Jo and Neil’s big day is bright, beautiful and full of brilliant little personal details. Basically, a wedding blogger’s dream. Here’s hoping that their bespoke celebration in Northumberland inspires the day of your dreams too.
With images by Kate of Petals & Peonies.
Jo says: We got engaged on Friday 21st December 2012, our last day of work before Christmas. Neil had taken me out for a meal, at a local Italian restaurant in our village, and we’d walked home in the rain! When we got home, I changed out of my lovely dress into my old comfy pyjamas, and we decided to have a cup of coffee under the Christmas tree.
On top of my presents under the tree was a small box shaped like a snail, and when I opened its shell, there was a beautiful diamond ring inside. Neil was on one knee, and I just about managed to say ‘yes’ before I burst into tears!
The thing I remember most (apart from how happy I felt) is saying how I couldn’t believe I’d been proposed to in my old pyjamas that had shrunk in the wash, and with my hair scraped back in a bobble!
We were married on Monday 12th August 2013 at St James’ Church, Riding Mill, Northumberland and the reception was at Wheelbirks Parlour, Stocksfield, Northumberland.
We love visiting the Riding Mill area, and the church is beautiful inside. We wanted to marry in a tucked-away area of Northumberland, and somewhere where we would love to visit years later. Despite not living in the village, the whole community were so welcoming and friendly, and several of the congregation came to the ceremony.
Wheelbirks Parlour was always the place we said we would hold our wedding reception. Way before we got engaged, we would visit on weekends for lunch and ice cream or just to relax out in the orchard. We love the atmosphere, the outdoor space and the friendly staff, and knew it would be a perfect venue.
Lucinda and Sarah were fantastic wedding planners! Sarah in particular met with us as often as we wanted (and was great at handling my last-minute 100 emails!) and made organising everything so easy!
On the day, it was wonderful to see our vision turn into reality, as the Wheelbirks staff had turned the parlour into exactly what we had imagined and more. It’s been lovely to visit since the big day and get little bursts of happiness when we remember the reception.
We only knew we wanted the day to be really informal and relaxed. The only ‘theme’ that came through was our desire to do as much ‘handmade’ as possible, and use natural materials like the hessian table runners and recycled milk bottles for centrepieces.
We purposefully wanted to avoid a specific ‘colour’, as we wanted a really relaxed, informal wedding, so instead we chose all colours! We asked our guests to dress as bright and summery as they could, and I made multi-coloured tissue paper pom-poms for pew ends in the church.
Our table centrepieces were all the colours of my bouquet, and we had multi-coloured bunting strung from the rafters in the parlour.
I travelled with my Dad to the ceremony in a 1920’s-style Regent Landaulette, in navy and cream. It was fantastic travelling to the ceremony, with everyone watching us and waving, and even better after the ceremony when the driver pulled the hood down and Neil and I travelled to the reception in the summer sun!
We booked our car through Brooklands Wedding Cars in Lanchester, and the driver was so friendly and laid-back! He turned up super-early to collect me and was happy to wait as long as necessary throughout the whole day. At the end of the evening, when he took us to Slaley Hall, he drove around the car park until we found our car, and helped ferry all our bags back and forth!
My dress was from Rosina Brown Bridal in Stocksfield, and was the first one I tried on! It was also the first thing I bought for the wedding, way before we’d even booked the church! I booked an appointment to have a look round, and went on my own one afternoon, thinking it would take me months to find the right dress. Rosina was great, and pulled out the perfect dress – a lace bodice with tiny pearls and beads sewn in and a long taffeta ruffle skirt with lace straps. I wore a veil with pearls sewn in and had gypsophila flowers woven through my hair on the day,
Neil wore a blue suit from Next with a turquoise tie, a white shirt with tiny blue dragonflies and claret bees and brown leather brogues. He looked so handsome, and different from all our other guests – we didn’t go down the traditional ‘groomsmen’ route, so everyone wore different colours and styles of outfit.
My maid of honour wore a long emerald-colour gown from Hobbs and my younger bridesmaid wore a bright flowered dress from Monsoon. We didn’t want them to look too formal, or to match, because we wanted everything to be really bright! The most important thing was that they felt comfortable, and were happy with their outfits on the day.
Our bus was booked through Dreadnought Coaches in Alnwick – we wanted our guests to be able to relax and not have to worry about travelling or parking on the day. I’m told the atmosphere on the bus was great, with everyone chatting and getting excited together, and it was lovely for Neil to arrive at the ceremony surrounded by all our family and friends.
My brother designs and makes professional signs, and I asked him to make us some direction signs saying ‘Neil and Jo’s Wedding’ in the brown and white ‘heritage’ style you see on road signs. They made for some lovely photos and we have them hung around the house now!
We chose Petals & Peonies photography for our wedding photos, and it’s one of the best decisions we made. Kate was so professional and relaxed – it was just like having a good friend through the whole process. She came up with lots of quirky ideas for photos, and made us feel so special on the day. The photos she’s captured are amazing too, and are such a lovely thing to keep and look through. Her style matched our vision for the day perfectly, and we’ve got some fantastic shots on tractors and hay bales!
I chose Simone Whitehead for my bridal hair, and she was brilliant – she completely understood the sort of style I wanted, and on the day stayed with me right until I was ready to go. I was a little worried that my hair wouldn’t stay in, because it was all loose curls and plaits, but I needn’t have worried – Simone made sure it stayed put and even withstood a Wheelbirks cow having a chew on the gypsophila in my plaits!
After the service, we had different flavours of Fentimans drinks on a table outside with striped paper straws which was great – everyone chatted in the sunshine before getting on the bus to the reception, and it meant we got some fantastic photos.
The cake was one of our proudest achievements! I love to bake, and we really wanted to make the cake ourselves together. We designed a three-tiered round fruit cake, and baked it over a weekend (it got a tiny bit stressful when the oven broke half-way through baking the middle tier, but luckily that was the only hiccup!)
Neil took responsibility for ‘feeding’ the cake with brandy over the months as it matured – we baked it in February! – and a friend from work taught me how to make the sugar flowers for decoration. I made roses, chrysanthemums, poppies, peonies, daffodils, tulips and fantasy flowers for the spray on the top of the cake, and then scattered heaps of flowers around each tier and the board. I also spent hours making sugar daisies and blue forget-me-nots, and studded them everywhere too.
Finally, we commissioned a local felt-maker to create some felt birds to sit on the cake. The ‘female’ bird was white with little blush cheeks and the ‘male’ bird was the same blue as Neil’s wedding tie, was wearing glasses and carrying a little flower in its mouth.
The cake must have taken more than 30 hours in total to create, but it was worth every minute! I could have cried when it was finished – it was an exhausting task but an amazing achievement and a real talking point on the day, and it tasted DELICIOUS!
One of the best features of Wheelbirks Parlour is their delicious homemade ice-cream, made on site with milk from their Jersey cows. We got to choose our own signature ice-cream to be served on the day, and went for ‘Prosecco and Peach’, calling it ‘Love is Peachy’.
At the reception, we had our seating plan on vintage luggage tags hanging with ribbons from a huge contorted hazel branch cut from Wheelbirks Farm. The favours were homemade ginger heart-shaped biscuits with mini luggage tags, serving as place cards. Our centrepieces were glass milk bottles which we had decorated with buttons and twine, filled with the same flowers in the bouquet, on log centres cut from the nature reserve where I work.
We painstakingly cut lengths of hessian for table runners, and had several metres of bunting made which was strung along the rafters.
We also had a fingerprint tree, which is now hanging on our living-room wall – guests used their fingerprints to make leaves on the tree in different coloured inks.
When we were thinking about the flowers we wanted, we both decided we had no idea what we were talking about! We picked Vicky from Floral Quarter, Gosforth on a recommendation from a friend.
We went to meet her armed with a couple of photos of bouquets we liked, but decided we wanted Vicky to choose the flowers, colours and style. All we knew was that we wanted a ‘country garden’ style, very natural with lots of different colours.
I know it seems unusual to hand over entire control of such an important part of the day, but we trusted Vicky completely. On the morning of the wedding, when the flowers arrived, I was completely overwhelmed with how amazing they looked! My bouquet was full of beautiful garden flowers: dahlias, stocks, craspedia, tanacetum daisies, veronica, scabious, hydrangea, solidago and ammi. Even better, every buttonhole was completely different, so our guests got to choose the one they liked best.
The flowers were such a talking point during the day, and feature in so many of our wedding photos – I know when we look back over them years down the line, we’ll still love them. Better still, having Vicky ‘surprise’ us with the design of the flowers was a little wedding gift in itself!
We’ve both been to weddings where we’ve been bored stiff, so we were adamant our guests would have lots to do. That’s part of the reason we love Wheelbirks so much – the orchard is great, with lots of space to run around, a fantastic swing, a tractor to climb on, and a playroom inside for our youngest guests. We put together some ‘goodie bags’ too (which ended up proving just as popular with the adults!), with packs of modelling clay, foam glider planes, old-fashioned games like marbles and tiddlywinks, and my Grandad wood-turned us some wooden spinning tops.
Our friend Peter is a fantastic classical acoustic guitarist, and played some beautiful music whilst we were signing the register in church.
Our lovely friend Katy welcomed everyone to the reception playing the Northumbrian Pipes, and then after our meal we had Jamie from North East DJ playing our favourite songs, starting with our first dance, which was to ‘Rhythm of Love’ by the Plain White T’s. He was really laid-back, and happy to let us have a huge playlist with all our favourite songs. On the evening he was great at getting everyone to lose their inhibitions and have a good boogie!
It’s so difficult to pinpoint a specific ‘favourite’ part of the day – from start to finish we both felt so blissfully happy and emotional.
One of the most wonderful parts was walking down the aisle towards Neil. I barely noticed everyone in the pews, and I couldn’t wait to be stood next to him. When it came to saying our vows, Neil was so keen that he said ‘I will’ even before our vicar, Alison, had finished doing the ‘love her, comfort her…’ part. Everyone started laughing, and it really broke the tension and settled our nerves – I remember at that moment just looking at Neil and feeling so amazed that this person was about to become my husband.
Neil’s favourite part of the day was our first dance together as husband and wife. We chose one of our favourite songs, and it was so relaxed and special – we had a few ‘moves’ to liven it up a bit, and it was like we were the only two people there.
After a night at Slaley Hall, we travelled to the Yorkshire Dales, staying a night at boutique hotel The Wensleydale Heifer (staying in the ‘Chocolate Room’, which was fab!), three nights in log cabin called the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ hobbit hut, and a final night in a bed & breakfast in Aysgarth.
My top tips for Brides Up North is that it’s definitely worth planning all the little details in the wedding, and all the quirky extra touches you want to be there. Even though it all takes time and effort, they’re the bits people will remember and will be what really make your day special.
Even though it sounds so cliché, and it’s what everyone says, the day really does fly past! We wanted to take it all in and enjoy every minute, but it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening when – the easiest thing to do is just let the day flow and don’t worry. It’s the one day that’s just about the two of you, and your guests won’t mind if you don’t get to have an hour-long chat, or don’t notice their new handbag!
Finally, keep a diary! My maid of honour bought us a lovely fabric-covered notebook when we started planning the wedding, and we used it to document everything over the months. Looking back over it now brings back all the emotion and build-up to the wedding; it’s packed full of ‘to-do lists’, prices for different things and extracts from the weeks leading up to the wedding day. It’s something we’ll keep and cherish forever – a sometimes rushed, sometimes silly but completely heartfelt account of our journey this year.
Congratulations Jo & Neil!
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