Travelling chimps

A different kind of wedding

50 people up a mountain wearing bobble hats and thermals… sounds like a perfect wedding. And it was.

Love and tax

When we decided to get married we had racked up 10 years together already. We’d travelled around the world, bought houses and cars, had kids… we weren’t just starting our lives together, we were well and truly down the road.

My anniversary card for Guy

It kind of felt like we’d missed the marriage boat and that it didn’t really matter. In fact we often ended up discussing it as an option for reducing paperwork and saving money – did you know that  you have fewer rights if you’re living together than if you’re married? A common-law spouse has no legal recognition, which is mainly only important if one of you pops your clogs or decides to run off and abandon the family. You can get round most of the trickiness by filling in forms but marriage is a simpler option. Oh the romance!

The good news is that it wasn’t just about tax implications and house ownership – we are very happy together and at every wedding we went to, usually ended up drunkenly chatting about how we would (or wouldn’t!) do ours. The whole big dress and sit-down dinner never appealed, but neither did a registry office followed by a humanist ‘pretend wedding’, so when we heard about two friends who had legally got married up a mountain in Scotland as the rules were different, we knew we had found a way to do it our way.

A hike with a legal interlude

Incredible views from Stac Pollaidh

We booked the same humanist celebrant – Penelope – that our friends had used and chose the same mountain (well, did we really need to do all the research when it was tried and tested already?!). A quick recce in January confirmed it was indeed beautiful, do-able and close enough to Ullapool for people to find accommodation, so we told all our pals that they were welcome to join us in the Highlands for a walk, marriage and post-walk pint and then sat back confident that only a handful of people would come.

We got that wrong; it turns out people like a unique wedding!

50 guests…. uh oh!

With more guests than we had imagined there were a few more logistics. You can’t just rock up with 25 cars in the Stac Pollaidh car park and then take 50 people into a bar and hope to be able to all order food. We decided that it would be less stressful to take over somewhere, but when we started enquiring you could almost hear the shift into ‘wedding mode’ – it was all big rooms with minimum numbers, flowers and set menus.

In the end we had a chat with the Frigate  in Ullapool and they offered us a buffet that would cater for oyster lovers (him), cheese lovers (me), pudding lovers (the kids) and vegan salad lovers (well we are from Brighton after all!). They did an amazing job – even decorating the venue for us, which we were not expecting.

Anyway, I seem to be skipping the actual wedding bit so….

The actual wedding bit.

Our guests in their best wedding outfits

We wanted a low-key wedding on a mountain that was a celebration of us and the kids. When we spoke to Penelope we felt as if she understood this completely. Unlike the legal stuff you have to say in England or Wales, we could pretty much say what we wanted in Scotland so Penelope helped us craft a ceremony that was entirely personalised – a mix of our words and Scottish traditions that she felt we might enjoy.

We had told our guests it would take an hour to get to the spot we wanted to get married and to dress up warm – the ‘men’ would go first and hide little painted stones for the kids to find on their way up, as well as leave a red ribbon at the forked path so people would know which way to go. He would find a spot and when you reached him, you could picnic and wait for the rest of the party.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

The kids went before the boys arrived and so there were no stones or sweets to find. The red ribbon wasn’t very clear and so a few people went the wrong way, including our pregnant friend who had to then go off-piste across the mountain to get back on track (passing an adder!). The path was much steeper and longer than we had remembered, which meant for a slower and more challenging climb (perhaps we shouldn’t have based our timings on the speed of Soren. He may be 4 but he is a mountain goat in boy form!) and those thermals that we were all wearing – aaaggghhhh it was boiling hot!  The good news was that the sunny weather meant the views were amazing…. until we reached my husband-to-be’s chosen spot – in thick mist??!!!

Twas meant to be

Dehydrated and sweaty, we all arrived in the clouds and Penelope kicked off proceedings as everyone got off their face on a combo of Bryony’s sugary tablet and the copious amount of whisky being passed around. It was amazing though – we talked about why we love Scotland, why we chose to get married (I didn’t mention tax implications!) and our plans for the future with the boys. We were both focused on the two kids beaming down at us as Penelope spoke  – particularly as Kit had been a bit anxious about it all. It was more special and meaningful than I had ever imagined it would be. The clouds even cleared and we had that gorgeous backdrop we had hoped for.

We drank from the quaitch – a two handed cup filled with even more whisky – to toast our past, present and future together, swapped rings (carefully brought to us by the kids), did a bit of ‘accepting each other’ in front of witnesses and sealed the deal with a kiss. Yay! We then passed around more whisky and apple cake (a nod by Lou to my dad, a fond cake-lover!) and disbanded – those that wanted to hike to the top went one way, those that didn’t went back down. A perfect, no-frills wedding in my bobble hat and thermal leggings!

Let’s get the party started!

A dedicated version of ‘If not for you’ by the amazing Julie and Wilz

There was space in the Frigate for music – thanks Ben with his ipod and Jon with  his guitar – and speeches as well. In the true spirit of stealing other people’s wedding ideas, we took the concept of a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ from our Swedish friend. Rather than the usual list, anyone who wanted to raise a toast or perform something could just book themselves in with my sister, Lou. Both of us took a turn – mine was the ‘produced on a night of no sleep so even if I could properly focus the content was pretty much ineligible’ version. His was the ‘had a quick think, scrawled something down and then delivered it off the cuff with no notes’ version. Damn him!

Ros was much better prepared and had all the classic baby stories, Colin mentions, embarrassing son-in-law jokes and proud mum moments. Cheeky produced something hilarious – a speech he hoped his brain would prepare as he was saying it. Katy, Lou and Jo also got up to share some words and they were of course all lovely. Who knew they were so loved – not me! Who also knew that Jo kept all the a’level photos she took of me modelling for her and had shared pictures of me as a 17 year old bride tasked to look as if she was ‘contemplating running away’ around the room. Awful! Thank goodness for Wilz and Julie who got up and sang an amazing, personalised version of ‘If not for you’ by Bob Dylan. Gorgeous.

Everyone loves a singalong…. don’t they?

Jon took the singalong out onto the streets of Ullapool

Credit where credit is due – Ullapool was very patient and accepting with us. Not one person threw a shoe at us when we took our singalong out of the Frigate onto the streets of the small harbour town, even when it reached 2am! I’m sure we all thought we were doing harmonies (and to be fair, Wilz and Julie on the ukulele, Jon on his guitar and Cheeky can all definitely hold a tune) but it probably just sounded like what it really was – a group of drunk tourists shouting soundy-likey lyrics! It was a perfectly crazy end to a perfectly crazy day though.

Thank you Scotland, thank you friends and family and thank you to my chimps – that was a pretty awesome adventure to add to our list!



Travelling chimps

How to get married on a mountain

In the UK you can’t just pick a spot, enlist the relevant qualified person and run through the legalities to tie the knot. Or can you? Follow my ten steps to get married on a mountain.

First a bit of background…

Rules, rules and more rules

Many, many years ago there was a Marriage Act brought in to stop all the crazy marriages taking place in England. No more irregularities – you had to be a certain age, your parents had to agree if you were under 21, you had to do it somewhere legit, someone official had to say all the right stuff and it all had to be recorded. It was a real spanner in the works for all those underage kids who got pregnant before their wedding day.

Scotland was not part of all this. They didn’t follow the new amendment and instead chose to just stick to ‘mutual consent’ as the tick box for their unions. Anybody could make the declaration of marriage and as long as you were over 12, it was a green light.

Civil license or no civil license

It’s not wildly different today in England and Wales, you still have to follow the rules. The Marriage and Civil Partnerships Regulations asserts that weddings cannot happen just anywhere – you can’t just get married on a mountain. They must take place in a registry office or somewhere that has a license – something that will only be granted if you have a permanent structure with a roof.

Things are still pretty relaxed north of the border. A few changes have taken place – maybe one too many buggers found themselves married off after a few drams too many, so they’ve stopped the ‘anybody can declare it’ rule and upped the age of consent to 16. If a registrar does the job the venue has to have a license, but if you opt for a minister or a humanist celebrant, no license is required. You just have to get them to agree to your location!

Making it personal

No permanent roof structure required!

In order for a marriage to be fully legal, certain points must be met within the service, i.e. you can’t just say exactly what you want. Any registrar or minister-led wedding has a fair amount of statutory stuff that has to be repeated (I declare no legal reason why I…etc. etc.). Of course you can add your own vows in some cases, but it’s not really that flexible if you want to have something entirely personal to yourselves.

Humanist celebrants prefer to perform ceremonies that focus on couple and the relationship, which makes sense even if you are not a declared humanist. The one catch is it’s not currently legal in England and Wales – you still have to go to the registry office and get the registrar to do the bit that makes it real. That kind of spoils it a bit in my mind.

It’s different in Scotland. Humanist Weddings have been legal since June 2005, as long as they’re conducted by a celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland who has been authorised by the Registrar General. They just need to hear themselves, and for your witnesses to hear, a verbal contract between the two of you that accepts each other in marriage.

 So… getting married on a mountain

So we’ve identified that you can have the ceremony you want if you head to Scotland and choose a humanist celebrant. So how do you  get married on a mountain?

  1. Find a mountain that is do-able for you and your guests
  2. Find a humanist who will do it for you – you can have a hunt on the Humanist Society of Scotland for a list.
  3. Before you can move forward, join the Humanist Society of Scotland (approx £20)
  4. Apply to the registrar in the area you want to marry for a marriage schedule. To do this you need to both fill in an M10 form as well as send in details of witnesses and original of birth certificates and divorce certificates. You need to include details of your celebrant and also your location (as well as a plan B location). There was a fee for this of approximately £71 to process this.
  5. Run through your wedding script with the celebrant so you are all agreed in advance.
  6. Pick up your form the week preceding the wedding
  7. Get married on the mountain if the weather is ok (yay!) or in the plan B location if the weather is foul (gutted). I get the feeling you can be pretty flexible on this if your heart is set on outside. The mountain car park would probably be fine!
  8. Make sure you get the signed document from the celebrant (it is signed by yourselves, the celebrant and the witnesses) and the form that the celebrant fills in that details what name everybody actually signed.
  9. Drop off your documents with the registrar within 3 days following the wedding.
  10. Marriage documents are sent to you by post.

In the next post I talk more about our specific wedding and our choices. Keep reading if you are interested in that. If not – good luck with your Scottish choice, I can assure you that you won’t regret it.