Charlotte Balbier

dream venue: carden park

April 5th, 2017 | Rachel Parry

Carden Park (9)

Here at Brides Up North HQ we’re always super keen to learn more about the fabulous wedding venues available in this half of the country, so that we can spread the word to you, our lovely readers.

While some we follow with interest online, others we’re fortunate to visit in person, allowing us to view and experience their wonderful facilities and hospitality first hand. Our most recent travels saw us heading west, to the impressive Carden Park Hotel, where we were invited for a glorious one-night getaway.

Carden Park (7)

Nested in 1,000 acres of Cheshire countryside, the sizable estate boasts an award-winning hotel, AA Rosette restaurant, championship golf courses, adventure activities and spa. Its spacious function suites and grounds mean it’s also a popular wedding venue, offering a varied choice of settings and packages for a couple’s special day.

Upon arriving for our stay, we were given a tour of the facilities and celebration spaces by the hotel’s friendly wedding planner, Maddie, where the full scope of Carden Park’s offering came to light. Not only can this hotel cater for the big day itself, but it’s an ideal retreat for pre-wedding pampering, a girly or action-packed hen do and a relaxing minimoon.

Carden Park (12)

In terms of accommodation, the hotel offers a wide choice of options; from twin, double and family rooms, up to its spacious luxury suites, with special upgrade extras including a fully stocked complimentary minibar, chocolates, sparkling wine and ESPA toiletries.

Wedding wise, Carden can cater for all sizes and offers the choice of its elegant and contemporary Carden Suite, rustic-style Shooting Suite and open-air Wedding Pavilion, through its ‘Eternity’ and ‘Fairytale’ packages.

Carden Park (10)

Elsewhere in the hotel there is much more to be explored. We began our break with an afternoon tea in the comfortable lounge area before taking the energy levels up a notch with some of the fun outdoor activities available on site. From laser clay shooting, archery and mountain biking to an aerial zip-wiring course, Carden is a playground for all ages.

We were treated to an off-roading 4×4 experience with JEEP enthusiast and instructor Terry, who navigated us through the surrounding woodland, giving us a tour of the expansive estate whilst sliding around the challenging course. Next up, with the help of instructor Ryan, we tried our hand (and feet) at segwaying, which is a little trickier than it looks, but heaps of fun.

Carden Park (5)

Back at the hotel it was time to wind things down again, and so after a quick shower and change, we settled in the bar with a bottle of sauvignon, ahead of our three-course meal in Redmond’s Restaurant. Changing its menu regularly to suit the season and fresh produce available, we were spoiled for choice when it came to making our starter, main and dessert selections but went with the staff recommendations (they certainly know their stuff!) A salmon-starter, chicken-main and panna-cotta-dessert later, it was evident that the standard of food was equal to the level of service – first class!

We retired for the evening feeling immensely satisfied and settled into our king-size beds for a peaceful night’s sleep.

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blissed out bride: slaley hall golf resort & spa

June 14th, 2016 | Rachel Parry

Slaley Hall Spa (3)

Ladies, we all know the affects that stress can have on our bodies; from aching muscles and skin flare ups, to dark under-eye circles and generally feeling worn out. As one of the most stressful (but enjoyable, we hope) events you can experience in life, it’s little wonder that couples planning weddings can really feel the pressure, both inside and out.

This is why we highly recommend taking a relaxing break from the wedding schedule now and again to recharge the batteries and gather your thoughts, while treating your mind, body and soul. And what better way to do so than booking into a spa resort, whether just for the day or an indulgent minibreak.

Keen to point our readers in the direction of fabulous retreats in the North where they can escape to for solace – and a flippin good massage, we’ve been out on our Blissed Out Bride travels once again.

This time our destress-destination was Slaley Hall golf resort and spa hotel, located in a secluded area of Northumberland. Following our full-on, yet fabulous, season of spring wedding fairs across the north of the country, we were literally crying out for some R&R and so sped up the A1 for a well-deserved Slaley spa day.

Slaley Hall Spa (4)

As part of the Q Hotel group, the historic hall, set in 1,000 acres of stunning countryside, includes a range of accommodation and eating and drinking facilities, as well as a choice of beautiful function suites, which are available for weddings. Meanwhile outdoors Slaley boasts two championship golf courses and stunning grounds, upon which marquees can be pitched for outdoor celebrations.

The part of its facilities we were looking forward to viewing most however, was its luxury spa. Safely changed into our comforting robes and slippers we headed straight to pool side for some light refreshments and a little magazine time (one of our very favourite ways to unwind) – the pressure on our shoulders instantly lifted. As we stretched back on our loungers the humidity of the room acted as a warming cocoon and we had all on to keep our eyes open – talk about optimum conditions for relaxing!

An impressive space, Slaley’s pool area has a lovely holiday feel about it with tropical plants dotted around the pool, waterfalls and Jacuzzi, and little bridges linking the different areas together.

Slaley Hall Spa (6)

It was soon lunchtime so we were shown through to one of Slaley’s three restaurants (still wrapped in our robes) to receive our spa day lunch. Presented in a neat Bento Box we enjoyed a healthy (ish) yet satisfying meal of chicken salad with cous cous, vegetable sticks and dip, followed by a lovely piece of chocolate cake, which was all washed down with a tall glass of fizz. We felt this provided he perfect combination of clean and treat eating (both we feel are essential to keep a girl heathy and happy!).

Once the food had settled it was back to the pool for a little snoozing and swimming, whilst also taking some time to detox and clear our skin in the sauna.

Though we didn’t muster the strength to visit (shame on us), Slaley also boasts a health club with state-of-the-art equipment and experienced instructors, to help you reach any pre-wedding fitness goals. Feeling the need for some ultra-pampering, we were booked in for a treatment each and so made our way to the gorgeous relaxation room, complete with soft sofas and beds, to meet our knowledgeable Espa therapists. As I’m soon to be jetting off on my jollies I wanted a treatment that would refresh my skin and really make it glow while still soothing my tired muscles while Julia, who is soon to be expecting a second bundle of joy, required a relaxing facial treatment to prevent any pregnancy break-outs.

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friday night is party night: introducing mini-epic!

May 13th, 2016 | Julia Braime

Mini-Epic from Mini-Epic on Vimeo.

Planning a hen party should be fun, but sometimes you find you’re just drowning in the admin of it all.  Where to go, what to do, whether to choose a wild night or a chilled celebration… it can be a mind boggling and spreadsheet heavy task.  Add to that making sure that everyone is invited and has RSVP’d in a way that comes across as more bubbly than bossy, whilst setting the tone for the fun ahead and even the keenest of hens might want to hang up their high heels.  It’s an L plate strewn minefield.

Here at Brides Up North we’ve found the answer, courtesy of a cool new service that launches today. The online invite has been long overdue a 21st Century makeover. And it looks like the guys at Brides Up North Sponsor Mini-Epic have done just that!

Super cute, very tongue in cheek and loads of fun… whilst being very practical too.  Hey, do Mini-Epic want to be a bridesmaid too?

mini-epic say: Our online hen party invites are fun, totally personalised and add a little bit of excitement to the planning process. It’s a perfect way to get everyone excited for all the amazing things you have planned! As well as setting the perfect tone for your hen party, our range of invitations also collect your guest’s RSVPs, in a simple back-end system that is totally easy to manage and organise. No chasing of emails, or messaging group threads necessary…. it’s all taken care of.

There are loads of templates to choose from too, with a video and animation to suit everyone and every type of party. Think of this as your own personal ‘movie trailer’ to the most amazing night of your life (so far!).

A few examples you can see below, so let us know what you think and which you would choose. The invites are packed with personality and originality, and put your guests in the mood to party with an invitation they won’t forget.

After all, when you go to all the effort of organising a party, you want it to start in the best possible way right?

The Perfect Cocktail: Hen Party from Mini-Epic on Vimeo.

Hey Girls!: Hen Party from Mini-Epic on Vimeo.

It’s Time! : Hen Party from Mini-Epic on Vimeo.

You can find Mini-Epic online at, and their invitations are available now to purchase and create. 

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blissed out bride: macdonald craxton wood, cheshire

July 8th, 2015 | Rachel Parry

Craxton Wood (3)

When putting together our real wedding posts for the blog we ask brides to share a tip with readers who are currently caught up in planning pandemonium organising their own big day. One of the most common that crops up is ‘take time to enjoy the time leading up to your wedding too’, because as they rightly say, it’s all part of the experience.

That not only means trying to enjoy the process of selecting a venue and suppliers instead of rattling through it like one big to do list, but also reserving a little wedding-free time to enjoy with family and friends, or just as a couple.

So to help you find the perfect place to take a break we’ve scoped out another restful retreat where you and either your hubby-to-be, leading ladies or female relatives, can escape to for some pre-wedding pampering.

Craxton Wood (9)

Nestled within 27 acres of Cheshire woodland, Macdonald Craxton Wood Hotel, enjoys the luxury of being in a tranquil location but with the gorgeous city of Chester just ten minutes down the road. This makes it the ideal place to enjoy a romantic break, hen do or girly getaway – and wait, it gets better.

As well as providing stunning food, drink and accommodation, the hotel boasts a heavenly spa which has recently benefited from £1.4 million of investment, offering weary souls and pamper seekers a range of blissful spa days and indulgent breaks.

So after having all that money spent on it, we thought it rude not to try out revamped spa on behalf of our readers. And upon doing so we can confidently say – ladies you will love it!

Craxton Wood (5)

From the moment we stepped through its doors we were completely taken with the spa, which is light, airy, welcoming and incredibly well styled. Seriously this place looks like something straight off the pages of a glossy interiors magazine and it’s that high end finish in décor and furnishings that makes for an incredibly luxurious experience, even before you’ve enjoyed the facilities.

As holidays are coming and we’re desperate to achieve our beach body ambitions, we headed straight for the gym, which is kitted out with all the latest Technogym equipment. This means ladies on a pre-wedding fitness plan can get in their exercise before indulging in pure relaxation totally guilt free!

Craxton Wood (4)

Next we were handed our fluffy robes and super-soft slippers (why are spa slippers so good?) before being shown around the spa area, which houses way more than you’d think, including an 18 metre pool, thermal suite, relaxation room, garden room and Woodland Spa Café.

Craxton Wood (6)

Before lunch we took a dip in the pool which enjoys stunning countryside views through its floor to ceiling glass and then retired to the bright and breezy garden room for a herbal tea and a quick magazine fix.

At this point we’d already decided Craxton Wood would be one of our top picks for a hen do, plotting how we would have a day being pampered at the spa before heading out for a night in Chester. And clearly we’re not the only ones who can see it’s girly getaway potential as staff say the hotel is becoming increasingly popular with groups of ladies who take advantage of their spa break packages which include ‘celebration’, ‘indulgent’ and ‘revitalise’ options.

Craxton Wood (2)

Lunch was next on our agenda. I’ve previously expressed my dislike for spas that only serve up super healthy food as I see pampering as a treat and therefore want a meal to match that experience. Thankfully the menu at the Woodland Spa Café (which again is beautifully decorated) has options that are fairly low in calories but high in flavour, and they serve alcohol – hurrah!

Craxton Wood (10)

After our delicious two course lunch (and accompanying prosecco, of course) it was back to the pampering, this time treatments. For me a skin specific facial and for Julia Macdonald Hotels’ Elemis Signature.

In the comfort of the snug treatment room my therapist Jess discussed my skin type to decide on the right blend of products for my complexion and then the relaxation began. A balancing cleanser, toner and bliss capsules were gently massaged onto my face to renew skin elasticity and to give it a radiant glow, then while a masque worked its magic on my skin, Jess worked her magic on my arms, shoulders and chest to rub away any aches or pains. It was heavenly and my skin felt super fresh.

Julia’s 90 minute treatment meanwhile started with an exotic body exfoliation. After a light body brushing, warm oils were drizzled over her skin before a lime and ginger salt glow was applied resulting in clean, polished and softened skin. This was followed up by a massage and facial for an overall body experience that Julia described as ‘absolute bliss’ and said it would be an ideal pre-honeymoon treatment.

Craxton Wood (7)

After coming around in the soothing, candle-lit relaxation room we tried out the thermal suite which has varying steam rooms, saunas and showers to awaken the senses, relax the mind and cleanse the skin.

Finally, to complete our visit, we had mini manicures by therapist Jess who was painted our nails to perfection (mine weren’t gels but lasted an incredible seven days before chipping).

Craxton Wood (8)

So all in all you can see why we would highly recommend Craxton Wood for a pre or post wedding getaway with your guy or your girls. If you’re in the early stages of planning you might also want to check out the hotel as a potential wedding venue. It has a stunning range of function suites, with both indoor and outdoor options, that can cater for small, intimate weddings up to large parties of 250 guests whilst providing first class accommodation, service and food. And don’t forget about that spa!

For full details of Craxton Wood’s facilities, accommodation and packages, visit the website.

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hens in the city: york

May 25th, 2015 | Rachel Parry

Found on

While some brides are looking for a modern city in which to spend their so called last night of freedom others will prefer a location with a little more depth in terms of history and culture for their pre-wedding partying with the girls.

But historic doesn’t have to mean boring, and certainly not when it comes to the gorgeous walled city of York. There really is something for all here making it a particularly good choice for hen parties made up of varying aged ladies and those with differing interests.

Within its walls ladies will find a fantastic mix of culture, shopping and entertainment as well as both traditional and cosmopolitan places to drink and dine.

So rally up the girls as we talk a hen party in York!

York 1

where to stay

Ladies wanting a weekend of luxury should check in to The Grand Hotel & Spa which overlooks the city’s walls. This five star hotel boasts seven different beautifully designed room types giving you and your girls several choices when it comes to how much of the budget to blow on accommodation. Meanwhile in the hotel’s vaults ladies will find the spa, for hours of relaxation and pampering.

Those wanting to embrace York’s history by staying at some of its more traditional spots should also look up Guy Fawkes Inn and The Lamb & Lion Inn. Both are situated in desirable locations and are brimming with character. Hearty, unpretentious food can also be found at these classic inns.

If it’s more of a boutique feel you and the gals are after The Judge’s Lodging and Hotel du Vin should both tick boxes. Situated in the heart of the city The Judges Lodgings is surrounded by the city’s shops, restaurants, bars and historic sites, though once you’ve settled into one of its attractive rooms, dined in its gorgeous restaurant or enjoyed a glass on fizz on its outdoor terrace, chances are you won’t want to stray too far. Meanwhile the city’s Hotel du Vin is tucked away in the Mount area in a Grade II listed mansion house which retains its 19th century charm whilst enjoying the chain’s signature style. During their stay ladies can indulge in delicious French cuisine at the hotel’s elegant bistro.

Finally for hens on a smaller accommodation budget there is the modern Hotel 53 (handily located near Topshop for those last minute party outfit purchases) which is a little superior to the city’s cheaper options such as Ibis and Travelodge.

York 3

what to do

Shopping in York is different to many other cities such as Manchester, Birmingham or Newcastle in that it doesn’t have a large retail centre and instead its shops are situated in historic buildings with stunning architecture along the city’s cobbled streets. But fear not, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your fashion fixes here as the quaint city is home to the likes of French Connection, The White Company, Zara, Hobbs, Mango and Topshop as well as department stores Fenwicks and Browns, plus lots of quirky independent shops.

For bargain hunters the York Design Outlook is on the outskirts of the city which has a great range of designer labels at discount prices, from Ted Baker and Kurt Geiger to Calvin Klein and Fred Perry.

If you and your gang easily tire of the shops you could explore York’s past at one of its numerous historic sites or museums such as York Castle Museum, York Minster or, of course, the city walls. Those with a sweet tooth might want to make time to visit York’s Chocolate Story which educates visitors on York’s most famous chocolate-making families and their finest creations, including the Chocolate Orange and the Kit Kat. Walking and bus tours also provide different options to see the city’s main sites.

If your group is looking for something more thrilling (and chilling) York is also famous for its ghost walks with many of its historic buildings and streets said to be haunted. Some of the tours stop by ancient pubs that have had strange encounters – handy for those that need to build up a little courage with the help of a gin or two.

But if that all sounds like hard work a spa visit might be more your group’s cup of tea. As previously mentioned in the city centre there is The Grand Hotel & Spa which is also open to non-guests for £25 a day, though bookings must be made in advance. While some ladies might be quite happy lazing by the pool and Jacuzzi others might like to indulge in a treatment to enhance their experience. Alternatively, a little outside the city centre there is Middlethorpe Hall & Spa, which offers spa health and beauty days and half days which include use of the luxurious facilities, refreshments and treatment options.

Depending on the time of year you choose to have your hen party there are some fabulous seasonal activates in York too, such as its maze during the summer months and Winter Wonderland, complete with ice rink, around Christmas. Again depending on the dates your group can do, a day at York Racecourse could be a winning option – a great reason to dress up, plenty of prosecco and the possibility of pocketing some cash, what more could a hen party want?

York 2

where to eat & drink

A hen do to York just wouldn’t be complete without afternoon tea at the famous Betty’s tea rooms – a quintessentially English treat for you and your girls, complete with dainty sandwiches and cakes and a glass of fizz.

Meanwhile for evening meals there are the chains you would usually expect to find in citites, such as Zizis, Ask and Pizza Express, as well as traditional pubs serving up hearty dishes and fine dining options too.

Located in the Old Engine House on the edge of York’s Museum Gardens The Star Inn The City is a great location to enjoy casual brasserie-style dining with seasonal menus and daily specials to pick from. For fans of global dishes there are also numerous Chinese, Indian, French and Italian restaurants. Though some of the independents are quite small in size there is the likes of Jamie’s Italian, which can cater for larger groups.

Meanwhile the atmospheric Lucia Wine Bar & Grill, situated on Swinegate Court East, is a great place to go for early evening nibbles or a meal and cocktails before exploring the city’s nightlife. Missoula Bar on Bridge Street, previously The Living Room, is a great place to go for American ranch style cuisine and exciting drinks menus. The bar is also known for hosting events such as spirit tasting sessions and cocktail schools which could provide another activity for your fun-filled weekend.

When it comes to drinking York is best known for its traditional pubs so you and the girls could have two very different nights out – fashionable bars one night and ‘real’ pubs the other. If you do choose to embrace York’s pub scene top places to order a pint (or a half) include The York Tap, The Lamb & Lion and The Maltings.

In terms of bars many are clustered close together along Swinegate, Stonegate and Grape Lane in the city centre. These include cool underground bar Sotano, the lively Kennedys bar and cocktail and champagne bar The Vudu Lounge which boasts a menu of more than 150 cocktails, plus DJ and dancefloor. And if it’s late nightlife you are your hens are up for, historic York houses a few nightclubs to, including Kuda on Clifford Street meaning you can eat, sleep, rave, repeat!

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Probably The Best Hen Party Game In The World.

February 5th, 2012 | Julia Braime


Brides Up North UK Wedding Blog

Party time!  Green diamante sunglasses, optional. 


Are you a panicked chief bridesmaid who has wandered this way looking for hen party planning inspiration?  No worries.  My guest blogger, Alison, has got one fab party game in the bag for you.  With a little planning, you’ll be the toast of the table!


You can also read my top ten tips for planning a hen party here.  Now relax – it’s Sunday after all! 





On 6th May last year, a group of 20 ‘respectable’ women made their excuses and exited their daily lives. They left behind their husbands, boyfriends, children and responsible jobs. Hungry for fun, laughter, hot tubs, wine (lots of), karaoke and the opportunity to wear a boob tube, they made their way by road, rail and air to Bakewell in Derbyshire for my hen weekend. A group of 30-40 (and shhhh – up to 60) something ladies, hungry to be Bakewell Tarts!



Alison's Hen Party



.A truly beautiful and glamorous weekend where the sophistication was only briefly marred by the hen sweating on the first evening over vats of home cooked chilli (meat and vegetarian options). No one would choose to be greeted by a purple bride-to-be, but at least I could be described in some languages as ‘glowing’!


The whole weekend floated by in a haze of chatter and spa treatments. However, the real highlight of the weekend was our evening of glitz and glamour, fully catered by the professionals.


And the real highlight of the evening was our ‘pass the parcel’ – with a difference.


It was so beautiful. The stories shared so personal, hilarious, poignant and touching. It’s funny what your friends and family remember about you, what special stories they have squirreled away where yours and their back stories collide. And its strange how two people can remember exactly the same stories, but ever so slightly differently.



Alison's Hen Party



The game goes a bit like this:


1. Put a CD of 80’s school disco hits in the CD player.




3. Realise that the music has stopped – and that you’re still singing.


4. Watch your friend left holding the parcel rip wildly into the wrapping paper like an origami version of Edward Scissorhands! Clearly she’s been to many parties recently with pass the parcel, but this is the first time she’s actually been allowed out of the kitchen long enough to participate. There was nearly a fight!


5. Watch said friend, triumphantly hold aloft a RED CANDLE IN A JAR which was hiding between the first two layers of wrapping paper.


My job now was to guess who the candle was from – and why.



Alison's Hen Party



In the case of the red candle, the story relates to the time that I set my head on fire at a friend’s fancy dress party. I was dressed as Maid Marion at the time in and inadvertently dangled the scarf on the top of my pointy hat into a candle while talking to Lady Penelope. Luckily Wayne Slob came to my rescue – which was a brave act indeed as he was wearing a nylon shell suit at the time which was without doubt highly flammable.


Another gift was a teddy from my sister – memories of family holidays and the time when I was six and dropped my teddy in a lily pond. I was trying to baptize him ‘Stuart’, after my favourite uncle who had just bought me a transistor radio (made in Taiwan), until I was rudely interrupted by two old women sitting on a bench. Jolted back into the real world from my private moment, I was mortified – I dropped teddy in the pond and ran away in tears. He spent the rest of the holiday drying out on the radiator!


But probably the most touching gift was a packet of strawberry bonbons.


This gift was a reminder of a sunny afternoon spent in Central Park with my friend Diane, feeding bonbons to the squirrels*. The date was the 8th September 2001. We spent an amazing weekend together in The Big Apple, flying home on the morning of 9/11. We were in the air as American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the Twin Towers:  towers we’d been standing on the top of a few days earlier and been photographing from the top of the Empire State Building exactly 24hrs before the impact.


It’s funny how some decisions which you think are minor at the time turn out to be massive. I remember the conversation about which day we should fly back. Luckily on that occasion we got it right.  It was horrendous – but it’s a special and cherished shared memory which Diane and I will have forever.


And so the evening went on – with 20 different stories. All of them incredible memories from some truly beautiful friends.


If you are looking for a game to play on your (or your best gal’s) hen night, I highly recommend it.





Alison writes her own personal blog at


Alison’s latest posts for Brides Up North:


D.I.S.C.O- If Music Be The Food Of Love, Mosh On!

Honeymoons – Just The Two Of Us!

Santa Baby- A Bride’s Letter To St Nick

Christmas Weddings In Soap Land – Some Very Un-Real Weddings!

Up For Discussion- Money Can’t Buy You Love – Bringing It In On Budget

Up For Discussion- Don’t Tell The Groom! Man Management

Up For Discussion- How To Do “I Do”- Writing Your Own Vows

Up For Discussion- Empty Chairs

Up For Discussion- Achieving The Perfect Level Of Wedding Morning Zen

Up For Discussion- The Name Game (and meet Alison!)


Would you like to guest blog for Brides Up North? Email


*no squirrels were harmed in the writing of this post



Brides Up North UK Wedding Blog – Images © 2012

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Brides Up North UK Wedding Blog

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