Scouting For The Venue

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AUGUST, 2015

Knowing that we wanted to get married in 2016, finding the venue was top priority after we got back from our amazing family holiday in France. No sooner were the girls (all four of them) packed off with our exes the online hunt for possible venues to visit began in earnest. The fear was that any half decent venue would already be booked up for summer 2016 so we had to get the ball rolling ASAP!

Where in the country?

The first thing to decide on was where, and to be honest this wasn’t really a difficult decision at all as we both knew exactly – area-wise – where we wanted to get married.

At the end of January (2015) we were taking in another stretch of the Thames Path between Marlow and Windsor. Nothing unusual there if you know anything about us and our love of walking, but on this occassion as we made our way along the section after Maindenhead we got to talking about what our ideal wedding would be like, and where we would want to have it.

As it happens we both agreed on two things:

  1. We both wanted a small affair having done the “traditional” big wedding, and
  2. Scotland!

Ever since I (Darren) walked the West Highland Way back in 2010 I’d fallen in love with Loch Lomond. It literally blew me away when I got my first proper views of of the loch at Balmaha. As I wrote at the time, it was hands down the most stunning place I’d been to on the walk at that point.

Fortunately Shelli fell in love with the place too when we took our girls for a holiday there in 2013, staying in a cabin at Rowardennen, so the general “where” was almost a no-brainer!

The Shortlist

With that decision made the search for wedding venues in the Loch Lomond area began in earnest as we wanted to get a shortlist put together and a weekend in Scotland booked in while the girls were away on holiday, giving us a good window of opportunity to get up there.

Shelli spent quite a lot of time looking for possible venues the shortlist of which was the following:

  1. Altskeith House
  2. Lodge on Loch Lomond
  3. Cameron House
  4. Duck Bay

As a late contender I happened across Ross Priory and I was immediately taken by the place. I can’t remember what I punched into Google search to find it – obviously something different to what Shelli was using for her search – but I sent Shelli the details and Ross Priory was added to the list.

With the shortlist finalised Shelli got on the phone to the venues to organise viewings. Well, most of the venues anyway. Cameron House couldn’t actually give us a viewing on the weekend we wanted to visit but they did say the manager could show us round which I thought was a little bit lame. We also didn’t book a viewing at Duck Bay as it was at the bottom of our list and, well, we thought we’d probably get a good enough feel for the place by just popping in.

Viewings were booked and the short week or so wait to our weekend in Scotland flew by! Before we knew it we were in Ayr at Steve and Jill’s, all excited for the coming two days.

Altskeith House

First on the list of venues to look round was Altskeith House. This wasn’t actually on Loch Lomond but on the shores of Loch Ard, a small loch to the east of Loch Lomond. Jill had to work unfortunately but Steve came up with us to look around and to give us his opinion on the place.

It was a lovely drive up and the weather was great, and heading up the little road along the shore of Loch Ard we were immediately impressed with the location…it was stunning with Ben Lomond looming over the landscape in the distance.

We’ll be honest and say that Altskeith house was top of the list before we left for Scotland and pulling up outside of the place in the car definitely didn’t do anything to sway that initial opinion. The place was lovely, and it’s location was to die for!

Looking round we couldn’t see anything that made us in any way, shape or form waver on our initial opinion of the place, and the owner was a delight to talk to. The place hit all the right buttons and as we spent some time on their little private beach on the loch we were sold on the place; we could 100% see ourselves getting married there. At that moment in time that was it, we were ready to make a booking there and then. You’ve only got to look through the photos below to see why.

As it happens, the owner said that we should definitely go and look at the other venues – all of which were the following day – and then if we felt the same way we should get back in touch with her to firm up the booking.

Driving back from Loch Ard we all agreed that it would take something out of this world to make us change our minds about Altskeith House.

Lodge on Loch Lomond

Saturday morning we all got in the car – Jill included – and made our way back up to Loch Lomond. It was a bit of a rubbish drive this time with lots of traffic, which meant we got to the Lodge on Loch Lomond about 15 minutes late.

When we went in the girl who was supposed to be showing us around was already busy with the people who were going to be looking round after us; how early were they?! We were offered a free drink from the bar while we waited to be shown round so we sat in the bar area and chatted for a bit.

Time was moving on and we were a little concerned we were going to be late for our only other properly booked viewing of the day at Ross Priory, as we’d planned on popping into Cameron House on the way down to Ross Priory.

After a few prods another girl came to show us around, which was great, but as she wasn’t the usual girl who did this she didn’t have all of the right keys and couldn’t answer all of our questions. She could give us some general information but specifics were lacking.

We looked round and sat outside taking in the Loch views while we waited for the usual girl to come and see us.

To be honest, after Altskeith house this place just didn’t cut it. It was a bog-standard hotel – as nice as it was – but it just didn’t have that wow factor. Add to that the fact that due to us planning on having a small wedding, we’d have no exclusivity and we’d pretty much be mingling with anyone else who happened to be staying there.

As the usual girl could clearly sniff a booking with the other people and wasn’t in any hurry to come and speak with us, we left her to it and hit the road again. It was a definite no from all of us!

Ross Priory

With all of the delays, we didn’t have time to pop into Cameron House so we headed directly to Ross Priory to make sure we made it there on time for our viewing.

As we drove up the driveway, if you can call it that, to the car park, the first glimpse of Ross Priory literally stopped us in our tracks! We stopped the car and just looked out the window in awe of what we were looking at. Ross Priory definitely had the wow factor we were looking for! You’ve just to look at the photos below to see what I mean.

As we were a little early we took a stroll down to the loch front to see what it was like down there. I say walk, Steve ran down like a child, bless him!

The views were stunning and it was so peaceful there, unlike the loch front at the Lodge earlier in the day.

We were shown round by the manager looking in a lot of the rooms to get a good idea of the place. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the bridal suite as it was being used for the wedding that day, but as we made our way round nothing at all was turning us off of the place. The rooms were lovely, the building was amazing, and the staff were all very polite and helpful.

After being shown round we took a stroll round the grounds and into the walled garden, which was beautiful. We were so excited!

As we’d not eaten anything since leaving that morning we ordered some food from the bar and had a drink to help mull it all over. It was clear that both Altskeith and Ross Priory were absolutely amazing venues, and at that point in time we weren’t at all interested in going to see Cameron House or Duck Bay; this was a two horse race!

We ate our lunch, which was delicious, and chatted about the pros and cons etc. to try and come up with a final decision. Not having the luxury of being able to pop to the venues again we had to be sure that day.

Personally, I was sold on Ross Priory, but if I’m completely honest it was my preferred venue even before we left for Scotland, but Shelli wasn’t sure what to do. It was clear that she really liked both venues, and after yesterday we knew it was going to take something very very special to outdo Altskeith, and I think she knew that Ross Priory was just that. She was however worried that if she was left to make the final decision that she’d make the wrong one.

Steve had a little word in my shell-like saying just that so I gave Shelli a massive hug, kissed her, and then whispered in her ear that this was the place and that the decision was made. Ross Priory was where we were going to get married!

We immediately went and found the manager to check on their availability for the 2nd August 2016, a year to the day we got engaged, and it was free! We booked it there and then!

On the drive back Shelli spent a good while silently going over it all in her head. 50 miles into the journey back to Ayr she announced that Ross Priory was definitely the right choice, to which we all just cracked up! She was right though. Ross Priory was absolutely amazing.