter Pan collar and pockets, she'd pretty much die happy.
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