On the summer solstice, on the side of a hill, surrounded by stunning scenery and the calls of birds, I got married to my amazing and lovely wife, Sarah. Anyone who has glanced at a few of my blog posts won’t be surprised to read that nature was at the centre of our wedding and that we chose to marry on an island.
Sarah and I met in February 2019 on a holiday in the Kalahari. We were friends immediately and started dating within a week of returning home. Living 180 miles apart, we didn’t manage to see each other very often before I disappeared to volunteer for three months on RSPB Ramsey Island. This might have been an issue for other new couples but it wasn’t for us: we kept in touch and Sarah visited twice. We met up increasingly frequently when I left the island, including an autumn week on the Isle of Mull, and by early 2020 we saw each other almost every weekend. In the March we both went down with COVID and on leaving isolation I travelled down to see Sarah, expecting to stay about a week. That evening, the first lockdown was announced, and we’ve lived together ever since.
In February 2021, we bought a house together in a Northamptonshire village and I popped the question on the Isle of Mingulay at almost the southern-most tip of the Outer Hebrides. On our way home we decided on a small wedding and to make the day unique to us. We soon decided on an elopement to the Isle of Skye (although our families and many of our friends were aware). We stayed on Skye, at Stein, for a week in October last year, looking for places to marry, as well as introducing the island to Sarah. After looking at a number of spots, we finally chose the most spectacular of all the locations on Skye; The Quiraing.
The 21st of June dawned gloomy and damp with low cloud blanketing the small hills visible from our cottage above the banks of Loch Dunvegan. I had woken to the distant call of a cuckoo and as we had breakfast, we watched an otter fish in the water below the cottage. Lynne, our photographer, arrived at 7:30 and we spent a while having photographs, including at the ‘first look’, the moment we both saw each other for the first time in our wedding clothes. The weather looked a little brighter as we left the cottage for the drive to The Quiraing but as we drove up into the higher hills the cloud enclosed around us and our hearts started to sink a little at the prospect of a dark and wet ceremony. However, as we dropped over the eastern lip of the line of hills on the Trotternish Peninsula, we ducked beneath the cloud and the view opened up in front of us.
We met our celebrant, Sonja, and her husband, Chris, at the side of the road by the small cemetery and we walked a couple of hundred metres to a stunning spot in a natural ampitheatre below the dark, brooding crags looking both ways along the majestic Trotternish ridge. The Quiraing is one of the most spectacular spots I know with the black jagged rock pinnacles standing high above the plain stretching out to the coast below.
There, on a spot out in the open, we prepared the space and ourselves for the moments ahead. We both walked a small distance away from the others and Sonja chimed two small bells to mark the opening of the ceremony. We walked to join them and the wedding began. At that moment a cuckoo started calling joined by a skylark and occasional chirping meadow pipits. The sky was still overcast and the low cloud lightly dropped moisture on us but the air was almost still.
The ceremony was a mixture of formality, readings to match the surroundings and the solstice, Sonja’s words defining our story to get to that moment and our own personally-written vows. The moments that stick particularly in my mind are many.
Writing our own vows made the moment even more personal and brought some laughter as well as the seriousness of the commitments we made. As I spoke, the rain started to come down a little stronger, fine drizzle flowing into my face as I read my chosen words. I promised to steer around sheep in the road while Sarah promised to put lids on jars (but not necessarily screwing them on properly). As Sarah finished the sky brightened a little and the dampness relented.
We exchanged rings that had been specially made for us, cast in sand from beaches that had marked moments in our lives, including one we would visit on Harris later in the following week.
We drank from a quaich. We individually poured whisky into the small two-handled hand-carved oak bowl, symbolising two people coming together as one, and we took turns to drink from it. We then poured the last remaining drops to the ground, to nourish the land around us.
Moving on from the quaich, we also included the ancient handfasting ceremony where our hands were tied together with a length of ceremonial ribbon. This ‘tying the knot’ moment again symbolises two people coming together and at the end when the hands are parted the knot stays intact and should remain so.
The final act of the wedding, with Sonja proclaiming our marriage, brought to an end what seemed like a both only a few seconds and an age in time. So intense was the ceremony that time appeared to both stretch and contract, but there was also the constant marking of the seconds as the cuckoo continued to call all the way through those 25 minutes. It became the symbol of our wedding and the two weeks in Scotland. We heard their calls frequently over the days that followed and, finally, as we wandered around a quiet, abandoned village on the east coast of Harris, we saw one speeding along above the shore, being chased by a meadow pipit or two.
After signing the paperwork, we eventually had to say goodbye Sonja and Chris, and we spent the rest of the day with Lynne, taking photos at various spots around the Trotternish Peninsula. We spent a while around the wedding spot, then moved on to Loch Langaig, Duntulm Castle, the old chapel at Bornesketaig, and the nearby Camas Moor Bay, with a view over to the Isle of Harris, and back to the top of the Trotternish Ridge with views over the Sound of Raasay to the mainland mountains of Wester Ross beyond.
Our day finished back at our cottage overlooking Loch Dunvegan and a meal at the fantastic Three Chimneys Restaurant below.
In our preparations, we tried to keep everything as local as possible. Our amazing and talented photographer, Lynne Kennedy, lives just across the Skye Bridge on the Kyle of Lochalsh, the lovely flowers were grown locally on the island by Catherine Matheson at Waternish and our fantastic picnic lunch was prepared by Isle of Skye Seafood. Our quaich was hand carved in Scotland, the whisky we drank from it could only really be Skye’s own Talisker, the hand fasting ribbon was in McKay tartan (there are McKays in my family) and my jacket and waistcoat were both made from Harris Tweed.