How to pick the perfect wedding venue

In 7 easy steps

Excluding, of course, your choice of spouse, the venue you decide to get married at is one of the first and most important decisions to make when you’re planning a wedding.  After all, it’ll not only supply the backdrop to your photos, but it will shape yours and your guests’ memories of the day for – assuming you got the spouse bit right – the rest of your lives.

Like most wedding admin, it can be a pretty daunting decision; one that, unless you’re very lucky and nail it straight away, can lead to a sleepless nights, logistics headaches, and, at worst, full-scale premarital warfare as couples discover that one party’s lifelong dream of traditional bucolic luxury is at odds with their partner’s long-cherished vision of a Star Wars-themed shindig in an urban craft brewery, complete with Vader celebrant and Ewok ring bearer.

Assuming, however, you can agree on the fundamentals and compromise (and if you can’t, well, maybe it’s time to ponder that spouse question again), there are a few considerations to work through before you pick your perfect knot-tying spot…

1. Location

Close to you or, if they live elsewhere, your family? And whose family, for that matter? Unless everyone lives conveniently nearby, whether you choose a venue near your family or your partner’s, you’re going to end up with a grumbling mother-in-law. Maybe plump for somewhere halfway between and annoy all your guests equally?

Relax; even if your guests have to drive 200 miles, catch a ferry and climb a mountain, if there’s a picture-perfect venue at the end of it, even the grouchiest of uncles tends to come around. When we host weddings at Foxhill Manor on Farncombe Estate, we’ve seen guests who’ve travelled hundreds of miles light up as they step out of the car and take in the glorious Cotswolds scenery. (To avoid incurring the wrath of the Farncombe marketing department, we also should point out here that Foxhill Manor is very accessible by both road and rail

from London, Birmingham, Oxford, Wales and everywhere in between. No ferries/mountain climbing necessary.)

If you visit a potential venue and, once you’ve ticked off the basics (Is it big enough for all the guests we want? Is it too big? Does it feel like it’s haunted by malevolent spirits?) you find yourselves mentally composing the wedding snaps, chances are you’ve found your spot.

2. Capacity

If you’ve drawn up a guest list of 200 people who absolutely must come to your wedding, but the venue you’ve set your hearts on only has space for 50, something’s gotta give. Draw up your guest list as early on in the planning process as possible, tot up your numbers, then restrict your venue search to places that can fit about 20 people more than that (there will always be folks whom you forget to factor into the first list), but won’t look half-empty with 20 people fewer (there will always be folks who can’t make it). If you’ve always dreamed of getting hitched to an audience of hundreds, don’t even look at that darling little bothy in the Scottish Highlands.

Since you asked, Foxhill Manor is enormously adaptable, and can host receptions for up to 70 people.

3. Weather

It’s all very well finding the perfect venue, but if you’re planning a weekend of grand outdoor celebration and the only date it can do is a Tuesday in the dead of winter, you either need to review your expectations or go back to the drawing board. And remember, there’s nothing to stop the rain bucketing down at the height of summer, so it’s always wise to pick a place that works in all weathers. Choose somewhere with indoor space big and beautiful enough to ensure that even if the elements threaten to turn your marquee fantasy into the wedding equivalent a rain-drenched camping trip, there’s an equally appealing Plan B waiting inside.

At Foxhill, we’re blessed with both extensive lawns and a grand ballroom, which makes the manor as weather-proof as wedding venues get.

4. Accommodation

If your guests have spent half a day schlepping across the country for your big day, you’re going to need somewhere to put them for the night. (No matter how much your guests may adore you, no-one is worth sleeping in a car for.) If the venue’s a hotel (like, say, Foxhill Manor, which sleeps 16 in eight rooms), then great – just make sure it can either accommodate everyone or knows somewhere nearby that can mop up any overspill (for example, The Fish Hotel down the road, which has 63 rooms available for Foxhill wedding-goers who can’t fit in the manor itself).  If you’ve decided to wed somewhere that doesn’t come with bedrooms attached, check the local area for accommodation options, share them with your guests – and make sure there’s something for all budgets.

5. Exclusivity

There’s one major drawback to getting married in a hotel: other guests. If you don’t have exclusive use of the venue for the duration, you can expect to be sharing the place with a contingent of ‘normals’ who are – let’s be honest – generally a wee bit resentful that a wedding party has taken over half the hotel and are threatening to drink the bar dry. Plus, when you’ve got the venue to yourselves, there’s a ‘just for us’ atmosphere which can make the occasion that little bit more special – and ensure that the staff are focused on you and only you. (It goes without saying that if you choose Foxhill Manor for your wedding, you’ll never run into anyone without an invite.)

6. Licence

To hold a legal marriage ceremony – of the kind you can’t back out of without a lawyer and a strong stomach for paperwork – a venue needs to be officially licensed, as Foxhill Manor is. A wedding licence is the difference between hosting your whole wedding in one place or having to turn it into a two-parter, with the first half at an external ceremony location, such as a church or registry office, and the reception (aka the fun bit) back at the venue. From a wedding-admin perspective, that’s double the workload, as you have to in effect find two venues, arrange transport in between, and either try to pick places with the same capacity, or split your guest list into ‘core attendees’ and – horror of horrors – ‘evening-only guests’. Some couples get around this by getting legally married on another day altogether, with just a few close friends and family, and holding a symbolic (but legally meaningless) ceremony at the venue on their wedding day. These people are obviously cheating.

7. Flexibility

‘Sorry, you can only have the salmon starter if you go for the chicken main.’

‘Please note that, out of consideration for our neighbours, all music must stop at 10pm.’

‘If you book with us, you may choose only from our list of recommended dodgy photographers/prison caterers/colour-blind florists/sub-par DJs.’

‘If you want a string quartet, you’ll have to upgrade to our £45,000 premium wedding package.’

Once a venue has your deposit in the bank, it can be amazing what terms and conditions start to crawl out of the woodwork.  Make sure you understand the small print before you hand over a penny and pick somewhere that gives you the freedom to have the wedding you wantnot the one they’ve had 1,000 times before.  A really good wedding venue (like, ahem, Foxhill Manor) will be genuinely flexible, letting you control every element of the event with trying to foist a prepackaged wedding-by-numbers on you and your guests. They’ll work with you to create a tailor-made wedding that takes into account your requirements, tastes, whims, foibles and personal peculiarities (hey, if you want to arrive on horseback dressed as Cleopatra, who’s to stop you?).

Despite all the above, the main thing to remember when you’re picking a venue is: as impossible as it may seem, don’t stress about it too much. The true spirit of a wedding – the stuff that makes it really memorable – comes from the couple at the heart of it, not the ground they’re stood on.

For more information about weddings on Farncombe Estate, check out the Foxhill Manor website.

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