Today, I thought I would share my story of finding a venue for my own wedding last year. As a Wedding Planner, and prior to that an Events Manager for a 5 star boutique hotel company in London, I've seen many beautiful wedding venues throughout the UK so have been really lucky in that respect. My standards are particularly high when viewing new venues, when dining out, when staying at a hotel, going on holiday, or... well, you get the idea! Some might say a little fussy, but I know what luxury stands for and what simply doesn't make the cut.
Great customer service is pretty much at the top of my list of priorities for any experience I have, but particularly for where I wanted to get married. We also knew we didn't want somewhere which operates solely as a wedding venue with upwards of 80 weddings a year, and wanted somewhere quirky, with that personal touch - somewhere where the staff would remember you each time you went back. We didn't want to have a Church ceremony as neither of us have ever been religious, so we were on the hunt for a venue with a Civil Ceremony licence.
There are two super important factors to consider before commencing your search for a venue: your budget and guest numbers. There's nothing worse than finding your dream venue, only to realise its grossly over budget or cannot accommodate all of your guests. We had a guest list of about 70 guests for the day, and an additional 30 or so for the evening.
We live in Oxfordshire, and are in love with the picturesque countryside. Oxfordshire is also the perfect central location for many; as it's within easy reach of London, the surrounding counties, and the South. Our guests would be coming mainly from London, but also from Nottinghamshire and Dorset. I made a shortlist of my favourite venues in and around Oxford, which included The Tythe Barn at Launton, Caswell House, Hedsor House, Sheepdrove Farm and Stoke Place. I consider all of these to be gorgeous wedding venues, but I hadn't previously considered anywhere for our own wedding. All of these venues are in country locations; some with a rustic charm and others with a more grandeur status. We went to view all of them together, and whilst all were lovely, none had the 'wow factor' when I was imagining myself getting married there. I don't know what I was expecting to happen when we saw the perfect one - perhaps a Cinderella moment, but I just didn't get that. I wanted to feel like when I viewed our new house for the first time - excited about the opportunities it would provide, and seeing a vision of ideas that we could bring to life.
After looking at a number of options, we decided to have a break from venue viewing for a while, and re-evaluate our options. Maybe we'd look further afield? Maybe it was because I had seen so menu venues, I wasn't entirely sure what style I wanted. After all, there are so many beautiful options, how could we possibly choose just one?
In the meantime, a friend of Chris asked him if we had been to see Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, as he had previously attended a couple of events there and loved the uniqueness of the house and design. I knew of Aynhoe Park, but not yet as a wedding venue. I had seen a number of fashion editorial photo shoots that had been set there, and I knew there was a lot of taxidermy so it was quirky. Tick! I promptly looked to their website and sent off an enquiry.
When I received an email reply from "The Butler", I instantly thought this was going to mean £££, and I was right. My heart sank, as the brochure looked fabulous, and the venue really was totally surreal! However, as a Planner, I always read through every single line in detail, so on further investigation I realised that I'd only looked at pricing for a Saturday in July. If we could get married on a Thursday in July instead, it would save us £15,000 in venue hire. We came to realise this would actually work out really well, as it would mean that guests could still enjoy a long weekend in the countryside after the wedding. We booked a date to view the venue, and wow - we certainly weren't disappointed. And that feeling I was talking about? Oh it was there!
The events team were super helpful and knowledgable about the venue (my top priority!), and the venue really sold itself. Think English country grandeur with quirky artwork, trendy taxidermy (polar bears with flying goggles, and a floating giraffe with balloons!), and acres of landscaped gardens adorned with abstract sculptures. The house itself has 4 large rooms which can be used however you'd like and all accommodate around 70 guests in each.
The Orangery really steals the show, and would be an incredible setting for a Ceremony. In the end we decided to have our Ceremony in the Dining Room so that we could use the Orangery for our wedding breakfast - where we would be spending most of our time (apart from the gardens for the drinks reception). There are also 13 beautifully decorated bedrooms which are included within the venue hire for you and your bridal party to stay the night of the wedding. We also booked these for the night prior, so that we were really able to enjoy the full experience of the house.
To see more images from my wedding at Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, take a peek here!
When searching for your perfect venue, it's important to keep your 'must haves' in mind to make sure that the practical aspects are also taken care of. It's all too easy to get carried away with the beauty of a venue, but if it's not suitable for what you would like to create then it's going to cause issues further down the line.
The most important thing however, is to have fun and enjoy searching for your perfect venue! If you're stuck for choice, and don't know where to start, I offer a venue finding service, to help you find that perfect one. Whether you're looking for a large country house, or an idyllic spot by the lake for a tipi wedding - I'd be delighted to join you on your wedding planning journey! If you're holding your wedding at Aynhoe Park, I would love to hear all about what you have planned for this amazing venue!