In the spotlight of a sparkling spring sun, we took a weekend away from London to begin our search for the perfect wedding venue. We had ideas of what we wanted, and when we wanted it, but nothing concrete. With six venues to be viewed over two days, our hope was for clarity at the very least, and decision at the very best. With Dorset on our doorstep, Sarah’s selection left us spoilt for choice:
- Christchurch Harbour Hotel
- Dean’s Court
- Harbour Heights
- Compton Acres
- Milton Abbey
- Athelhampton House
We started our search on a scorching day in Christchurch, at a lovely hotel on the edge of a harbour. As we walked across the terrace and looked out to sea, I started to envisage our wedding day and how it might look, and the excitement that sparked in that moment is still lighting up my imagination today. As we both explored, our excitement fostered more and more ideas; we knew this was going to be a fun weekend.
Later that afternoon, we headed off to Dean’s Court, a stunning, rustic and grand country manor nestled away behind Wimborne’s shops and cafes. A real country treasure, and one that I’d never even realised was there. Exploring the grounds was a treat in itself – considering them for our wedding day was beyond anything I’d ever imagined. Once we’d walked along the lake, viewed the marquee, explored the cottage accommodation and paid a lot of attention to the dog, we had to head home. Two venues down, we’d only just started and already had so much to think about.
Day two was a packed one and started at Harbour Heights, a hotel high up in the heavens overlooking the Sandbanks peninsula. We could not have had a better day. Clear blue skies and a shining sun lit up a crystal clear view across the bay and out to sea. We stood on the terrace and took in the view for quite some time, watching the boats bobbing around on the still water. It was perfect, but sadly the views far exceeded the venue itself and so we moved on, to Compton Acres.
The Italian Villa, though a little anachronistic for the Dorset coast, was beautiful and we viewed it all set up and ready for a wedding later that day. The grounds were manicured, the food looked incredible, and the building itself was nice inside and out. It gave us both a lot to think about, but we quickly had to set off for our next location.
After a 30 minute drive, our little car turned a corner and a world of memories came flooding back for us both. We’d come back to view Milton Abbey, the place where we met and one of the most beautiful and secluded spots I’ve seen anywhere in my life. As we rolled slowly down the drive towards the manor, we both reminisced of the good times that we’d shared here, and took in the astounding beauty around us. Looking around the abbey and staterooms, it felt like a little part of me had come home again. Sadly the package on offer was not so right for us, and regrettably we had to move on.
Five venues down, we had seen a lot. It had helped us to understand what we did and didn’t want for our special day, and given me a world of ideas along the way. Our sixth, and final, location was a place I’d never even heard of. A country manor called Athelhampton House. From the moment I first saw it, I knew it was somewhere special. As we looked around, it all felt so right. The countryside location, the rich history, and even links back to our London home. This was beyond our wildest dreams, and as we sat down together, we feared this was well beyond our reach.
As we talked it all through, we realised that this dream could actually be realistic for us, and we struggled to hide our delight. Over the next few days we chatted about what we’d seen, and our excitement grew and grew. This was everything that we’d been hoping for and more, and once that had become clear, the decision made itself.