ELOPING TO SCOTLAND – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHY ELOPE IN SCOTLAND
Scotland is the home of Outlander (did you know I’m a featured extra in season 2!), Harry Potter, whiskey, kilts and bagpipes. Not to mention the most EPIC landscapes and romantic place in the world!
You don’t want to fall into the traditional trap of how weddings ‘ should be’
Do you not want the fuss and hoo ha of a big wedding?
Does HOW and WHY you get married matter to you?
Do you want to create a wedding that reflects you both as a couple and your beliefs?
Do you have the romantic idea of running away, just the two of you and some epic scenery and adventure?
If so eloping in Scotland could be right for you both as a couple. I’ve created this handy guide to talk you through the process and how you can make it happen.
GRETNA GREEN AND THE HISTORY OF ELOPING TO SCOTLAND
In the middle of the 1700s the English law changed; couples had to be 21 before getting married without parental consent and do so in a church.
Scottish law was different; you could marry on the spot in a simple handfasting ceremony and declare yourself married. You only needed to be over 16, have 2 witnesses and to declare that the couple were both free to marry.
With Scotland being so easy to reach form Scotland the and relaxed arrangements of marriage, thousands of couples ran away to get married over the border. Gretna Green became the popular place to go with it being the first village in Scotland on the main route to Scotland from England.
Even today, the marriage laws in Scotland are more relaxed. In England, you need to get married in a registered place of marriage and your marriage must be conducted by a licensed member of the Church or someone registered by the local authority. Scotland is currently the only country in the UK that allows you to get legally married anywhere with a registered celebrant. You have your pick of the awesome landscapes and scenery Scotland has to offer.
What’s more there are no legally prescribed form of words in marriage vows in Scotland. Which means you can pick your own words which represent you both as a couple, in a modern and inclusive way.
MY FAVOURITE ELOPEMENT LOCATIONS IN SCOTLAND
You can explore the footsteps of Jamie Fraser in Outlander, James Bond in Skyfall at Glencoe, get lost in the forests of the Cairngorms, or sparkle in the fairy enchantment of Skye, fall in love with the beautiful and iconic architecture of Edinburgh…..and whatever else your heart desired (with me of there taking photos of course!).
You can even live a real life fairytale at Craigievar Castle which is said to have inspired Disney for Cinderella’s castle.
I have lived in Edinburgh, my whole life and spent many a summer holiday and weekend trip exploring the outdoors. I have captured over 250 weddings all across Scotland, so I’m lucky to know all of what my amazing country has to offer.
Don’t just take my word for it, here are some locations to inspire you:
1. THE ISLE OF SKYE
Skye is one of the most magical places in Scotland, maybe even the world. Skye lies in the far North West of Scotland, about a 6 hour drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh (I can help you plan a route around Scotland if you are planning an elopement as part of a longer trip!).
The landscape in Skye is breathtaking, from the rock spires of Old Man of Storr through to the waterfalls of the Fairy Pools and crisp handy beaches.
OLD MAN OF STORR
Located about 20 mins drive from Portree in Skye (a wee town with a super cute harbour and INCREDIBLE fish and chips) is the Old Man of Storr with it’s iconic needle rock faces.
Storr is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, so I would advise heading out for a sunrise ceremony or shoot. The hike to the needle rock face takes about 45 min from the main car park, I would suggest following the Quiraing hill circuit which takes you higher up from the needle rocks. Once you get past the needle rock the route is quieter with less tourists and epic views.
THE CULLIN HILLS
Located in the south west of skye, The Black Cuillins are the most spectacular mountains in the UK. Whilst some of the climbs here are only for experienced hikers, the fairy pools are a great elopement location.
There are also excellent views of the Black Cuillins from Elgol, where you can take a boat trip into Loch Coruisk in the heart of the mountains for an intimate location for your elopement.
Fairy Glen is a magical area of rock slips and a small glen with a cone shaped hill, with crooked trees, moss and a waterfall. Exactly the kind of place you would expect to find fairies. It is peaceful and romantic spot to get married and my favourite part of Skye.
2. LOCH NESS
The loch ness monster or Nessie is probably the most famous myth in Scottish history. Urquhart Castle, the ruins of a medieval fortress makes a perfect backdrop.
3. THE CAIRNGORMS
The Cairngorms are a national park and mountain range located in the northern central part of Scotland. Home of the Balmoral, the holiday home of the UK Royal Family, the area is steeped in a rich history. Explore the forest, nature and wildlife in the trails of Tolmount, or relaxing on the beach of Loch Morlich – it’s simply breathtaking.
4. LOCH LOMAND & TROSSACHS
“…on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomand”
About an hours drive to the south of Loch Lomand from Glasgow, you are spoilt for choices for elopement locations. There are may wedding venues and hotels in this area giving you a perfect base for your day. Loch Katerine and Loch Goil are both great choices for a small elopement. Monachyle Mhor Hotel is a popular choice with fantastic views.
Eloping to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital is always a fantastic idea. Edinburgh is a stunning city full of incredible architecture and natural beauty. If you want a wee wedding with a small number of guests, it’s easy for everyone to get here. You can be in the hustle and bustle of the city, and within a short walk to Arthurs Seat you can feel like you are in your own world with the mind-slowing scenery. If you are more cosmopolitan, yet want an incredible and romantic location Edinburgh is for you.
Having lived in Edinburgh my whole live, I know the most incredible spots for your ceremony and photographs away from the busy tourist hot spots.
Glencoe is a village and mountain range in western Scotland. It lies about 2 hours drive from Glasgow, and 2 and a half hours from Edinburgh.
It is a steep-sided valley, in the Scottish Highlands, known for waterfalls and trails that climb peaks such as Buachaille Etive Mor and Bidean nam Bian.
Glencoe is easily accessible from the roadside, and can get busy particularly during the summer months. Once you start to hike away from the parking spots, you quickly lose people and feel like you are the only people on earth. I would suggest taking the Lost Valley route from the main car park on the A82.
Glen Etive aka the James Bond road made famous is Skyfall is a scenic route and Loch Etive is a great spot for elopements. You can often find herds of deer by the roadside, some are fairly tame and will say hello, particularly if you have carrots!
HOW TO PLAN YOUR SCOTTISH ELOPEMENT
1. PICK A SEASON & DATE
The quick and easy answer is, whenever is good for you both! In terms of light and seasonality, Springtime from March to May and September to November are the most magical. If you are going for a Summer elopement in the North of Scotland in June or July our days here are so long it barely gets dark and those late evenings and sunrises are spectacular. If you pick winter, you can even get lucky with a snowy elopement.
If you are planning a summer elopement, particularly in popular tourist locations such as Skye I would advise considering an early morning location. If you are looking at somewhere a bit more off the beaten track I would advise having your ceremony later in the day during ‘ golden hour’ for the best light, you might even be lucky and get an incredible sunset.
2. FIND YOUR LOCATION
My advice would be to pick a location close to your heart… do you have family history in Scotland? Is there somewhere that you have always envisioned exploring? Have you visited Scotland before as a couple? Is there a backdrop you have in mind? Are you a couple that loves to climb hills or are you more of a city type? Could you get married in your house or a holiday rental property?
Google and Pinterest are your friends here, explore on Google Maps and pins on Pinterest. Another great tool I use for planning shoots is WalkHighlands. If you want to tie your elopement into climbing an epic hill or have a location in mind it can help you find some picturesque spots for your elopement.
I was a Superhost on Air bnb for 2 years and I can help you pick a location for your elopement or plan your trip to Scotland.
3. FINDING A PERSON TO MARRY YOU AND MAKE IT LEGAL
In Scotland, you can get married anywhere as long as your ceremony is carried out by a person who is authorised to do so by the Registrars for Scotland.
A popular choice is a humanist celebrant, since 2005 humanists ceremonies have been legal in Scotland. Humanism is a belief system which puts human happiness and flourishing at its heart, and promotes cooperation towards a shared common goal. I think this is a great belief system in our modern world.
Some registrars or religious faith celebrants may also be able to marry you if a humanist ceremony isn’t right for you as a couple. There are celebrants which are able to carry out a faith or interfaith ceremony.
Check with the person who is planning to marry you that they are willing to travel to your location and hike up that hill with you.
If you are looking for a humanist celebrant you can start by looking at the following organisations:
If you would like any recommendations for a particular celebrant, please let me know and I can help with this.
4. BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
I LOVE shooting the getting ready part of the day; capturing the details, the build up with the nerves and excitement helps to tell the story of your day. It also helps me to get to know you better as a couple and a chance to create some portraits before your adventure.
Look for somewhere with lots of open space and natural light if you are looking for preparation shots. If you are having a hair and make up artist this will help them out also.
Book your accommodation as far as you can in advance, especially during the summer season and for the highlands and Skye as they are popular locations.
Have a look on Air bnb for unique and quirky locations, there are also a lot of amazing hotels, castles and manor houses, coach houses and lodges.
5 . THE PAPERWORK BIT
From what I’ve been told from the couples I’ve worked with (even those from out-with the UK & Europe) this isn’t as scary as you might think. Chat to your celebrant who will know exactly how to help you make it all legal and tell you what you need to do. The National Records of Scotland website HERE will tell you exactly what you need to do.
In Scotland you must both fill out an M-10 form, which is the marriage notice and submit these by post to the district registrar in the part of Scotland you wish to get married. It’s often worthwhile giving them a ring at this part of the process to check you’ve done everything correctly and have paid the correct fee money.
On top of this you will need some additional documentation depending on where you live including: passport, birth certificate, visa and immigration status. There may be other paperwork required so consult your celebrant or the district registrar for any advice.
It is advised that you fill out and submit this paperwork ten to twelve weeks before your wedding, the minimum notice period in Scotland is 29 days except under exceptional circumstances.
6. PLAN FOR ALL KINDS OF WEATHER
Scotland is a tiny island with the Atlantic Ocean on our west cost; it is windy, it rains a lot and it can be muddy. We can also have all four seasons in one day. Whilst we have glorious days, plan for all eventualities of weather.
Remember that if you chose to have your wedding outdoors in Scotland, you have to go ahead with that ceremony at the time and location it was scheduled for. If you are worried about the weather, pick a dense wooded area or sheltered crag. Another option is to have a small registry ceremony for the ‘legal bit’ and say your personal vows later that day, or the following day.
I use an app called Suncalc to plan on wedding days and I’ve found it to be the best weather app, but there are times when it can be wrong!
7. THINK ABOUT WHAT TO WEAR
As the weather can be unpredictable, make sure you plan for all eventualities. My tops tips are to wear sturdy walking boots (break them in first to stop those pesky blisters!) if you are planning an outdoor elopement. If you are hiking up a hill, you can get changed at the top into your ceremony outfit. I have a lightweight changing tent I’ve used for photoshoots that has been really helpful.
Waterproofs / outdoor jackets and a blanket are always a good idea to keep you warm between shots. You can also layer thermals under your wedding outfits, these days thermals can be thin and lightweight – I often wear them on film & TV extras jobs to help keep me warm. You can also buy hand warmers or heat pads to put in pockets to help keep your warm. Invest in a good quality flask for hot drinks or soup.
It can also get very hot here so remember sunscreen for a summer elopement, the worst sunburn I ever had was climbing a munro on a hot day.
8. YOUR WEDDING CEREMONY
All you require to legally marry in Scotland is the couple, a marriage schedule, a celebrant and two witnesses over the age of 16. Your family and friends can 100% be those witnesses if you are having people there with you on your day.
If you are eloping just the two of you, in most cases, as a wedding photographer I am able to act as one of your witnesses (I have been a witness for lots of couples, and it’s always an honour to do so). If you are booking a second shooter, for hybrid coverage or a videographer you will have a second witness. I also work with wedding planner Gemma of Lavender Blue on a lot of elopements who has been a witness alongside me (and can make planning your elopement super duper easy!).
You can also drag that nice couple you met in the local inn (or someone off the streets!) to be your other witnesses, but I would advice having someone arranged in advance so you don’t need to worry.
The ceremony requirements for a legal wedding in Scotland are as follows:
- a declaration by the parties, in the presence of each other, the celebrant and two witnesses, that they accept each other in marriage; and
- a declaration by the celebrant, after the foregoing declaration, that the parties are then married.
If you have chosen a civil or religious belief ceremony, it may take a certain form but you can ask about personalising your ceremony. With a humanist ceremony, your celebrant will work with you to create your ceremony.
There are no legally prescribed form of words to be used in relation to ‘marriage vows’ in Scotland. The marriage ceremony can be conducted in English – or in any other language (including Gaelic and Scots), so long as all parties (including the celebrant) can understand the language (with the services of a translator if necessary). If picking a humanist belief ceremony your vows can be your own and express your relationship as a couple and your reasons for marriage, this allows for a much more modern and inclusive style of ceremony.
For more info on all the legal stuff, and if you have any questions. Check out the National Records of Scotland website HERE.
9. AFTER YOUR WEDDING
Don’t loose that paperwork off a hilltop, it needs to be submitted within 3 days to make sure it’s legal and all that jazz.
10. ENJOY YOUR DAY AND FORGET ABOUT THE WEATHER
(oh and book me to be your wedding photographer to join you on your adventure).
I hope this guide has helped you with your elopement in Scotland. Want to find out more about booking me as your photographer? GET IN TOUCH