I've never been a wedding dress person, as a little girl I never dreamt of how my perfect gown would look. (I wish I had, it might have made the hunt for a dress a little less traumatic.)
I've always been happy to look at different venues though. Before Gareth and I were even engaged, my mother and I would daydream about different places and secretly potter about the internet (no pressure on Ga!) trying to find somewhere perfect. To be honest, I didn't really need to look far: I've always loved historic venues, places where hundreds of brides' feet have walked the same path mine will. I love stone walls, I love big oppressive buildings that haunt your mind and soul.
I absolutely adore castles. I grew up near Arundel Castle, which is my dream fairytale castle. I can remember having a tiny book of British castles, and I always thought Arundel Castle was the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most outstanding castle in the book. One of my regular childhood haunts was Swanbourne Lake and we would always drive past the castle to get there - and if you climbed up the chalk hills you could get a beautiful glimpse of the castle.
I'm not getting married at Arundel Castle. This doesn't upset me - firstly it's impossible, Arundel Castle doesn't offer weddings, and secondly there was absolutely no way I was getting married in West Sussex. In three years I've absolutely fallen in love with Cardiff and could not imagine getting married anywhere else. South Wales is my home.
Wales is the best place ever to want to get married in a castle. You have so many options! Some of the ones that were briefly considered included Caerphilly Castle, Craig-y-Nos Castle (tempting - it has a Doctor Who connection as it was Torchwood House in Tooth and Claw, and they often have good weekday offers on Groupon) and Hensol Castle. I was also tempted by Pencoed House because it was beautiful, and had its own whisky bar (my favourite tipple)!
We had a few requirements though - I really wanted somewhere that was easy to travel to, a "dry" wedding didn't appeal to me, so somewhere where people would have to drive to, and then drive to a hotel at the end of the night wasn't preferable. Equally - forcing people to stay at a location (one of the issues with Craig-y-Nos) was really off putting. A weekend wedding was again something that I was pretty determined to get - I'm quite guest conscious and I was really concerned about sending an invite that ended up having "you will need to take a couple of precious days of holiday to come to the wedding, then pay a fortune to stay at the only hotel in the area (which naturally they will charge you a premium for), and obviously you'll have the costs of travel, and even a new outfit and presents if you chose!" written between the lines. Not something I was comfortable with.
There was one perfect place: Cardiff Castle. It would blow the budget but it was gorgeous, there would be amazing wedding photos, it was in a city that really meant something to me (chip butty on Caroline Street at 2am after the wedding, anyone?), there were hotels for every budget, and you can get there by walking (for the local friends), bus, train, coach or plane! (And car - though car parking is where Cardiff really does fail dramatically - car park tips will be included in the invites, though!)
With Cardiff Castle chosen there was only one room I was interested in - the one I had kept going back to when giggling with my mother, the one that when I looked at wedding venues I would always compared them to: The Undercroft. It was stunning, full of thick stone walls and a vaulted ceiling; it was truly old in a very young castle; it was completely separate so we would have our own private, intimate bash away from prying eyes; and as a bonus it was the cheapest room for the number of guests we were inviting! It is perfect and makes me feel like a fairytale princess - not something I'm used to!
Now with an expensive venue booked, it was time to cut back and try and pull the costs back into line.
Previously in Wed-threads: