Couples reveal why they shunned a big white wedding to elope instead

Just the two of us! Couples reveal why they shunned a big white wedding to ELOPE instead – as more people shun expensive celebrations

  • UK venues reporting a rise in couples shunning big weddings to elope instead
  • The trend is so popular that many now offer elopement packages for couples 
  • READ: Walking down the aisle solo and NO bridesmaids! Wedding planner debunks controversial list of 2023 bridal trends and blasts ‘awkward’ garter toss

When Sian Austin and Emma Swingle got engaged last May, they immediately started planning their dream wedding.

They would marry in front of 100 family and friends before dancing the night away in a rustic Essex barn while the champagne flowed.

But, despite putting down a £500 deposit for the venue and sending out ‘save the date’ invites, the couple started having doubts.

‘Having a big wedding felt like what we should do,’ says Emma, 27. ‘But when we imagined what might happen: us having to be hostesses with the mostesses, babysitting our guests and dancing in front of them, we were filled with dread.’

Sarah Pitard and husband Alex MacFaul, 50, from Norfolk, chose to elope with BoHo Cornwall Elopements when their nuptials were cancelled in the 2020 lockdown (pictured together)

‘The costs also started to spiral,’ Sian, 26, adds. ‘We were possibly looking at a £10,000 wedding. Really, you’re paying for everyone else’s day which they won’t remember. We started to dream about running away and doing it on our own.’

After searching ‘runaway weddings for two’ online, they discovered a venue in the Lake District that specialised in elopements.

‘Eloping is what people did in the movies,’ Emma says. ‘We had no idea we could do it too.’

‘But as I looked through the pictures on the website,’ Sian adds, ‘I thought this is my dream, this is what I want. We’d never even been to the Lake District but booked it two days later.’

Gavin Richards (pictured with his partner) couldn’t bear the thought of having another big, white wedding when he married his second wife, Holly, last June. The couple, from Caldicot, South Wales, decided to elope, spending £3,500 at small wedding specialist, Frieda and the Moon near Looe in Cornwall

When Sian Austin and Emma Swingle (pictured) got engaged last May, they immediately started planning their dream wedding. After searching ‘runaway weddings for two’ online, they discovered a venue in the Lake District that specialised in elopements

The couple are by no means unique. Venues across the UK are reporting an exponential rise in couples of all ages shunning big, white weddings to elope instead.

The trend is so popular that many now offer elopement packages from a basic ceremony for under £1,000 to a luxury wedding for two for up to £6,000.

One venue near Newport, Wales, which specialises in elopement style weddings, has been the second most popular venue in Pembrokeshire for the last two years, according to the county council.

Meanwhile, searches for ‘elopement inspiration’ on Pinterest are up by 50 per cent in the last year.

Some couples invite a handful of guests but most, like Sian and Emma, are choosing to marry alone without any family or friends and are even using strangers as witnesses.

‘We weren’t interested in a big wedding,’ Sarah (pictured with her partner), 37, says. ‘It was partly the cost – we’re both self-employed artists – but also, we’d been to a few big weddings and the brides always seemed super stressed out. It didn’t look like fun.’

Although Sarah and Alex (pictured) were due to have just eight guests at their original wedding they ended up saying ‘I do’ with around 100 friends and family on Zoom

The couple, from Essex who work for Sainsbury’s, plan to marry in February for £2,500. They will buy off-the-peg dresses and hiking boots, will drive to the wedding in Sian’s Vauxhall Astra and head into town afterwards for a low-key meal. .

‘My sister, who’s very feminine and traditional, is crazed that I haven’t got a dress yet or even been for a fitting,’ Emma says. 

‘I’m not bothered about nice shoes, I just want to be married and happy forever. People still feel the pressure from family to have a big wedding but it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing we’re going to have our special day together, just us, is a relief.’

The reasons for the rise are twofold. Firstly, it’s the cost, says Kathy Murdoch, co-owner of leading South West wedding venue Ocean Kave.

‘We’re going into the biggest recession in many people’s lifetimes,’ she says. ‘The days of couples spending £30,000 to £40,000 on a wedding are gone.’

Meanwhile, Gavin recalled: ‘On the day of the wedding, we spent the morning in the hot tub before getting ready together. Paul and Babs, the venue’s owners, acted as our witnesses and even took pictures (above) afterwards of us with a couple of friendly sheep’

Despite hosting big weddings for up to 150 guests, demand for elopements at Ocean Kave in picturesque Westward Ho! Devon, has risen three-fold over the last five years. They have stopped doing big weddings all together as a result.

‘We’ve flipped our entire business on its head and the maximum number of guests we now take is 30,’ Kathy says. ‘We’re responding to what our customers want and see the way things are going.

‘Lots of people now live stream their elopement,’ she adds. ‘Post pandemic, we now offer it as a service on our supplier list.’

It’s something Sarah Pitard and husband Alex MacFaul, 50, from Norfolk did. The couple never intended to have a traditional white wedding but chose to elope with BoHo Cornwall Elopements when their nuptials were cancelled in the 2020 lockdown.

‘We weren’t interested in a big wedding,’ Sarah, 37, says. ‘It was partly the cost – we’re both self-employed artists – but also, we’d been to a few big weddings and the brides always seemed super stressed out. It didn’t look like fun.’

Although they were due to have just eight guests at their original wedding they ended up saying ‘I do’ with around 100 friends and family on Zoom.

‘We had people from all over the world in several time zones, including my best friend in Thailand. At least two of my friends watched in their pyjamas. It was perfect.’

After the wedding, the couple had photographs taken on the beach, went for dinner and had an early night. In total they spent £2,500.

‘It was very chilled,’ Sarah says. ‘Perfect. I was surprised by how much I liked it being just the two of us. If we got to do it again, would I still invite our eight guests? Eloping was so great; I think it would be a long conversation.’

A wedding cake maker in the West Country has also seen a rise. ‘Since Covid, cakes for elopement weddings have become almost 50 per cent of my business,’ says Emma Smith, co-owner of Mrs Smudgers Kitchen. Pictured, one of Emma’s elopement wedding cakes

The pandemic, which saw wedding guest numbers slashed and weddings banned altogether, has also played a marked part, says Caroline Langham, co-owner of wedding venue Cote How in the Lake District.

‘Post pandemic, we expected it to go back to big weddings but it’s not showing any sign of doing that,’ Caroline says. ‘People’s attitudes have changed. They’ve realised they don’t need to invite people they haven’t seen for years. It can just be the two of them.’

Like Kathy at Ocean Kave, when she first started in 2013, Caroline has slashed the number of guests from 150 to a maxim of 24. Elopements, with just the bride and groom, have risen from a quarter of their business in 2018 to almost half last year.

‘It’s going up and up and up,’ Caroline says. ‘Since Christmas to now, 52 per cent of our enquiries have been about elopements. Enquiries for big weddings are 14 per cent so far.’

They introduced four elopement packages in an attempt to ‘Covid proof the business’.

Their cheapest package, aptly named ‘The Runaways’, includes a two-hour morning ceremony and costs from £1,800.

‘It’s not our most popular though,’ Caroline says. ‘That’s our The Adventurers package for £2,550 in which we allow more time for couples to explore our part of the Lake District including Rydal Water and Rydal Caves in which The Witcher was filmed.’

Couples elope for all manner of reasons, she adds. ‘One older couple had been together for 42 years but had decided to do our two-hour elopement package,’ Caroline says. 

‘They just wanted to be married with little fuss. But we also get younger people who want to be married but are more budget conscious. A lot of the time, it’s the parents of the couple who want the big wedding and, often, they’re holding the purse strings.’

Gavin Richards couldn’t bear the thought of having another big, white wedding when he married his second wife, Holly, last June.

‘My first wedding for around 100 guests was full of people I didn’t really know that I had to speak to,’ Gavin, 43, says. ‘It was really stressful and a performance. You had to stand up and do speeches and all the other traditional things. I didn’t want the same thing with Holly.’

The couple, from Caldicot, South Wales, decided to elope, spending £3,500 at small wedding specialist, Frieda and the Moon near Looe in Cornwall where, post pandemic, elopements have risen to 70 per cent of their business.

‘We thought elopement meant running away to get married and not telling anybody. It’s not like that at all,’ Gavin adds.

‘We told everybody what we were doing. My family were very supportive, and my dad was relieved – I can’t imagine any bloke really wants to go to a wedding.’

Specialist hairdresser Holly, 34, felt similarly. ‘If I’d had a big wedding, some family members wouldn’t have been able to make it. Some are poorly but some, well, it’s easier if they’re not in the same room. 

‘I wanted our wedding to be romantic and my idea of romance is not spending it with my family and friends. I also hate being the centre of attention.’

‘It was all very relaxed,’ Gavin, a graphic designer, adds. ‘We had a cabin, which was completely off grid with chickens wandering around. 

‘On the day of the wedding, we spent the morning in the hot tub before getting ready together. Paul and Babs, the venue’s owners, acted as our witnesses and even took pictures afterwards of us with a couple of friendly sheep. 

‘Afterwards, we ate sandwiches, drank champagne, went for a walk in the woods and had a nap. It just felt right. I don’t know why everybody isn’t doing it.’

Cornwall based wedding photographer Thomas Frost has seen elopements rise from 50 to 70 per cent of his business.

‘Bookings for big weddings have so far been slow,’ he says. ‘I’ve had to delete guests from photographs I’ve done at big weddings because they’ve fallen out with the bride and groom. You don’t get any of that at elopements. 

‘There’s no pressure to take those traditional family group pictures. I take couples up over the cliffs, clambering over rocks and jumping over ravines. It makes it more memorable. 

‘Another trend is for a couple to elope and then have a big party six months down the line at which they show their wedding photos and video.’

A wedding cake maker in the West Country has also seen a rise. ‘Since Covid, cakes for elopement weddings have become almost 50 per cent of my business,’ says Emma Smith, co-owner of Mrs Smudgers Kitchen. 

‘‘Before it was more like 20 per cent. The pandemic has allowed couples to do their own thing. People can also have less traditional cakes when they elope. 

‘We made a dung beetle cake for a pair of scientists who study the insects. It featured a fondant dung beetle burrowing into layers of cake. 

‘One bride had a unicorn cake and another was covered in sweets for the couple’s grandchildren. The cakes tend to be a lot smaller: the smallest one we’ve done is 4” across.

‘When we first started there was a definite wedding season but now, with elopements, it’s all year round and every day of the week.’

Another advantage of elopement weddings is they can be booked as little as two months ahead, says Bob Boothby, co-owner of Millbrook Estate in North Devon where wedding packages start from just £999.

‘Last year, at least seven of our weddings happened within 35 days of the booking,’ he says.

Bob’s luxury treehouse venue can accommodate up to 14 guests but 60 per cent of the weddings held there are now couple only.

‘In the last year we’ve noticed luxury elopements rocket in popularity,’ Bob says. ‘Covid has taken it to a different level. It’s given people an excuse to do their wedding their way.’

Bob often acts as a witness during the elopements and has seen it all. ‘We’ve had a couple who got married and were in the hot tub with a bottle of champagne 30 minutes later. Another couple wanted some au naturel photographs in our bluebell woods.

‘Some of the readings are so raw,’ he adds. ‘One woman talked about their really rocky relationship, mentioning how much of a naughty boy he’d been. 

‘We’ve had couples in wellies, shorts, jeans and T-shirts. 20 per cent of couples bring their dog, some of whom act as ring bearer. 

‘People have brought their cats, one couple brought their two rabbits and we just had an enquiry about someone who wants to bring their ferrets. We like to say yes where we can.’

But not everyone is always so happy.

‘We’ve had mother in laws on the phone demanding to know where their son is getting married,’ Bob says. ‘One phoned up recently and tried to book accommodation so she could surprise her daughter in law. 

‘When I phoned up the bride to tell her, she couldn’t believe it. At another wedding, which was kept a secret, a family member found out and drove all the way from the north. They even phoned for directions, which was quite awkward. It’s happened about 20 times since we started but since Covid hit, we’re getting less of those calls.’

Indeed, when Sian and Emma broke the news that their big, white wedding was off and they were eloping instead, Sian’s mother didn’t take it well.

‘I’m her only child so she was upset and has tried to find any way to be there, even offering to pay for herself to be at the elopement,’ Sian says.

‘My best friend was also upset,’ Emma adds. ‘We did feel a lot of guilt about cancelling our big wedding but then we agreed it was our day and eloping is what we want. 

‘People still feel the pressure from family to have a big wedding, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing we’re going to have our special day together, just us, is frankly a relief.’

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